Check out the latest edition of our monthly reading list, a roundup of four books and articles related to Islam, politics, social issues, and anything else we think is worth reading. The monthly list will include books whose authors or ideas we may or may not agree with, but that we find interesting and useful for generating discussion.
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Sustenance of the Soul
In a time of growing awareness of mental health, Abu Zayd Al-Balkhi’s short treatise shines a light on how Muslims of the past addressed mental and spiritual maladies. The translator, Malik Badri, notes that the 9th century Persian polymath “was probably the first physician to clearly differentiate between mental and psychological disorders: between psychoses and neuroses.” Al-Balkhi goes further to discuss “mental hygiene”, rooting his arguments in verses from the Quran and hadith, and suggesting both spiritual and physical treatments.
Length: 71 pages
…just as the body can be treated either internally through i.e. prevention of certain foods or externally through i.e. the use of medicines and special diets, so the soul can also be treated through these internal and external approaches. One suffering from psychological disturbance can fight his symptoms internally by developing within the soul thoughts (of an opposite nature to the ones that sustain the problem) that neutralize the symptoms and desensitize their provocation. Externally, one can listen to the advice of another whose (therapeutic) discussion (or counseling) would calm the agitated soul and treat its abnormality.
2. Politics, Law, and Community in Islamic Thought: The Taymiyyan Movement
Ibn Taymiyya, one of the pillars of the Islamic canon, can prove controversial to some. Clearing up the misconceptions, Dr. Ovamir Anjum presents an articulate and comprehensive summary of Ibn Taymiyya’s key contributions to Islamic theological and political thought. Crediting him with the articulation of siyasa shar’iyya (Islamic politics) as a communal obligation based in the prophetic tradition, Anjum analyzes primary sources to illustrate the breadth of concepts including justice, pragmatism, and fitra within the Taymiyyan paradigm.
Length: 294 pages
Ibn Taymiyya’s most significant contribution in this regard was his view of the basis of political rule in Islam. In an interpretation that was unprecedented yet appeared obvious, he grounded all political authority in the quranic arch-obligation of commanding right and forbidding wrong, an obligation that appears in the Quran as the mission of the entire Community. […] if political authority is based on the practice of commanding and forbidding, the entire Community now becomes the site of political authority. It is not the Community that owes unqualified obedience and service to the Islamic state, but the state that derives its raison d’être from its fulfilment of the Community’s mission.
3. In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad
Tariq Ramadan’s biography of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is a book for those looking for a condensed and accessible read of Seeratun Nabi. Drawing the main lessons from exhaustive and detailed accounts, it seeks to highlight the Prophet’s ﷺ character through the various trials he faced. An ideal book to share with non-Muslim friends or colleagues, it serves as an introduction to Islam and to the history of our beloved Prophet ﷺ.
Length: 242 pages
Justice is a condition for peace, and the Prophet kept insisting that one cannot experience the taste of equity if one is unable to respect the dignity of individuals […] He invited them to assert their dignity, to demand their rights, and to get rid of any feeling of inferiority; the message was a call for religious, social and political liberation.
4. Yaqeen Institute: “Blind Spots: The Origins of the Western Method of Critiquing Hadith”
This article by Yaqeen Institue gives a detailed introduction into the origins of Western critiques of the hadith tradition passed on from the Prophet ﷺ. In an era where such narrations are increasingly dismissed as unreliable, this excerpt from Professor Jonathan Brown’s book, Hadith: Muhammad’s Legacy in the Medieval and Modern World, highlights the assumptions that underpinned the study of orientalist scholars and evaluates the validity of their arguments.
The development of the Historical Critical Method would have immediate consequences for the questions of authenticity in the Islamic tradition. The nineteenth century in particular saw French and British scholars begin investigating the life of Muhammad ﷺ and Islam’s origins as part of their efforts to dominate colonized Muslim populations. For German scholars of the ancient Near East, studying Islam was a byproduct of Biblical studies … But, in seeking to ‘uncover’ the origins of Islam and its scripture, these German scholars were engaging in a conscious, if well-intentioned, act of domination. As it was announced proudly in 1902 at a German Orientalist conference, ‘the darkness of antiquity has been illuminated’ and ‘light has been carried into the dusky forests’ of India, Africa, and the Middle East by Europeans uncovering the origins and developments of these peoples’ religions.