January ’22 Book Recommendations

The team at the Qarawiyyin Project has gathered four of our favorite reads from the last year. From politics to practical advice, these books will encourage a reflective and productive year to come, insha’Allah.

Have a title you think we should read? Comment down below or let us know on Twitter @QarawiyyinProj.

Read our previous recommendations here

Ayyuhal Walad | Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali

The epochal Ayyuhal Walad is designed to be read repeatedly throughout one’s life, comprising short yet eloquent advice that provides the perfect stimulus for reflection. The original recipient of this monograph was a senior student of Imam Ghazali; the book is invaluable as a record of the interaction between one of the ummah‘s greatest teachers and his esteemed disciple. Yet far from expanding on the intricacies of fiqh or theology, the recommendations of the Imam are simply wisdoms relevant to every Muslim, young or old. 

Divided into 24 brief counsels, reflections on the importance of time, intention, death and contemplation for the believer encourage the readers to assess the current state of their heart. Directives to guard the night prayer, engage in dhikr (remembrance of Allah), du’a (supplication) and da’wah (calling people to Islam) give much needed motivation to perfect the daily routines of worship. Counsels on companionship, spiritual guidance, the use of ration and devotion highlight the importance of one’s social and intellectual environments for gaining closeness to God. With acutely relevant narrations from the Prophet ﷺ included at every turn, Ayyuhal Walad refreshes the mind and shines a light on the path to success in this life and the next.  

Highlight:

Knowledge without action is insanity, and action without knowledge is vanity.

The Canonization of Islamic Law: A Social and Intellectual History | Ahmed El Shamsy

Ahmed El Shamsy writes a legal, social, and political history in The Canonization of Islamic Law, all centered around the life and legacy of Imam Abu Idris Al-Shafi’i, may Allah have mercy on him. The book gives a historical backdrop to the emergence of the Shafi’i school of jurisprudence, from the early usuli debates, to social upheaval in Egypt, to the Quranic Inquisition (mihnat al-qur’an). It places a particular focus on the concept of canonization: the affirmation of the inherent authority and accessibility of the Islamic textual sources (the Qur’an and Sunnah), independent of communal practice and living tradition.

A hallmark of El Shamsy’s writing is his ability to give life to historical figures through humanized depictions in an otherwise information-dense academic text. The transformation of Islamic legal discourse and norms, as well as the style of engagement between scholars of the past, demonstrates the sophistication and dynamic nature of the Shari’ah. This book provides a window of insight into the origins of principles and norms we adhere to as Muslims today.

Length: 264 pages

Highlight:

Canonization, in the sense employed here, transcends the mere codification of sacred texts in fixed textual form and focuses instead on the relationship of the Muslim community to these texts as sources of religious norms.

Islam and the Arab Revolutions: The Ulama Between Democracy and Autocracy | Usaama Al-Azami

The last decade has been a formative period for many Muslims, with the Arab revolutions shaping lives, worldviews and politics. In the context of Egypt, the focus is usually split between its autocratic regime and those protesting it. Yet a largely unexamined demographic whose influence permeates through both parties is the scholarly class. Naturally, there is no single unified position among the ulama, and thus we observe the emergence of two distinct camps: counter-revolutionary scholars championing authoritarianism versus the pro-revolutionary scholars campaigning for democracy. 

Al-Azami provides a thorough account of the activity of a few prominent scholars involved in ‘ulama activism’ during the Egyptian uprisings, including Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, Ali Gomaa, Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, Ali Jifri, Abdullah Bin Bayyah and Hamza Yusuf. He uses the modernist dichotomy of Islamism versus Neotraditionalism in conjunction with pre-modern Sunni political theology to unpack their polarising positions, and critiques ‘political quietism’ as a framework for understanding counter-revolutionary scholarship. The book highlights a unique relationship between the scholar and authoritarian state in the modern world, possibly influenced more by contemporary state politics than theology.

From authenticity and context to the (in)consistency in application, Al-Azami interrogates the ulama’s usage of scripture and rulings to justify their positions. The most significant case study is the removal of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in contrast to the coup against the democratically inclined Morsi, where one is termed a fitnah and those involved likened to the khawarij, and the other deemed legitimate and in line with the Islamic tradition. An interesting observation by Al-Azami is the use of War on Terror rhetoric to demonise pro-democracy Islamists in the public sphere, despite the possibility that it may be authoritarianism itself that breeds extremism, and that the UAE’s efforts in suppressing democracy in the Middle East may have a direct causal link to the rise of ISIS. 

A comprehensive analysis with a sincere tone, this work interrogates the varying ways in which the scholarly class has adapted to modernity, as well as the intersection of religion and politics in the context of the Arab revolutions.

Length: 259 pages (excluding Appendix and Notes)

Highlight:

Autocracy in the political sphere breeds autocracy in the religious sphere, and there is also the possibility for this to be true in the reverse [..] Autocracy would thus hamper the development of religious ideas in response to the needs of a society. Rather it could only respond to the needs of those who control public discourse and in directions that those controllers permit or desire. It is hardly conceivable that regimes [such as post-coup] Egypt will be able to address the needs of their own people, let alone contribute anything meaningful to confront the kinds of challenges faced by wider humanity.

The Value of Time (قيمة الزمن عند العلماء) | Shaykh Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah

In a society full of distractions and an era overcome with hedonism, time is a blessing that is valued little and invested poorly.  

The Value of Time by Shaykh Abd al-Fattah Abu Ghuddah is a work that snaps one out of her heedlessness and sets her affairs in order. It is only when we truly understands the value of time that we can make the most of every blessing Allah has bestowed upon us, reach our true potential, and appreciate the intellect Allah has blessed us with. In essence: it is what we need to live our lives to the fullest in service of Allah. 

Shaykh Abu Ghuddah emphasizes the importance of time in the Islamic tradition, and explores it in the context of seeking knowledge. The book compiles anecdotes, advice, and the measures scholars of our ummah took to avoid wasting even one second of this finite resource so that they could devote their lives to the study of their faith. Upon hearing that Qadi Abu Yusuf gave a fatwa even whilst on his deathbed, and that Imam Al-Nawawi remained two years without his side touching the ground, the standard of the scholars may seem unattainable and out of reach. However, this scholarly work has the potential to inspire a change in perspective which may be all we need to elevate us from a life of mediocrity and passive living to one that is full of focus and spent in the way of Allah. This is an invaluable read for every Muslim as we enter the new year; let us not waste it!

Length: 86 pages (English), 395 pages (Arabic)

Highlight:

Time is like a sword: if you do not slay it, it slays you.

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