An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Understanding Islam and Muslims

My new book An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Understanding Islam and Muslims is now available on Amazon.com. This book grew out of a review of Shahab Ahmed’s wonderful What is Islam? that I was preparing last January. Once it passed 15,000 words, I decided that I might as well to turn into a book on the sociology of Islam. Reading Robert R. Reilly’s ridiculous caricature of Islam in his Closing of the Muslim Mind gave me extra impetus to work on it.

At some point I became dissatisfied with my work and put the project on pause. I went on to read 30 books and close to 100 scholarly papers on relevant topics (mainly Western Islamic studies and the evolutionary study of culture). Roger Scruton was especially helpful in clarifying the important issue of human sexuality and how it relates to religion. Recently I felt confident enough to pick up the project again. I rewrote the book and integrated some new essays into it, and this is the result.

From the introduction:

Many Western intellectuals cause Muslims to want to cringe as soon as they open their mouths to speak about Islam. Even if they have read multiple books on Islam, they are often capable of the most gargantuan mischaracterizations of the religion. There is a serious gap in knowledge between Islam as it is described in books and Islam as it is understood and practiced in the real world—and this book aims to fill that gap.

The Moral World of the Qur’an by M. A. Draz

Dastūr al-Akhlāq fī l-Qurʾān might one of the most important works of Islamic philosophy in the 20th century. It is a work on Quranic moral philosophy by Muhammad Abdullah Draz (1894-1958), a highly intelligent Egyptian Islamic scholar who had thoroughly studied the Western philosophical tradition. The work was originally written in French as a PhD dissertation titled La morale du Koran presented to Sorbonne University. It was translated into Arabic by Abd al-Sabur Shahin and published in 1973. The English version, titled The Moral World of the Qur’an, was published in 2008 by I. B. Tauris (Amazon link, it is absurdly expensive at the moment unfortunately).

When picking up a book by a non-Western Islamic scholar, one fears to see modes of reasoning that are centuries behind the times (as commonly seen in polemical and partisan works). Draz is an early example, perhaps one of the earliest, of an Islamic scholar who is willing to engage with the West with a thoroughly open mind, willing to take Western thinkers seriously and willing to view Islam from a Western framework. He does his best to predict attacks on his lines of reasoning and answers many possible criticism. I did not expect to learn too much from this work, being so familiar with the Quran. But I am pleased to say that some parts of it were highly enlightening.

Unfortunately both the Arabic and the English translation leave much to be desired. The Arabic translation appears to be a somewhat word-for-word translation of the French, extremely difficult to follow due to the near-complete absence of Arabic modes of expression. The English is not much better; its language feels almost as outdated as a book from 1850.

Shorter (and cheaper) version on Amazon. Also available as Kindle ebook.

Maybe the reason is Draz’s own French writing still (his Arabic writings in his other books and articles are extremely easy to follow). What the book needs is a thorough modernization effort that does not merely translate the paragraphs but translates his thoughts into modern English.

I found the following version (published 2018) by Basma Abdelgafar titled Morality in the Qur’an: The Greater Good of Humanity and bought it from the Kindle store. It shortens the work in order to make it more accessible. While this is a very welcome effort, unfortunately it is more on the order of study notes due to its highly abridged nature, and it uses many technical words that even college graduates will likely struggle. Still, it might be the best introduction to Draz’s thought that there is.

The Way of the Spiritual Muslim

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My new book The Way of the Spiritual Muslim is now available on Amazon.com as a paperback and Kindle ebook. This book contains all of the sayings of Ibn al-Jawzī and Ibn al-Qayyim from my previous books along with new sections presenting the sayings of Ibn ʿAbbās, al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī, al-Fuḍayl bin ʿIyāḍ, Imam al-Shāfiʿī, Imam Aḥmad, Imam al-Ghazālī,  Jalāl al-Dīn Rumi and Ibn ʿAṭāʾ-Allāh.

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