Reading List: Islam and the Islamic World

Eh, okay. Since someone ( who we’ll call EV ) has begun poking with a stick over promises unfulfilled and since someone else who made said promise ( who we’ll call…hmmm… Cranky-C ) has fobbed the job off on me, I guess I’ll take a stab at starting this thing.

A few notes - 1) Though I certainly am including a fair bit, I am somewhat arbitrarily slashing a lot of dynastic and early political history from this list. Though almost all of it is useful ( Islam being such a frequently politicized religion ), a fair bit is more tangential than not. Also I don’t want to make this list too massive and a couple of the introductory works I recommend cover a fair bit of that ground in an adequate fashion anyway. So I’m not including a lot of history books on Islamic Spain, the Ottoman Empire, the Abbasid Caliphate, etc. If someone is interested in those topics or others I end up omitting, just ask and I’ll see what I have to recommend ( if anything - I haven’t read everything :slight_smile: ). However I am including a few very specific volumes because I think they illustrate particularly interesting or useful points.

  1. For ease of access, I have excluded scholarly papers from journals or on-line articles. Books, only ( I think all of the below are still in print ).

  2. You’ll note a focus on the MENA. That’s partly due to availability ( in my little library ) of material and partly that’s what I think folks are more interested in. The material I have on Africa, Southeast Asia, et al is more often subsumed in more general survey books.

  3. Page counts include indexes, charts, tables, glossaries, bibliographies, etc.

  4. Obviously input and criticism is welcome. This is far from an exhaustive list and since I edited it heavily and cut a fair bit of stuff from the first draft, very subjective. Plyus I fully expect to forget to include a lot of stuff I should’ve. So feel free to chime in. I’m definitely missing some stuff in my own library, like a good scholarly treatment of Sufism.

Introductions to Islam and Islamic history - A few works which either individually or, ideally, taken in combination, I think will give a good basic overview of Islam and Islamic history:

Islam: Beliefs and Observances ( fifth edition ) by Caesar E. Farah ( 1994, Barron’s Educational Series, Inc. ), 433 pgs. - Good, concise introduction to Islam, both its early history and historical evolution, as well as and common practices and beliefs. Covers most major divisions and modern Islam. If you’re going to buy one book, this would not be a bad one to pick.

A History of Islamic Societies by Ira Lapidus ( 1988, Cambridge University Press ), 1002 pgs. - Less concise :p, but very good historical survey of Islam and Islamic societies. Generally well-written and generally good coverage of the entire Muslim world. Much more a political and social history of the Islamic world, as opposed to Farah, which is more a history of Islam as a religion. Another good choice for a single-book purchase.

The Venture of Islam, vol.1-3, by Marshall G.S. Hogson ( 1975, 1977 University of Chicago Press ), 1612 pgs. total for all three - Lapidus on steroids in some respects. Denser prose, less complete coverage ( Africa and Southeast Asia in particular are slighted ), and a bit dated in some places. But a more thorough political and particularly social history of the MENA than Lapidus.

Islamic Studies: * A History of Religions Approach* by Richard C. Martin ( 1996, 1982 Prentice-Hall Inc. ), 274 pgs. - Less a history ( though there is certainly some of that, especially in terms of growth of modern thought ) and more a survey of common Muslim beliefs and observances. Useful adjunct to Farah and Lapidus, but probably not as good a single-volume purchase.

Discovering Islam: Making Sense of Muslim History and Society, revised edition by Akbar Ahmed ( 1988, Routledge and Kegan Paull Ltd. ), 251 pgs. - Commentary-like take on Islamic history and particularly interactions with the west, written from a somewhat more personal style than Lapidus or Hodgson, with perhaps a trend towards apologia. You’ll either like that take or not - personally, I’m less crazy about it. However I think he offers some valuable perspectives, particularly on the colonial impact and this is a decent second or third volume to pick up.

Early Islamic World - A few pieces on early Islamic thought and the circumstances and environment that generated them:

Muhammed and the Origins of Islam by F.E. Peters ( 1994, State University of New York ), 334 pgs. - Good background on Muhammed, the milieu in which Islam arose, and Muhammed’s Prophetship and his struggles to establish it. Ends with Muhammed’s death.

The Succession to Muhammed: A Study of the Early Caliphate by Wilferd Madelung ( 1997, Cambridge University Press ), 413 pgs. - Somewhat dense political history of the Rashidun ( the first four successors to Muhammed ), which is however very enlightening as to the nature and causes of the Sunni/Shi’a split.

Jihad: The Origins of Holy War in Islam by Reuven Firestone ( 1999, Oxford University Press ), 195 pgs. - Not a work on modern extremism, but rather an examination of the creation of the concept of Jihad as a military struggle in the early Islamic community. Interesting work, though I’m not entirely sure I buy all of his analysis.

Social History of/and Islam - Very specific works, mostly. But I picked just a few that I think are particularly good and/or explore particularly interesting facets:

The Middle East on the Eve of Modernity: Aleppo in the Eighteenth Century by Abraham Marcus ( 1989, Colombia University Press ), 418 pgs. - Excellent study of life in a large ( relative to time and place ), pre-modern, fairly cosmopolitan Islamic city with a substantial non-Muslim minority.

The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760 by Richard M. Eaton ( 1993, University of California Press ), 359 pgs. - Another excellent work which examines the phenomenal success of Islam in East Bengal, an area very much on the periphery of both Muslim India and the Islamic world in general. He rejects, either wholely ( for some ) and in part ( for others ) the traditional explanations for Islam’s success in this region and instead comes up with a quite fascinating and novel answer to this particular puzzle.

Making Big Money in 1600: The Life and Times of Isma’il Abu Taqiyya, Egyptian Merchant by Nelly Hanna ( 1988, Syracuse University Press ), 219 pgs. - Kind of a whimsical choice, here, mostly because I just recently picked it up and it was on my mind. But it is an interesting examination of pre-modern social history from an individual point of view as well as an interesting insight into the changing economic scene of the period, with the rise of nascent capitalism.

Tribes and State Formation in the Middle East ed by Philip Khoury and Joseph Kostiner ( 1990, University of California Press ), 351 pgs. - Collection of essays. A little tangential to the topic of Islam, and as much political as social history, but I’m including it here just for the heck of it because a couple of essays in particular illustrate some of the complexities of the Middle East.

Islamic Law - An area I’m a little weaker on than some others. Additional suggestions particularly welcome here.

The Islamic Concept of Justice by Majid Khadduri ( 2002, John Hopkins University Press ), 272 pgs. - More or less reasonably accessible introduction to the practice and history of Islamic jurisprudence.

The Origins of Islamic Law: The Qur’an, the Muwatta’ and Madinan 'Amal by Yasin Dutton ( 1999, Curzon Press ), 264 pgs. - A little rougher slog, if like me you’re less interested in jurisprudence to begin with. I haven’t finished this one myself. Exploration of a particular pivotal early Islamic legal commentary in an attempt to derive a theory of the evolution of Islamic law that is mid-point between traditionalist and revisionist takes ( but leaning towards the traditionalist ).

The Islam/European interface in the Middle Ages - My little made-up category to chuck a couple of interesting books into:

The Muslim Discovery of Europe by Bernard Lewis ( 1982, Penguin ), 350 pgs. - One of Lewis’ better works, IMHO. Nice study of the interrelationships between Christian Europe and the Islamic world.

The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives by Carole Hillenbrand ( 2000, Routledge ), 648 pgs. - Big, hefty tome. There are several good histories of the Crusades ( and I’ll recommend a couple of others if folks are interested ), but this one is unique in perspective and very valuable for it. Well-written, plenty of neato illustrations and photos.

Early and Early Modern Political Thought in Islam and Islamic States - Pre-modern to 19th century, important for setting the stage for the modern Middle East:

The History of Islamic Political Thought: From the Prophet to the Present by Antony Black ( 2001, Routledge ), 377 pgs. - Pretty much exactly what the title says. Decent overview. Covers modern period as well obviously, but I’ll include it here for convenience sake.

The Political Language of Islam by Bernard Lewis ( 1988, University of Chicago Press ), 168 pgs. - Ole’ Bernie has his biases, but this thin volume is really quite useful, though it focuses more on classical thought.

The Genesis of Young Ottoman Thought: * A Study in the Modernization of Turkish Political Ideas* by Serif Mardin ( 1962, 2000 Princeton University Press ), 456 pgs. - The Young Ottomans here referring to the 19th century reformers that attempted ( with some limited success ) to modernize the moribund Ottoman Empire. Solid political history with some useful tangential bearing on the modern MENA.

The Origins of Arab Nationalism ed. by Rashid Khalidi et al ( 1991, Colombia University Press ), 325 pgs. - Collection of essays, some of them very significant to the origins of the modern MENA. Good companion to the preceeding work.

** The Impact of Colonialism** - Just a couple of things here as illustrative examples. I decided at the last minute to cut stuff on the British Raj, since that veers a bit far afield from Islam to some extent:

Colonising Egypt by Timothy Mitchell ( 1991, Cambridge University Press ), 218 pgs. - Interesting short work which uses Egypt more as a case example in a study of European colonialism in general, its impact, and how it is analyzed historically.

A Peace to End All Peace: * The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East* by David Fromkin ( 1989, Avon Books ) - Indispensable. Political history of WW I and its aftermath in the Middle East.

Modern Political Thought and Islamic Extremism - Post WW I, but more particularly post-independance:

Islam and Secularism in the Middle East ed. by John L. Esposito and Azzam Tamini ( 2000, New York University Press ), 214 pgs. - Collection of essays that chart the attempt to graft secularism onto the MENA, its relative failure to date, the reasons for that failure, and the backlash it generated.

The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? by John L. Esposito ( 1995, Oxford University Press ), 292 pgs. - Analysis of modern Islamism and its place in Islam. Esposito is another fellow with fairly clear biases, but his factual material is generally pretty solid.

Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam by Gilles Kepel, translated by Anthony Roberts ( English edition 2002, Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College ), 454 pgs. - Another indispensable volume. Overview of modern Islamism, its history throughout the globe, and, in the author’s opinion, its peak and decline.

Muslim Extremism in Egypt: The Prophet and Pharaoh by Gilles Kepel, translated by Jon Rothschild ( latest English edition 1993, University of California Press ), 283 pgs. - History of Islamism in Egypt. More focused than the volume above, but very important as Egypt is arguably the most important of several birthplaces of modern Islamic thought ( in both its violent extremist and non-violent forms ).

The Battlefield Algeria, 1988-2002: * Studies in a Broken Polity* by Hugh Roberts ( 2003, Verso ), 402 pgs. - Another country-specific analysisof Islamism, this one by the leading expert on modern Algeria. Algeria, along with Egypt, has supplied the bulk of terrorist expertise to folks like ObL. This volume in a collected chronological series of independently written papers and essays covers the origins and course of the Algerian Civil War that birthed those experts.

Modern Iran: Roots and Results of Revolution by Nikki Keddie ( 2003, Yale University Press ), 400 pgs. - Recent revision and update of a classic. Best work available on the origins and impact of the Iranian revolution.

Special Bonus! - Yeah, okay, I wanted to toss this is in somewhere, but didn’t know where to stick it:

A History of Middle East Economies in the Twentieth Century by Roger Owen and Sevkut Pamuk ( 1998, Harvard University Press ), 310 pgs. - Yeah, it’s not really about Islam per se. But useful as an aid in examining the modern Middle East.

  • Tamerlane

Where’s the detective fiction? No Muslim private eyes?

Tamerlane, I am dangerously close to committing heresy by worshipping you like a god.

I think there ought to be a place for Sayyid Qutb in your last section - say, Social Justice in Islam or Milestones? I know the inclusion of Qutb could stir up the anti-Muslim bigots more, unfortunately, (though I imagine very few anti-Muslim bigots are actually informed enough to know who this Qutb fellow is). I think Qutb’s writings have the same sort of value as Marx’s Capital or The Communist Manifesto: they help us understand a particular extremist ideology in the context of a larger, more legitimate school of thought.

Besides, Qutb’s thoughts on tahwid are actually fairly interesting from a philosophical point of view.

‘When Gravity Fails’ by George Alec Effinger (sp?). A cyberpunk story about a private detective who lives and works in a mostly Muslim neighborhood in an unspecified city a few hundred years in our future. Highly entertaining, and if you don’t know much about Islam than you will probably learn quite a bit from the background detail.

BTW, Effinger made a big mistake in the sequel to ‘When Gravity Fails’, when he has a supposedly devout Muslim drink from a gold cup (supposedly, drinking from a gold cup is roughly equivalent to eating pig excrement).

No Edward Said? No Seven Pillars of Wisdom ?

Thanks, Timurchik (and I’ll make the leap that I’m the EV you mention, but I think your second person would be better nicknamed MC Cranky-C). I really do appreciate it, because you know I have all this spare time lately, what with battling Ashcroft and the other Dark Lords of Homeland Security, to read history for fun. I will dig in eventually, though, really I will.

I’m also looking forward to the (hopefully) inevitable additions to the list from others (and you know who you are). C’mon, cough it up! I’m looking forward to torturing the Interlibrary Loan folks.

What? Nobody noticed a glaring gap in my list? No Qur’an ;).

Probably should include at least one translation. I think Jomo Mojo mentioned being partial to A.J. Arberry’s, but I’m open to suggestion.

Keep meaning to read that. Another one to add to the list.

For a more classical taste, a nice, if slightly oddball and difficult to navigate, anthology is Night & Horses & The Desert: An Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature* ed. by Robert Irwin ( 1999, Anchor Books ).

Not a bad suggestion - Direct insight into the mind perhaps the premire architect of modern Islamism wouldn’t hurt. For that Milestones might be the better choice.

You know, shamed as I am to admit it, I’ve actually read very little of Said’s work. Mostly just a few excerpted chapters from Orientalism and maybe a stray journal paper. So by all means recommend something of his.

That’s something I cut from the rough draft. It’s a fascinating account, but basically I think Fromkin covers that material better overall and obviously with more academic distance. I thought it a little redundant to keep both on the same list. For the same reason I cut Frederik Anscombe’s nice little work on The Ottoman Gulf*. Too much overlap on a very significant but rather narrow political topic.

But if you insist, I’ll give in :).


Maybe we can get him to say, “MC Cranky-C is in the houuuussse”, when he finally drops by :D.

  • Tamerlane

MENA? Middle East North Africa?

Yep. More accurate as a geographic/cultural unit than just plain Middle East.

  • amerlane

I’d include something that addresses women and family life in Islam. Most people I know have major misconceptions about that. They believe that women are completely opressed and that no sane woman would see any advantaged or gain any joy from being Muslim. I’ve ready many informal travelogue/ethnographies that give a better idea of family life and the role of women (includeing their political roles) in the Middle East.

Woohoo! I’ve already read one off that list (reading the author’s second installment that just came out). Ahead of the game, am I!

On a semi-related note, any comment on The Arabs by Anthony Nutting as an overview of Arab/Islamic history? I just picked up an old copy but haven’t read it yet.

Hmmm…Another good suggestion, but also another area where I’m lacking material on hand. Marcus’ work does discuss family life and women to some extent, both the good and the bad. But the only book that I have that specifically tackles women in Muslim society is a very slim volume called Gender and National Identity: Women and Politics in Muslim Society ed. by Valentine M. Moghadam ( 1994, Zed Books ), which has a couple of interesting essays.

But I know there is a fair bit of stuff out there, so maybe someone else can chime in with more suggestions in this area.

Haven’t read it, so I couldn’t tell you. I suspect it might be a bit dated, if nothing else. However I’ll go out on a limb and say that on the same topic Albert Hourani’s A History of the Arab Peoples is pretty likely a better book. Another one I cut from the rough draft from the introductory section, only because of its somewhat narrower focus and because I think Hodgson and Lapidus are a little better for detail. But I still recommend it.

  • Tamerlane

For serious study, I’d pick up a Qur’an with English translation, but you already knew that.

Also, for a good history of Western misconceptions of the Islamic World, check out “Orientalism” by Esposito, I think.

A good Arab novella (you can read it in an afternoon) is “Season of Migration to the North” by Tayeb Saleh (sp?).

Good luck!

No, that’s Edward Said :).

  • Tamerlane

Thanks for the list. I don’t think I will have time to read more than one or two of them but I will try and pick up a couple of the introductory books some time.

I wonder what you think of the two Naipaul books on the Muslim world. It’s been a while since I have read them but I thought they were beautifully written with a novelist’s eye for capturing people. The sweeping historical statements (of which there fewer in the second book) were probably more dubious but then that’s not Naipaul’s strength anyway.

Also I would appreciate any web-based resources which you feel are intellectually solid.

Hmm. Good point. It wouldn’t do to miss out on the latest doings of the Abbasid Caliphate, would it? :wink:

Seriously, though, I’ll keep an eye open for your suggestion.

My only observation is that you ought to include something really easy to digest for people who might be a bit intimidated by some of your more in-depth selections, perhaps “Islam for Dummies” – yes, there really is an “Islam for Dummies.” The footnotes aren’t as good as in The Venture of Islam but the pictures are better! :stuck_out_tongue:

For a more advanced treatment, I recommend The Bluffer’s Guide to Islam.

Once again, I haven’t read them, sorry. They sound worth pursuing from your description, so maybe I’ll chack them out. Though sweeping historical statements do have a tendency to make me twitch ;).

Well, on very specific topics I have occasionally run across a lengthier essay I thought were at least decent ( usually journal-type articles ). But in general I really think books are a better way to go and at least in this thread I’d rather leave out the web references, because I think that there is a potential that things could quickly get confusing if I start including a slew of links and papers.

Hey, you never know when new scholarship is going to pop up. If you want stuff on the Abbasids, you might consider checking out the following:

The Political and Social History of Khurasan under Abbasid Rule, 747-820 by Elton L. Daniel ( 1979, Bibliotheca Islamica ), 222 pgs. - Nice little history of the birthplace of the Abbasids ( in a political context - the family, of course, was originally from Mecca ).

White Banners: Contention in Abbasid Syria, 750-880 by Paul M. Cobb ( 2001, State University of New York ), 228 pgs. - A mirror image of the above, only dealing with the heartland of Umayyad power and how it was incorporated into the Abbasid state.

Religion and Politics under the Early Abbasids: The Emergence of the Proto-Sunni Elite by Muhammed Qasim Zaman ( 1997, Brill Academic Publishers ), 232 pgs. - Decent work, which covers pretty much exactly what the title says.

Errmm…That’s all I have on the Abbasids. Hope that’s enough to start you on :D. Actually I almost included that last one in the main list.

Well, you may have a point. On the other hand, you may not :). I’m not crazy about “dummy” guides when it comes to history and I can’t recommend any, because I don’t have enough experience with them. They just aren’t things I buy. At least a few of the books in the general section should be tolerable for any reasonably intelligent person and we’re all reasonably intelligent folks here at the SDMB, aren’t we ;)?

That said, if someone else wants to recommend one or two, they should feel free.

  • Tamerlane

Here, in case any one is interested, is an excellent review, by Ian Buruma, of Naipaul’s second book about the Muslim world.