As salaamu alaikum one and all,
I thought I’d share my current reading material with you all. Although I’m always reading several things at once, I’m particularly concentrating on the following works:
Bernard Haykel (2003), Revival and Reform in Islam: the Legacy of Muhammad al-Shawkani, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
D. A. Spellberg (1994), Politics, Gender and the Islamic Past: the Legacy of Aisha bint Abi Bakr, New York: Columbia University Press
As is immediately obvious, both works refer to the legacies of two key individuals. Spellberg’s book looks at the legacy of Aisha, Muhammad’s wife (peace be upon him). Particularly, it focuses on how the figure of Aisha has been differently viewed, principally by Sunnis and Shi’is. It looks at how Aisha was used by later writers within these traditions to make particular faith claims and counter-claims. I’m really interested in this field and so was delighted to find this book in a small bookshop in Hay-on-Wye. I’ve not had much of a chance to read it yet, but it does look fascinating and seems to be well written. I’ll post some further thoughts on it once I’ve read it.
The other book is Haykel’s account of the life and significance of the 19th century Yemeni reformer, Muhammad al-Shawkani. Al-Shawkani’s main claim to fame (so to speak) is that he was one of the early scholars calling for a return to ijtihad (or returning to the Islamic sources directly for answers)in Islamic law. He was also set against taqlid (following a particular School of Islamic Law, such as the Hanafi). As he was operating within the Zaydi Imamate in Yemen, I found this book particularly interesting. He was also active during the time of the first Wahhabi expansion. His times thus saw argument and debate on several fronts, all of which adds up to a fascinating cultural and intellectual matrix.
The book itself is an even-handed account and offers a number of interesting insights. Chapter 5 (‘Clashing with the Zaydis’) offers an interesting account of the debates then going on regarding the cursing of certain of Muhammad’s companions by Shi’a groups. As one of the things I’m interested in is the reception and use of early Islamic history, this was an especially welcome chapter.
All in all, both books are looking at how Muslims have understood their own history. As even these two books demonstrate, there is a wealth of Muslim historical writing available – with fascinating insights into contemporary debates and issues of concern. I would really like to see more of this kind of work filter through into the wider Muslim community. What I mean is that I feel it is vitally important that we, as Muslims, begin to explore the constructions of our own histories. Anyway, more on this topic another time, insha Allah.