Reading up, I don’t really have a lot of time for this, but there are too many pressing exigencies to know as little about Islam as I do. To date, I’ve covered things relating to Israel and Palestine, books by George Antonius, Mohammed Asad, Said, Khalidi, Talal Assad; on top of that, the Koran, some Hadith, some Corbin, and al-Farabi.
My first impetus is wanting to learn more about things of direct interest to my own research agendas regarding art and aesthetics. I’ve read Grabar’s book on the Dome of the Rock and I have his book on Islamic art on the shelf to get to. The key to any cosmopolitanism, I’m going on the assumption that art is the easiest thing to share. But I also want to know at least a little about early Islamic history, namely the first conquests, and the formation of the Ummayad and then Abbasid empires as a history of collisions and formations, nothing less and nothing more.
I also want to clarify or complicate a particular point of doctrine that comes up in the post-secularism scholarship, namely that notion that Islam is “different” because it does not recognize a divide between religion and politics as one finds in the Christian, especially Protestant colonializing west. Ironically, this non-separation of religion and politics is a notion that one can find in Jewish thought of a more conservative bent re: the Halakhah and the “Jewish political tradition” prior to Enlightenment and Emancipation. To begin to even think about assessing this claim, I’m not so interested in Quran and Hadith, philosophy, or idealizing text based models. What I’m expecting to find is a gradual parting of the way, a de facto separation of powers, as the religious world view as determined by the ulemma comes into tension with the political rule of the caliphate.
Exhausted by contemporary polemics and apologetics, I’m more interested to take some distance in order to see the imbrication of law, history, and art. Having read Goitein and Mark Cohen, and some of the literature on Jewish orientalism, I want to avoid as much as possible those historical and theological junctures in which Islam comes into direct contact with Jews and Judaism, Israel and Zionism. Not because these points of contact and conflict are not interesting, but simply because, in the larger view of things, they are not all that relevant. Mostly what I’m looking for is beauty, system, and context.