Knowing Islam Now (Just Like Anything Else)


Like so many others, I’m reading the papers about the terrorist attacks in Paris with concern and consternation. But I do so also as a scholar of modern Judaism, Jewish thought and philosophy, and Religion Studies. In these capacities, I don’t want to fall into either trap set by apologists or racists.

Islam is not “this” or “that.” It is just like anything else, only different, just like everything else. Apriori, I want to commit myself to the view that Islam is a great world religious culture or civilization, which today is stressed and strained by destructive and disintegrating political and religious forces that are specific to “the Arab world” and its history. Any provisional conclusion about this or that aspect that I might want to draw would stem from this basic assumption.

I’m not sure if “understanding” is the right word. I don’t think I am in a position to “understand Islam.” That seems like too big a claim, meaningless in its largeness. As a scholar whose primary field of expertise is not Islamic Studies, all I can do is try to know a little more than I do right now, and to do so with clarity. I’m grabbing time in the week to read if only just a little about this and that –scripture, history, religion, philosophy, politics, art.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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3 Responses to Knowing Islam Now (Just Like Anything Else)

  1. Alan J Weisbard says:

    Zak, if you come upon particular materials that are especially illuminating, let us know.

    • zjb says:

      I’ve been reading some history and intellectual history and posting at the blog. Patricia Crone’s God’s Rule is essential reading. Also Marc Cohen’s Under Crescent and Cross. Hoyland’s book on the first conquests was very good as is Oleg Grabar’s The Dome of the Rock. I wrote quick blog notes about all except the Cohen. I also wrote on Muhammed Asad’s Road to Mecca which is of historical interest. George Antonius’s The Arab Awakening is a classic from the 1930s and worth reading. I’m moving on to a little art history now.

  2. dmf says:

    I’ll leave it to the theologians to negotiate with Islam my own worries are more about how we will treat people in these times of fleeting resources and mounting tribalism, our histories to date under such dire circumstances are quite frightening and that was all before the anthropocene, I’m afraid we will continue to be tested on scales without precedent.

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