Of course most if not all of my academic friends will recognize this picture and will have read at some point in their lives the text for which it is the cover-image. But from which perspectival perch do we engage this text. Are we aware of the arguments that surround it internal to Islamic Studies. From my own perch in Jewish Studies, this perspectival position is particularly delicate. There are so many claims and counter-claims in Islamic Studies that are of particular importance to Jewish Studies in general and to modern Jewish philosophy in specific. This includes the question of Palestine, but also more theoretical rubrics like tradition, modernity, law, secularism, the political, and religion. The biggest and instantly recognizable names, of course, are Edward Said, Talal Asad, and Saba Mahmood. Outside Islamic Studies, regardless of our own field we tend to cite them as uncontested, iconic authorities.
We do so with little inkling as to arguments about them that are internal to the broader field and with very little attention paid to leading scholars in the field. For instance, I think it’s probably true that Wael B. Hallaq, an authority on Islamic law and political theory, and his critique of Said, and arguments about his own work, and so on and so on have not made it yet on the radar outside the field of Islamic Studies; or Patricia Crone or Ira Lapidus or Shahab Ahmed.
In part, I have seen colleagues on Twitter express definite concern that publicly sharing this kind of material and these kinds of arguments, warts and all, will be misused by critics hostile to Muslims, Islam, and Islamic Studies. As an outsider, especially in Jewish Studies, ethically and politically, I think we can only watch and learn not uncritically from colleagues, read as much as we can and come to our own conclusions, quietly and without pretending to know too much or very much. On Twitter, though, everyone is equal and everything is open to scrutiny. I am profoundly grateful to Asad Dandia, now an advanced graduate student, for his critical generosity. About arguments in the field(s) of Islamic Studies about Said and Orientalism, Dandia has posted this blogpost which gives a broader bibliographical view onto this iconic text and which I am sharing with you from this Jewish philosophy place.