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Category: Islam & The Islamic World

Book Review: Tamerlane: Sword of Islam, Conqueror of the World (Justin Marozzi)

I, and many others, have been exhausted in recent months by the nonstop political noise machine. So I pulled this book off the shelf, figuring that a biography of the 14th Century warlord Tamerlane would be pretty much non-political. Maybe not as non-political as a coffee table book about, say, flowers, but close, and to me more interesting. I was not disappointed. This book proved an informative escape—depressing at times, certainly, like any tale of violence, but at least I didn’t have to think or talk about 21st Century politics at any time, and won’t in this review. For like all of us, I am weary unto death of all that (though not weary enough to not return to it).

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Colloquy: On Christian Duty As Related To President Trump’s Executive Order On Immigration

[This is designed to be a colloquy regarding the recent executive order by President Trump, relying on authority granted by Congress to temporarily bar most entry into the US by individuals from seven named, predominantly Muslim, countries.  As always, responses of interlocutors are in italics, color-coded to differentiate different interlocutors.]

The topic here is (as phrased by me; feel free to correct!), “what is the duty of individual Christians, in their personal lives and their political activity, with respect to the matters covered by Trump’s executive order?”  This choice of topic therefore necessarily excludes analysis of the legality/constitutionality of the order and its wisdom as a political matter.

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Book Review: The Great Heresies
(Hilaire Belloc)

For no reason that is fully clear to me, I have always been fascinated by heresies.  It matters to me what the difference between a Monothelite and a Monophysite is.  Hence, I thought this book (from 1938, by the famous Catholic writer Hilaire Belloc) would survey various heresies and would explain, as its title says, the “Great Heresies.”  But that is not what this book is.

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Book Review: The Arab Mind
(Raphael Patai)

Looking at other reviews of “The Arab Mind,” it appears readers divide into two camps. The first group, for whom ideology matters more than reality, hate this book. The second group, largely military, for whom their lives depend on an accurate perception of reality, love this book. This divergence alone suggests the book is worth reading.

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Book Review: Understanding Arabs: A Contemporary Guide to Arab Society (Margaret Nydell)

This is an awful book. It (the fifth edition, from 2012) contains a tiny bit of apparently useful information, which may or may not be true or generally applicable, combined with heaps of mendacious propaganda and annoying hectoring, padded out with material yanked from the likes of Wikipedia. If you’re relying on it to help you, say, understand Arabs, I doubt very much if it will do that. If you are looking for accurate historical information or informed commentary on Islam, a major focus of the book, you should run away as fast as you can.

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Book Review: The Road To Mecca (Muhammad Asad)

This is a fascinating book—half travelogue and half conversion memoir.  Muhammad Asad was born a Jew, Leopold Weiss, in the Austro-Hungarian empire (in what is now Ukraine, the city of Lvov). He was prominent both in interactions with the West in the 20th Century, for example as Pakistani ambassador to the UN, and in theological work, including translation and exegesis of the Q’uran. Asad is regarded, and should be even more regarded in these days of Al Qaeda and ISIS, as a voice for a revitalized, mainstream (he would accurately reject the term “moderate”) Islam. But long before that, he was just a Westerner adrift and looking for spiritual answers.

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Book Review: Milestones (Seyyid Qutb)

 Milestones claims to be a revivalist primer, to return Islam to its roots, but it is really a hybrid of traditional Islam with modern ideological organizing systems, primarily Leninism. This hybrid has proven to be a powerful combination, perhaps unsurprisingly given the power of both Leninism and modern Islamism in the 20th Century. Qutb’s contribution was to meld the two, promising the fusion will create harmonious societies with unparalleled virtues equivalent to those of the first Islamic societies. This is the core of modern, late 20th-century Islamism, of which Qutb was its primary theoretician.

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