I apologize for my extended absence. Work has been rather treacherous and the purchasing of a new car was a stressful endeavor. I hope not to do that again for a very long time.

I will do my best to address issues and questions, but first a question.

Every time I encounter a new book I do two things: I always flip to the page with the copyright year on it and read the back cover. Did any of you do this?

If you didn't, it's a good habit to get into. Here's why. From that information, I can see and figure out three very important things.
1. Who it is geared toward;
2. When it was published; and ultimately,
3. Where this book is going to fall in terms of larger conversations the author is responding to or addressing.

So, in the case of our current selection, I flip and I see "Copyright 2000". Ahh, pre-9/11 when if you said the word 'jihad' Americans either had no clue what you were talking about or they thought you were referencing 'Dune'. I think we can all agree the discussions regarding Islam on September 10, 2001 and on September 11, 2001 were vastly different.

Then, I flip to the back. I see a few big names, so I know this isn't the author's first dance, so to speak. This is someone seasoned who has a generally good reputation. I see reviewers are from places like Foreign Relations and 'Discourse'. That piques my interest. In their platitudes, they drop words like "overview" and "students", and talk a lot about history, and I make mental note of each. I read the little blurb at the top and from it confirms what the reviewers have said. This is going to be a basic historical overview suitable for students and people who don't know their shura from their shari'a. Then, I remember it was written and reviewed by people outside of the Religious Studies/Islamic Studies realm. So, I know the author isn't going to delve into the nitty-gritty theological issues because he or she isn't equipped to do so. Plus, it wouldn't really be suitable for the audience now would it?

So, if you've been disappointed by the lack of rigor, bleeding edge research, or a definitive treatise on some hot-button issue, it makes sense because this book isn't designed to address those topics. Also, concept that most Muslims don't live in the Middle East would not have been well known at this point in time. Within the US, it’s still not a well known fact.

In short, before you read one word of the introduction, I cannot impress upon all of you how important to do that quick check. You'll approach the book differently, which results in you asking different questions and expanding your frame of reference. It’s not just about reading the words on the page and then applying to to your current frame of reference. Instead, it’s about learning how to situate the book in its larger context, both in terms of the larger (scholarly) discussion and history. From there, more nuanced and accurate analysis can occur.

Second, the concept that Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God. Where did that belief come from and why does it persist? The belief comes from the religions themselves. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are categorically referred to as the Abrahamic traditions because all three trace their theological lineage to Abraham, and the God he interacted with. Torah, Bible, and Qur'an all remind their followers they are following the God of Abraham. That is why we, (those of us in Religious Studies) say Muslims, Christians, and Jews follow the same God. Why does this thought persist? Generally speaking, because it is true.

Islamic thought generally takes issue with the concept of Jesus as the Son of God. The other third of the trinity, the Holy Spirit, they have no issue with. The Holy Spirit is mentioned numerous times in the Qur'an. As for Jesus, the virgin birth and all of the miracles Christ performed throughout his life are mentioned in the Qur'an and the Virgin Mary even has her own Chapter. Refer to Christ as God or the Son of God, then you're getting into contested turf. Another sticking point is the Crucifixion, but that's for another time. Of course there will be Jews, Muslims, and Christians who say they do NOT follow the same God as the other two. With that said, just as you'll find Messianic Jews, there are Muslims who take no issue with the Trinity.

A professor of mine in grad school said one day, "There are as many Islams as there are Muslims"(It was Zebiri, Tuck), and that lingered with me. The simple fact that no two people believe or practice in the same way is too often forgotten. It seems trite and naive, but when you're attempting to understand belief patterns in any group of people- let alone 2 billion- it is unequivocally true. Islam, much like Judaism and Christianity, has an enormous corpus of theological and legal literature surrounding it. There are a millennia worth of voices commenting on issues.

Speaking of cherry picking, I see you're quoting Maududi, jmm. While it’s awesome you’ve found a treasure trove of his work, I’d stay away from him and Qutb for now. As one of the founders of Islamist Thought, he uses his background in Islamic theology to string together some very interesting opinions. I promise, we will cover both of them, but I am attempting to figure out a way to condense my research on tafsir into something easily digestible for all of you so he’s not only more accessible, but you can see how the thought evolved- and I’m using the world evolved loosely.

Unfortunately, the difficult part of working on extremist thought is you need to know their tradition better than they do. Doesn’t matter what religion they are. They all roughly pull the same ‘scholarly’ tricks. Heaping praise on an intellectual giant of a religious thinker in the 15th Century C.E. in a fatwa? It really helps to know said individual wasn’t qualified as an ulema (religious scholar), but was just a jurist, and his opinions were viewed as ‘too extreme’ in his day. A group releases a message they’re quoting a hadith of Muhammad as justification? If you know where to look, you can find the isnad (chain of transmission) and you can see, Oops, the chain was broken and that hadith has been discredited since the 1870s. You did a little more and then you find it persists in one specific region. Either that group is from that region, or some extremists had a mini-conference and someone who is from that region passed through.

But before you can do all of that, one must see the forest for the trees. Some of you have a decent background in the area, but what I hope to do is show you a different approach to that material.

I’ll check in again on Sunday. Saturday, I’m driving out to my alma mater and I plan on doing some research. I will have a more structured approach for the next book!