A Companion to Muslim Cultures ed. Amyn B. Sajoo, 2012. London: I.B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, xviii + 239 pp. + ill., £25.00. ISBN: 978-1-78076-127-5 (hbk).
In the face of popular portrayals of Muslims as violent, this collection of articles presents an alternative view of Muslim civilization and explores the cultural richness that comprises Muslim civilization. Adopting the premise that faith is understood and expressed through culture, the articles explore faith traditions such as prayer and the hijab from a cultural standpoint. Various aspects of culture, such as spiritual life, gender and identity, science and society, the arts and architecture, and even the craft of food are discussed with reference to Muslim cultures from Bosnia to China. Beautiful colour-print illustrations, depicting aspects of Muslim cultures in a diversity of regions, give life to the anthology.
Inside the Immaculate Portal: A History from Early Fatimid Archives trans. Hamid Haji, 2012. (Ismaili Texts and Translations Series, vol. 16.) London & New York: I.B. Tauris Publishers in association with the Institute of Ismaili Studies, xxx + 186 pp. (English), xii + 196 pp. (Arabic), maps, £29.50. ISBN: 978-1-78076-268-5 (hbk).
This volume is presented as a new edition of a fourth century AH text, Sirat al-Ustadh Jawdhar, by Mansur al-'Azizi al-Jawdhari. 'Ustadh Jawdhar' was a confidant of the first four Fatimid caliph-imams, and Mansur was his private secretary. Mansur was thus in a good position to write the biography of this important Fatimid statesman and to record a number of his correspondences alongside. Inside the Immaculate Portal includes not just the English translation of the Sirat but also the original Arabic. In addition, Haji has contributed a fifteen page introduction, annotations, a chronology, a bibliography, a couple of maps, and a couple of dynastic trees. Both the English and the Arabic sections of the book are indexed.
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Lebanon Adrift: From Battleground to Playground by Samir Khalaf, 2012. London: Saqi, vi + 296 pp., £18.99, $27.95. ISBN: 978-0-86356-434-5 (pbk).
Written by one of Lebanon's most significant intellectuals, Lebanon Adrift assesses some of the social problems that Lebanon and its people face today. A key theme of Khalaf's narrative is the ills of excessive consumerism, from its wayward hedonism to the marketing forces which drive it to its possible alternatives. One manifestation of excessive consumerism, according to Khalaf, is the decrease of aesthetic and moral constraints and therefore the increase in public disregard for the both the urban and natural environments. In the closing pages of the final chapter before the epilogue, Khalaf develops his playground metaphor, arguing that Lebanon is a venue of invention and experimentation which can at times be indulgent and careless. Lebanon Adrift comes with a preface by Ghassan Hage, who captures the tone of the book written by his 'friend and colleague' through the example of the newfound pervasiveness of the water-pipe.
Sayyids and Sharifs in Muslim Societies: The Living Links to the Prophet ed. Morimoto Kazuo, 2012. (New Horizons in Islamic Studies, ed. Yukawa Takeshi.) London: Routledge, xii + 276 pp., maps, ills., £75. ISBN: 978-0-415-51917-5 (hbk).
This collection of essays on the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad (S) is arranged into three parts: 'Arguing Sayyids and Sharifs', 'Sayyids and Sharifs in the Middle East', and 'Sayyids and Sharifs beyond the Middle East'. The collection arises from an international conference held 22-23 September 2009 at the University of Tokyo's Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia (formerly, the Institute of Oriental Culture). Together the thirteen articles of this collection present a picture of what it has meant, and what it continues to mean, to be a descendant of the Prophet across the Muslim world. The volume will prove highly useful to anthropologists, historians, and sociologists seeking to gain a better picture of the special status reserved for sayyids/sharifs in the Islamic tradition as well as, for example, how this status has been criticised by modern reform movements.
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