Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Currently Reading...

Peace be upon you!
In order to prepare for the introductory course on Islam I am due to teach, I am currently reading Daniel Brown's A New Introduction to Islam.
Upon receiving the book this morning, I felt an inward groan, 'oh no! not another intro. to Islam book'. Having briefly looked through it during lunch, I have to say that I've revised my opinion. Although, as a believing Muslim, there are things in the book I disagree with (when is that not the case anyway?) it represents an encouraging trend in 2 ways: firstly, it deals with Islamic sources in a much more concrete way than some similar works do. Part II: the Formation of the Islamic Tradition looks at the origins, nature and development of three key areas: the Quran, the Sira and the Hadith. Although other works do the same, here they are treated in a significant number of chapters - giving them the coverage they so richly deserve.
Secondly, the book, which is consciously aimed at students, also provides useful suggestions for further reading. Again, as a Muslim, I would disagree with a number of the statements included here. But, and this is an important point, any serious student of Islam needs to be introduced to some of the key debates in the contemporary field. This is true for non-Muslim undergraduates, who need to know about the debates and discussion within Islam. It is also true for Muslims. It is no longer enough for us to merely retreat; we need to read what others are writing about our faith. We also need to interact with them. That is, we need to consider their ideas carefully and to formulate our own responses.
Ma'as salama,
Abdur Rahman

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Further Reflections

Having finished Sardar's book (and having had time to ruminate on it a little), I thought I'd offer a thought or two...
As I mentioned previously, I enjoyed the general style of the book. Written very much as a conversation, Desperately Seeking... struck me as an enjoyable story, full of personal insights and experiences. As a reader, one of the things I enjoy most is gaining access to the author's thoughts and feelings. On that score, the book worked for me.
Upon reflection, I think the key word here is 'story'. Sardar presents us with his own story (naturally enough), which leaves other perspectives at a distance. This is, of course, the nature of this kind of autobiographical writing; in giving a personal account, other voices are, at best, filtered through the author's own understandings and presentations.
What struck me, though, was two things: Sardar's disappointments with contemporary Muslim groups and his somewhat fiery approach. Given the state of much contemporary Muslim thought, his disappointments are perhaps understandable. Having said that, on occasions Sardar seems to move from disappointment to depression. Again, an understandable reaction I suppose. However, I do think that there is an important distinction to be drawn between being disappointed/depressed and being overly critical. It seems to me that if we as Muslims are ever going to move beyond contemporary challenges, we first need to understand how to disagree with each other properly.
As I have personally observed on numerous occasions, many Muslims experience disagreement as a kind of existential crisis. Failing to understand that people are not only going to disagree (and disagree radically) but that disagreement does not mean rejection per se, many of us either give up talking - or else (and this is worse), lose our cool and start becoming offensive. If we cannot even sit together and talk about our differences calmly (whilst crediting the other with the best intentions), we will never be able to build our communities together.
The general feeling I have, having read Desperately Seeking..., is that Sardar occasionally falls into this trap. Well, let me clarify myself, what I mean is that there is a general sense that the ideas/opinions of other thinkers/writers/etc are wrong categorically. It seems that Sardar is, at times, a little too keen to rush towards judgement. Granted, having been given Islam by Allah, Muslims can sometimes be amongst the most venal, selfish, narrowminded bigots on earth. This is not, mercifully, the whole story. The world is also home to many selfless, openminded, tolerant, just and forebearing Muslims. Indeed, as I learned from my mother, most people are a complicated mixture of light and dark, or good and bad. We are all truly works in progress.
In other words, rather than reacting to venality with disappointment and anger, we should be trying to interact and challenge in a positive manner. In this vein, it is helpful to reflect on the practice of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Despite years of facing oppression, corruption and wickedness, he remained calm, peaceful, tolerant and unsullied. Even after returning to Mecca, when he could have ordered a Stalinesque purge of his opponents, he is said to have replied with the words of Yusuf (peace be upon him):
'Today there is no blame upon you. Allah will forgive you and He is the Most Merciful of those who show Mercy' (Quran 12:92).
How refreshing...!
Ma'as salama,

Abdur Rahman

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Current Reading & Other Thoughts: Desperately Seeking Paradise, by Ziauddin Sardar

Peace be upon you
I am currently reading Ziauddin Sardar's Desperately Seeking Paradise, so I thought I'd offer my two-penneth...
Although I'd heard of the title, I'd not thought to buy it until I was recently looking on Amazon (a favourite haunt of mine) for a new book and happened to notice that Zia grew up in Hackney (as did I). With this in mind, I thought I'd have a read of it and see what reflections he had to offer on my place of origin...
Though I'm still reading it, I've been struck by a number of things... Firstly, Zia comes across as a very inquisitive person (which is a good thing). It also reads well; I can tell that a real person, with real emotions has written this book. With some books, this is not so clear. Here, there seems to be little pretentiousness and a lively sense of humour. Needless to say, I'm generally enjoying the work. I'll be able to offer a more considered opinion once I've finished it.
His comments regarding a number of contemporary Muslim groups also seem to hit the spot (more or less), though, to be fair, my own knowledge of some is poor. I've knocked around the Muslim 'scene', so to speak, for a while now and have encountered similar ideas and views myself.
As a convert (though I am undoubtedly no one special), I have encountered a wide range of reactions from other Muslims. Some have expressed admiration for my acceptance of Islam. Whilst this may be nice in the short-term, in the sense that it is nice to have one's ego stroked, upon reflection I find this faintly worrying. After all...who I am that people should look up to me? I am aware of my faults and sins (of which, unfortunately, there are many - astaghfirullah - may Allah forgive me) and am aware of some of my hidden motivations (no matter how dimly).
I have also encountered hostility, occasionally outright, as if I have no right to 'our' religion! Fortunately, there have been few such occasions. On reflection though, this seems to be the flipside of the above. Once the convert's halo slips (as it invariably does), I suppose it is then easy to demonise.
My own view is that 'conversion' is an experience common to us all. Whatever our backgrounds, and the religious views of our parents, once we come of age we all have to ask and answer the great questions ourselves. That is, we all have to decide what we think about God, life, the Universe and everything. Once we decide to follow Islam, we become converts and thus have to work out what this means ourselves; we have to come to our own conclusions about this crazy world!
Anyway, that's enough ranting for now.
Ma'as salama,
Abdur Rahman

Reviews, etc

Peace be upon you

One of my main objectives in setting up this blog spot is to offer my thoughts and reflections on my current reading material. I read a lot (al hamdu lillah) and would like an opportunity to reflect on what I read. I would also like to discuss interesting books with others (so please feel free to respond).

Although I like to read widely, it is fair to say that I concentrate on particular areas. As a Muslim, I naturally read books about Islam. Specifically, I am interested in the following areas:
  • The faith of Islam
  • Islamic History (a particular favourite)
  • Islamic Spirituality
  • Islamic Law (both theory and practice)
  • Islam-inspired sectarian movements (for want of a more appropriate term)
  • Islamic philosophy, thought and culture

More generally, I am also interested in history. I started off studying the Ancient World of Greece and primarily, Rome. Recently, I have been reading about the early medieval Middle East (and Europre). I also like to read science fiction, fantasy, and so on...

Thus, as time allows, I'll be posting my thoughts on books, etc drawn from these areas (and others).

Ma'as salama (with you be peace)

Abdur Rahman






Monday, August 01, 2005

Background

As salaamu alaikum
As I mentioned in my introductory post, I became a Muslim in later life. I became a paid-up, card-carrying member (so to speak) of the Ummah of Islam almost 7 years ago. However, I have been interested in things Islamic, for about 15 years.
My path to Islam was, by any stretch of the imagination, a gradual affair. Maybe the slow path is the best after all! In any case, my Islam was the result of a growing realisation of the centrality of God. Or, in other slightly less grandiose language, my eventual understanding of what Allah had always been trying to tell me! Or, once again, it was my awareness that I wanted God to be central to my life: the steering wheel and not just the spare time, as a song I once owned put it!
Although I took my time to investigate the teachings of Islam, I don't think there was really any competition. Somehow, I think I always knew that I would eventually become a Muslim! Coming from the East End of London, I've always known Muslims (probably even before I was aware of what Islam was) and of these, some have been especially influential. As I learned more, I was always struck by the ennobling qualities of Islam: wherever Islam has put down roots, it has produced generous, warm, just and committed individuals.
Theologically, Islam also seemed to be streets ahead of other faiths. It is simple to understand in its essentials, but not simplistic. It has a straightfoward and clear understanding of God and although some have commented that the God of the Quran is so high as to be distant, this is definitely not how I have experienced it.
The role and function of Muhammad (peace be upon him) is also clear and easy to understand within Islam. Though a Prophet of God (the last, according to Islam), he is indelibly human. I have always found it hard to believe in semi-divine human beings. Being a student of ancient history (amongst other things) I have seen how many civilisations have used such ideas to bolster tyrants.
Islam, by contrast, always struck me as radically life-affirming (whatever contemporary jihadi extremists may say). There is no compulsion in faith; mankind has been born free under God; the middle path of tolerance, compassion and understanding is better than the extremes of violence and bloodshed.
These are teachings which ultimately drew me to Islam: respect, justice, tolerance, mercy, compassion, forgiveness and God-centred consciousness. These are also the ideals which I have tried to embody in my own life (though, as I say, I am a work in progress).
In closing, I eventually embraced Islam amidst the rural beauty of west Wales and there met and married my wife. Although I am Sunni Muslim (in that I try to follow the Sunnah - or way - of the Prophet), I dislike labels and groups. In this blog, I want to explore the roots and branches of the Islamic faith (and other things). I have many questions to ask and hopefully... we may even be able to answer some of them together!
Ma'as salama,
Abdur Rahman

Welcome to the Corner: Abdur Rahman's little piece of the world


May peace and the mercy of God be with you....
Welcome to Abdur Rahman's Corner, my very own blog spot. In these pages, I hope to share my thoughts with the wider world. In particular, I will be posting material on those things which truly motivate, fascinate and inspire me.
First of all, I suppose I should start off by introducing myself..... My name (as the blog's title may suggest) is Abdur Rahman; I am a 32 year old Muslim living in Wales, UK (though I am originally from the East End of London - Hackney to be exact). I have been married for about 6 years and I am fortunate enough to be the father of two beautiful children (a girl of 3 and a boy of 18 months).
Abdur Rahman (which, incidentally, means 'Servant of the Merciful') is the name I chose upon accepting Islam some years ago. Although many people adopt new names when they embrace Islam, it is not necessarily required. However, in my own case, my choice of this particular name is aspirational; I would like to one day become a true servant of Allah, insha Allah.
As I sit writing this initial post, I find myself wondering exactly where I'm going with this... Well, I'm not sure I have all of the answers. However, my intention (at least at this stage) is to provide myself with a space to reflect on those topics, subjects and issues which seem pressing at any given point in time. Moreover, I also hope to use this blog as a means of sharing my own intersts and views with the wider world.
Ma'as salama,
Abdur Rahman