Thursday, September 29, 2005

Currently Reading: Legacies from the Muslim world

As salaamu alaikum one and all,
I thought I'd share my current reading material with you all. Although I'm always reading several things at once, I'm particularly concentrating on the following works:
  • Bernard Haykel (2003), Revival and Reform in Islam: the Legacy of Muhammad al-Shawkani, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • D. A. Spellberg (1994), Politics, Gender and the Islamic Past: the Legacy of Aisha bint Abi Bakr, New York: Columbia University Press

As is immediately obvious, both works refer to the legacies of two key individuals. Spellberg's book looks at the legacy of Aisha, Muhammad's wife (peace be upon him). Particularly, it focuses on how the figure of Aisha has been differently viewed, principally by Sunnis and Shi'is. It looks at how Aisha was used by later writers within these traditions to make particular faith claims and counter-claims. I'm really interested in this field and so was delighted to find this book in a small bookshop in Hay-on-Wye. I've not had much of a chance to read it yet, but it does look fascinating and seems to be well written. I'll post some further thoughts on it once I've read it.

The other book is Haykel's account of the life and significance of the 19th century Yemeni reformer, Muhammad al-Shawkani. Al-Shawkani's main claim to fame (so to speak) is that he was one of the early scholars calling for a return to ijtihad (or returning to the Islamic sources directly for answers)in Islamic law. He was also set against taqlid (following a particular School of Islamic Law, such as the Hanafi). As he was operating within the Zaydi Imamate in Yemen, I found this book particularly interesting. He was also active during the time of the first Wahhabi expansion. His times thus saw argument and debate on several fronts, all of which adds up to a fascinating cultural and intellectual matrix.

The book itself is an even-handed account and offers a number of interesting insights. Chapter 5 ('Clashing with the Zaydis') offers an interesting account of the debates then going on regarding the cursing of certain of Muhammad's companions by Shi'a groups. As one of the things I'm interested in is the reception and use of early Islamic history, this was an especially welcome chapter.

All in all, both books are looking at how Muslims have understood their own history. As even these two books demonstrate, there is a wealth of Muslim historical writing available - with fascinating insights into contemporary debates and issues of concern. I would really like to see more of this kind of work filter through into the wider Muslim community. What I mean is that I feel it is vitally important that we, as Muslims, begin to explore the constructions of our own histories. Anyway, more on this topic another time, insha Allah.

Ma'as salama,

Abdur Rahman

Reflections on Teaching...

As salaamu alaikum one and all,
It's a nice autumn day here in Cardiff: the sun is shining (well, sort of at any rate) and the leaves are beginning to change colour. As I look out of my office window at all of the new students, a few stray thoughts about teaching are dancing merrily in front of my mind's eye.
The first is that I really love teaching and learning. There's nothing quite like the buzz you get when someone understands something for the first time. Seeing the light go on is great, especially when that person has had to struggle for their newly acquired understanding. As such, I'm really enjoying teaching my Introduction to Islam course. This is the third time the course has been scheduled (and the first time it has run). It's a real privilege to be able to spend 2 hours every week talking about a subject I find immensely fascinating to a group of like-minded people and being paid to do it! Al hamdu lillah, I am grateful to Allah for this opportunity.
The second stray thought is that education is (or should be) more about learning than teaching. That is, education is about helping the student to learn for themselves. It should be focused on helping the student to learn. Having just completed a PGCE in adult education, I am familiar with the student-centred learning idea. It's a good one, of course. Sometimes though, as with much educational literature, it can degenerate into what one friend has perceptively labelled 'educheese'. Thus, in my context, it is incumbent upon me to find ways to help my students to learn. For sure, it's not always easy, but it is certainly fun, al hamdu lillah.
Thirdly, what a difference organisation makes! Last night's session went much better as I had had the chance to prepare more thoroughly. I'm beginning to realise that I teach more confidently when I've prepared fully.
Oh well...I suppose I should go and do some work!
Ma'as salama (peace be with you).
Abdur Rahman

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

New Horizons

As salaamu alaikum one and all,
In recent weeks, I've been turning to new projects and new horizons. I thought, therefore, that I'd keep the world informed of them (as if anyone's watching!)
September is here and so to is the imminent arrival of the new academic year. The new students are arriving even as I speak (or type) and the department is a hive of frenetic activity in readiness for the new year's business. I always enjoy this time of year: I suppose it's because it always reminds me of my own student days. At any rate, the arrival of new, fresh-faced 18 year olds reminds me of new opportunities, new possibilities. It's an enjoyable, if rather busy, time of year.
I've also started a number of projects myself in recent weeks. Firstly, my Introduction to Islam course has started at the Centre for Lifelong Learning. Al hamdu lillah, it seems to have sufficient numbers to run this time. Although I really enjoy teaching, such courses fill me with a certain amount of trepidation. I want the course to succeed and I want the students to become as enthused by the topic as I am. This means that I feel nervous beforehand. On one level, that's a good thing - after all, it shows that it means something to me. However, it does leave me feeling rather drained, emotionally and physically. All in all though, it's good to be teaching again.
I've also just started a Hanafi fiqh course with sunnipath.com I've been looking for a Hanafi fiqh course for a while, so I'm glad to have finally found one. Moreover, I've heard lots of good things about sunnipath.com. It seems well organised for an Islamic educational establishment (which is a rather unusual and welcome change). I'll post more of thoughts once the course gets underway, God willing.
Thirdly, I'm about to start an Arabic language course at work. Although it's in Modern Standard Arabic, as opposed to Classical Arabic, I'm really looking forward to it. Al hamdu lillah, as a Co-ordinating Lecturer I don't have to pay - which is great (being an old skinflint)! It's all part of the plan to start a PhD in the next year in early Islamic history, which is nice!
Anyway, enough of my ramblings for now...
Ma'as salama,
Abdur Rahman