Best 3 Books You've Read on Mid East/Muslim World, etc.

Discussion in 'Politics & Current Events' started by DoctorJones24, Sep 17, 2003.

  1. DoctorJones24

    DoctorJones24 Member

    Aug 26, 1999
    OH
    I just picked up 3 at a used bookstore tonight: "Postmodernism and Islam" by Akbar Ahmed, "The Political Language of Islam" by Bernard Lewis, and "The Forgotten Queens of Islam" by Fatima Mernissi. I've read both Mernissi and Lewis before, and both are obvioulsy hugely influential in Mid East studies. The Ahmed one I hadn't heard of before, and actually I confused the name with the late Eqbal Ahmad, who I've been meaning to read more of, but this one looks good too.

    Anyway, here's three worth checking out:

    1) "The Veil and the Male Eilte: A Feminist Interpretation of Women's Rights in Islam," by Fatima Mernissi.
    - Brilliantly throws down the gauntlet to the conservative old Islamic scholars, as Mernissi reads all their own ancient texts closer and better than they do. In the process, she practically makes a couple thousand hadith worthless.

    2) "The Israeli-Arab Reader," edited by William Laquer and Barry Rubin.
    - Great for the background to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, especially with the reprints of early primary documents from turn of the century.

    3) "Daughter of Persia: A Woman's Journey from Her Father's Harem Through the Islamic Revolution" by Sattareh Farman Farmaian
    - Yeah, it sounds like an Oprah book, but trust me, it's great. Actually, it probably could be an Oprah book...very readable insider's account of 20th century Iranian history. I think Farmaian was a niece of the shah or something.

    Alternates:
    Imaginary Homelands, Salman Rushdie
    The Question of Palestine, by Edward Said
    The Politics of Dispossession, Said
    Covering Islam, Said
    Islam: A Brief History, by Karen Armstrong
    The Proudest Day, by Read and Fisher (about partition of India/Pakistan)
    The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon (not specifically about Muslim World, but inspired by and relevant to it)
    Veiled Sentiments, Leila Ahmad
    Beyond the Veil, Fatima Mernissi

    Novels:
    The Year of the Elephant, by Laila Aboussid
    Cracking India, by Bapsi Sidwa
    A Train to Pakistan, by Khushwant Singh
    The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
    The Moor's Last Sigh, Rushdie


    Recommendations?
     
  2. 352klr

    352klr Member

    Jan 29, 2001
    The Burgh of Edin
    1. What Went Wrong: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East. Bernard Lewis

    2. The Dream Palace of the Arabs: A Generation's Odyssey. Fouad Ajami

    3. The Middle East. Bernard Lewis
     
  3. DoctorJones24

    DoctorJones24 Member

    Aug 26, 1999
    OH
    Hope you're reading some Said to balance out all that Lewis. I still read Lewis too (obvioulsy, since I just bought his book tonight), but he's wrong as much as he's right, and Said skewers him pretty handily.
     
  4. 352klr

    352klr Member

    Jan 29, 2001
    The Burgh of Edin
    Only just started reading these books. I take whatever my brother hands down to me, which takes a while, bc he's taking Arabic on the side at SOAS so it takes a while for books to get here from London. I'll definitely look into Said now that you recomend it.
     
  5. DoctorJones24

    DoctorJones24 Member

    Aug 26, 1999
    OH
    Well, since you asked!
    Here's a review of Lewis' "What Went Wrong" by Said in Harpers. He also reviews the short Armstrong book I recommend above. He clearly despises the Lewis book, and politely dismisses the Armstrong one.

    "Except for anachronisms like Lewis. In a stream of repetitious, tartly phrased books and articles that resolutely ignored any of the recent advances of knowledge in anthropology, history, social theory, and cultural studies, he persisted in such "philological" tricks as deriving an aspect of the predilection in contemporary Arab Islam for revolutionary violence from Bedouin descriptions of a camel rising. For the reader, however, there was no surprise, no discovery to be made from anything Lewis wrote, since it all added up in his view to confirmations of the Islamic tendency to violence, anger, antimodernism, as well as Islam's (and especially the Arabs') closed-mindedness, its fondness for slavery, Muslims' inability to be concerned with anything but themselves, and the like."
     
  6. mannyfreshstunna

    mannyfreshstunna New Member

    Feb 7, 2003
    Naperville, no less

    Hey, for most of that book Lewis quotes Ottoman scholars and the like. Call Lewis slanted if you want but he got a lot of his evidence straight from the horse's mouth.....

    And further more, i would like reccomend "What Went Wrong?; June 1967 and the making of the modern middle east" by Micheal B. Oren. It's and absolute drop dead awesome account of the six day war, aswell as it's preface and prologue.

    Thank you for your reccomendations aswell. I eat up books that are about that stuff. :)
     
  7. Karl K

    Karl K Member

    Oct 25, 1999
    Suburban Chicago
    I don't know about three books, but there's one book that EVERYONE in the West should read:

    "A History of the Arab Peoples" by Albert Hourani.

    Calm, thoughful, fair,comprehensive,sweeping in its scope.
     
  8. mannyfreshstunna

    mannyfreshstunna New Member

    Feb 7, 2003
    Naperville, no less
    Karl, is there a conclusion the author comes to, or is it strictly history?
     
  9. DoyleG

    DoyleG Moderator
    Staff Member

    FC Edmonton
    Canada
    Jan 11, 2002
    Victoria, BC
    Club:
    FC Edmonton
    Nat'l Team:
    Canada
    "A Turban For The Crown"

    A book on the Iranian Revolution.
     
  10. DoctorJones24

    DoctorJones24 Member

    Aug 26, 1999
    OH
    I've read sections from this and other Hourani.
    You're exactly right--this might still be the best foundation out there. (Long, though.)
     
  11. argentine soccer fan

    Staff Member

    Jan 18, 2001
    San Francisco Bay Area
    Club:
    CA Boca Juniors
    Nat'l Team:
    Argentina
    1) The Koran.

    2) A Thousand and One Nights.

    3) Anything relating to 12th century Muslim philosopher Averroes. (Today's Muslim leaders would do well to read the works of this man.)
     
  12. sebakoole

    sebakoole New Member

    Jul 11, 2002
    I found these to be interesting and insightful:

    - "War Without End: Israelis, Palestinians, and the Struggle for a Promised Land" by Anton LaGuardia

    - "From Beirut to Jerusalem" by Thomas Friedman

    - "A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East" by David Fromkin
     
  13. bungadiri

    bungadiri Super Moderator
    Staff Member

    Jan 25, 2002
    Acnestia
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Nice list. I'll try to add more later. One quick correction.
    Great book, by the way.
     
  14. Karl K

    Karl K Member

    Oct 25, 1999
    Suburban Chicago
    Well, I guess you could say it's "strictly history." It is an academic work, extensively documented. Some might think it a "dry" as a read, but I find Hourani's prose clear and lucid.

    Good photos, great maps, and a tremendous index.

    Also, the title is somewhat of a misnomer, in that the book covers the Ottoman empire and the history of Persia, as well as peoples that would be strictly Arab.

    "Dispassionate" is a word I would use to describe the tone and texture of the book. His treatment of Israel is fair.

    You should also know that the book goes up to the early 90s, just before the Gulf War. But as historical context for the last decade, it is phenomenal.
     
  15. Father Ted

    Father Ted BigSoccer Supporter

    Manchester United, Galway United, New York Red Bulls
    Nov 2, 2001
    Connecticut
    Club:
    Manchester United FC
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    I read the Lewis book a few weeks ago, it was pretty good given that I only know about Islam and the middle east from TV, newspapers and magazines. I hope to pick up one of the others shortly.
     
  16. NER_MCFC

    NER_MCFC Member

    May 23, 2001
    Cambridge, MA
    Club:
    New England Revolution
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Most of my reading on the subject was 20 years ago in college, and I've forgotten the titles. However, one I read fairly recently that I found valuable for deep background is The Crusades through Arab Eyes by Amin Malouf. It's drawn from original sources in the Islamic world as you might guess from the title. There is also preface or postscript (I forget) that explains why events of 800 to 1000 years ago are so important to an understanding of that part of the world.
     
  17. Dr. Wankler

    Dr. Wankler Member+

    May 2, 2001
    The Electric City
    Club:
    Chicago Fire
    Lots of good ones so far. I would add the following: Idries Shah is really good on Sufism (I say as if I am in a position to judge what an excellent book on the Sufis would look like). There's also an old-school scholar of world religions who directed the dissertation of my favorite undergrad professor. His name is (or maybe was, since he would be over 80 if he's still alive) Wilfred Cantwell Smith. On Understanding Islam and Islam in Modern History are tinged with the Orientalism that Edward Said has noted, but given their time (60s and 70s IIRC), they're pretty good and still hold up well, I would guess. There's also a guy named Seyyed Hossein Nasr, whose Traditional Islam in the Modern World is pretty good, as is his Science and Civilization in Medieval Islam (IIRC) (and slightly off topic, his Gifford Lectures, Knowledge and the Sacred, are great). Finally, one of my all-time favorite travel books is In an Antique Land, by Amitav Ghosh, which relates his visits to Egypt as a young man from India. Quite interesting to see from that perspective.
     
  18. bungadiri

    bungadiri Super Moderator
    Staff Member

    Jan 25, 2002
    Acnestia
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Just to broaden the field, here are some books on Islam and Indonesia (the world's largest Muslim population)/ Southeast Asia.

    1. The rope of God. James Seigel. This is a classic work on Islam in SEAsia.

    2. Muslims through discourse : religion and ritual in Gayo society. John Bowen (Based on fieldwork done in an area near Aceh, which is the seat of a longstanding Muslim-based separatist movement).

    3. Civil Islam : Muslims and democratization in Indonesia. Robert W. Hefner A key discussion of the role of Islam in modern Indonesian politics.
     
  19. nicodemus

    nicodemus Member+

    Sep 3, 2001
    Cidade Mágica
    Club:
    PAOK Saloniki
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia by Ahmed Rashid

    Eating the Flowers of Paradise: A Journey Through the Drug Fields of Ethiopia and Yemenby Kevin Rushby

    Baghdad Without a Map: And Other Misadventures in Arabia by Tony Horwitz
     
  20. Dr. Wankler

    Dr. Wankler Member+

    May 2, 2001
    The Electric City
    Club:
    Chicago Fire
    I was also going to say that Stephen Schwartz's Two Faces of Islam wouldn't make my top three list, even if I'd only read one book on the topic.
     

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