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Contents:
  1. 11 Books By Muslim Women That Show The Many Facets Of Islam
  2. Secondary Navigation
  3. American Muslims in the United States | Teaching Tolerance

Muslims don't generally brand other Muslims as part or not part of the same faith on account of their practice or non-practice of Islamic doctrines and norms; and debate and disagreement about how to follow these doctrines and norms correctly are a constant part of the history of Islam. Some Muslims, among them many contemporary Sunni Jihadists, claim that some people following other interpretations of Islam are infidels.

Such exclusionist views have gained currency recently but remain a minority position.

A Comparison of Sikh and Muslim Faiths

What is widely considered a bare minimum of shared faith is remarkably basic: that there is only one God, and that Muhammad is His messenger. There are widely shared basics of faith and practice that one is likely to encounter in almost any Muslim community.


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The Qur'an is the central text of Islam, and is generally understood to be the direct speech of God to humans. Groups of Muslims like the Ahmadiyya, who believe to have received a later, additional prophecy, are often rejected — even not considered Muslims at all — by followers of mainstream traditions. Prophesy is a cornerstone of Islamic faith, with various dimensions. In the mystic tradition Sufism , the Prophet Muhammad is elevated to an almost super-human medium of divine love and help, whereas in the tradition of normative reasoning, he is the perfect example of proper human conduct.

The Shari'a is often translated as Islamic law, which is misleading. It includes norms that are legal in a contemporary sense such as marriage, inheritance, contractual procedures, some crimes and punishments , along with norms concerning polite greetings and interaction, and the proper form of worship and ritual. But a great number of Muslims who may or may not agree with Shari'a-based state law also do live by the Shari'a, in the sense that they practice worship and consider right and wrong in their actions based on Islamic traditions of normative reasoning.


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Yet others may express a strong Islamic faith but give less concern to living by Shari'a. Human worship of the God of the Qur'an raises questions about truth and falsehood, right and wrong, and salvation and punishment after Resurrection Day. Anthropologists, however, have usually not seen it as their task to tell what or how Islam should really be.

Instead, they have in various ways recorded and tried to understand how humans around the world live in relation to Muhammad's revelation. There is a long-standing debate among anthropologists about how to define Islam as an object of study. I cannot give a full account of that debate here for overviews, see Bowen ; Kreinath Instead, I will highlight three proposals that are helpful to understand what anthropologists may mean when they claim to study Islam.

Responding to an emerging conversation about how to understand the simultaneous unity and plurality of Islamic faith and practice, Abdul Hamid El-Zein argued that, anthropologically speaking, Islam could only be understood in context and not be taken for an analytical category. Instead, El-Zein proposed to take specific articulations of Islam seriously in their own right, without assuming or establishing a hierarchy between them. But how can one account anthropologically for those debates? After all, they are an important part of becoming and being a Muslim.

For Asad, in contrast, plurality is a hallmark of the Islamic tradition, and therefore requires no explanation. Instead, an anthropology of Islam should have as its topic the ongoing attempts by Muslims to maintain coherence and establish correct practice. Tradition, in Asad's sense, means being grounded in an authoritative past that provides one with values, practices, and concerns to cultivate in the now and towards the future.

The historical formation and scope of the Islamic tradition are not in focus. Asad does not suggest that anthropologists should tell what is correct practice and what not. Rather, he suggests studying how Muslims debate about and establish orthodoxy — that is, the power to successfully claim one's interpretation of the tradition as the correct one. Those who are able to claim orthodoxy and those who appear heretic according to them are all part of the conversation. Asad's proposal has been very productive, because it directs attention to a key concern of contemporary movements of Islamic revival and reform: how does one follow correctly the commandments of God and the example of the Prophet?

Is it possible to understand them together, without excluding one or the other? According to Ahmed, learning to live by the Shari'a is Islamic, and so are seemingly counter-intuitive aspects such as classical Persian poems about wine and seductive boys.

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11 Books By Muslim Women That Show The Many Facets Of Islam

The choice for the best theoretical approach does not need to be decided on the level of abstract conceptual debate. Personally, I rather agree with Abdellah Hammoudi's suggestion that fieldwork should not be a surrogate for theory, but instead an open-ended and often surprising encounter through which anthropologists may learn how God's revelation to Muhammad matters for some human beings in specific situations. Where might such encounters take place?

Muslims often understand themselves as being part of a global community umma — a very large and diverse one, currently counting some 1. And yet Muslim faith is usually inseparable from the social worlds in which people grow up and live, and goes hand in hand with ethnic, cultural, doctrinal, and ideological traditions and divisions.

Some people are very committed to practicing their faith, others less so. Local and political contexts make for different articulations and experiences of Muslim faith and lives. To what degree does it make sense to speak about the lifeworlds, lives, and strivings of different people around the world as Islamic? Certainly it makes sense when they explicitly engage in acts of worship, or try to craft their lives according to what they see as Islamic teachings. But Islamic faith and norms can also inform the ways in which more or less pious people eat their lunch Tayob or interpret their dreams Mittermaier Where should one draw the line?

Should one draw a line?

Secondary Navigation

In such contexts, God-oriented strivings and activities are also most pronounced. Good ethnographies of Islamic practice in the narrow sense always also tell about the wider societal and political context. Marloes Janson conducted fieldwork in the Gambia among followers of Tablighi Jamaat, a global proselytising movement originally based in South Asia.

Members of the movement travel near and far to call other Muslims to follow the proper teachings of their faith, which they understand in a conservative and purity-oriented way, but with a conscious avoidance of politics. In the Gambia, members of the movement can enter conflicts with their families when they reject communal traditions of life-cycle celebrations and ostentatious gift-giving. In such places, anthropologists are also more likely to meet some of those people who do not frequent organised religious groups.

What The West Gets Wrong About Muslim Women

Thus, in many parts of the world, the God of the Qur'an is a third party in most transactions and polite speech that is often indistinguishable from prayers. Running a small business in Egypt means that one must equally consider supply and demand, Chinese imports and currency exchange rates, Islamic understandings of legitimate income and mutual trust, and political and family networks of patronage Ismail Maintaining peace among neighbours in Pakistan involves mutual care, cultivation of emotions, female modesty, and male provider roles — all of which are also Islamic values, and may be at the same time articulated by neighbours as markers of their social class or ethnic group Ring Nightlife in a small town in northern Ivory Coast is structured by the way Islamic norms of public interaction dominate the daytime, confining drinking to the discretion of night Chappatte The twentieth and early twenty-first centuries are marked by a global demographic shift from villages to cities.

Rural-urban migrants and urban middle classes have been at the forefront of revivalist movements, and consequently are also at the focus of most contemporary anthropologies of Islam. At the height of the Islamic revival in Egypt in the s, an increasing number of women attended study circles at mosques. They were something of a puzzle for Egyptian and foreign researchers of feminist inclination. Were they unable to resist the pressure of a patriarchal religious movement? Or were they perhaps subverting that rule from inside by reinterpreting Islamic teachings? Saba Mahmood conducted fieldwork with women in lecture circles in Cairo, and found neither to be true.

She encountered women who wanted to be better at submitting to the will of God. This was not easy and required active learning. These women clearly had agency. But they did not resist the divine or male authorities they faced. Such ethical self-making — that is, a reflective work on oneself to become a certain kind of person — is a key concern of Islamist political movements that aim to change society and state, as well as pietist movements that encourage more and better worship.

Part of a wider anthropological turn towards ethics in ordinary life e. Lambek , Mahmood's intervention has inspired a wave of studies foregrounding Muslim women's pious, ethical strivings e. Huq ; Masquelier ; Hafez ; Jouili ; Liberatore , and has established piety and ethics as key concepts through which anthropologists try to understand Muslim lives. Within that same turn, some anthropologists have highlighted the cultivation of a complex set of skills.

American Muslims in the United States | Teaching Tolerance

Magnus Marsden describes how young Sunni and Ismaili men in Chitral, northwestern Pakistan, learn to skillfully balance and shift between different forms of cultivation, including religious debates, the pleasures of music and poetry, and careful considerations about when to act in what way, which feelings to show and which to conceal and when.

In my own research in Egypt Schielke , I have argued that strivings for perfection and purity are inherently fragile. In reply, Nadia Fadil and Mayanthi Fernando have critiqued approaches that, according to them, mistakenly treat religion and everyday life as separate entities, and normalise a liberal-secular ideal of resistance to religious norms, while possibly pathologising followers of Salafi and other revivalist movements. A good example of how they can be thought together is a book by Daan Beekers and David Kloos that shows how experiences of moral failure can also motivate and enforce pious strivings.

There is a deeper, political layer to this debate that is not easily resolved, however. In places like Pakistan and Egypt, in contrast, the same revivalist movements that are scandalised in Europe have successfully established themselves as mainstream, normal models for Islamic religiosity. They have partly marginalised ways of life, theologies, and practices that until recently had been normal, even dominant.


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In some countries — notably Saudi Arabia — they provide the religious ideology of the ruling elite. Social conflicts related to migration in Western Europe have become addressed increasingly in terms of religion instead of ethnicity or nationality Spielhaus But what is radicalization? It remains unclear.