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The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature (Canto)
C.S. Lewis
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The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities, and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church
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Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes

Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World through Islamic Eyes - Tamim Ansary This is a very worthwhile book to read. I am in the process of educating myself more fully about Islam, the history of the religion, and the impact it is having in our world today. The author, Tamim Ansary, was born in Afghanistan to an Afghan father and American mother. He won a scholarship to attend high school in the United States and remained in the US to attend college and then to settle and live. Mr. Ansary married an American and has two daughters. He currently lives in San Francisco.This book is a history of the Islamic culture told from the viewpoint of a native of that culture. From reading "West of Kabul, East of New York", the author's biography, it is fairly clear that Mr. Ansary is not a practicing Muslim, he is a cultural Muslim now living in America. His American mother was an atheist, and he has adopted her more secular views in his own life. The authors wife Jewish, and in his biography he clearly states his rejection of the more radical Islamic diatribe demanding the destruction of Israel and the death of all Jews. This book has many excellent points. It was helpful to me to understand the early days of the Islamic religion and how they divided into the different branches today. The Islamic religion provided at times great community stability, and the Islamic people had great creativity and beautiful art, lovely literature and established centers of learning and commerce. However their early understanding of the physical world, the study of math and science, and the continued development of cultural richness seemed to stagnate. I think this is the "destiny disrupted" that the author mentions in the title. But who disrupted the destiny of the Islamic culture? Not the West, as some might surmise.... but what seemed to stop them in their tracks were their very own religious leaders, primarily when the struggle between rational thinking and revelation came to a crisis point. The group that emerged victorious from this crisis was the Asharite school during the Abbasid khalifate, who devalued rational thinking and subordinated it to revelation. In chapter 7, "Scholars, Philosophers, and Sufis", the author introduces Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali. He was one of the greatest intellectuals in the Islam world, and it is during his time of influence that the rejection of rational thought as being valuable in understanding the world occurred. The Asharite school insisted that (on page 110) "faith could never be based on reason, only on revelation. Reason's function was only to support revelation. Asharite theologians were constantly squaring off against prominent Mu'tazilites [who belonged to the rational Hanbali school which had confidence in human reasoning] in public debates, but the Mu'tazilites knew fancy Greek tricks for winning arguments, such as logic and rhetoric, so they were constantly making the Asharites look confused. Ghazali came to their rescue." The Asharites were suspicious of philosophy and natural science. They believed that no connections really existed for a cause-and-effect relationship in the physical world. God causes all things, and what is observed is merely observed but is not "caused" by anything at all. Then on page 112, "Take it however you will, the argument against causality undermines the whole scientific enterprise. If nothing actually causes anything else, why bother to observe the natural world in search of meaningful patterns? If God is the only cause, the only way to make sense of the world is to know God's will, which means that the only thing worth studying is the revelation, which means that the only people worth listening to are the ulama. [the religious leaders]".Interestingly enough, at the same time rational thought was being rejected, the status of women in Islamic communities began to change also. It seems from a study of the early days of Islam that women were allowed full and free access to the public world, enjoying great independence and a large amount of freedom in many public situations. Muhammed's first wife was a successful businesswoman who actually financed Muhammed's efforts. Without Khadija's money and support, Muhammed would never have done anything. Muhammed's youngest wife, Ayesha, also headed up one of the major parties during a schism after the death of khalif Othman. It is recorded also that Ayesha led armies in battle. Women in the first century of Islam even became authorities on hadith [collected sayings of Muhammed], took classes, taught classes to men and women together, and even held public lectures.On page 114, "Clearly, these women were not shut out of public life, public recognition, and public consequence. The practice of relegating women to an unseen private realm derived, it seems from Byzantine and Sassanid practices. ..... The radical separation of gender roles into nonoverlapping spheres accompanied by the sequestration of women probably froze into place during the era of social breakdown that marked the latter days of the Abbasid khalifate. The same forces that squeezed protoscience out of Islamic intellectual life, the same forces that devalued reason as an instrument of ethical and social inquiry, acted to constrict the position of women."In the afterword of the book, the author discusses current events, post 9/11. I find his thoughts interesting, and rather startling in their ultimate conclusion. He rightly admits that a rational and understandable discussion between the West and Islam will not happen because both sides are using different language. On pg. 350, "One side charges, 'You are decadent.' The other sides retorts, 'We are free.' These are not opposing contentions; they're nonsequiturs. Each side identifies the other as a character in its own narrative. In the 1980's, Khomeini called America 'the Great Satan,' and the other Islamist revolutionaries have echoed his rhetoric. In 2008, Jeffrey Herf, a history professor at the University of Maryland, suggested that radical Islamists are the Nazis reborn, motivated at core by anti-Semitism and hatred of women. It's a common analysis."[Interestingly enough, in his biography the author falls on the side of calling the terrorists Nazis. See http://tcotrel.tripod.com/afghanletter.html , where he says, "But the Taliban and Bin Laden are not Afghanistan. They're not even the government of Afghanistan. The Taliban are a cult of ignorant psychotics who took over Afghanistan in 1997. Bin Laden is a political criminal with a plan. When you think Taliban, think Nazis. When you think Bin Laden, think Hitler. And when you think "the people of Afghanistan" think "the Jews in the concentration camps." "]He writes further on page 353 - 354, "Unraveling the vectors of those two crowds is the minimum precondition for sorting out the doctrinal bases of today's disputes. The unraveling will not itself produce sweetness and light, because there are actual incompatibilities here, not just 'misunderstandings.' When I started working on this book, I read my proposal to a group of fellow writers, two of whom declared that the conflict between the Muslim world and the West was promoted by hidden powers because 'people are really the same and we all want the same things'; the conflict would fade away if only people in the West understood that Islam was actually just like Christianity. 'They believe in Abraham, too,' one of them offered. This sort of well-meant simplification won't get us very far.One the other side, I often hear liberal Muslims in the United States say that "jihad just means 'trying to be a good person,' " suggesting that only anti-Muslim bigots think the term has something to do with violence. But they ignore what jihad has meant to Muslims in the course of history dating back to the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed himself. Anyone who claims that jihad has nothing to do with violence must account for the warfare that the earliest Muslims called 'jihad'. Anyone who wants to say that early Muslims felt a certain way but we modern Muslims can create whole new definitions for jihad (and other aspects of Islam) must wrestle with the doctrine Muslims have fleshed out over time: that the Qur'an, Mohammed's prophetic career, and the lives, deeds, and words of his companions in the first Muslim community were the will of God revealed on Earth and no mortal human can improve on the laws and customs of that time and place. This doctrine has forced all Muslim reformers to declare that they are proposing nothing new, only restoring what was originally mean. They must deny that they are forging forward, must insist that they are going back to the pristine original. That's a trap Muslim thinkers must break out of. " On page 355, "And I must say, I don't see how a single society can be constructed in which some citizens think the whole world should be divided into a woman's realm and a men's realm, and others think that genders should be blended into a single social realm wherein men and women walk the same streets, shop the same shops, eat at the same restaurants, sit together in the same classrooms, and do the same jobs. It can be only one or the other. It can't be both. From where I stand, I don't see how Muslims can live in the West, under the laws and customs of Western societies, if they embrace that divided-world view, nor how Westerners can live in the Muslim world as anything but visitors, if they embrace that genders-shuffled-together view."The author offers no solution himself, but merely says that Muslim intellectuals have to grapple with these problems and propose solutions. The author on pg 356 says, "There can be no sensible argument [between the Islamic world and the West] until both sides are using the same terms and mean the same things by those terms -- until, that is, both sides share the same framework or at least understand what framework the other is assuming."But what does the rest of the world do while the Muslim intellectuals wrestle with these problems? Is isn't as if we can leave one country totally alone until they "figure it out", and it isn't even as if there is agreement even among Muslims as to what course to take. ***************In taking notes on this book, I read an article in WORLD magazine at http://www.worldmag.com/articles/19254, by Marvin Olasky. The article was "Views from Without: An Indian and a Pakistani show appreciation for the West". In it I read the following:"Ibn Warraq grew up in Pakistan and, like Mangalwadi, came to admire a Western society based in the Bible; unlike Mangalwadi, he never came to profess Christ, so his Why the West Is Best(Encounter, 2011) underestimates the role of Christian thought in establishing the liberties we enjoy. It's still a valuable work, though, for its demolishing of those who fall for the myth that medieval Islam had a golden age, and that modern Islam is more family-friendly than a decadent West.Warraq particularly criticizes the "morally dubious" thesis of Dinesh D'Souza in The Enemy at Home, which "betrays a romantic, idealized vision of Muslim domestic life" by seeing Muslim conservatives as allies of Christian conservatives. Warraq cites the frequency of wife-beating, divorce, and brutal fathering in the Middle East and notes the incidence of drug addiction, child prostitution, and adult sex slavery in many Muslim countries. He also notes that "Arabs were engaged in the slave trade for thirteen centuries and shipped far more black slaves across the Sahara and the Red Sea than were sent across the Atlantic."Western guilt compared with Muslim myopia is one reason why the West "has lavished more than $400 billion in aid on sub-Saharan Africa over the past few decades. The Arabs have done nothing similar. The Saudis have instead spent millions on spreading anti-Western propaganda and an intolerant form of Islam around the world." Warraq argues that the United States should fight back by translating books critical of Islam into Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Bengali, Bahasa Malaysia, and Indonesian: "The Arab world and the larger realm of Islam need an initiative similar to the Central and East European Publishing Project" that helped foster the overthrow of Communism.Warraq concludes that "an enlightenment in the Islamic world will never be achieved without introducing critical thinking about the Islamic religion and culture." He writes that Americans have held back from such an attack because of a general respect for religion as well as fear—but "we need to provide the Islamic world with accessible works that discuss the Koran and hadith, Sharia, Islamic theology and history in an open and scholarly way, without a stultifying concern about Islamic 'sensitivities.'" "I think I need to find Ibn Warraq's book, "Why the West is Best" and read it also!