Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World

Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World

Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World

Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World

Synopsis

Avoiding the traps of sensational political expos and specialized scholarly Orientalism, Carl Ernst introduces readers to the profound spiritual resources of Islam while clarifying diversity and debate within the tradition. Framing his argument in terms of religious studies, Ernst describes how Protestant definitions of religion and anti-Muslim prejudice have affected views of Islam in Europe and America. He also covers the contemporary importance of Islam in both its traditional settings and its new locations and provides a context for understanding extremist movements like fundamentalism. He concludes with an overview of critical debates on important contemporary issues such as gender and veiling, state politics, and science and religion.

Excerpt

What images are conjured today by the word “Islam”? Walk into any bookstore, and you will initially be drawn to a stack of breathless titles that are truly frightening. These journalistic exposÉs reveal worlds of terrorist intrigue and plots against the United States. Alongside these instant potboilers are books with a more sober tone, delivering with masterful condescension the verdict of failure upon Islamic civilization, and the promise of an apocalyptic clash between Islam and the West. Tucked into a corner one may find a few academic surveys of Islamic theology and history, written in the tedious and excruciating prose reserved for textbooks. There may also be a couple of apologetics written by Muslims, attempting to defend Islam against any accusations. Finally, and most impenetrable of all, there will be two or three translations of the Qur'an, a foreign text that remains an enigmatic and unreadable cipher. How can anyone make sense of all this?

This book has been written to provide a completely different alternative to currently available books on Islam. What is offered here is a sympathetic yet reasoned and analytical view of the Islamic religious tradition and the contemporary issues that Muslims face. My most radical departure from conventional wisdom is to propose a nonfundamentalist understanding of Islam.

Both the difficulty and the importance of this task are illustrated by two events that took place in 2002. First, it was in the summer of that year that I delivered the completed manuscript of this book to the publisher who had initially commissioned it.

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