Friends of God: Islamic Images of Piety, Commitment, and Servanthood

Friends of God: Islamic Images of Piety, Commitment, and Servanthood

Friends of God: Islamic Images of Piety, Commitment, and Servanthood

Friends of God: Islamic Images of Piety, Commitment, and Servanthood

Synopsis

Prophets, saints, martyrs, sages, and seers--one of the richest repositories of lore about such exemplary religious figures belongs to the world's approximately 1.3 billion Muslims. Illuminating some of the most delightful tales in world religious literature, this engaging book is the first truly global overview of Islamic hagiography. John Renard tells of the characters beyond the Qur'an and Hadith, whose stories of piety and service to God and humanity have captured hearts and minds for nearly fourteen hundred years. Renard's thematic approach to the major characters, narratives, social and cultural contexts, and theoretical concepts of this remarkable treasury of tales, based on material ranging from the eighth to the twentieth centuries and from countries ranging from Morocco to Malaysia, provides insight into the ways in which these stories have functioned in the lives of Muslims from diverse cultural, social, economic, and political backgrounds. The book also serves as a useful and evocative tool for approaching the vast geographical and chronological sweep of Islamic civilization.

Excerpt

Islamic hagiography is a rich, expansive repository of religion, history, and culture. As with so many areas of the still-young field of Islamic studies, countless written sources have yet to be rediscovered and edited, and translation remains in most instances a still-more-remote prospect. a cursory search for “Muslim Saints” in the Library of Congress online catalog turns up over two hundred titles of fairly recent vintage, the vast majority of which are (evidently) by Muslims writing in non-European languages. Though the topic is by no means a museum piece, material is still largely inaccessible to the wider reading public. With few exceptions, European and American scholars interested in the hagiographical sources have used the documentation to reconstruct historical and cultural contexts, institutional developments, and the careers of major individual figures.

The majority of scholarly analysis, originating particularly in the disciplines of history, anthropology, and political science, has focused on the history of Sufism. But the story these sources tell is a much bigger one, and a study of Friends of God must look to a broader canvas than that of Sufism. the immense patrimony of Islamic hagiographical sources has yet to generate adequate interest in the windfall of insights into the religious and ethical life of Muslims that await discovery in these sources. Interrogating the sources about “what really happened” is, of course, an essential ingredient in understanding them. However, we must also let the sources speak for themselves, even—perhaps especially—when they seem to venture into the realm of the preternatural. To do so by no means calls for a naïve, uncritical reading of this often multilayered material. It simply acknowledges that though many written sources offer potentially important historically verifiable data, much hagiographical material offers a great deal more. Even when an author appears to have slipped off the straight path of “fact” onto the mucky byways and quick sands of . . .

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