The Anthropology of Islam

By Gabriele Marranci | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Introduction

ELENCHOS1

STUDENT: What is Islam?

ANTHROPOLOGIST: Lots of things, of course.

STU: Yeah, but I mean, is Islam its holy books or what Muslims do?

ANT: Neither, I suppose.

STU: Well, it should be one or the other for sure!

ANT: Why should it be so?

STU: I think that the Qur'an and ḥadiths, and the other texts, tell Muslims how to be Muslims and this guides their actions.

ANT: OK, we can try an experiment. Get that copy of the Qur'an on my desk. So, tell me what this is.

STU: A book; a holy book, at least for Muslims.

ANT: What makes it holy?

STU: The fact that Muslims consider it so.

ANT: OK, but if you were a Muslim why would you have insisted that this particular book is the holiest?

STU: That's simple Doc! Because, I would believe the book to be God's words.

ANT: YOU see, Islam is not just what is written in its books.

STU: Why not? I don't follow you.

ANT: Well, it's very simple. You just said that this book, the Qur'an, is holy because at least one Muslim believes that God revealed it. Now you can agree with me that Muslims, each of them, have to perform cognitive operations to form a cognitive map of what for them is Islam. There is no Islam without mind.

STU: Certainly, you need Muslims to have Islam. Yet I still think that what is written in the sources of Islam shapes how Muslims are. Though there are some cultural differences, I am not sure about your point. I think that something called Islam actually exists.

ANT: OK, we will proceed point by point. Not only do we have different cultures among Muslims but also different interpretations. Which is the most basic element that you need to form interpretations?

STU: First, you need to know at least the language in which the text has been transmitted or trust a translation; but there are also other elements, like personal views and social conditions that surely influence one's interpretation.

-1-

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