Islam: Culture, Institutions and Agents

By Cimen, Aysegul | Insight Turkey, Fall 2017 | Go to article overview

Islam: Culture, Institutions and Agents


Cimen, Aysegul, Insight Turkey


Islamic Culture: A Study of Cultural Anthropology

By Farid Younos

Author House: Bloomington, 2013, 158 pages, $26.87, ISBN: 9781491823446

Early Islamic Institutions: Administration and Taxation from the Caliphate to the Umayyads and Abbasids

By Abd al-Aziz Duri

New York: I.B.Tauris, 2011, 256 pages, $45.00, ISBN: 9781848850606

Son Donem Osmanli Suriye'sinde Islahat Hareketleri (Islamic Reform: Politics and Social Change in Late Ottoman Syria)

By David Dean Commins

Istanbul: Mahya, 2014, 318 pages, 18.75 TL, ISBN: 9786055222246

The three books reviewed in this article do not seem closely related in the first impression. Younos' book sheds light upon Islamic culture in the context of cultural anthropology; Duri's book scrutinizes some of the significant Islamic institutions, their emergence, evolution, functioning, as well as the principles that emerged during the formative period of Islam. The last book, Islamic Reform, focuses on a number of religious intellectuals' lives in a wide context, and their reactions to the nineteenth century transformations that undermined their importance. What connects these books is Islam, and its followers' agencies in the social, political and economic sphere. Relying mainly on diverse subfields of study, these authors introduce basic principles of Islam, the culture and tradition in which the religion emerged, Muslims' ways of conducting their agencies in accordance with Islamic principles, and their reactions to changing circumstances in due course. Despite their commonalities, these books are considerably different from each other with regard to their approaches, methodology, their use of primary and secondary sources, and their target audience. However, the books might be read together in order to grasp Islam in respect to its source, basic tenets, practice and their relation to the political and fiscal organization of the Islamic State, the dynamics of its evolution according to new circumstances, culture and tradition. Additionally, the transformation that the Ottoman Syria went through in the nineteenth century and the religious intellectuals' response to that transformation, disagreements and consensus might render a comparative reading of theoretical problems in different time periods.

Farid Younos has already authored four books, focusing on Islam, Islamic culture, Islamic sociology, democracy and gender equality in Islam. The current book, Islamic Culture: a Study of Cultural Anthropology, is devoted to an analysis of Islam from an anthropological perspective. Given the subtitle of the book, one could expect that it would provide anthropological insights for Islam and Islamic culture by applying certain anthropological methodologies. Yet although Younos very briefly discusses this perspective in the first part of the book, the reader should not expect to attain an analytical observation of the cultural anthropology of Islam. Culture and anthropology are only referred to as terms in cases where they are needed. For that reason, this book may not fall within the area of anthropological studies, or one of its subfields, cultural anthropology.

Younos briefly explains the classifications of anthropology and cultural anthropology in particular. Then he briefly mentions the non-empirical principles of cultural anthropology. Questions like 'how people set up their daily lives, and how they emerge as a group having certain uniform value systems' were asked to describe the field of study of cultural anthropology. Referring to the non-empirical principles of cultural anthropology, Younos prefers the definition of culture from the Islamic perspective, rather than dealing with the metaphysical principles of anthropology. (p. iii). His further endeavor is to avoid including Islamic sociology and history in the book. Studying Islam, Muslims, and their norms and values based upon the tradition of the prophet Muhammed is what Younos puts under the rubric of cultural anthropology. …

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