Professor Carl Ernst has made much of the supposed “right-wing” and “conservative” and “Christian” and — all together now — supposedly “right-wing Christian conservative” views of Robert Spencer, with his hate-site and his hate-filled rants and his hateful views, and so on, and so bloody forth. Those who actually have been visiting this site for months or even for years know that such a caricature is absurd. And if they have also read Robert Spencer’s books, they know what useful exercises they are in haute vulgarization – popular divulgation, intended for the mass audience, which needs to find out something about Islam, not least to avoid such follies as the venture in Iraq.
But I am not here to praise Robert Spencer, but to entirely ignore him. Not only that, I am here to suggest to students of Carl Ernst that they entirely ignore the books of Robert Spencer. Don’t look at them. Don’t read them. For if you read them at this point, with Professor Carl Ernst having done what he can to undercut any appeal or interest those books might have for you, you are now most unready to read them.
So do something different. Read as widely among the most important explanatory works about Islam. Then, after you have read, and not merely read but thoroughly assimilated some of the material in those books and articles, then – and only then – come back to Robert Spencer, and read what he has to say, and ask yourself this: do Spencer’s views accord with what Snouck Hurgronje says, and what Arthur Jeffery, and Henri Lammens, and Joseph Schacht, and Bernard Lewis (yes, despite misgivings about Lewis’s understanding of the dhimmi, and his desire to maintain friendships with Muslims, and his general unwillingness to go nearly as far as he should), and Bat Ye’or, and Ibn Warraq, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and for that matter such people whose books have not yet appeared and so cannot at this point be part of any list of Recommended Reading, such as Wafa Sultan, all say, in their different ways, with their attention to different aspects of Islam? Or do Spencer’s views accord more with the view that Carl Ernst presents you with in his carefully-bowdlerized syllabus and in his carefully apologetic presentations, which he inflicts on you, you poor students, who must do nothing to give a hint of real disagreement — though one of those phony classroom encouragements of “free and open discussion” is by now, no doubt, part of Ernst’s carefully-thought-out modus operandi? And what are the implications of this: that all the Western scholars from the age of uninhibited scholarship about Islam and Islamic history, and all the most articulate and uncowed apostates who have appeared in the West today, are far closer in their view of Islam to what Spencer offers than they are to the thin gruel that Carl Ernst serves up to his hapless and (once they are enrolled beyond the Add/Drop period) helpless students in both his handful of assigned texts by others, in his own or Omid Safi’s promised “scholarship”?
In that spirit — a deliberately Spencer-less spirit — students from Carl Ernst’s course are offered below a list of Suggested Reading. It consists of books by twenty-seven authors, few of whom are likely to have been included on Professor Ernst’s own syllabus, or to be mentioned in whatever list of “Other Reading’ he hands out or otherwise make available.
The list was kept to under thirty authors (the list might have had 130), with a deliberate inclusion of many unsurpassed scholars from the Golden Age of Western scholarship about Islam — the period from 1870 to 1970. Many celebrated scholars are not included: there is not the Mohammedan Studies by Ignaz Goldziher, not Noldeke on the sources of the early Qur’an; not John Wansbrough’s Quranic Studies, and in the case of C. Snouck Hurgronje, possibly the most important of Western scholars of Islam, only one title is listed.
There are many other articles that one could find — that one should find — in back issues of “The Moslem World” (now “Muslim World”), especially those that appeared before 1950. A CD containing the Encyclopedia of Islam can also be obtained.
The syllabus of Carl Ernst, one suspects, contains such things as a bowdlerized Qur’an — the Approaching the Qur’an of Michael Sells, and texts such as Edward Said’s Orientalism. These are designed to undercut, before the students even encounter them, the scholarship of those who, in England, France, America, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, and elsewhere, made the study of Islam their life’s work. Said himself may have been an Arab, but he was not a Muslim. He never received a Muslim education. Rather, he attended first an Anglican school, Victoria College, in Egypt, and then continued his education in the United States. His elementary blunders, his fantastic mistakes, have been quietly dissected by Bernard Lewis in his article “The Question of ‘Orientalism'” — and more recently by an entire book devoted to explaining who the “Orientalists” were, and why Said, who simplified, omitted, misunderstand, or simply misread so many of them, deserves not respect but contempt. That book has been written by the hardly unsympathetic-to-Islam English writer Robert Irwin.
I haven’t looked at Ernst’s syllabus. But I’m sure he does not include Robert Irwin’s book, nor Bernard Lewis’s article, and I assume he includes Orientalism, as that is a staple of the Higher Apologetics in universities. I doubt if he includes a single work by any apostate from Islam — not a single thing by Ibn Warraq or Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or even Irshad Manji. He is unlikely to add the soon-to-be-published book by the articulate and brave Wafa Sultan to any future syllabus. He is unlikely to welcome the book to be published this month by Ibn Warraq, which shows that Said was not merely wrong, but completely, totally wrong. For it is the Western world, since the Greeks, that has been wide open to other societies, and it has been the world of Islam that has appropriated, but always claimed as its own, never giving credit to others, and which maintains an attitude of permanent hostility to all Infidels everywhere, as Islam naturally teaches. For if you are taught that Dar al-Islam must forever be in a state of war (if not open warfare) with Dar al-Harb, and that it is the duty of Muslims to participate, sometimes collectively and sometimes as an individual duty, in Jihad to spread Islam by removing every barrier to its expansion and its dominance, you are unlikely to be “open to ‘the Other.'” And Islam demonstrates in so many ways every day, beginning with the indifference to Western ideas and institutions and art and literature (look at the near-absence of translations into Arabic), but a very great interest in Western military hardware. Muslims have a solemn duty to remove all the obstacles to the spread of Islam until it covers the globe, and Infidels are reduced to their proper condition — that of dhimmis — who must acquiesce in Muslim rule and endure a condition of permanent humiliation, degradation, and physical insecurity.
But will Carl Ernst’s students get a hint of this? Will they read the Qur’an and Hadith with understanding? Will they learn about the figure of Muhamamd, uswa hasana, al-insan al-kamil, or will the figure be described vaguely as “one of the great inspired leaders of history” with no attention to what counts — the details of that “great inspired leader’s” life.
They are much more likely to be treated to modish fantasies of the type that Maria Rosa Menocal, not a historian but a student of literature, produced in her feel-good fairy-tale The Ornament of the World, thus contributing not to history but rather to the romanticized version or “myth” of Andalucia that got its start with two Romantic writers, Washington Irving with his Tales of the Alhambra and Chateaubriand with Le dernier des Abencerages.
Ernst will do his best to undercut, in advance, to poison minds, in advance, so that they cannot possibly encounter without their minds already having been affected, any of the trustworthy, non-apologetic scholars of Islam. But one hopes you will be able to resist, and to supplement what he force-feeds you by quiet investigations and research of your own. It is Carl Ernst who wishes to ensure that you are exposed only to his, carefully-crafted, received version of Islam and of the history of Islam, and who insults — quietly, sweetly, implicitly — you, and who wishes to carefully direct your reading. He gives new and sinister meaning to that phrase “directed reading.” It is we who would have you read everything you can, and find out everything you can, from the hundreds of books, and thousands of articles, by the great scholars of Islam.
Toward that desired end, here is a list of twenty-seven authors. See what you can find. See what appeals to you. See what sense it makes, or fails to make. The more you read, the more widely you read, the less likely it is that you will be taken in, and the more likely it is that what you read will help you not only to better understand the past, but also what is happening today, in southern Sudan and southern Nigeria and southern Thailand and southern Philippines, in Darfur and among the Berbers of the Kabyle and Morocco, and among the Muslim populations everywhere, who are raised on precisely the same texts, inculcated with the same ideas, impressed with the need to fulfill the same central duties, and who exhibit remarkably similar attitudes toward the idea of human freedom and individual autonomy, toward the idea of free and skeptical inquiry, toward the idea of untrammeled artistic expression, and toward the very idea that non-Muslims, too, deserve to build, and preserve permanently, their own legal and political institutions and social arrangements, free from the pressure from Muslims to change or surrender them in order to please Muslims and meet Muslim demands.
Here is that list. Read around, whatever you can, whenever you can. As a “corrective” to the pabulum I assume you will be fed in the official syllabus:
1) Tor Andrae, Mohammed: The Man and His Faith (Routledge)
2) M. M. Azami, Studies in Hadith Methodology and Literature (American Trust Publications)
3) Michael Cook, Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought (Cambridge University Press); The Koran: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press)
4) Ali Dashti, 23 Years (Mazda Publishers)
5) Antoine Fattal, Le status legal des non-Musulmanes en pays d’Islam [for French speakers only] (Dar al-Kitab, Beirut)
6) Sita Ram Goel (compiler and editor), The Calcutta Quran Petition (Voice of India)
7) Ignaz Goldziher, Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law (Princeton University Press)
8) Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Infidel (Free Press)
9) Toby Huff, The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China, and the West (Cambridge University Press)
10) Ibn Warraq, The Quest for the Historical Muhammad; What the Koran Really Says: Language, Text and Commentary; The Origins of the Koran (all Prometheus Books)
11) Hans Jansen, The Dual Nature of Islamic Fundamentalism (Cornell University Press)
12) Arthur Jeffery, Islam: Muhammad and his Religion (Liberal Arts Press)
13) Majid Khadduri, War and Peace in the Law of Islam (Johns Hopkins Press)
14) Ayatollah Khomeini, A Clarification of Questions (Westview Press)
15) K. S. Lal, The Legacy of Muslim Rule in India; Theory and Practice of the Muslim State in India (both reprinted by Aditya Prakashan)
16) Henri Lammens, Islam: Beliefs and Institutions (St. Joseph’s University, Beirut)
17) Bernard Lewis, The Political Language of Islam (Oxford University Press); Islam In History (reprint: Open Court Press); Islam and the West (Oxford University Press), The Multiple Identities of the Middle East (Schocken)
18) David Margoliouth, Mohammed and the Rise of Islam; The Early Development of Mohammedanism (both Oxford University Press)
19) V. S. Naipaul, Among the Believers; Beyond Belief (both Vintage Books)
20) Rudolph Peters, Islam and Colonialism; Jihad In Classical and Modern Islam (Princeton Studies in Islam)
21) Xavier de Planhol, The World of Islam (Cornell University Press)
22) Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, The Lawful and The Prohibited in Islam (Al-Halal wal Haram Fil Islam) (Shorouk International)
23) Maxime Rodinson, Mohammed (Vintage Books)
24) Joseph Schacht, Mohammedan Jurisprudence; An Introduction to Islamic Law (both Oxford University Press)
25) C. Snouck Hurgronje, Islam: Origin, Political Growth, and Its Present State (Manohar Publishing — Indian reprint house)
26) William St. Clair Tisdall, The Sources of the Koran (online at truthnet.org)
In addition, it is important for students to familiarize themselves with at least three different translations of the Qur’an, such as those of Abdullah Yusuf Ali, A. J. Arberry, and N. J. Dawood. Many can be found, presented synoptically, at various websites. Such concepts as naskh should be grasped before students begin to try to make sense of seeming contradictions in the text; impenetrable parts of that text should not phase students, but they should be aware of the work of Christoph Luxenberg and others who attempt to explicate the approximately 20% of the text that remains unclear.
In order to grasp the concept of the Sunnah, the customs and manners of 7th century Arabia that act as a kind of gloss on the Qur’anic texts, students should familiarize themselves not only with the life of Muhammad, from the various biographies listed above, but also familiarize themselves with the collections of Hadith by Bukhari and Muslim, and read, in no particular order, at least several hundred of the Hadith until they feel familiar with them. The text by M. M. Azami above will explain the concept of “isnad” and how the muhaddithin assigned their ranking of authenticity to the tens of thousands of Hadith (properly, “ahadith”) that they collected.
Students are asked to familiarize themselves both with Muslim websites, especially those in which fatwas are sought and given, and with the websites of those who grew up in Islam but have left it, such as the sites www.faithfreedom.org and www.answering-islam.org.