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Journey Into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization (2007) by Akbar Ahmed everynametaken Send a noteboard - 05/05/2010 04:16:40 AM
The book Journey Into Islam centers around the travels of Akbar Ahmed and several of his graduate students as they traveled through the “Muslim World” in 2006 interviewing different Muslims about various topics such as their role models, their beliefs about Islam and globalization, their views toward America and the West, and so on. I will put the link to Ahmed’s Wikipedia page at the bottom for those who desire to learn more about Ahmed’s impressive pedigree.

The main thesis of Ahmed’s book is that the Muslim world is facing the onslaught of globalization in a way that much of it is unprepared for and that in turn this is causing great consternation. Most of the book revolves around this theme and Ahmed’s classification of three major responses/reactions toward this clash of cultural, religious, and economic values. The models Ahmed proposes are named after three cities within India where each response is centered; Deoband (Orthodox ), Aligarh (Modernist), and Ajmer (Mystical).

In this survey of Muslim views and opinions Ahmed and his graduate researchers travel to these three cities for a firsthand account of their overarching ideologies. What surprised me most in this part of the book were the reactions of those in the three cities toward Ahmed and his students. I don’t want to spoil too much but the reaction of the Sufis in Ajmer was fairly predictable; they were inclusive of Ahmed and his students. But surprisingly so were the Orthodox Professors and students in Deoband. The Deobandis were not the stereotypical anti-Westerners that some might expect. The most surprising reception though was in Aligarh where the researchers expected to find modern thinking, progressive university students and professors seeking to integrate modernity and Islam; instead they found many frustrated students including some very vocal, angry students. To understand why the researchers found what they did and what Ahmed thinks about each model (its strengths and weaknesses) you will need to read the book.

As the researchers continue on through other parts of the Muslim world (they visited 7 additional countries) they talked to everyone who would talk with them including politicians and religious figures to the everyday citizenry. There is a nice summary of how the survey responses they gathered broke down in an appendix. The results of the surveys are also discusses interspersed through the book.

In the chapter titled Who Is Defining Islam After 9/11 and Why? Ahmed expands beyond his three model view and discusses how the media in the West and Western political scientists are defining Islam. One highlight in this chapter is his telling of a lecture he gave speaking before men like Dick Cheney, Henry Kissinger, Bernard Lewis, and Francis Fukuyama; he was the only Muslim speaker that night! Needless to say, he was very nervous. Also in this section Ahmed does a pretty thorough slamming of the decision to invade Iraq. While there are certainly those who would disagree with Ahmed’s view that it was a bad decision I think it is worth reading anyways (if you disagree with him). He makes very good points about it and the way the Muslim world viewed the invasion (and is still viewing it in hindsight). Unfortunately this book was published before the major turnaround in Iraq as I would like to know how different the opinions of those surveyed might be now. Nonetheless the chapter is full of interesting points about media coverage and political ideology.

One other chapter merits specific mention. The third chapter is titled Women, Tribes, and Honor and in it Ahmed discusses Islam and tribalism. The chapter is quite through and really drives home the point of how many Muslims who have never had to interact with other cultures with different values are struggling with globalization. Ahmed does not shy away from the sometimes barbaric acts of these tribes and he discusses them frankly, including their treatment of women. If the entire rest of the book stunk I would still recommend people read this chapter.

So, overall I think what I came away with from this book is that Islam is not monolithic. There is a wide range of beliefs and opinions throughout the Muslim world. I certainly thought that some of the views expressed were misguided but I could also appreciate many of what the interviewees had to say, especially many of their concerns. I found Ahmed fair and pretty straightforward. I think most reading the book will pick up pretty quick that Ahmed is a huge fan of Muhammad Ali Jinnah. In part of the book Ahmed even revisits his own spiritual journey as a young administrator in the newly formed Pakistan and a stringent follower of the Aligarh model to his introduction via his dad to the Ajmer model and his embracing of the inclusive spirit of the Sufis.

I think this book is worth reading. I think it is important to understand how Muslims think and what they think about given much of the unreliable reporting occurring today. I won’t promise that you will come away satisfied with every attitude expressed. I disagreed heavily with what some people in the book had to say. But, I also gained a new perspective on how others in the world think and I guarantee you will too if you read Journey Into Islam.

Akbar Ahmed Wikipedia:

Edit: By the way, the book is 273 pages minus the appendix I mentioned. 285 pages with the appendix.
But wine was the great assassin of both tradition and propriety...
-Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings
This message last edited by everynametaken on 05/05/2010 at 04:22:23 AM
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Journey Into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization (2007) by Akbar Ahmed - 05/05/2010 04:16:40 AM 4806 Views
Re: Journey Into Islam: The Crisis of Globalization (2007) by Akbar Ahmed - 05/05/2010 09:59:25 AM 1463 Views
There is a mention - says he was Pakistan's ambassador to the UK. *NM* - 05/05/2010 11:09:52 AM 792 Views
How did I miss that? - 05/05/2010 11:10:55 AM 1263 Views
I'd say credentials. - 07/05/2010 01:24:22 AM 1326 Views
Also interesting. Might read that at some point. *NM* - 05/05/2010 11:08:40 AM 745 Views
Re: Also interesting. Might read that at some point. - 05/05/2010 11:24:32 PM 1335 Views
It'll be on my next Amazon order. - 07/05/2010 01:22:21 AM 1343 Views

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