Tuesday, May 15, 2007

David Cook, Martyrdom in Islam: a recommendation


I soon hope to be talking about the ancient and medieval history classes I will be teaching in the fall, but right now I'm reading material on early and current Islamic history. Some of the books I picked up in the last month or so were not worth mentioning here. But on Saturday I was in Kalamazoo, Michigan for the 42nd International Congress for Medieval Studies, and bought two really good looking books at promotional prices.

One was The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin by Boha al-Din ib Shaddad, who actually knew Saladin and whose work has been published in Ashgate's series Crusade Texts in Translation. I'm looking forward to it.

Right now, however, I'm in the middle of a truly excellent book by David Cook, Martyrdom in Islam. (See cover above.)

I teach the history of Islamic civilization, not the history of the religion, Islam, but of course you can't do one without saying quite a bit about the other. The great challenge of my course is to make the connection between doctrine, the emotional impact on believers of that doctrine, and
the historic energies that have been generated by attempts to implement Islam, or to alter it.

This is tough and I'm not sure that I've ever done more than a mediocre job. I don't have deep background in the subject, just a lot of nerve and a burning certainty that someone should teach this material in Ontario universities.

So I am very happy indeed to find a book this good, which I may use for classes in the future, and will certainly order for our library.

It strikes me as an excellent second book on Islam for anyone really interested in Islam from a historical or religious studies point of view. The first would be any one of a number of books that briefly and systematically discuss the beliefs, the rituals, the institutions, and the historical development of Islam over the centuries. There are several good short books of this sort. Cook's book goes over some if not all of the same material from a different angle, since he is interested in describing the characteristics and effects of the Islamic concept of martrydom, and putting them all in historical context.

He does a fabulous job of this. I've learned all kinds of useful things that longer and presumably more complete books had not made clear to me. I've read lots and lots about the Sunni-Shiite division, but I feel I understand their mutual hostility and incomprehension better, now that I've read Cook.

I note that our own NU library has a Cook book called Understanding Jihad and I look forward to reading it. He also seems to have two more books on Muslim apocalyptic.

One question: if David Cook can write this cogently and accessibly on such important subjects, why is he only an assistant professor at his home institution?

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1 Comments:

Anonymous AbuIbrahim said...

I commend your attempt to educate your students about Islamic civilization. As an American Muslim myself, I understand how important it is that Westerners have a better understanding of Islamic history.

I have not read David Cook's book, and I admit I probably wont. I already have my own idea of martyrdom and Jihad in Islam, and living around Muslims my entire life, I've been exposed to countless others.

I wouldn't consider myself a historian, though my mother was one, and I must have inherited some of the love for the subject. I have put together a website that focuses on certain aspects of Islamic history. I have also delivered lectures on Islamic history and conducted classes on the subject amongst fellow Muslims in the Atlanta area.

I have numerous audio cd's on Islamic history, some of which you may find interesting. I will be happy to send you a few copies free of charge. Or if have any questions about any of my articles, or desire submissions to your website, just let me know, and I will provide you with what I can.

You can visit my website www.islamiclearningmaterials.com to see if there is anything useful to your lessons, or that simply catch your fancy. And you can contact me at admin@islamiclearningmaterials.com.

8:42 PM  

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