Classical Islam: A Sourcebook of Religious Literature

Classical Islam: A Sourcebook of Religious Literature. Edited and translated by NORMAN CALDER, JAWID MOJADDEDI, and ANDREW RIPPIN. London: ROUTLEDGE, 2003. Pp. x + 275. $110 (cloth); $34.95 (paper).

As the subtitle suggests, this new work is intended for introductory-level students. To succeed, any such work needs to resolve three problems: the identification of representative texts, of appropriate length, and which cohere in some fashion, so as to illustrate properly the themes and development of a given genre (e.g., Sira, Tafsir); the translation of often formal texts in a language suited to the audience (one with little patience with lexical puzzles and strings of transliterated terms); and a level of annotation that throws sufficient light on the texts without giving the game away. The uneven quality of most previous collections of (classical) Islamic texts suggests impatience with one or more of these steps. On all counts, the present volume works very well. It is strongly recommended, particularly for junior instructors of Islamic studies. More established colleagues may find it difficult to part with their own, oft-tried, readings. Should they cast caution to the wind, however, they will likely find this collection a worthy substitute.

There is some question as to the history of the book's production. Its genesis lies, according to the general preface, in an agreement to produce a book of readings between Norman Calder and a publisher--an agreement left unsigned, sadly, with Calder's untimely death in 1998. Apparently on Jawid Mojaddedi's initiative, he and Andrew Rippin resolved to join a small collection of texts on which Calder had worked with a larger body of material of their choosing. These texts include selections from Rumi's Masnavi from Mojaddedi's recent translation of its first part. Rippin's role is left unclear. In any case, he and Mojaddedi, with the apparent support of Calder's family, have produced a volume that bespeaks a congenial collaboration and which properly reflects Calder's legacy.

The volume itself is handsome, if expensive for a book of its kind, its contents clearly organized. The division and naming of chapters (e.g., "The Life of Muhammad," "Law and Ritual") are uncontroversial and clear. The bibliography, extensive and up-to-date, is divided across the readings, a questionable decision as it is possible to miss the location of a given title. Certain texts, among them Ibn Ishaq's Sira and al-Tabari's Ta'rikh (the well-known translations of which are cited as well), occur in passing only in the introduction to each reading, in the case of these two texts more than once. Unless all sections are used, one risks overlooking a given reference. For a second edition, the authors might consider using the same rubrics but in a single bibliography.

The quality of the book lies, as it should, in its judicious selection of readings. The editors have, in many cases, chosen difficult texts, texts that, while serving the principal purpose of illuminating Islamic belief and tradition, should also serve to generate extended (albeit, in certain circles, uncomfortable) discussion. Rather than content themselves, for example, with Qur'anic material that treats, in straightforward fashion, the theme of serial prophecy and Muhammad's placement therein, the editors include in full Q. 19 (Maryam): 16-36, on Jesus, that speak to the problematic issues of his conception and status as "God's servant" (rather than, of course, the offspring of God or a deity in his own right). Granted, the text was not included for that purpose (see p. 4) but is sure--if, in any case, this reviewer's experience is any measure--to spark (necessary if strained) in-class discussion.

Better still is the decision to provide, at length, illustration of the shaping of Islamic tradition which is not always, despite its obvious place, a feature of other sourcebooks. So, for example, in the chapter on the Qur'an, all of Q. 98 (al-Bayyina) is translated and transliterated. The latter feature allows, of course, for consideration of the Qur'an as recited text (see p. 4). The editors then, in the chapter on exegesis, provide seven selections from principal works--beginning, chronologically, with Muqatil ibn Sulayman (d. 150/767) and ending with Ibn Kathir (d. 656/1258)--in which the verses of Q. 98 are sorted through along the different paths one would expect. The result, for students, is an extended and probably daunting sense of the history and variety of this branch of Near Eastern/Islamic learning.

The readings are each provided with an introduction. Elegantly written and concise, they are, however, somewhat uneven in intent. Most clarify the significance of a given text and/or author--all to the good. Less consistent, however, is the treatment of context. So, for example, one is told a good amount about the organization and thrust of the Qur'an before tackling the sample texts. But for Hadith, as with the chapter on law and ritual, one is immediately immersed in the texts. Granted, it is the place of textbooks and lectures to make such contexts clear, but, that said, one can hardly repeat things often enough to students, at least all but the best trained, so these introductions might do with a bit of beefing up of this sort.



 Article Title: Classical Islam: A Sourcebook of Religious Literature. Contributors: Matthew Gordon - author. Journal Title: The Journal of the American Oriental Society. Volume: 125. Issue: 3. Publication Year: 2005. Page Number: 449+.

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