Best Reads of 2005

December 28, 2005

The year 2005 saw a bumper crop of good books, largely due to the efforts of premier independent publisher, Fons Vitae. It is thus no surprise that most the best books in the year’s round-up are from Louisville, Kentucky— home of Fons Vitae. At Wardah Books, we make it our business to make available and to feature good books for the benefit of all who are ‘Reading Islam’. The books we have selected here are what we consider the best reads of the year.

Here is the list:

A Return to the Spirit: Questions and Answers
Author: Martin Lings (Sidi Abu Bakr Siraj al-Din)
Publisher: Fons Vitae, USA

The respected British-Muslim scholar, Martin Lings, recounts the lessons learned from a lifetime of devotion and contemplation. Answering complex questions which he himself poses, such as, ‘Do religions contradict one another?’, ‘What is the spiritual significance of tears and laughter?’, ‘What is the spiritual significance of civilisation?’, the author’s language is remarkably straightforward. This book may well prove to be the most accessible original work on the spiritual way in the 21st-century.

The Book of Illumination
Author: Shaykh ibn Ata’ Allah al-Iskandari
Publisher: Fons Vitae, USA

Shaykh Ibn Ata Illah al-Iskandari talks about the ego’s disposition for self-calculation, anxiety and worry. With intricate arguments, logic and rhetoric — all infused with Islamic principles from the Qur’an and Sunnah — he coaxes the reader to reflect upon the futility of self-calculation. Self-calculation is, at best, self-delusion as the Shaykh reminds us that God has been arranging our affairs from before we came to be. Self-calculation, or our belief that we can arrange our affairs in any meaning way, is actually detrimental to our physical and spiritual well-being.
It has to be said that this book is not about radical asceticism or about being fatalistic. It is about checking our persistent ego-centric tendencies, such as greed, hoarding, self-interest, vanity, etc. This ‘checking’ is an important area of study within traditional Islamic Spirituality. It is especially relevant now when the ‘un-checked’ habit of acquisition, consumerism and egotism is couched in newspeak as ‘market-forces’, ‘progress’ and ‘freedom’. In a sense, this book goes to first principles and addresses our Ego’s desire to plan for itself, unchecked, without a second thought towards the Creator.

The Sufi Science of Self-Realization
Author: Shaykh Hisham Kabbani
Publisher: Islamic Supreme Council of America

This book contains a guide to the seventeen bad character traits such as anger, envy and malice as described by the Masters of the Naqshbandi Sufi way. The sufis have always concerned themselves with perfecting moral character and this book is a step in this direction. This thoughtfully written book is a useful introduction to the Islamic methodology for becoming and being.

Sufi Sage of Arabia (The Life of Imam Abdullah ibn Alawi al-Haddad)
Author: Mostafa Badawi
Publisher: Fons Vitae, USA

This book, while a biography of one of the greatest saints in Islamic history, is more than that. It is a book of alchemy itself, filled from start to finish with the science of tasawwuf, which is and has always been the heart of the Islamic tradition. — from the foreword by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

Defending the Transgressed
Author: Shaykh Muhammad Afifi al-Akiti
Publisher: Aqsa Publications, UK

The full title reads, Defending the Transgressed By Censuring the Reckless Against The Killing of Civilians. This important work is, in essence, a fatwa according to the Madhhab of Imam as-Shafi’e by an Oxford-based Malaysian scholar. This fatwa was written in response to the strife and troubles afflicting the Community of Muslims, and humanity at large. Stress and confusion have been created by Muslims who, intentionally or not, have misinterpreted the legal discussions on warfare in Islamic Law. They set them outside their proper contexts and abuse them, turning them into justifications for their hate-inspired crimes.

The key Islamic concepts and rules pertaining to the conduct of war and its jurisprudence, its arena and boundaries, and the subject of suicide bombings and the reckless targeting of civilians have probably never been presented in English with such depth, clarity of thought, and breadth of scholarship in Muslim Law.

The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam From the Extremists
Author: Prof. Khaled M. Abou El Fadl
Publisher: HarperSanFrancisco, USA

In his new book, Prof. Khaled explores the poorly-understood divide between what he calls the ‘moderate’ and ‘puritan’ strains of Islam in the world today. The former, he says, is a religion of mercy; the latter, an unbending ideology with dire consequences for nations struggling with post-colonial identities and living under oppressive regimes. He calls on Muslims to join in a counter-jihad against sects such as Wahhabism, a radical branch of Islam that has influenced the Taliban and al-Qaeda. He seeks, for instance, to liberate the word ‘jihad’ —which has classically meant a spiritual struggle to serve God—from its narrow use by terrorists and politicians to connote a holy war against non-Muslims. — excerpt from Mother Jones Magazine

The Psychology of Terrorism
Author: John Horgan
Publisher: Routledge, UK

Is there a terrorist personality or profile? Are terrorists psychopaths? What are the individual factors and group factors that perpetuate the terrorist cycle? Are the current hypotheses of ‘frustration- aggression’, and ‘narcissism and narcissism-aggression’ helpful in understanding and preventing the terrorist cycle? If our reaction to terrorist acts is confined to, ‘they must be mad,’ are we not, in some way, limiting their responsibility and accountability?

This work is a fresh attempt at analysing what it is to become and be a terrorist, from the point of view of a growing sub-discipline within psychology.

The Malay Sufi

December 21, 2005

Syed Naguid al-Attas in his book, ‘Some Aspects of Sufism as Understood and Practised Among The Malays’ published in 1963 (in Singapore!) wrote:

“Never has the Malay mind soared to heights of sublimity in the realms of abstract thought as when it was steeped in Sufism.”

and

“This peacefulness and non-militant characteristic of the (Sufi) Orders of Malaya has definitely influenced the outlook of the Malays with regard to their political and social order.”

For all to reflect

The Call

December 6, 2005

An American man walked into Wardah and asked for, “The simplest book on Islam.”

We reach for ‘Islam: Religion of Life’ (Abdul Wadud Shalabi, Starlatch Press). The best book to introduce Islam, in our opinion.

The American asks, “How can a religion whose call to prayer is cried out five times a day from a tall minaret be so misunderstood?”

You can tell alot about a person, simply by listening to how they frame their questions. To me, this man is a sincere seeker.

May no seeker be rebuffed.

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