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Week of 13 March 2023

Week of 13 March 2023

Top title of the week - Judgement Day: Deeds that Light the Way by Omar Suleiman

On Sunday, 19 March, we hosted two bookclubs.

Bookclub 1: Islamic Civilisation Bookclub

In the morning we had the post-reading of the first book of this year’s Islamic Civilisation Bookclub — now in its fourth year. We were reading and discussing Professor Jasser Auda’s Maqasid al-Shariah: A Beginner’s Guide. Professor Jasser Auda come into the meeting via Zoom from his home in Canada.

It is clear that Maqasid al-Shariah is an important idea in the evolution of Islamic thought. And as an idea, it has had a long gestation. Perhaps ours is the age for Maqasid to take a larger role at all levels of Islamic discourse.

Key points that emerged from the discussion:

  • Maqasid focuses on possibilities, not just prohibitions.
  • Maqasid can bring together the schools of jurisprudence, including the Shi’a schools.
  • Maqasid forms the framework of discussion of human rights, so that we may interface with non-Muslim groups while still keeping true to Quranic principles of justice.
  • Maqasid can be practiced by professionals in all fields, not just specialists in Shariah. For example, an architect may take a maqasid, principles-based approach to design.
  • Systemic coherence of the Quran, the idea of drawing upon the totality of the Quran for moral and ethical matters, and to not confine our focus on legal verses of the Quran.
  • Means change over time but ends and principles are eternal.
  • Right from the beginning of the Rashidun period there were two trends. One was a big-picture approach that focussed on the intent of the law, and was preoccupied by questions of equity and justice, especially in the context of a rapidly increasing Islamic hegemony where foreign relations had to be negotiated and global economic theory had to be formulated. Even on a personal or community level, the big-picture approach looked at things like faithfulness in families, ethical work practices and so on. The other trend was small-picture Islam that was preoccupied with the minutiae of the law and was fixated with literalism, something Prof Jasser Auda referred to as the Talmudisation of Islamic law.
  • Prof Jasser Auda believes that Islam itself is in danger if we only rely on Traditionalism at the expense of the Maqasid approach.
  • The Quran itself models this by its interconnectivity. Indeed, this is a more Tawhidic approach. It is this interconnectivity of the Quran which is one basis of Prof Jasser Auda’s critique of the theory of abrogation.
  • Maqasid allows us to generate new knowledge based on the Quran and the corpus of the Hadith that is not based on the social sciences, so that we can move from the current disciplinary approach to a phenomenological approach.
  • The aim of modern education is to produce good citizens. This does not align with the Islamic aim which is to produce a complete human being that is at once a servant of Allah and a leader of his or her flock.
  • The Maqasid approach allows us to draw upon different madhdhabs in our tradition, and even draw upon the thought of the Mu’tazila and the Shi’a, to meet the challenges of the modern age.

It was a revelation to learn that such a small book covered so much ground. Furthermore, this book has been translated into over 20 languages. Prof Jasser Auda’s thinking on the subject of Maqasid has evolved and developed much since the publishing of this slim volume, but this work remains important for its sheer utility and comprehensiveness. His latest book Re-envisioning Islamic Scholarship: Maqasid Methodology as a New Approach is published by Claritas.


Bookclub 2: As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow

In the afternoon that same Sunday, we had a bookclub discussion led by Izza Haziqah of Maktaba Books. We were discussing As Long as the Lemon Trees Grow by Zoulfa Katouh. Izza framed the conversation on three broad topics:

  • Halal romance
  • Muslim representation in the novel
  • Reading war and trauma from a distance (i.e. in Singapore)

There was a discussion among the participants for an hour before the author Zoulfa Katouh came in via Zoom. The discussion with her was also for an hour.

Halal Romance

In an age of the dominant monoculture, it is important for young Muslim readers of fiction to see that there is such as thing as halal romance. We are saturated with Hollywood portrayals of love, so it is important that novels such as this exist to present alternative narratives.

Zoulfa Katouh joins the chat

Zoulfa spoke about her method of writing, about her inspirations (derived both from pop culture as well as other novels). She cites Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys and The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang as inspirations, and credits Taylor Swift’s song ‘dorothea’ from the album evermore as key to a pivotal idea in the book.

Zoulfa was very generous with her time at the bookclub and warmly fielded questions as diverse as her love for Studio Ghibli (she recommends watching Whisper of the Heart and Princess Mononoke) and the need for aspiring writers to ‘get off social media, right now’. Giving us a peek into her almost 3-year writing process for this book, she shared with us what was her first draft for the ending of the book; it had to be reformulated because it was just too devastating. She is currently working on her second book (but it’s not a sequel).

This bookclub session with Zoulfa was made possible by her publisher Bloomsbury. This facilitation by the publisher, and the involvement of Maktaba Books, reinforces for me the idea that people in the book industry – from authors, literary agents, publishers, to bookshops and activists – best serve the reading public by working together.

Don’t be put off by the ‘Young Adult’ label because Zoulfa’s book is a must-read for adults as well, and we feel justified in picking her book as one of the best books of the year for 2022. We learn so much about the human cost of the Syrian conflict, as well as about mental health, human resilience, and (clean) romance in the midst of war – life goes on.

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