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A selection of background material covering Islam, Islam and democracy, the Quran, Islamic law, and Islam and the West.

BACKGROUND ON ISLAM

The Historical Context for Contemporary Interest in Islam

In this introduction from his book, A Muslim Primer, Ira G. Zepp Jr. offers a short historical perspective to help readers understand why Westerners have ignored Islamic culture for so long, why the West has had continuing strife with Islamic countries, and why Westerners are confused about what are called the "roots of Muslim rage."

an overview of the european invasion of the islamic world

From Karen Armstrong's acclaimed book, Islam: A Short History, here's an excerpt which offers an overview of the European invasion of the Islamic world, and its fateful consequences.

Introduction to Islam

The Middle East Institute has published this book on their site for those seeking an introduction to the basic tenets and history of Islam. It includes chapters on the legal, social and economic aspects of Islam, as well as a brief overview of Islamic civilization.

The Islam Project

The PBS/FRONTLINE broadcast of "Muslims" is part of The Islam Project, a national outreach initiative that uses "Muslims" and the upcoming PBS documentary "Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet" as springboards for strategic community building, public awareness campaigns, and educational efforts on the subject of contemporary Islam. Visit The Islam Project Web site to learn more about this national effort, to join the email list for project updates, and to read announcements about the availability of the Educator's Kit for use this fall.

Revolutionary Islam

This public radio documentary examines the manifestations of political Islam around the world, including the history and legacy of the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the growing influence of Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt. The Web site offers the entire report in streaming RealAudio as well as pictures and a transcript of the show edited for ease of reading.

Islam: Empire of Faith

The companion Web site to the PBS film "Islam: Empire of Faith" contains a timeline of events in Islamic history; explorations of Islamic art, architecture, and literature; and resources for teachers.

THE QURAN

What is the Koran?

"The mainly secular effort to reinterpret the Koran ... is disturbing and offensive to many Muslims, just as attempts to reinterpret the Bible and the life of Jesus are disturbing and offensive to many conservative Christians. Nevertheless, there are scholars, Muslims among them, who feel that such an effort, which amounts essentially to placing the Koran in history, will provide fuel for an Islamic revival of sorts -- a reappropriation of tradition, a going forward by looking back. ... The Koran, after all, is currently the world's most influential ideological text." (The Atlantic Monthly, January 1999)

Three Translations of the Quran

This Web site offered by the Muslim Student Association of the University of Southern California gives three translations of the Quran. It notes that once the Quran is translated from the Arabic it ceases to be the word of God and therefore is not comparable to the Quran in its original language.

Quran Browser Homepage

This Web site maintained by the Brown University Scholarly Technology Group allows you to search three different translations of the text of the Quran by sura number and verse.

ISLAMIC LAW

Islamic Family Law Project

Emory University's Law and Religion program has embarked on a global study of Islamic family law. Their objectives include verifying and documenting the scope and manner of the application of IFL around the world, including Muslim communities living within predominantly non-Muslim countries, and exploring and substantiating possibilities of reform within particular communities of Muslims in their own context. Their Web site includes case studies and thematic studies of the implementation of IFL in various communities around the globe.

ISLAM AND THE WEST

The Islamic Resurgence

In this excerpt from his book The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (1996), Samuel P. Huntington looks at Islam's worldwide revival -- how it is being fueled by culture and cultural identity, and why it's the latest phase in the adjustment of Islam to the West and modernization. (Note: this excerpt is published on FRONTLINE's 1999 Web site report on Osama bin Laden.)

The Roots of Muslim Rage

In this influential examination of the relationship between Islam and the West, published in the September 1990 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Bernard Lewis explores "why so many Muslims deeply resent the West, and why their bitterness will not easily be mollified." He writes: "It should by now be clear that we are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of civilizations -- the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the worldwide expansion of both. It is crucially important that we on our side should not be provoked into an equally historic but also equally irrational reaction against that rival."

The Clash of Ignorance

Edward W. Said, writing in the Oct. 22, 2001, issue of The Nation, offers a scathing critique of the "clash of civilizations" thesis in the work of both Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis. "This is the problem with unedifying labels like Islam and the West: They mislead and confuse the mind, which is trying to make sense of a disorderly reality that won't be pigeonholed or strapped down as easily as all that.... These are tense times, but it is better to think in terms of powerful and powerless communities, the secular politics of reason and ignorance, and universal principles of justice and injustice, than to wander off in search of vast abstractions that may give momentary satisfaction but little self-knowledge or informed analysis."

ISLAM AND DEMOCRACY

Can Islam Bring Democracy to the Middle East?

In the November/December 2001 issue of Foreign Policy, Ray Takeyh, a research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy outlines how a new generation of theological thinkers, led by figures such as Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and Tunisian activist Rached Ghannouchi, is reconsidering the orthodoxies of Islamic politics. Takeyh maintains the voices of these moderate Islamists are being heard in their countries and in Islamic curricula across the region, and that there may be real hope that democratic concepts and order can take hold through the reinterpretation of Islamic texts and traditions.

Fundamental Problems

Karen Armstrong, author of numerous books on religion including Islam, A Short History and The Battle for God, discusses conflicts in the Muslim world between democracy and Islamic fundamentalism. "Democracy is something that we developed in the modern world as a result of our modernization -- not because we wanted to suddenly give power to the people. It's part of the transformation that comes with a capitalist economy. ... The Muslim world hasn't had time to develop a home-grown democracy. They still don't have the same kind of capital market economies, and in many countries democracy got a bad name because it was associated with bad regimes that the United States supported, despots like the Shahs in Iran." (Salon, Oct. 22, 2001)


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