Islam Under Siege: an honorable quest in a post honor world

Posted in Broader Middle East | 17-Aug-03 | Author: Faizan Haq

Book Review

Islam Under Siege: Living Dangerously in a Post-Honor World

Akbar Ahmed


Year of Publication

Polity Press
65 Bridge Street
Cambridge CB2 1UR, UK

US Distribution
Blackwell Publishing Inc.
350 Main Street
Malden, MA 02148, USA

Islam Under Siege is an honorable quest to capture and analyze the dishonorable conduct of human society in a post honor world. Just like an alarm clock that rings in your head it forces you to wake up from the pretentious slumber we are so used to. In fact this book keeps you awake long after you are done reading it. It is a must read if you have any interest in contemporary societies’ interactions with elements of change within and without their boundaries.

Explaining Islamic concepts essential for building a civil society, Professor Ahmed implores his quest for Adl (Justice), Ihsan (Balance), and Ilm (Knowledge) to visualize the governing dynamics of globalization. According to him globalization, seductive in its appearance but reckless in disruption and reorganization of life, inevitably resurrects Ibn Khuldun’s concept of Asabiyya (tribal loyalty). Asabiyya depends upon collective dignity, honor and self-esteem of a group or a tribe. However in hyper state of Asabiyya (tribal loyalty), according to Akbar Ahmed, honor is claimed by dishonoring the “other”. Hence, restoration of honor translates into the most deplorable crimes against fellow human beings such as systematic raping of women, organized destruction of means of living and personal property.

Akbar Ahmed doesn’t shy away from challenging the traditional thinking of both the East and the West in Islam Under Siege. Neither has he budged from criticizing the powerful and the mighty of the political world. Dipping into the vast experiences of his life; as a civil servant, as a diplomat, as a scholar, as a producer of the Jinnah Quartet (included a documentary, a feature movie, a biography and a graphic novel) and then as a prominent initiator of interfaith dialogue in the USA and last but not the least as a life long pupil of anthropology; he finds most relevant and vivid case studies to support his claims.

This book, with just over 200 pages, consists of seven short chapters and 25 pages of notes and references. Each chapter is further divided in two sections and each section with sub headings makes it an efficient book to read and follow. The titles of the chapters such as: What is going wrong? Ibn Khuldun and Social Cohesion, The Failure of the Muslim Leadership, Searching for Muslim Ideal, and Toward a Global Paradigm arouse your curiosity just as much as the title of the book.

At times this book evolves into a bibliographic reference of the ever changing relationships among societies, cultures and nations. From the ancient to the contemporary, from Ibn Khuldun to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, the author, although extremely concise, remains scholarly inclusive. At the same time balanced writing style remains consistent through out the book; always to the point and always keeping the capacity of his audience in mind. This book has an appeal for a wide range of readers from a concerned person busy in daily life to the one with scholastic aptitude and ambition.

Islam Under Siege is not only written form the zeal of an established scholar but also it articulates the heart aches of ordinary but concerned global citizens of our time. Akbar Ahmed as one of those citizens believes in a future, no matter how distant it seems at times, of a harmonious and peaceful world with all its diversity of religions, nations and traditions. He envisions this future by invoking the centuries-old Sufi principle of sulh-i-kul “peace with all.” Only by reading the conclusive chapter one can truly appreciate the scope of this vision.