Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Columbia World Dictionary of Islamism by Antoine Sfeir

book cover

The Columbia World Dictionary of Islamism
by Antoine Sfeir

ISBN-13: 9780231146418
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Released: 2007, Nov. 2009

Source: Review copy from the publisher.

Book Description from Back Cover (slightly modified):
This volume features more than two thousand entries on the history of Islamism and Islamic countries. It provides a balanced account of events and organizations, as well as philosophers, activists, militants, and other prominent figures, and offers a window into a movement that has irrevocably changed both Muslim and Western societies.

The Columbia World Dictionary of Islamism includes entries on the roots of Islamism and jihad in Africa, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq, Morocco, the Balkans, and the United States, among many other countries and locations. It profiles such key individuals as Louis Farrakhan; Tariq Ramadan; Abu Hamza Al-Masri; Algeria's Hassan Hattab, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood; Egypt's Hassan Al-Banna; and the leader of the Afghan Jombesh-i Melli Islami movement, Abdul Rashid Dostum; historical events such as the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole and Syria's Hama massacre; organizations and religious movements such as the Taliban, Hezbollah, Hamas, Morocco's Justice and Development Party, and Iran's Association for the Defense of the Values of the Islamic Revolution; and groups including Tablighi Jamaat (the Society of the Message), the World Association for Muslim Youth, and Lebanon's Al-Ahbash.

The dictionary uniquely examines this antimodern incarnation of Islam and its efforts to claim (or reclaim) Muslim society, families, and professional environments. The volume considers such questions as whether activist Islam is "terrorist" and if it can coexist with Western societies; whether terrorism can be justified by the Quran; and what are the components of an international Islam. Antoine Sfeir, internationally renowned for his scholarship and expertise on this subject, remains sensitive to the differences between Islam and Islamism and approaches the ideology from geopolitical, sociological, and historical standpoints.

My Review:
The Columbia World Dictionary of Islamism is an encyclopedia focused on Islamism and has entries for people, countries, groups, religious denominations, major terrorist acts, and more. I've been using it mainly as a supplement to the news. As in, if I see a person or place mentioned in the news in relation to Islamism, I look it up in this book and learn more. The key here, though, is to realize that his definition of Islamism is "a broad intellectual, religious, and political school within contemporary Islam whose adherents cling to the doctrine that the faith is indivisible, and base their actions on its fundamental principles. Islamists fear modernity, which they regard as a threat to the integrity of their faith." So he mainly focuses on militant Islamic organizations and/or those wanting the Quran as the country's constitution.

If you look up a country, you usually get a listing of the Islamist groups that exist in that country and their history (including how the government viewed them and the group's major terrorist acts). If you look up a prominent Muslim, he won't be in here unless he's an Islamist. If he is, then you get a biography on him. And so on. So this book is excellent at giving extensive information about the topics it covers, but I suspect it has a rather limited audience due to the limited focus.

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Read an excerpt using Google Preview.

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