Cover image for Following Muhammad : rethinking Islam in the contemporary world
Following Muhammad : rethinking Islam in the contemporary world
Ernst, Carl W., 1950-
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Publication Information:
Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
xxv, 244 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm.
Islam in the eyes of the West -- Approaching Islam in terms of religion -- The sacred sources of Islam -- Ethics and life in the world -- Spirituality in practice -- Reimagining Islam in the twenty-first century.
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BP161.3 .E76 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Avoiding the traps of sensational political exposes and specialized scholarly Orientalism, Carl Ernst introduces readers to the profound spiritual resources of Islam while clarifying diversity and debate within the tradition. Framing his argument in terms of religious studies, Ernst describes how Protestant definitions of religion and anti-Muslim prejudice have affected views of Islam in Europe and America. He also covers the contemporary importance of Islam in both its traditional settings and its new locations and provides a context for understanding extremist movements like fundamentalism. He concludes with an overview of critical debates on important contemporary issues such as gender and veiling, state politics, and science and religion.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Ernst is highly regarded for his books about Sufism ( The Shambhala Guide to Sufism, 1997) and his brilliant translations of Sufi texts. But in this compelling, if occasionally disorganized, book, Ernst introduces the larger Islamic world and its history in engaging, thought-provoking prose. The overarching argument here is that the West ought not understand Islam as a monolith, that debate and diversity are inherent in Islam and were encouraged by the Prophet. So while most introductions to Islam give Shi'ism and Sufism short shrift, they are presented here as vital facets of Islamic belief. Although the text skips around historically, readers will come away with a good understanding of the different schools of Islamic thought and practice. Special attention is paid to the hot-button topics: gender and veiling, the relationship between Islam and democracy, and Islamist radicalism, for example. Ernst's obvious passion for Islam comes through quite beautifully here, and the rare mix of clear writing and careful scholarship makes this an important purchase for any Islamic studies collection. --John Green Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Ernst, a professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is not a stranger to Islam-related controversy. His recommendation of Michael Sells's book Approaching the Qur'an to the UNC Summer Reading Program for incoming freshmen spurred an international firestorm. Following Muhammad itself was rejected by the publisher that had commissioned the manuscript, as some editors there objected to publishing a book that could be construed as supporting terrorism. Despite these obstacles, Ernst brought the book to another press with rewarding results: it is a pleasure to read. Ernst has a multilayered and self-assured understanding of Islam, and his writing exemplifies a fluency in explaining it that is unique to him, even compared to better-known scholars of the religion. Delicate and complex points about Islam as a religion and culture, about Sufism, and even about Osama bin Ladin, flow off the page effortlessly, with only a few spots that are too abstract. Rather than addressing the standard introductory information about Islam, like the Five Pillars, he has organized his book by themes, with chapters on topics such as ethics and spirituality. The book's greatest strength is Ernst's unrelenting but well-reasoned critique of how the West has consistently marginalized Islam and Muslims from the first encounters onward. Ernst is fair, however-while he admonishes the West for indulging in negative and inaccurate stereotypes of Islam and Muslims, he calls upon Muslims to participate fully in the pluralistic society the world has become. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Rebutting media-induced stereotypes, historical amnesia, and religious ethnocentrism, Ernst (religious studies, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) argues that North Americans must know their own history and the development of their own values before they can truly understand the faith of others. Hence, Ernst informs readers of the roles played by colonialism, Christian missionary efforts, and Western conceptions of just what "religion" is, all in relation to American conceptions of Islam. In broad strokes, he sketches out a religious studies perspective on Islam, minus the scholarly jargon. Given such broad strokes, Ernst's conclusions may sound like unsubstantiated (or under-substantiated) generalizations to those outside debates in religious studies of recent decades. A further qualification is that Ernst gives so much attention to this context that his discussion of the character and attributes of Islam suffers by comparison. Nonetheless, this notable book truly sketches out a background that informed citizens should be able to take for granted when they enter into any discussion of Islam and its place in the contemporary world. Recommended for public and academic libraries.-Steve Young, McHenry Cty. Coll., Crystal Lake, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

About half of this book is a good introduction to the study of any and all religions, noting the pitfalls and recommending sophistications as they apply to Islam. It's a diatribe against simplistic, negative images in Western media and scholarship. Culprits in oversimplification include both Muslim reformists and Westerners. In a "Protestant" way, European-American scholars have concentrated on the Qur'an, neglecting history and cultural variety. Partly in reaction to colonialism, Muslim ideologues have counteracted with an equally caricatured Islam and invented the Islamic nation-state. Ernst (Univ. of North Carolina-Chapel Hill) thinks both warring parties today have missed real Islam and must rethink their assumptions. The other half of this book applies these warnings and recommendations to Islam. It presumes some knowledge of the standard (biased) views. For every common assumption Ernst provides "ifs and buts." Befitting his expertise on Sufism, it and Islamic art take up one of the six chapters and promote a "spiritual" Islam. The role of science in Islam and "Liberal Islam" (including feminism) receive interesting attention. This plea for a descriptive view of Islamic complexity argues for recognition of an emerging modern Islam. It should be the second book everyone reads about Islam. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. General readers; lower-level undergraduates through faculty. G. A. Weckman Ohio University