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Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



The Female Voice in Sufi Ritual: Devotional Practices in Pakistan and India by Shemeem Burney Abbas (University of Texas Press) The female voice plays a more central role in Sufi ritual, especially in the singing of devotional poetry, than in almost any other area of Muslim culture. Female singers perform sufiana-kalam, or mystical poetry, at Sufi shrines and in concerts, folk festivals, and domestic life, while male singers assume the female voice when singing the myths of heroines in qawwali and sufiana-kalam. Yet, despite the centrality of the female voice in Sufi practice throughout South Asia and the Middle East, it has received little scholarly attention and is largely unknown in the West.

This book presents the first in-depth study of the female voice in Sufi practice in the subcontinent of Pakistan and India. Shemeem Burney Abbas investigates the rituals at the Sufi shrines and looks at women's participation in them, as well as male performers' use of the female voice. The strengths of the book are her use of interviews with both prominent and grassroots female and male musicians and her transliteration of audio- and videotaped performances. Through them, she draws vital connections between oral culture and the written Sufi poetry that the musicians sing for their audiences. This research clarifies why the female voice is so important in Sufi practice and underscores the many contributions of women to Sufism and its rituals.

'Believing Women' in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’an by Asma Barlas ( University of Texas Press ) offers a comprehensive revisionist treatment of how the Qur'an actually views women as equal and even superior to men. Persuaded that Islam is a religion of egalitarianism, Barlas is equally clear that misogyny and patriarchy have seeped into Islamic practice through "traditions": the sunna, or the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam; the hadiths, or sayings attributed to Muhammad; and the shariah, or law derived from the Qur'an. Barlas argues that a military-scholarly complex manipulated the Qur'an to establish these traditions in a successful effort to preserve the position of the military rulers and clerics of early Islamic history with women's status being the victim. Some flawed traditions, along with mistranslations, ingrained patriarchy into Qur'anic interpretation, in spite of obvious Qur'anic injunctions to the contrary. Barlas's thesis is irresistible: the Qur'an itself has a very positive view of women whereas patriarchal culture caused the various interpreters of the Qur'an to read their own biases into the text to justify the oppression of women. Barlas quotes from a smorgasbord of Islamic scholars, resulting at times in a choppy read that drowns out her own more appealing voice. The opening chapter is bogged down in such quoting, and also in excessive worrying over her critics on either side of the debate. Despite these flaws, this book is loaded with interesting facts about Islam that may even surprise Muslims.

Women's Rights, the Qur’an & Islam by Lisa Spray (BSM) lacking the deconstructive and solid feminist suspicion of Barlas’s work, Spray still deliveries an important apologetic for Islam. The religion of Islam today continues to be one of the most misunderstood religions. For centuries Islam has been presented to the world by people, scholars and countries that do not actually follow the Islam taught in the Quran.

Terrible acts of terrorism done in the name of religion are prime examples. The attacks on New York City and Washington D.C. on September 11, 2001 killing thousands were deplorable .... Unfortunately, terrorists are not the only ones that give Islam a bad name. It is a fact that there are numerous man‑made rules which have crept into mainstream Islam that have nothing to do with the religion of Islam as laid out in the Quran. One of the major principles that has been cor­rupted over the years is the equality of women in Islam.

That is why Spray's work in this book is such an important under­taking. She brings forth all the issues confronting today's women who follow or want to follow the religion of Islam. She gives examples from her experience and tells us how she dealt with each issue. She also includes many real life stories of friends who went through similar experiences.

Spray opens the door and invites in to share us in her experiences becom­ing a Muslim and deepening her faith.. But it is not just her party, there are women from the Middle East , Southeast Asia as well as sisters here in the United States that share with us. Spray helps us to remember that the God of Islam is the same God of Judaism and Christianity. She points out where the three reli­gions are the same or similar in their teachings. Her use of stories gives it a per­sonal appeal, putting a human face on a religion that for many of us, we have had no connection with.


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