Momin, A.R. Introduction to Sociology: An Islamic Perspective. Institute of Objective Studies. Genuine Publications, New Delhi, India, first edition, 2017.
I have read the book with total enthusiasm as it relates our pedagogical and methodological challenges. The pedagogical challenge presents itself in availing appropriate material for students of sociology. The methodological challenge presses itself in moving our Islamic of Knowledge precepts from the realm of abstraction and the foundation of knowledge into the realm of disciplinary knowledge. Mainstreaming an output especially formulated for students is critically needed. It is the challenge of the textbook, the challenge of descending from the skies of intellectual circles into the arena of the university, especially at the undergraduate level. Now this work stood for the task as a pioneering effort.
The most important feature of the book is that it is formulated for students in the discipline of sociology at the undergraduate level. Indeed, the book is organized along the standardized subjects you find in most sociology intro textbooks in the US. That is, the chapters discuss culture, society, gender, inequality, etc. In that respect, the book is ready to enter the classroom and is teachable.
The expansive knowledge of the author is evident, and his gift in presenting complex ideas and simplifying them is clear. For such a book, the style writing and the pros are essential, and the textbook deserves a high mark in that respect. Furthermore, the chapters take the reader in a marvelous journey through Muslim countries and societies and some of the challenges they face, which has an educational value in itself. But the promise of delivering an Islamic perspective—a formidable task when it comes to the undergraduate level—seems to have fell short of what one would hope for. And this aspect will be at the center of my review.
The first two chapters, Introduction and Human Nature, are well-formulated ideas that stress two aspects. First, they clearly demonstrate the western nature of the discipline and the general bias in western discourse toward the “third world” in general and Muslims in particular. Second, Chapter 2 chapter clearly points to the reductionist and negative view of human nature that dominates the western perspective. Chapter 2 is at a higher level of complexity compared with the other chapters. However, most of the rest of the chapters are quite ordinary and reflect two properties: First, not moving beyond the contours of the modern conceptualizations of sociology; second, the liberally eclectic approach that pervades the discussion to the point of diluting the possibility and the need for an alternative model. Below are some specific notes on the chapters.
Chapter 2: Human Nature
The chapter goes into details in discussing animal behavior. It stresses that animals show a wide range of emotions, that individual animals have distinct personalities, and that primate display striking resemblance with human behavior. The length of the discussion leaves the student reader with a faulty unwanted impression: it narrows the gap between the human and animal kingdom, even if the chapter has few sentences that warn otherwise. The following section, Ethology and Sociobiology, presents a very brief critique of this deterministic view. The next section, Man’s Uniqueness, is meant to present a corrective measure, but remains too attached to the secular discussion of the issue. And this section ends with a three-liner paragraph stressing that humans are unique in a wide range of traits such as guilt, honour, modesty, selflessness… pg. 31. This is a too short ending. What would stick in the student’s mind is the details that animal behavior is similar to that of humans.
The following section, Paradox of Human Nature, serves again to stress the animality of human behavior. The discussion of the Holocaust, with 6 million victims of Jews (pg. 31), fails to mention that it stands as the utmost representation of modernist rationality. The presentation is reductionist in simply putting it in the context of human nature.
The last section, Human Nature in Islamic Perspective, is clear. While it is adequate, this section did not need to quote Pascal, Jung, and Allport! Such inclusion of secular views in the section dedicated to the Islamic perspective is troubling as it compromises the efficiency in constructing appropriate concepts.
Chapter 3: Socialization
The chapter discusses the concept of socialization in a standard way as you find in other sociology textbooks. The difference lies in the examples, where the chapter stresses the plight of female children especially in India and China. The chapter maintains the standard definition of gender even if its soundness has been challenged. Furthermore, the chapter states that gender roles are not biologically determined (pg. 51), and it does not stress enough the multifaceted differences between the sexes regardless of socialization.
In the section “Child Labour”, especially in Egypt, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, the chapter adequately addresses the concern, but it does not mention larger macro factors contributing to the phenomenon. Apart from dire financial needs, modern educational systems are designed for middle-class students, and they are alienating to lower-classes culture (especially males) and are irrelevant to the needs of those classes. So the behavior of people who send their children to work is not totally irrational. And in the first place, the infrastructure to absorb those children is not usually available, leaving us between having loose unattended children, or connecting them to work. This is not to take lightly the exploitation of children, but the customary sympathy with them is often condescending.
The discourse of Ferrero on education is appropriate to be invoked in this chapter. Nevertheless, the chapter that opens the eyes of students to continuing problems in the world including Muslim countries, even if the treatment maintained the standard human rights framework, with its liberal underpinnings, toward such issues.
Chapter 4: Society
This chapter stands out as the author is clearly authoritative on the subject of communities and multiculturalism. Nevertheless, there is reservation regarding how the chapter discussed Types of Societies, where it combined the classical material divisions (hunter and gatherer, agrarian, industrial), along with Tribal, Third World, Civilization, and Clash of Civilization. Those last four sections deserve to be under a standalone section as they have different underling principles.
The chapter discusses the Turkification efforts as unjust practices against minorities (pg. 90), not as part of a nation-state project in the process of replace the khilafah system.
The excellent discussion of “communitarianism” can be rarely seen in American textbooks. The section “Society and Community in Islamic Perspective” has room for further development, and the mention of the concept of ummah, and millat deserves more elaboration.
Chapter 5: Culture
Cultural Diversity in the Muslim World is an important issue that deserves special attention. The chapter presents a wide range of social practices, some of which could be problematic. And here where one feels uncomfortable. That is, the overemphasis on differences among Muslim population leaves the impression that there is nothing shared among them. Indeed, there is much importance to stress that the common elements in Muslim cultures are deeper and more meaningful in comparison to the diversity in lifestyle issues. The stress on lifestyle is the squarely a modernist concern of the affluent.
Furthermore, the textbook falls short in stressing the uniqueness of the Muslim social patterns and beliefs. Consider this sentence:
“Hinduism holds that the divine essence permeated the whole universe. Islam and Judaism believe in a supreme God, called Allah in Islam and Yahweh in Hebrew, and forbid image worship. Christians believe in the doctrine of trinity, which holds that divine essence is manifested in the Father, Son (Jesus Christ) and Holy Ghost” (pg. 109).
Now when a student reads such a sentence, he or she would form a loosely eclectic view of religion, as if differences do not matter.
In speaking of ethnic minorities in Turkey, the book states that the Alevis “follow the Shi’i creed” (pg. 111), which is not true. So again, you feel that the book follows too much some customary depictions. The Muslim classical literature on diversity clearly differentiates between the mainstream Sunni and Shii on one hand and syncretic groups on the other. This critical differentiation is absent in the whole textbook.
In discussing diversity in cultural norms, the book states that “Muslim, Jews, and Hindus consider pork and pork products as forbidden. The Chinese as well as many communities in West Africa consider milk and milk products inedible” (pg. 113). Such equalization of cultural norms with religious ones is problematic.
In the section Discontents of Ethnicity, the book notes to cases of ethnic conflict, and it counts the Palestinian issue as one example. Also, it describes the conflict in Darfur as that between black Africans and Arabs (pg. 126). Such a view was refuted by several scholarly accounts.
The chapter devotes near a whole page on Kurds in Turkey, and it almost normalizes the image of the PKK, similar to leftists’ treatments. Furthermore, there is no mention to the Kemalist and nationalist backdrop, and the discussion is disconnected from the development in the last 10 years (pg. 126-127).
The framework that the chapter maintains is vividly demonstrated in the following definition: “Minority group identities are generally defined in, projects of identity politics, in terms of descent, ethnicity, language, religion, and gender” (pg. 132). Including gender as a minority group is a pure ideological and liberal categorization.
Chapter 6: Gender, Family and Kinship
The chapter does not advance a concept of gender from an Islamic perspective, and uses it as customarily invoked.
The chapter starts with Mead’s ideas (pg. 142), and fails to note that her work was discredited. The short section “Gender Inequity, Injustice and Violence” is a standard feminist lack of appropriate theorizing. The chapter devotes a long treatment on Female Genital Mutilation-FGM. The book appropriately notes that such practice is cultural and not connected to religion. But while the practice is deplorable, the FGM term (pg. 114) is considered highly feminist and ideological. The alternative term is not apologetic and uses the word “removal”. The chapter cites UNICIF statics showing 91% prevalence of this practice in Egypt (pg. 145). Such high percentage is always suspect, especially for a country with large metropolitan populations that were sufficiently exposed to modernity and its patterns. Again, while there is no denial about the problematic nature of the practice, a critic would ask what prompted dedicating that much space of attention relative to other concerns.
The chapter discusses the status and role of women in the Muslim World. It importantly notes that in “the Islamic view, the roles, rights and responsibilities of men and women are largely equal and complementary, but not identical” (pg. 149). But instead of following up on this theme and making it the organizing principle in analysis, the book delves into discussing the dark aspect of Muslim reality. The book notes that 99% of Egyptian women say that they have been subjected to some form of sexual harassment (pg. 150), forgetting that that is true about many societies including France. Then the book claims that the violence against women in Turkey witnessed a 1,400% increase in the last decade! (pg. 150). Obviously, the reports to which the book refers are politically driven.
Then the book devotes a section on the “Status of Women in the Arab World”, much of which represent an out of context clichés that cite UN Human Development Report. In the section titled “Islamic Feminism”, the book starts with Huda Sharawi, with no contextualization, and continues in a casual coverage of the subject.
The tone of discussion of Child Marriage is not sociological enough as it is void of considering macro factors, making the phenomenon as if it were the result of a pure cultural backward attitude.
In conclusion, this chapter is iconic in: dancing on exceptions, falling short in providing adequate contextualization, and in using standard sociological terminology that is problematic from an Islamic point of view. Furthermore, the presentation mentions different family patterns and sexual norms in a normalizing tone. The details on the forms of marriage, including homosexuality, comes without connecting them to post-modernity and western cultural disarray. Toward the end of the chapter, the book is satisfied by saying that “Islamic law forbids polyandry as well as lesbian and homosexual unions” pg. 173.
Chapter 7: Population and Environment
The chapter focuses on the related issues in Muslim countries. The detailed discussion of fasting in Ramadan in northern altitudes and the different fatwas regarding is interesting although sounds out of place.
Chapter 8: Inequality and Social Stratification
This chapter does not differ much from other sociology intro books, except that it emphasizes inequity in Muslim and non-western countries. Among the issues that this chapter discusses is the plight of the aboriginals of Australia followed by the ethnic inequality towards the Palestinians (pg. 245). The discussion of the caste system is very clear rightly situated in its cultural context. The chapter acknowledges that inequality is also found in rich and democratic societies.
Under the section “Gender Inequality”, the book states that Syrian, Jordan, and Lebanon are among the top ten in gender inequality (pg. 249). Obviously, this is an erroneous generalization that the textbook snatched from the World Economic Forum 2015 report. And despite that the book stresses that poverty is concentrated in India, China, Bangladesh, and Nigeria, it reminds us that the “Middle East [is] one of the most unequal regions of the world” (pg. 269). This generalization lumpsums oil-producing countries in the named region with others, which makes it not that illuminating.
The section Equality and Social Justice in Islam (pgs. 265-267) is satisfied with citing some verses and hadiths. The content of this section is not sociological, and is not different from any normative book on the subject.
Chapter 9: Religion and Society
The chapter has concise summaries of the major religions that exist in the world, with a standard one-page about Islam. The discussion of Hinduism is one of the clearest of such a complex subject.
The chapter then shifts to discuss western sociological take on religion. The book notes that Durkheim’s generalizations “are open to question” (pg. 290), and that Weber’s view of Asian religions “exemplifies the characteristics Orientalist perspective” (pg. 292). That much thin is the critical examination of the western view of religion. The book follows that with Peter Berger’s admission that his secularization thesis was misguided (pg. 293), and the book does not present its own critique.
The chapter ends with describing extremism and militancy in the Muslim world, including the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, al-Shabab, and ISIS. This is followed by the renunciation of terrorism by many Muslim scholars (pgs. 310-314). The book acknowledges that “Muslims in the Middle East have borne the brunt of numerous wars, military interventions and covert operations launched by Western powers” (pg. 312).
As much as this chapter is successful in its vivid description of different religions, it is flat in discussing the conceptual limitations of the Sociology of Religion, especially in relation to Islam.
Chapter 10: State, Nation, and Nationalism
This chapter parallels Chapter 2 in its sophistication. The section “Islamic View of State” clearly identifies eleven features of the Islamic state, khilafah, in the classical sources (317-320). But it does not juxtapose them to the modern state; rather, it shifts to discuss the trajectory of the modern state and the modern idea of nation, followed by a brief discussion of colonialism and state formation in the Muslim world with focus on the Ottoman Empire and the Levant.
The following section talks about early movements of liberation that stood up to colonial powers, which were in fact Muslim Sufi-dominated movements. The title of that section refers to those movements as national movements, not liberation or resistance movements.
Under the section “Nationalism and Democracy in the Muslim World”, the book visits cases mostly from Arab countries in addition to Iran. The presentation included an unsubstantiated out-of-context claim: “Al-Siba’i’s ideas were adopted by the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, who sought to combine Arab nationalism, socialism and Islam” (pg. 337).
The chapter offers a student-appropriate brief discussion of democracy and stating the following: “It is possible and desirable to combine the positive and time-teste features of democracy with the normative principles of Islamic Shariah and to restructure and reinvent it in accordance with the requirements of Muslim societies” (pg. 339).
The discussion of secularism is interesting, but the section “Secularism in the Muslim World” is too polite to the degree it distorts such experience. That is, the discussion does not stress that secularism in Muslim countries was the bearer of dictatorship. The text does have the following strong statement regarding the Kemalist ideology: “Under its influence, the state acquired absolute and tyrannical powers. Laicism or secularism became an official instrument for the control and manipulation of religion and for the suppression of people’s religious and cultural rights” (pg. 343 emphasis added). That is followed by a similar strong statement regarding Bourguiba of Tunisia. One wish that the implications of such statements reverberate in the text. Rather, you found them sidelined by the emphasis on marginal issues. Also, the text does not bring to the attention that secular leaders (and thinkers) represented the extensions of external powers, and that secularism itself was forged as a cultural substitute and an alternative vision for the Muslim world. That is, it is not simply a matter of violating people’s religious and cultural rights.
Following that the book quickly notes that there was anti-secularist current, such as Mawdudi, Banna, Qutb, and Khomeini, only to conclude that a middle-ground was created by thinkers such as al-Ghannouchi. Lastly, the chapter makes a fair presentation of the Arab Spring even if the closing sentence is jaded.
Ch 11: Modernity and Development
The chapter presents a clear discussion of the development of modernity. Furthermore, it makes colonialism as one of the “contexts”, and that its ideology was justified in terms of “while supremacy as “self-styled” moral European claims (pg. 359).
The section Modernity in the Muslim World is disorienting. This section focuses on the last phase of the Ottoman Empire, and the Tanzimat reforms are presented as progressive efforts, along with implied praise to those who engineered such reforms; obviously, the issue is thornier than that. For example, the book notes that Namik Kemal’s ideas “reflect a synthesis of Islamic ideals and Western principles, especially constitutionalism and democracy” (pg. 365). The presentation also normalizes Ataturk’s modernist project; the presentation is satisfied by saying: “However, the Kemalist ideology never enjoyed an unchallenged sway, especially in the Anatolian countryside and in the Kurdish-dominated regions” (pg. 365). In a similar tone, the chapter notes the case of Egypt and the position of Tahtawi, and the case of Tunisia and the position of Khayr al-Din al-Tunisi. That is followed by the cases of Iran then Syria; the chapter only portrays those two cases as secular and autocratic.
Then the chapter discusses Modernist Discourses and Movements, and it includes the following diverse personalities: al-Afghani, Abduh, Rida, Ahmad Lutfi el-Sayyid, Qasim Amin, Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Iqbal, and Shariati, along the with Jadidism movement in Crimea and the Caucasus and the Muhammadiya movement in Indonesia (pgs. 368-376). Obviously, presenting such mixture of key figures as having the same goal confuses students.
Then the chapter switched gears to discuss the subject of development, without proper transition, flipping form the discussion of ideas to the presentation of measures such as GDP and HDI (and its conceptualizer, Mahbub ul-Haq). Then that chapter notes that there “is an inverse correlation between development and conflict and violence” (pg. 385), implying the acceptance of the neoliberal vision. The chapter keeps rolling and discusses development, well-being, and happiness, presenting the paradox of the lack of correlation between development and happiness. Well, this is the concern of rich countries. Development should be made clear that it stands as a practical mark of modernity, and that it is the driver for war and inequality. The chapter ends with two thoughtful sections: Muslim World’s Resources and Awqaf.
Note. The chapter included the following phrase using the term holy war: “The Prophet is reported to have said: “Seek for your family legitimate means of livelihood, for this is a jihad (holy war) in the cause of God” (pg. 389).
Ch 12: Globalization
This chapter perceptively start in discussing proto-globalization and Islamic civilization, and how Muslim activities once traversed the whole known world. The wide implications of globalization are discussed, including multinational corporations and shifting global power balance to migration, global diasporas, and lifestyles.
The take on globalization came in the form of two sections: benefits of globalization and discontents of globalization. This is a simplified way that may be appropriate for students.
The chapter also notes Islamic finance and its huge presence in the world, but without being critical or evaluative. In other words, what does sociology say about world capitalist firms catering financial instruments to Muslims, and what does sociology say about the establishing mega financial institutions in Malaysia and Arab Gulf countries, etc.
Ch 13: Sociology of Islam
This chapter is more intellectually complex compared to the rest of chapters. It starts with presenting the views of orientalists and the degree they were negative and antagonistic of Islam. Then the book presents Gellner, Geertz, and Hodgson. The message that filters into students’ minds is that the scholarly west was bad, but it became reasonable.
Then the chapter focuses on the sociology of Islamic law and its distinctive features. It appropriately notes that “the term Sharia (for which Islamic law represents an imperfect translation) comprises not just a set of legal rules but something which is suffused with moral and spiritual values” (pg. 456). One wishes that in the rest of the discussion the text kept using the term sharia instead of Islamic law.
The chapter details the sources and methodology of Islamic law as well as legal pluralism in Islam. Those sections are appropriately followed by discussing unity. The chapter cites Gibb and Feldman to stress that there is a generalized Muslim character worldwide, despite deep diversity, and that sharia is the key principle for integration.
The chapter ends with the discussion of Islamic resurgent movements, but without appropriate engagement with their ideational contributions. The discussion feels like the observation of an outsider. Is this a matter of objectivity or a jaded sense of social change? In addition, there is a subtle blame of social movements. For example, “al-Banna sought to spread his message further by communicating directly with kings, prime ministers and head of Arab states, as a result of which he came in conflict with the ruling establishment” (pg. 473). This is troubling simplification that reduces the conflict to political competition. When talking about Sayyid Qutb, the book states the following: “…but cooperation between the Nasser regime and Ikhwan came to an end due to ideological and political differences. Nasser then turned against the Muslim Brotherhood with a view to consolidate his own power, and imprisoned some 20,000 of its members. Qutb condemned the Nasser regime as un-Islamic and urged his followers to launch an armed resistance against it (pg. 474). First, Qutb did not call for armed resistance. Rather, his position is akin to that of Mandela and Malcom X: ultimate rejection of the institution of oppression, and reserving the right to resist by all means. Moreover, Qutb has fine philosophical contributions (especially his Khasais al-Tasawwur). Again, the text reduces the matter to political competition and almost justifies the “reaction” of the regime. Surely, this is the manner of presenting social movements by western specialists.
Lastly, while the coverage of Ikhwan is detailed and fair enough, the coverage of the Jamaat-e-Islami is very brief. And following popular western treatment of the subject, the discussion of Salafiyah squeezes together that of ibn Abdul-Wahab with that of Afghani and Rida, and adds to the mixture Abd al-Qadir al-Maghribi and Shakib Arsalan in Syria (pg. 479).
It is worth noting that this chapter about the sociology of Islam mainly cites western authors. Classical sources were noted only in terms of Islamic law and legal pluralism. Islamic movements were discussed as if they are purely political movements and have no cultural bearings. The chapter not only fails to mention the contemporary contributions to the sociology of Islam by the current generation of Muslims in the west who are formulating a renewed perspective that challenges the received views on Islam and Muslim societies, but also misses mentioning the pioneering contributions of the older Muslim generation whom the author is one of them.
Ch 14: Muslim Minorities
This is almost purely empirical chapter where it covers diverse Muslim minorities in the world, reminding the student that their huge size is forgotten. The end of the chapter is an exception as it ends with a theoretical subject regarding the classifications of Dar.
Being cognizant of what students hear about Muslim minorities makes presenting the subject a challenging task. But the chapter was successful in managing to stress two points. First, that Muslim minorities are to a considerable extent well-integrated within their societies, and that many of them represent indigenous population. Second, the extensive discrimination and suppression that Muslims suffer at the hand of ultra-nationalist or ideological regimes. The detailed coverage of Muslims in India illuminates the situation of the largest Muslim minority in the world, so is the detailed coverage of Muslims in China and Russia.
The textbook chooses to make a dichotomous presentation about Muslims in western countries. The presentation first stresses the bright picture of the situation of those minorities and that their existence has been normalized. Then under a section titled Problems and Challenges, the chapter discusses the dim picture. The chapter does not go into the consequences of belonging to a different block of civilization.
The chapter ends with a controversial subject, Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb, where many observers and scholars, as the textbook notes, think that it is outdated and there is no benefit in invoking it. However, the author disagrees and affirms a third approach:
“Therefore, a distinction needs to be drawn between the typology of Dar al-Islam, Dar al-Harb and Dar al-Ahd, which was embedded in a specific historical, geopolitical and social context, and the overarching legal principles, which were derived from the Quran, the Prophet’s Sunnah and the precedents of his companions, which provided the theoretical edifice of the typology. While the typology may be said to have become irrelevant or obsolete in the radically modified global scenario, the legal principles and issues that underpin it continue to remain relevant and significant even today. The principles and issues include the political, diplomatic, commercial and cultural relations between Muslims and non-Muslim states, the ethics of war and peace, treatment of prisoners of war and refugees, protection of the social, legal and political rights of the non-Muslim citizens of the Islamic state, and the response and obligation of Muslim states towards the status and rights of Muslim minorities living in non-Muslim societies” (pgs. 522-523).
The chapter closes with the idea of fiqh of minorities, citing Taha Jabir Alwani. Overall, the chapter maintains a modernist vision of coexistence, where the legal takes precedent over the social and the cultural.
Ch 15: Health and Illness
The chapter is a short chapter that surveys illnesses as they relate to behavior, social conditions, and cultural factors. It also notes alternative systems of medicine that dissented the biomedical model. The chapter ends with a section on Health and Illnesses in Islamic Perspective. This section cites some Islamic injunctions and practices related to health, such as moderation, minimal food consumption by Sufis, and the health benefits of fasting and circumcision.
Ch 16: Theory and Methodology
In only 29 pages, this chapter provides a concise summary of all sociological schools and perspectives, in addition to a note on the main methodological approaches. The presentation is crystal clear, though dense by necessity. But one cannot miss the fact that the chapter has a brief section on the Critique of Positivism as well a one paragraph critique of functionalism; it has only four lines critique of Marxism and Conflict perspectives, and none for phenomenology, ethnomethodology, and hermeneutics.
The chapter ends with a two-page section titled Restructuring of Sociology in Islamic Framework, defining four prerequisites to such framework: rejection of Cartesian epistemology, critical appraisal and selective appropriation of western sociology, being a deeply comparative discipline informed by moral imagination, and flexible methodology [most of the terms I used in this sentence are the author’s]. One could say that those four practical principles were the guidelines in writing the book itself. Yet, they are simply prerequisites and do not point much to the indigenous properties of the Islamic framework itself.
Conclusion and General Remarks
This introduction to sociology textbook represents an ambitious project to provide Muslim students material that is focused on the issues of their communities and countries. The tremendous effort that went into developing the material cannot be more evident. Such an effort normally requires solid institutional support, especially if we consider the absence of Islamically appropriate undergraduate material in social sciences despite the richness of available work at the graduate level. The critical importance of the project calls for serious critique as part of the nasiha ethos in the Islamic attitude and does not take away from the eminence of authors and their efforts; after all, developing material at under the undergraduate from a new perceptive is a real puzzle. Below is a summary of concerns classified as pedagogical, theoretical, and perspective.
The length of chapters is of concern. Most chapters are around 40 pages or more. That is too much for today’s students.
Seemingly unrelated subjects were squeezed into the chapters. In developing the textbook, it appears that there was a tension between adding an extra chapter versus finding a place for tangent issues. It is as if the chapters were anticipating the critique of incompleteness and omission, and tried ahead to please an imaginary committee.
The rich material of the textbook in bringing diverse cases from around the world has an educational value as horizon expanders. However, there is a concern that it might lead to a lack of focus on the central issues. And regardless of that, making the connection between the main theme of the chapter and the tangent issues was not always apparent.
As an undergraduate textbook, it is imperially driven by examples and cases, and theoretical principles hide between the lines. While the density of examples makes the material both readable and appealing, it might push away lessons learned and obscure theoretical conclusions.
Space allocation is a major concern. In many instances, the book elaborated on different views, lifestyles, beliefs… following that by a single or few sentences on the Islamic perspective on the matter. For students, mindful of tests, space matters very much. For them, the length dedicated to an issue means: (1) importance; and (2) worthy of energy and time and the ability to recall. In such a way, the Islamic alternative view gets overwhelmed.
The textbook was keen to reflect on many aspects of Muslim realities around the world, including problems, historical crossroads, key figures, and social movements. The issues of the Levant were frequently covered, but South Asia might have been somewhat neglected. Specifically, there was no mention of Kashmir, nor a discussion of the Pakistan-Bangladesh dynamics.
The presentation of the Islamic movements seemed to have been either brief or too cautious, with more generous descriptors attached to Sufi movements.
In several instances, the Islamic point of view is presented at a different level from what it responds to. That is, while the not-Islamic-perspective is introduced through detailed description as part of customary sociology, the Islamic answer comes brief and more abstract. That is not a problem for top students. However, for the average student the former sticks in the mind, not the latter.
The book deferred the theory and methodology chapter to be the last while most textbooks puts it as the first. The choice of the author is advantageous, as fresh students can hardly make sense of theories if they were introduced upfront.
The presentation is densely empirical and it is overly biographical at some places, to the degree it sometimes dwarfs the focus on concepts.
There is little utilization of the conflict and critical perspectives.
While the coverage of communitarianism is welcomed as seldom found in sociology textbooks, there was a shortage of connecting it to the Muslim patterns of living. When discussing communitarianism, few repentant western scholars were cited, failing to root the concept more broadly in religion-oriented communities, let alone connecting it to the Islamic mode of sociation that is at odds with the liberal celebrated mode.
While the textbook justifiably focuses on problematic aspects of Muslim contemporary realities (especially issues related to females), in some issues it falls short in pointing to the other full half of the cup. Despite all ailments, there is much to highlight in Muslim reality today: persistence, resistance, and authenticity.
There is a general neglect of macro analysis. True that three chapters are dedicated to macro issues, but a micro way of analysis is what pervades. Even the chapters on macro issues dedicate considerable space to speak about key figures, not generalized dynamics.
The macro deficit of the book led the discussion of some issues to be reductionist or even distortive. Internal conflicts in Muslim societies were simply referred to as “civil war”. Similarly, the Turkification efforts were mentioned as unjust practices against minorities not as part of a nation-state project that toppled the khilafah. And while too much stress on the impact of colonization should be avoided, the textbook was too light in that respect.
The book in general, and specific chapters in particular, has Muslim factual reality as its major concern. This is a definite valued feature of the textbook. While one reviewer would find the discussion a sort of needed realism that is concerned with contemporary remedies, other might find it too acquiescent with the dominant system along with a lack of emphasis on social change.
The drive to bring examples and statistical data have led in some places to cite doubtful figures that are at odd with what is qualitatively known.
As an intro book, it seems that there was a keen interest not to show clear preference and to appeal to a wide audience of Muslims as well as non-Muslims. This apparent preference left the Islamic perspective too much implied.
The book largely normalizes the controversies within western academia, giving the sense that truth could emerge from between, rather than challenging the secular views upfront. For students, such an approach does not foster thinking of alternative perspectives.
There is an overconcern with diversity. While a reviewer would apricate the book’s focus on marginalization, students are likely to process it within a liberal schema. The coverage of diversity ends up diluting the idea that moral standards do exist, edging toward a too much cultural relativity position.
The discussion of the Islamic perspective varied across chapters. Chapter 2, Human Nature, clearly elucidates an Islamic perspective on the matter. Chapter 3 has ten lines on socialization in Islamic perspective. Chapter 4 has an adequate two-page discussion of the Islamic perspective on society and community, although it could have been further utilized. Chapter 6 on Gender, Family, and Kinship has a confusing one page on Islamic Feminism and offers no alternatives to mainstream sociological views. Chapter 10 on State, Nation, and Nationalism (like chapter 2) is distinct in clearly defining the Islamic view of the state even if it was not utilized. Notions on the Islamic perspective are presented within Chapter 11, Modernity and Development, most of which are historical and have clear modernist tilt. However, the section on Awqaf briefly notes the uniqueness of the Islamic system. Chapter 13, Sociology of Islam is full of discussion on Islamic perspective issues. Chapter 14, Muslim Minorities, concludes with a five-page discussion of Islamic Law for Muslim Minorities. Chapter 15, Health and Illness has a three-page uneven discussion of the Islamic perspective. Finally, Chapter 16 has a three-page recommendation on restructuring sociology in Islamic framework.
Regardless of the length of discussion of the Islamic perspective, when it was mentioned it appeared mainly as a note or appendix. The Islamic perspective was not at the core of the discussion, nor was it the analytical scheme or the thread of conceptualization.
The textbook does not start from Islamic questions; rather, it offers Islamically- spirited reconciliatory answers to modernity’s questions. The book has a keen focus on the dilemmas of Muslim societies, but the conceptualization of the problematique as well as the solutions are often standard, i.e., modernist. True that such an approach saved the book from falling into the intellectual traps of Islamic activism and from the apologetic answers and nominal solutions of the fiqhi approach, however, the result was a too much Islamically watered-down treatment.
The avoidance of presenting alternatives that are paradigmatically at odds with modern realities is evident in the book. And one should acknowledge the difficulties and precautions of catering to undergraduates what appears to be radically solutions. Yet, that means that the sought solutions remained arrested by the world’s unpleasant realities.
Chapters 10, 11, and 14 are exceptions in their extensive discussion of Islamically related notions, regardless that some see in them modernist loadings.
In some chapters, the Islamic perspective might be judged by some reviewers as narrowly situated within a fiqhi/legal framework.
Generally, the textbook shied away from invoking an Islamic perspective, even at the elementary level of terminology. The textbook provided some brief and reserved critique of the received view, and stated some aspects of an Islamic perspective as sideline remarks.
In conclusion, the textbook Introduction of Sociology: An Islamic Perspective has a lucid writing style and is distinctive in its breadth in terms of subjects and examples. The knowledge repertoire that the author tapped into is highly impressive. However, one could assert that the title of the book put to itself a too-high goal in promising an Islamic perspective. Such an aim for an intro undergraduate textbook might be hardly attainable. Nevertheless, as it is the first in its kind, this textbook should take its proper place in classrooms as an alternative to commercially available textbooks that have little relevance to Muslim students.
And may Allah accept our deeds and forgive our trials and errors.
Mazen Hashem, Ph.D.