Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Some books acquired in the Gulf

For obvious reasons, the Gulf is just not the place to buy books – they are expensive and usually bookshops are pretty lame. For religious/turāṯ books, Iraq, Iran and Beirut are much better and cheaper and have fewer restrictions and censorship. For contemporary thought and philosophy, Beirut and Damascus are way ahead. In Kuwait one has a few choices in Hawally, and in Bahrain either the National Bookshop on Exhibition Road in Manama or Fakhrawi especially the Jid-Hafs branch. But books are well over-priced no doubt because few people buy or read. Apart from various titles relating to the history of the region, the Aḫbārīya or the followers of Šayḫ Aḥmad al-Aḥsāʾī, I did buy a few titles which I had meant to get for some time as well as one new one:

· ʿAbdullāh Muḥammad al-Ġudāmī: Ḥikāyat al-ḥadāṯa fī-l-mamlaka al-ʿarabīya al-ṣuʿūdīya – Ġudāmī is one of the leading figures in criticism and especially in what is called cultural criticism (naqd ṯaqāfī). I was first alerted to this literature by a Bahraini friend Nader Kadhim who works in this field. Intellectually, in liberal and elite circles, clearly philosophical speculation and a commitment to critique as an intellectual position is thriving in Saudi albeit within certain parameters. Saudi is seen as the leading conservative and traditionalist force in the Arab-Islamic world and hence the course of modernity and the desire of secular intellectuals to drag Saudi into modernity is worth examining. I’ve been looking at the work of other secular Saudi intellectuals on the tanwīr project and its failure (works published by the Association of Arab secularists in Paris and al-Sāqī books) inspired by a former student who wrote his dissertation on intellectuals and their use of Averroes and Kant in their project of enlightenment.

· The late Naṣr Ḥāmid Abū Zayd’s Naqd al-ḫiṭāb al-dīnī is in many ways a classic originally published in Egypt two decades ago before his famous takfīr and exile. Have been meaning to get hold of a copy for ages having read this in the late 90s. It remains an important critique focusing not only upon salafī and jihādī discourse but also deconstructing the so-called Islamic left (made famous in Egypt by the ubiquitous Ḥasan Ḥanafī), as well as reformists, modernists and ‘official Islam’.

· ʿUmar b. Sahlān al-Sāwī’s al-Baṣāʾir al-naṣīrīya in logic. I visited the small philosophy department at Kuwait University and met Ḥaydar Ḥusayn, one of the professors who had received his doctorate from BU and the head of the department who had studied with Sellars et al at Pittsburgh many years before. The department is rather narrowly focused upon the Anglo-American analytic tradition (which is to be expected) and dismissive of ‘Islamic’ philosophy, a position that I understand though I cannot completely endorse. Ḥaydar gave me a copy of this and we had a long chat about what was analytic in Islamic thought especially Avicennan thought. I had to agree broadly with his assessment that to someone trained in that analytic tradition, Mullā Ṣadrā does indeed sound like nonsense. But what is needed is a careful assessment of what we mean by philosophy or perhaps wisdom – MS I would argue is interested in being a sage and to guide people to the path of the sage in which philosophy is an ethical commitment and a way of life (apud Pierre Hadot) and hence more than just a series of language games.

· Murāsalāt al-Nābulusī edited by Bakrī ʿAladdīn originally as part of his doctoral work in Paris and now published by Ninawa which seems to specialise in the ḥikmat and taṣawwuf traditions. ʿAbd al-Ġanī al-Nābulusī (d. 1731) is probably the most important figure of the school of Ibn ʿArabī in the Bilād al-Šām. ʿAladdīn had earlier published his important defence of monorealism entitled al-Wuǧūd al-ḥaqq, published by the French Institute in Damascus. The collection is an important testament to scholarly life in high Ottoman Syria.

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