[Last update: 17 September 2001]
Non-specialist readings on Islam
by Elen Hudson Christianson
Be aware that most of these books are available in public and university
libraries, as well as through the standard booksellers. If you want to
purchase any of these, I suggest using Barnes and Noble online, as you can
get used copies of these textbooks at a significant savings.
especially in the South Asian context
I'll put up some readings on trade and empire in the Indian Ocean
that seem relevant. Remember, the East India Company's Raj, as well as the
British Raj, set up a lot of preconditions for the problems in South
Asia. Afghanistan is sometimes considered part of South Asia, sometimes
Central Asia. The Mughal Empire tried to hang on to their Afghani
homelands and failed early on. Then the British tried to expand their
control twice into Afghanistan, fighting bloody, brutal, totally foolish
wars in the late 19th century. They didn't just get their butts
kicked. The Afghans massacred the English. A great novel that illustrates
this, and the Great Game, is M. M. Kaye's The Far Pavilions. Another one
that describes the Great Game is Rudyard Kipling's Kim (yes, his writings
are too often racist, but this one is actually tolerable, and shows how far
back the collision between Russian and British interests went).
- Source Texts
- Dawood, N. J., trans. The Koran. London:
Penguin Books, 1997.
can be found in almost any bookstore. It=92s a reasonable
translation. The later Surahs, or chapters, were those written by
Muhammed first. It=92s in more of a reverse order. I highly
recommend reading the introduction for background first.
- Embree, Ainslie T., ed. Sources of Indian
Tradition. Vol. 1. =20
chapters on Islam in South Asia are very interesting. This is a
standard compilation of textual extracts from religious and philosophical
treatises. Terrific for beginners and easy to find.
- Ahmad, Aziz. Studies in Islamic Culture in the Indian
- A very
good collection of older essays, still classic. Read this after
Hodgson, Alam and Subrahmanyam, and Schimmel.
- Alam, Muzaffar and Sanjay Subrahmanyam. The Mughal State
work, covers this period very well. You need to understand what
fell apart and what this meant for the first Western emporial power that
dominated an Asian society and culture: the English East India
Company (dirty rotten scoundrels, the lot of them).
- Cole, Juan Ricardo. Roots of North Indian Shi'ism in Iran
and Iraq : religion and state in Awadh, 1722-1859.
one I haven=92t gotten to yet. I=92ll let you know what I think of
it. It comes highly recommended.=20
- Embree, Ainslee. Al-Beruni=92s India.
account of culture shock.
- Hodgson, Marshall G. S. The Venture of Islam. Vol.
is tough wading, but it is a classic, seminal work. It is the
standard textbook for courses on Islamic history. Get it and read
- Schimmel, Annemarie. Mystical Dimensions of Islam.
mysticism? Yes! It=92s called Sufism, and has inspired poets,
mystics and saints, and fascinated historians. It is very important
for understanding Islam in South Asia, which has been heavily influenced
by bhakti, or devotionalist Hinduism. Side note: the
influence was/is mutual.
- Spear, Percival. Twilight of the Mughals.
- Wink, Andre. Al-Hind: the making of the Indo-Islamic
world. Vol. 1-2.
traces the first influence of Islam back to the earliest centuries of
Islam, as newly converted Arab traders tended to talk a lot about their
new faith to anyone who would listen. Take it with a big grain of
salt, though the critique of Wink=92s work is that he overstates his
- Women and Society
- Findly, Ellison Banks. Nur Jahan.
book about the world of the Mughal Mahal, or women=92s palace.
- Friedl, Erika. Women of Deh Koh: lives in an Iranian
is a terrific book by an anthropologist who spent nearly twenty years in
this one particular village. This period spanned the Iranian
Revolution of the late 1970s. Marvelously funny, sad, zany,
intensely human. Gives a very good picture of the difficulties
faced in ordinary, daily life in modern Iran. Get it, read it,
treasure it. Friedl also wrote a book called Children of Deh
Koh, which I haven=92t read, but heard is just as good.
- Jeffery, P. Frogs in a Well: Indian women in
comes highly recommended, but I haven=92t read it yet.
- Kandiyoti, Deniz. =93Islam and Patriarchy: a comparative
perspective.=94 In Women in Middle Eastern History. Ed.
N. Keddie and B. Baron.
article, and I highly recommend anything written by Kandiyoti.
Great stuff. She focuses mostly on West Asia (Turkey, Iraq, Syria,
Lebanon, the Arabian peninsula) and North Africa.
- Minault, Gail. Secluded Scholars.
is phenomenal work, which explains the movement towards reforming women=92s
education in South Asia during the late
19th and early
20th centuries as a fight against bad
custom in order to return to the true spirit of Islam within each
well-bred Muslim household.
- Suleri, Sara. Meatless Days.
grew up in an intellectual family in Pakistan, and her story about those
years and her bizarre family is a wonderful read as well as a
bird=92s eye view into the difficulties of Pakistani political life.
- Ahmad, Aziz. Islamic Modernism in India and Pakistan.
one I haven=92t read yet. Highly recommended, though.
- Bose, Sugata and Ayesha Jalal. Modern South Asia:
history, culture, political economy.
is a recent basic college textbook, and is considered very good. I
recommend it for those who know nothing, or next to nothing, about South
Asia. It is very good, and their bibliography is excellent.
- Hasan, Mushirul. India=92s Partition: Process, Strategy
one I haven=92t read. However, I met the man, as he came here about
two years ago for a talk on the legacy of Partition. He=92s serious,
thoughtful, balanced. Read anything you can by this guy.
- Jalal, Ayesha. The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim
League, and the Demand for Pakistan.
is a relatively new biography on Jinnah, the first president of
Pakistan. It is highly recommended.
- Minault, Gail. The Khilafat Movement.
- Talbot, I. Provincial Politics and the Pakistan
one I haven=92t read, and is one my list for exams.
- Wolpert, Stanley. Jinnah of Pakistan.
is the classic biography of Jinnah.
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