The Islamic Context of the Thousand and One Nights By Muhsin J. al-Musawi (New York: Columbia University Press, 2009. hbk. 352 pages)

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John Andrew Morrow

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Abstract

The Islamic Context of the Thousand and One Nights by Muhsin J. al-Musawi
contains seven chapters, an introduction, and a conclusion. It addresses
the Islamic factor in global times, the unifying Islamic factor, the age of
the Muslim empire, and the burgeoning of a text. It also examines the role
of the public, non-religious displacements in popular tradition, namely, the
duality between Islam and culture—as well as the public role in narrative
theorizations, that is, the impact of literary criticism. Finally, the author
explores Scheherazade’s nonverbal narratives in religious contexts, demonstrating
the underlying Islamic character of the work.
Musawi’s recent work is a most welcome and long-needed addition
to scholarship in the field of Arabic literature. Well-written and well-researched
by one of the senior scholars on the subject, The Islamic Context
demonstrates how the Thousand and One Nights operate within the parameters
of the Islamic faith. A portrait of life in all its aspects, the work would
never have reached us had it not been the product of a strong Islamic literary
and cultural climate. Although rife with erotic escapades, sexual sins
rarely go unpunished in the work. Despite all the morally deviant behavior
displayed in the work, many of its tales are cautionary; they communicate
ethical messages and promote the good and forbid the wrong through
warnings grounded in Islamic law. While there is no shortage of sex in a
multiracial, multilingual, and multicultural society, much of the merrymaking
is motivated by love, instead of lust ...

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