The Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam Negotiating Ideology and Religious Inquiry by Omid Safi (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006. 293 pages.)

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Todd Lawson



This is an excellent book. With a beautiful, exemplary scholarly style, Omid
Safi treats the reader to a deep sounding of accounts of the frequently marginalized
players and problems of Islamicate intellectual, religious, political, and social history. The welcome news is that we must learn to treat nothing
as marginal in the formation of culture and thought. The audiences and
conversations analyzed and interpreted here provide a previously largely
unnoticed door to some very serious truths about the rise, formation, and
especially the characteristic institutional formations of early and later medieval
Islamicate society. While I think the title is a mistake (premodern produces
inappropriate expectations), one is equally sympathetic with the
author’s avoidance of the “M” word for a number of reasons. One of the
most pernicious of these is that medieval frequently functions as a euphemism
for Islamic or Islamicate in a milieu still disinclined to appreciate the
formative, creative, and enduring genius of this great civilization and the
debt that our world so profoundly owes it. Forgive the khutbah, but it seems
that this cannot be repeated too often, unfortunately ...

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