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Nuh Ha Mim Keller’s translation of Al-Maqasid: Al-Nawawi’s Manual of
Islam, is, as advertised, a manual. In fact, it functions much like a manual
for electronic machinery: One learns how to use the technology without
understanding why the technology works.
In fairness, this is the purpose of Al-Maqasid, which was written by a
thirteenth-century Hadith specialist, jurisprudent, and an intellectual heir to
Imam Shafi`i. Al-Maqasid is a matn, a short basic text of fiqh designed to
be memorized by students so that they can give reliable religious answers
to commonly asked questions in their community. In this translation,
Keller, by adding his notes, enhances Al-Maqasid’s function: “[t]he goal in
rendering the present work has been to provide an English translation that
combines the reliability of a famous fiqh matn with an explanative style that
does not require a specialist to understand.”
Keller’s audience appears to be novices approaching Islam for the first
time, or recent converts attempting to navigate their way through Islamic
orthopraxy: Islam’s basic tenets (chapter 1), the states of and processes
for ritual purification (chapter 2), prayer (chapter 3), zakat (chapter 4),
fasting (chapter 5), hajj (chapter 6), and Sufism’s role in Islam from a
non-perennial perspective (chapter 7). The eighth and final chapter consists
of Keller’s notes.
This translation will serve a recent convert, especially if he or she follows
the Shafi`i madhhab (legal school), as it details much of the orthopraxy.
However, if novices first approach Islam through this book, they ...