The misrepresentation of Islamic societies is nothing new, especially when they are being covered by the Western media. Islamic communities, in reality, span a wider range of traditions and cultures especially when compared to Christian communities. Then again, as they are represented by Western media, Islamic communities are considered as monolithic. This is just one of the many cases that prove how distorted the depiction of Islamic communities are.
Western media also tends to consider Muslim states as Islamic without even fully comprehending the differences of the ways in which Islam coexists with the state in various nations. It is also important to consider the complexness of these interactions which most Western media fail to realize. To provide a wider perspective on this issue, a book entitled “Comparing Muslim Societies: Knowledge and the State in a World Civilization,” edited by Juan R. I. Cole, is penned. This book contains eight essays from different writers across the globe. It also provides the reader several suggestions for further reading.
Below is a list of some of the essays included in the book and reviews of each essay are as follows: First Reviewed Essay: Nikki Keddie’s “Material Culture, Technology and Geography: Toward a Holistic Comparative Study of the Middle East. ” This essay is about the influence of changing technologies in the development of Middle East history. The author argues that it is important for historians to interact with engineers and archaeologists, because this is a more effective way to better understand the culture taking place in the Middle East.
The author suggests that a historian, when not intimidated by Altusser, Foucault and Freud, will most likely just forget about the main thesis of the subject when simple topics on textile looms are included. Yet, these simple discussions on tools used in history are highly significant parts of the rich history of Islamic communities (Yee, 1992). Second Reviewed Essay: Charles Lindholm’s “Quandries of Command in Egalitarian Societies: Examples from Swat and Morocco”. What Charles Lindholm did to this essay is to find the challenges of reconciling obvious inequities of power and resources with egalitarian ethos and an egalitarian religion.
He made special mention of the Berbers of Morocco and the Swat Pukhtun of Pakistan. What made this essay interesting is his excellent comparisons between the mentioned societies and the United States because the discrepancies between these groups are highly manifested and obviously existing (Yee, 1992). Third Reviewed Essay: Dale Fickelman’s “The Art of Memory: Islamic Education and Its Social Reproduction”. It is this essay that made readers learn more about the transmission of learning taking place in Morocco during the first years of the century.
In traditional system of education in Islamic communities, rote-learning is highly observed. This aspect of their tradition is never magnified and often ignored. However, with Dale Eickelman’s essay, he showed his readers the more complicated picture of this type of education. He emphasized the idea of rote-learning and related it to the role of this type of practice to a social context. Comparisons were made possible with the use of Western educational traditions and Muslim social systems (Yee, 1992). Comparing Muslim Societies is a book that is nothing short of a genius.
What this book caters to are students taking up sociology and anthropology, especially if they are starting to be introduced to the Islamic world. Then again, since this book has to have a wide readership since it deserves that anyway, this book then also appeals to general readers who want to learn more about Islam and Islamic communities. Readers will be given a more thoughtful look on a subject such as the representation of Islam which is the same subject that is given very scant attention by mainstream media today.
Readers of Comparing Muslim Societies will undoubtedly learn to be more considerate when approaching studies and discussions about Islamic communities. References Cole, J. R. (ed). (1992). Comparing Muslim Societies: Knowledge and the State in a World Civilization. University of Michigan Press. Yee, D. (1992). Comparing Muslim Societies: Knowledge and the State in a World Civilization – A Book Review. Danny Yee’s Book Reviews Website. February 26, 2009, from http://dannyreviews. com/h/Comparing_Muslim_Societies. html.