2014

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Winning Title

Lara Deeb & Mona Harb
Leisurely Islam: Negotiating Geography and Morality in Shi'ite South Beirut  (Princeton University Press)

South Beirut has recently become a vibrant leisure destination with a plethora of cafés and restaurants that cater to the young, fashionable, and pious. What effects have these establishments had on the moral norms, spatial practices, and urban experiences of this Lebanese community? From the diverse voices of young Shi'i Muslims searching for places to hang out, to the Hezbollah officials who want this media-savvy generation to be more politically involved, to the religious leaders worried that Lebanese youth are losing their moral compasses, Leisurely Islam provides a sophisticated and original look at leisure in the Lebanese capital.

What makes a café morally appropriate? How do people negotiate morality in relation to different places? And under what circumstances might a pious Muslim go to a café that serves alcohol? Lara Deeb and Mona Harb highlight tensions and complexities exacerbated by the presence of multiple religious authorities, a fraught sectarian political context, class mobility, and a generation that takes religion for granted but wants to have fun. The authors elucidate the political, economic, religious, and social changes that have taken place since 2000, and examine leisure's influence on Lebanese sociopolitical and urban situations.

‘Leisurely Islam is a superb book, one that surpasses most studies of contemporary Middle Eastern cities with its sensitivity, its aliveness to theoretical exposition, with the coherence and fluidity of its writing, and with its extraordinary contribution not only to scholarship but to our general understanding – both political and social – of what leisure might mean in the context of a given neighbourhood, what the politics of a neighbourhood are, and how youth participate in both quotidian and high-level politics of their time.’
Anonymous reviewer

Runners up

Asma Afsaruddin
Striving in the Path of God: Jihad and Martyrdom in Islamic Thought   (Oxford University Press)

In popular and academic literature, jihad is predominantly assumed to refer to armed combat, and Muslim martyrdom is understood to be invariably of the military kind. This perspective, derived mainly from legal texts, has led to discussions of jihad and martyrdom primarily as concepts with fixed, universal meanings divorced from the socio-political circumstances in which they have been deployed through time. This book, however, studies in a more holistic manner the range of significations that can be ascribed to the term jihad from the earliest period to the contemporary period against the backdrop of specific historical and political circumstances that frequently mediated the meanings of this critical term. Instead of privileging the juridical literature, the book canvasses a more diverse array of texts - Qur'an, tafsir, hadath, edifying and hortatory literature — to recuperate a more nuanced and multifaceted understanding of both jihad and martyrdom through time. As a result, many conventional and monochromatic assumptions about the military jihad and martyrdom are challenged and undermined. Asma Afsaruddin argues that the notion of jihad as primarily referring to armed combat is in fact relatively late. A comprehensive interrogation of varied sources, she shows, reveals early and multiple competing definitions of a word that translates literally to "striving on the path of God."
 

Remke Kruk
The Warrior Women of Islam: Female Empowerment in Arabic Popular Literature   (IB Tauris)

Colloquial Arabic storytelling is most commonly associated with The Thousandvand One Nights. But few people are aware of a much larger corpus of narrative texts known as popular epic. These heroic romantic tales, originating in the Middle Ages, form vast cycles of adventure stories whose most remarkable feature is their portrayal of powerful and memorable women. Wildly appreciated by medieval audiences, and spread by professional storytellers throughout the cities of the Muslim world, these fictions were printed and reprinted over the centuries and comprise a vital part of Arab culture. Yet virtually none are available in translation, and so remain almost unknown to a non-Arab public. Remke Kruk at last makes these neglected romances available to a Western audience. She recounts the story of Princess Dhat al-Himma, brave and undefeated leader of the Muslim army in its wars against the Byzantines; of Ghamra, brought up as a boy to become a fearless leader of men; and of cool-headed Qannasa, raiding from her mountain fortress to capture and seduce her enemies before putting them pitilessly to the sword.The Warrior Women of Islam puts a bold new complexion on gender roles and the wider perception of women in the Middle East.