Islamic Spirituality

Theology and Practice for the Modern World

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Zeki Saritoprak
  • New York, NY: 
    Bloomsbury Academic
    , November
     2017.
     248 pages.
     $35.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781472572059.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Zeki Saritoprak’s Islamic Spirituality:Theology and Practice for the Modern World aims to accomplish a small but important set of goals. The first is to present the reader with an understanding of Islamic spirituality and the second, to present this narrative in a post-orientalist and post-colonial world. Saritoprak accomplishes these two goals by providing the reader with a text containing distinctly categorized chapters that begin with overarching concepts. and then delving into discussions on important classical and contemporary scholars and various concepts regarding spiritual ideas. The text is divided into three parts. The first is “Theological Foundations”followed by “Theology and Spirituality.” The text closes with a section titled “Practical Aspects.” This structure is efficient in providing the reader with a brief understanding of Islam as a religious entity, its spiritual components, and finally its many philosophical facets and functions.

The structuring and the focus on overarching concepts, followed by sections that discuss specific ideas and texts, suggest that Saritoprak’s intended audience is someone who is in the early stages of inquiring about Islam and mysticism or someone who requires brief but effective discussion on various concepts and their underlying components. Saritoprak’s writing is meant to be an objective reading, devoid of any explicit argument or theory. Thus, the text functions as a textbook, allowing the reader to obtain information that is not bogged down by theory or arguments. Additionally, the text provides a reading of Ghazali, Nursi, and Gulen. The inclusion of these three is interesting but useful for Saritoprak. It can be argued that there is an implicit bias toward Turkish thinkers and one might question Saritoprak’s method for selecting these three. The text would have benefitted from a discussion on other scholars as well, but that list is inexhaustible. Nonetheless, Saritoprak’s discussion on these specific scholars is useful for anyone who is developing an understanding of spirituality in Islam. 

Despite the aforementioned individuals occupying  distinct sections, Saritoprak also provides the reader with various discussions on others in relation to certain concepts. For example, the discussion on prayer in Islam is sprinkled with readings of the Hadith Qudsi, and so forth. These brief but effective references only enrich Saritoprak’s writing and provide the audience with a plethora of references, scholars, and texts that one can look to for further information. This method has enabled the author to produce a work that acts a useful preliminary reading of Islam and spirituality. 

A matter of fundamental import in any book is its usefulness for its audience. Saritoprak has produced a work that effectively navigates the boundaries of a post-orientalist world and acts as a useful introduction to Islam and spirituality. This text, given its simplistic structure and content, can provide use for almost any reader that is intrigued by Islam, mysticism, and spirituality without the marring of orientalist perspectives that plague most extant works on the subject. Further, Saritoprak provides the reader with an extensive bibliography that allows anyone with a piqued curiosity to further pursue the content without being victim to the pitfalls of most works on mysticism. The text would serve a reader pursuing leisure but also contains useful information for a beginning student of Islamic spirituality. Their discussions are focused on matters such as the five pillars of Islam but are not what you find in conventional works. His chapters also function as individual components making them useful and functional for syllabi and professors that are looking for specific discussions. Saritoprak has produced a work that can be useful for anyone who wishes to gain a basic working knowledge of Islam and spirituality in both its classical sense and its contemporary functions.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Arpan Bhandari is a graduate student in Religious Studies and Political Science at Duke University.

Date of Review: 
January 7, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Zeki Saritoprak is Professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and Director of the Bediuzzaman Said Nursi Chair in Islamic Studies, at John Carroll University, USA. A native of Turkey he has spent more than thirty years studying Islamic theology and mysticism. He is the author of many works on Islam, spirituality, and interfaith dialogue.

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