Routledge Handbook of Islam in the West

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Roberto Tottoli
Routledge Handbooks in Religion
  • New York, NY: 
    , June
     492 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


This volume brings together twenty-eight studies relating to the topic of Islam in the West. “Islam” here is understood not merely as a set of religious beliefs and practices, but rather in its broader sense also as a social and cultural phenomenon; whereas “the West” is taken to be the Anglo-European world (minus the Antipodes and South Africa) and Latin America. Although there are chapters that deal with the Middle Ages and Early Modern period, the book is weighted heavily towards the recent and contemporary, and to Europe and North America. Rather than systematically presenting the history of this engagement chronologically and geographically, the editor, Roberto Tottoli, has gathered together a collection of essays that delve into different aspects of Islamic-Western experience. This is a perfectly reasonable approach; however, one consequence of this is that the various chapters do not come together in an explicitly outlined over-arching unity (other than that which the reader will discern) and for all intents and purposes they are stand-alone pieces, each tackling a broad theme in an expository fashion in clear, jargon-free prose, for the most part well-rendered in English. Contributors include established academics from the US and Canada, Brazil, Europe and the UK (which we will now have to get used to saying), Turkey, and Palestine (specifically, the chief-qadi of Jerusalem) – and the editor is to be commended for drawing on scholars of a range of disciplines and academic cultures. As is typically the case  with the “handbook” genre, footnotes are kept to a minimum and each chapter ends with a brief but substantial bibliography, which provides readers with leads for further exploring the theme in question.

The essays are grouped into two parts. Part 1, “History”, consists of ten essays, five of which are included under “European paradigms”: Alessandro Vanoli’s “The borders of Muslim Spain,” Mercedes García-Arenal’s “The converted Muslims of Spain: Morisco cultural resistance and engagement with Islamic knowledge (1502-1610),” Annliese Nef’s “Muslims and Islam in Sicily from the mid-eleventh to the end of the tweIfth century: contemporary perceptions and today's interpretations,” Nathalie Clayer’s “The Muslims in southeastern Europe: from Ottoman subjects to European citizens,” and  Ghaliya Djelloul and Brigitte Maréchal’s “Muslims in western Europe in the late twentieth century: emergence and transformation in 'Muslim' revindications and collective mobilization efforts” Under “Muslims in the Americas” are articles by Kambiz GhaneaBassiri (“Islam in America: the beginnings”), Herbert Berg (“Black Muslims”), Kathleen Moore (“American Muslim associational life from 1950 to the present”), Mark Lindley-Highfield of Ballumbie Castle (“Islam in Mexico and Central America”), and Marco Gallo (“Muslims in South America: history, presence and visibility of a religious minority in a Christian context”).

Part 2, “Culture,” is divided into three rubrics. The seven chapters under “Interactions, conflicting converging,” include Luca Mavelli’s “Europe's identity crisis, Islam in Europe, and the crisis of European secularity,” Adis Duderija’s “Emergence of a western Muslim identity: factors, agents and discourses,” Anna Triandafyllidou’s “The multicultural idea and western Muslims,” Salua Fawzi’s “Social and political Islamophobia: stereotyping, surveillance and silencing,” Karim H. Karim’s “A Muslim modernity: Ismaili engagement with western societies,” Patrick D. Bowen’s “Conversion to Islam in modern western Europe and the United States,” and Tahir Abbas’s “Muslim political radicalization in the West.” This is followed by five essays under the rubric, “Contributing to the Western World,” including “Landscapes of Muslim art and architecture in the West,” by Eric R. Roose, “Islamic organisations in the West: new welfare actors in the new welfare systems in Europe,” by Elisa Banfi, “Islam in the arts in the USA,” by Sylvia Chan-Malik, “European Muslim youth and popular culture: at the crossroads of fun and faith,”: by Miriam Gazzah, and “Muslim material culture in the Western world,” by Johan Fisher. Finally, there are six chapters under “Contributing to Islam” by Uriya Shavit and Iyad Zahalka (“A religious law for Muslims in the West: the European Council for Fatwa and Research and the evolution of fiqh al-aqalliyyat al-muslima”), Francesca Forte (“Ethical questions in Western Islamic experience”), Juliane Hammer (“Gender, feminism, and critique in American Muslim thought”), Gian Maria Piccinelli (“Development and perspectives of Islamic economics (banking and finance) in the West”),  Stefano Allievi (“The production of Western Islamic knowledge”), and Francesco Alfonso Leccese (“Islam, Sufism and the postmodern in the religious melting pot”).

In his introduction, “Islam in the West: Histories and Contemporary Issues of the Western umma,” Tottoli justifies the structure of the book and the opposition or distinction it presumes between “Islam” and “the West.” These are indeed loaded terms that cannot easily be defined. However, the reviewer is not sure one can simply accept that dar al-Islam as jurists have traditionally defined it, and the established Eurocentric conception of the West, are particularly solid starting points. But one has to start somewhere, and for the editor “it makes sense for the sake of this discussion to accept the identification of a Western space, more or less corresponding in Muslim theory to part of the dar al-harb, and more specifically the part occupied by European civilization, abruptly [sic] corresponding to Europe, America and Oceania” (3) in spite of this recognition that this may appear Orientalist. Perhaps “Islam in the Bilad al-Rum” or “Bilad al-Ifranj” would have been more accurate, but a publisher would hardly allow either to pass as a title.

The themes themselves are very diverse, tackling topics ranging from apostacy and conversion, to citizenship, race, interfaith relations, material culture, social life, laws and theology, ethics, feminism, and finance. Coverage is broad, but this is not a systematic treatment of “every” (as it were) important aspect of the phenomenon. In other words, though the book is not exhaustive, there is something here for everybody. Conversely, there are relatively few who will find that their work or interests intersect with every chapter. Therefore, the book will be most useful to teachers, students and researchers who need short yet comprehensive and authoritative introductions to specific topics covered in the book that relate to their research or teaching. Given all this, the book should certainly have a place in every library collection; it will be useful to scholars in a whole range of fields and even to members of the reading public.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Brian A. Catlos is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Date of Review: 
December 18, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Roberto Tottoli is Professor of Islamic Studies in the Università di Napoli L’Orientale. He has published Biblical Prophets in the Qur’an and Muslim Literature (Richmond 2002) and The Stories of the Prophets of Ibn Mutarrif al-Tarafi (Berlin 2003) related to the Isra’iliyyat. His recent publications include (authored with Maria Luisa Russo and Michele Bernardini), Catalogue of the Islamic Manuscripts from the Kahle Collection in the Department of Oriental Studies of the University of Turin (Rome 2011) and the Italian translation of the Muwatta’ by Malik b. Anas (Malik ibn Anas, al-Muwatta’. Manuale di legge islamica, (Turin 2011).


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