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This October, the OUP Philosophy team honors al-Kindī (c. 800-870) as their Philosopher of the Month. Known as the “first philosopher of the Arabs,” al-Kindī was one of the most important mathematicians, physicians, astronomers and philosophers of his time.
All simplistic hypothesis about “what drives terrorists” falter when there is suddenly in front of you human faces and complex life stories. The tragedy of contemporary policies designed to handle or rather crush movements who employ terrorist tactics, are prone to embrace a singular explanation of the terrorist motivation, disregarding the fact that people can be in the very same movement for various reasons.
Salafism, often referred to as ‘Wahhabism’, is widely regarded as a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam that fuels Jihadism and subjugates women. Some even lump ISIS and Salafism together—casting suspicion upon the thousands of Muslims who identify as Salafi in the West. After gaining unprecedented access to Salafi women’s groups in London, I discovered the realities behind the myths.
Known as the “first philosopher of the Arabs,” al-Kindī was one of the most important mathematicians, physicians, astronomers and philosophers of his time. He composed hundreds of treatises, using many of the tools of Greek philosophy to address themes in Islamic thought.
At its root, Islam is as much a Western religion as are Judaism and Christianity, having emerged from the same geographic and cultural milieu as its predecessors. For centuries we lived at a more or less comfortable distance from one another. Post-colonialism and economic globalization, and the strategic concerns that attended them, have drawn us into an ever-tighter web of inter-relations.
Doesn’t it seem as though many of the biographies written are about men and their accomplishments? Don’t get me wrong — there are plenty of admirable men who have changed the world through their daring, innovation, and wisdom. But how about the other half of the world’s population? Women just haven’t gotten the press they deserve. Luckily, biographies today are becoming vastly diverse with the individuals they feature and the fields in which those individuals excel. And that includes some great new biographies about women. Take a look at these three to share with your students (both male and female). The first is for younger students (grades K-3) and the other two are good for upper elementary (grades 4-6):
Dear Malala, We Stand With You by Rosemary McCarney with Plan International There have been several books written by, and about, Malala Yousafzai, but this picture book version is unique. It begins with a short biography of Malala and her 2012 shooting by the Taliban for being outspoken about education for girls, and her life in England now. The bulk of the book is a series of exquisite photographs of girls around the world and brief text describing their desire for an education, despite the many social, political, and economic restraints placed on them. The title ends with ways for the reader to help further Malala’s cause.
The Girl from the Tar Paper School: Barbara Rose Johns and the Advent of the Civil Rights Movement by Teri Kanefield
Barbara Johns, an African American high school student in Virginia in 1951, was appalled at the conditions of the make shift classrooms in their segregated school. Acting well beyond her years, she organized a peaceful walk out, demonstration, and boycott among her senior class to demand new facilities. They were ridiculed by the local school board, government, and police force. The NAACP agreed to take on the case, only if the students changed their demands to full integration. They agreed, and their case contributed to the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown vs. Board of Education. The story begins with Barbara’s senior year, and flashes back to her early years, and then beyond. Remarkably, she grew up to become a school librarian! The book is filled with captioned photos, sidebars, quotations, and primary sources. The large font and strong voice makes for a swift read. The concluding author’s note is enlightening, and the timeline, endnotes, and extensive bibliography complete the book.
Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Shatz, illustrated by Miriam Klein Stahl
This is a collective biography of 26 women, described as “rebels, trailblazers, and visionaries who shaped our history…and our future” (cover copy). They represent diverse fields, ethnicities, ages, and geographic locations. Beginning with Angela Davis, and ending with Zora Neale Hurston, each biographee’s personality, challenges, and accomplishments are described in engaging text and accompanied by a simple black and white block cut illustration. The book concludes with an end note, a list of “26 Things that you can do to be rad!” (unp.)., and a list of resources.
It has begun again: the age-old cycle of hate and counter-hate, self-justification and counter-justification, the grim celebrations of righteousness and revenge. In the US, conservative politicians play on it as demagogues always have, projecting strength and patriotism by refusing to take refugees from the lands terrorized by ISIS; my own governor, Chris Christie, tries to outdo his competition by arguing that even five-year-old orphans from Syria should be stopped and sent back, as if they are tainted by being from the same part of the world as the murderers.
Without Islam there would be no Shakespeare. This may seem surprising or even controversial to those who imagine a "national bard" insulated from the wider world. Such an approach is typified in the words of the celebrated historian A.L. Rowse, who wrote that when it came to creatively connecting with that world, Shakespeare, the "quiet countryman," was "the least engaged writer there ever was."
The execution of the popular Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr by Saudi authorities at the beginning of this year has further intensified Sunni-Shia sectarian tensions not just in Saudi Arabia but the Middle East generally. The carrying out of the sentence, following convictions for a range of amorphous political charges, immediately provoked anti‑Saudi demonstrations among Shia communities throughout the Middle East.
Can solidarity exist? Or is it just a fantasy, a pious dream of the soft of heart and weak of brain? Gross inequality, greed and prejudice: these manifestations of selfishness which stalk our world may seem to invite our condemnation and to call for an alternative – but what if they are part of the natural order?
(तस्वीर गूगल से साभार) मुस्लिम औरतें और बॉम्बे हाईकोर्ट का फैसला खुदा क्या वाकई लानत भेजता है मुस्लमान महिलाओ को दरगाह पर जाने से ??? कुछ दिनो पहले खबर पढी थी कि लखनऊ के ऐशबाग में ईदगाह में पहली बार महिलाओं ने पढ़ी नमाज!! ऐशबाग ईदगाह में पुरुषों के साथ तकरीबन पांच हजार महिलाएं शामिल […]
On 1 July 2014, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) announced its latest judgment affirming France’s ban on full-face veil (burqa law) in public (SAS v. France). Almost a decade after the 2005 controversial decision by the Grand Chamber to uphold Turkey’s headscarf ban in Universities (Leyla Sahin v. Turkey), the ECHR made it clear that Muslim women’s individual rights of religious freedom (Article 9) will not be protected. Although the Court’s main arguments were not the same in each case, both judgments are equally questionable from the point of view of protecting religious freedom and of the exclusion of Muslim women from public space.
The recent judgment was brought to the ECHR by an unnamed French woman known only as “SAS” against the law introduced in 2011 that makes it illegal for anyone to cover their face in a public place. Although the legislation includes hoods, face-masks, and helmets, it is understood to be the first legislation against the full-face veil in Europe. A similar ban was also passed in Belgium after the French law. France was also the first country to ban the wearing of “conspicuous religious symbols” – directed at the wearing of the headscarf in public high schools — in 2004. Since then several European countries have established policies restricting Muslim religious dress.
The French law targeted all public places, defined as anywhere not the home. Penalties for violating the law include fines and citizenship lessons designed to remind the offender of the “republican values of tolerance and respect for human dignity, and to raise awareness of her penal and civil responsibility and duties imposed life in society.”
SAS argued the ban on the full-face veil violated several articles of the European Convention and was “inhumane and degrading, against the right of respect for family and private life, freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of speech and discriminatory.” She did not challenge the requirement to remove scarves, veils and turbans for security checks, also upheld by the ECHR. The ECHR rejected her argument and accepted the main argument made by the government: that the state has a legitimate interest in promoting a certain idea of “living together.”
By now, it is clear that Article 9 of the European Convention does not protect freedom of religion when the subject is a woman and the religion is Islam. While this may seem harsh, consider the ECHR’s 2011 judgment in Lautsi v. Italy, which found the display of the crucifix in Italian state schools compatible with secularism.
In Lautsi case, the Court argued that the symbol did not significantly impact the denominational neutrality of Italian schools because the crucifix is part of Italian culture. Human rights scholars have not missed the contrast between the Italian case and the earlier 2005 decision in Leyla Sahin v Turkey where the Court found that the wearing of the headscarf by students was not compatible with the principle of laicité or secularism.
The Court did not make a value judgment in SAS case about Islam, women’ rights in Islamic societies, or gender equality, as it did in earlier cases where they upheld bans on the wearing of the headscarf by teachers and students in France, Turkey and Switzerland. In all cases involving Islamic dress codes, the ECHR emphasized the “margin of appreciation” rule, which permits the court to defer to national laws.
The ECHR acted politically and opportunistically not to challenge France’s strong Republicanism and principles of laicité, sacrificing the rights of the small minority of Muslims who wear the full-face veil. Rather than protecting the individual freedom of the 2000 women, the ECHR protected the majority view of France.
The ECHR is the most powerful supra national human rights court and its decisions have widespread impact. Several countries in Europe, such as Denmark, Norway, Spain, Austria, and even the UK, have already started to discuss whether to create similar laws banning the burqa in public places. This raises concerns that cases related to the cultural behavior and religious practices of minorities could shift public opinion dangerously away from the principles of multiculturalism, democracy, human rights and religious tolerance.
The most recent law bans the full-face veil, but tomorrow, the prohibitions may be against halal food, circumcision, the location of a mosque or the visibility of a minaret; even religious education might be banned for reasons of public health, security or cultural integration. Muslims, Roma, and to some extent Jews and Sikhs, are already struggling to be accepted as equal citizens in Europe, where right wing extremism is rising, in a situation of economic crisis.
The ECHR should be extremely careful in its decisions, given the growth of nationalism, xenophobia, and anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe.Considering this context, the EHCR’s main argument in this latest judgment is worrisome, since it accepted France’s view that covering the face in public runs counter to the society’s notion of “living together,” even though this is not one of the principles of the European Convention.
The Court recognized that the concept of “living together” was problematic (Para 122). And, even in using the “wide margin of appreciation” rule, the Court acknowledged that it should “engage in a careful examination” to avoid majority’s subordination of minorities. Considering the Court’s own rules, the main reasoning for the full face veil ban—“living together” seems to be inconsistent with the Court’s own jurisprudence.
Further concerns were raised about Islamophobic remarks during the adoption debate of the French Burqa Law, and evidence that prejudice and intolerance against Muslims in French society influenced the adoption of the law. Such concerns were more strongly raised by the two dissenting opinions. The dissent found the Court’s insensitivity to what’s needed to ensure tolerance between the vast majority and a small minority could increase tensions (Para 14). The dissenting opinion was especially critical of prioritizing “living together,” not even a Convention principle, over “concrete individual rights” guaranteed by the Convention.
While the integration of Muslims and other immigrants across Europe is a legitimate concern, it is vitally important the ECHR’s constructive role. The decision in SAS v France is a dangerous jurisprudential opening for future cases involving the religious and cultural practices of minorities. The French burqa law has created discomfort among Muslims. By upholding the law, the European court deepens the mistrust between the majority of citizens and religious minorities.
Yesterday’s events in Paris at the offices of Charlie Hebdo were terrible (the word seems rather pathetic as I type it), and today’s post is my (somewhat insignificant but personally important) way of standing up for freedom of expression.
Rather than responding with derisive ridicule I feel that a response where we make efforts to better understand those we portray as enemies and those we simply don’t know would be much more constructive. Although humour has a place in helping us deal with the shock and horror of it all, laughing in the faces of those who acted yesterday isn’t going to stop this sort of thing happening again. Building understanding and reaching out might.
To that end, here’s a list of books for children and teenagers which might help spread understanding of what life can be like for Muslims living in the west. I haven’t read them all, but where possible I’ve indicated the (approximate) target age group. If you’ve further suggestions to make please leave them in the comments to this post.
With the rise of Pegida in Germany, and the continued anti-immigration, anti-Muslim commentary that fills much political “debate” around the world it seems more urgent than ever to me that we find ways of talking about multicultural life, its richness and challenges. I’d also like to see more exploration why people commit acts of terror in books for children and young people. Over Christmas I read Palestine by Joe Sacco, a graphic novel aimed at adults about life in Palestine. It was utterly depressing but essential reading, and I wish more of this sort of thing, which looks at injustice, conflict (and the West’s role in this) were available for children and young people.
As several of those murdered yesterday were cartoonists, lots of illustrators have responded how they know best. Here are some cartoons created by children’s illustrators:
Response from Chris Riddell. “I am Charlie”.
Art Spiegelman and Oliver Jeffers hold the eyes of Cabu, one of the cartoonists murdered in Paris.
Tomi Ungerer’s response. “There’s no freedom without press freedom”
Response from Stephanie Blake. “Mum, who’s Charlie Hebdo? It’s Freedom, Simon.”
Response from Benjamin Lacombe: “One can cut off heads, but not ideas”
A response by @TheMagnusShaw rather than Charles M. Schulz, but referencing of course Charlie Brown, “I am Charlie”.
A response from Albert Uderzo (shared by Wolfgang Luef)
My thanks go to Farah Mendlesohn, Rukshana Khan, Anabel Marsh, Marion, Melanie McGilloway, Melinda Ingram, Janice Morris and Alexandra Strick for their suggestions. I’m left thinking today especially of my French bookish friends Melanie and Sophie, and the families of everyone involved in yesterday’s events.
Cartoon by Sarah Macintyre, saying it better than I can in words
How can we, as children's writers, respond to the horrific massacre in Paris yesterday? As I watched people gather in Paris and London, holding pens in the air as a protest against those who seek to silence, I asked myself how can I use my pen, my ability to write, my privileged position as an author, to oppose and prevent future atrocities?
These are the inadequate answers that I came up with:
- Oppose extremism in every guise. Stress shared humanity and values. Never glorify violence, warfare or death.
- Give children the idea that conflicts can be addressed and even solved through talking.
- Feed and encourage their sense of humour.
- Support the education of children all over the world. The extremists of ISIS and Boko Harem are waging a war on children, slaughtering them in their schools, because they fear the power of reading, writing, thinking.
- Celebrate cartoonists and writers who poke fun at authority.
- Write about the real Islam, the moderate peace-loving Muslims, who are horrified by acts of violence carried out in their name and against many of their community. Do not allow the extremists to become the face of Islam.
- Champion freedom of speech, even if that freedom leads to offence. This is a difficult one, because there's a natural and correct strong urge to avoid giving offence, and so many words can be exceptionally hurtful. I've just written a book set in Amsterdam, where I lived for many years, and I was often surprised by Dutch bluntness - a by product of a deeply held belief in the freedom of speech, whatever offence that may cause. The assassination of film-maker Theo Van Gogh in Amsterdam by an Islamic extremist just over ten years ago was very similar to yesterday's attack. Van Gogh, like the Charlie Hebdo magazine, made a point of laughing at everyone,insulting everyone, including Muslims. Getting children to understand the appropriate responses to insults and teasing, to understand the difference between personal attacks and criticism of beliefs and ideas is a difficult conundrum - but completely essential. Ultimately the right to offend is an important freedom, even if it's not a very comfortable one
Je suis Charlie, say the placards in the Place de la Republique and Trafalgar Square; in Berlin, Montreal, New York, all over the world. Je suis Charlie. Nous sommes Charlie. But what are we going to do?
Today, 18 January 2015 marks World Religion Day across the globe. The day was created by the Baha’i faith in 1950 to foster dialogue and to and improve understanding of religions worldwide and it is now in its 64th year.
The aim of World Religion Day is to unite everyone, whatever their faith, by showing us all that there are common foundations to all religions and that together we can help humanity and live in harmony. The day often includes activities and events calling the attention of the followers of world faiths. In honour of this special day and to increase awareness of religions from around the world, we asked a few of our authors to dispel some of the popular myths from their chosen religions.
* * * * *
Myth: Quakers are mostly silent worshippers
“If you are from Britain, or certain parts of the United States, you may think of Quakers as a quiet group that meets in silence on Sunday mornings, with only occasional, brief vocal messages to break the silence. Actually, between eighty and ninety per cent of Quakers are “pastoral” or “programmed” Friends, with the majority of these living in Africa (more in Kenya than any other country) and other parts of the global South. The services are conducted by pastors, and include prayers, sermons, much music, and even occasionally (in Burundi, for instance) dancing! Pastoral Quaker services sometimes include a brief period of “unprogrammed” worship, and sometimes not. Quaker worship can be very lively!”
“Zen is known as the Buddhist school emphasizing intensive practice of meditation, the name’s literal meaning that represents the Japanese pronunciation of an Indian term (dhyana). But hours of daily meditative practice are limited to a small group of monks, who participate in monastic austerities at a handful of training temples. The vast majority of members of Zen only rarely or perhaps never take part in this exercise. Instead, their religious affiliation with temple life primarily involves burials and memorials for deceased ancestors, or devotional rites to Buddhist icons and local spirits. Recent campaigns, however, have initiated weekly one-hour sessions introducing meditation for lay followers.”
“This was a common cry in the nineteenth century – the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli made it – and it continues in the twenty-first century. Atheists respond in two ways. First, if you need a god for morality, then what is to stop that god from being entirely arbitrary? It could make the highest moral demand to kill everyone not fluent in English – or Hebrew or whatever. But if this god does not do things in an arbitrary fashion, you have the atheist’s second response. There must be an independent set of values to which even the god is subject, and so why should the non-believer not be subject to and obey them, just like everyone else?”
— Michael Ruse is Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Program in the History and Philosophy of Science, at Florida State University and an editor of The Oxford Handbook of Atheism
* * * * *
Myth: Islam is a coercive communitarian religion
“Claims of an Islamic state to enforce Sharia as the law of the state are alien to historical Islamic traditions and rejected by the actual current political choices of the vast majority of Muslims globally. Belief in Islam must always be a free choice and compliance with Sharia cannot have any religious value unless done voluntarily with the required personal intent of each individual Muslim to comply (nya). Theologically Islam is radically democratic because individual personal responsibility can never be abdicated or delegated to any other human being (see e.g. chapters and verses 6:164; 17:15; 35:18; 39:7; 52:21; 74:38 of the Quran).”
“One myth about Hinduism is that it is an ethnic religion. The assumption is that Hinduism is tied to a particular South Asian ethnicity. This is misleading for at least three reasons. First, South Asia is ethnically diverse. Therefore, it is not logical to speak of a single, unified ethnicity. Second, Hinduism has long been established in Southeast Asia, where practitioners consider themselves Hindu but not South Asian. Third, although the appearance of ‘White Hindus’ is a phenomenon rather recent and somewhat controversial, the global outreach of Hindu missionary groups has prompted scores of modern converts to Hinduism throughout Europe and the Americas. In other words, not all Hindus are South Asian.”
The world has watched as ISIS (ISIL, the “Islamic State”) has moved from being a small but extreme section of the Syrian opposition to a powerful organization in control of a large swath of Iraq and Syria. Even President Obama recently admitted that the US was surprised by the success of ISIS in that region. Why have they been so successful, and why now?
Sociologist Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina shares his thoughts.
Revolutions have been surprising experts for generations. After the Iranian Revolution of 1979, for example, the CIA commissioned a report into why it had predicted, 100 days before the fall of the monarchy, that the Shah‘s regime would ride out the protests. During the “Arab Spring” uprisings in 2011, President Obama reportedly chastized the intelligence community for not having warned him in advance. Academics have a similarly checkered track record.
The reason is that revolutions are inherently unpredictable. They depend on the interactions and perceptions of large numbers of people at moments of confusion when normal routines and institutions are breaking down.
After a revolution, though, it is common to demand explanations that make the unexpected seem inevitable. Many experts are happy to satisfy our desire for a causal narrative, selecting evidence from the run-up to revolution that might serve as a sort of retroactive prediction.
So why did a revolutionary group calling itself al-Daula al-Islamiyya fi’l-’Iraq wa’l-Sham (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) manage to occupy territory in Syria and Iraq in 2013 and 2014? I might point to its extreme violence (though the Iraqi and Syrian governments were capable of extreme violence as well), or its ideology of self-sacrifice (also visible among other Syrian revolutionary groups), or the support it received from foreign governments (no greater than the support that the governments received), or its leaders’ strategic brilliance (knowable only post hoc), or any number of other factors. These are stories we tell to make ourselves feel that the world is an orderly place, where even the events we find most outrageous or troubling can be tamed through the causal logic of social science.
The real story of the revolution is that one group with weapons persuaded other groups with weapons to surrender or retreat, instead of shooting back. It persuaded large numbers of unarmed civilians to obey them or flee, instead of mobbing the revolutionaries and handing them over to other groups with guns. Those moments of conquest, enacted in confusion and panic with lives on the line—that is how this revolution occurred.
This is part two of a series of articles discussing ISIS. Part one is by Hanin Ghaddar, Lebanese journalist and editor. Part two is by Shadi Hamid, fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Headline image: Yemeni Protests 4-Apr-2011 by Email4mobile. CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
My review of The Secret Sky as it appeared in the February, 2015, edition of School Library Journal. Author Atia Abawi is of Afghani descent and was a CNN correspondent in Afghanistan. Her insight into the life of a young Afghani girl is invaluable.
Young Adult ABAWI, Atia. The Secret Sky: A Novel of Forbidden Lovein Afghanistan. 7 CDs. 7:45 hrs. Recorded Bks. 2014. $77.75.ISBN 9781490627403. Playaway, digital download.Gr 9 Up-- This story is told through the alternating viewpoints of three young Afghanis--Fatima, a Hazara girl on the cusp of womanhood; Samiulla, a teenaged Pashtun boy disillusioned by the "religious" teachings of radicals; and Rashid, a believer in the harsh justice and rhetoric of Islamic fundamentalists. On the path to the well, Sami and Fatima meet by chance, sparking a platonic affection that will place the young people, their families, and their village in danger. In a land where every action is scrutinized and measured, their blossoming relationship is a sinful affront to propriety that cannot be accepted. Abawi does not shy away from the frank realities of a woman's life in Afghanistan. Scenes of torture and murder may disturb sensitive listeners; however, they make the couple's faith in the possibility of a better life all the more poignant and miraculous. The employment of a narrator of each gender, Ariana Delawari and Assaf Cohen (both Arabic speakers with believable accents), heightens the distinction between the sexes that permeates every aspect of every waking hour for rural Afghanis. VERDICT A perfect choice for libraries seeking topical and diverse titles
The story of Pakistan is the story of missed opportunity. As I began to write about the history of this land, I could not help feeling a sense of an intertwining of personal and national destiny in what was necessarily an account of my own missed opportunities [...]
On 6 January 2015, I led a major event in the British Parliament at Westminster to launch and promote a recently completed survey of academic analysis and its policy implications, Religion, Security, and Global Uncertainties. The following day in Paris, the Houachi brothers shot dead twelve people in their attack on the magazine Charlie Hebdo, professedly to avenge its alleged insults to the Prophet Muhammad.
The shooting spree in Copenhagen combines the old and the new of European jihadist phenomenon. Like virtually all European Holy Warriors, Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein is not an immigrant, but the son of immigrants, Palestinians who settled in Denmark before his birth.
The moral outrage at the actions of Islamic State (IS) is easy to both express and justify. An organisation that engages in immolation, decapitation, crucifixion and brutal corporal punishment; that seemingly deploys children as executioners; that imposes profound restrictions on the life-choices and opportunities of women; and that destroys cultural heritage that predates Islam is despicable. What drives such condemnation is complex and multifaceted, however.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82), a quintessentially American writer and thinker, is also one of the most international. Greek, Roman, Chinese, Indian, Persian, French, British, and German philosophers and literary figures pervade his work. As we think about “Western values” and “the clash of civilizations” today, it may be useful to consider the significant role that Islam plays in Emerson’s thought.
Together with Ulysses, Abraham is the earliest culture hero in the Western world. More precisely, as Kierkegaard, who called him ‘the knight of faith,’ reminds us, he has remained, throughout the centuries, the prototype of the religious man, of the man of faith. The wandering Aramean from the Book of Genesis, who rejected his parents’ idols and native Mesopotamia to follow the call of the One God to the land of Canaan, started a saga reverberated not only in early Jewish literature, but also in the New Testament (Galatians 3: 6-8), and in early Christian literature.
Feminism and Islam are rarely considered to be complimentary to each other or even capable of coexisting. A mere cursory glance of any major media outlet and one can find endless articles, newscasts, and videos of radical Islam waging war against the West and systematically oppressing women. The image of the veiled Muslim woman has become emblematic of the patriarchal control Islam seems to yield unrelentingly over female followers of the faith.