Review of “Islamic Images and Ideas: Essays on Sacred Symbolism”

Islamic Images and Ideas: Essays on Sacred Symbolism ed. by John Andrew Morrow (review)

From: Journal of Shi’a Islamic Studies
Volume 7, Number 2, Spring 2014
pp. 251-252 | 10.1353/isl.2014.0012

Themed around the Prophetic narration that ‘Allah is beautiful and loves beauty’, this collection of essays explores the inner dimensions of Islam through a study on Islamic images and ideas, ‘demonstrating the diversity which exists at the heart of Islamic unity’ (2). The editor, John Andrew Morrow, highlights the importance of ‘bring[ing] the beauty of Islam back into the light’ (vii) in the context of today’s increased focus on Islamism – rather than Islam itself – in the West. As he puts it, ‘Since Islamism is the product of modernity, and a recent innovation in Islam, it cannot, and must not, take precedence over Islam as a world religion and a 1,400-year-old faith that sustains nearly two billion human beings’ (1); therefore, this collection is a new approach to redressing that imbalance. Penned by both Muslim and non-Muslim authors from a variety of countries, each essay is centred on a significant symbol in the Qur’an and Sunnah which is analysed literally, metaphorically, interdisciplinarily, exoterically, esoterically, theologically, philosophically, and – in short – comprehensively from a variety of viewpoints. In his Introduction, Morrow emphasizes the use of primary sources in the essays, not only for the sake of greater authenticity, but also due to biases as well as misrepresentations that have crept into a number of secondary sources on Islam written in the West. Sunni, Shi‘a, and Sufi sources are included, thereby embracing a wide spectrum of the Islamic heritage. The collection itself is divided into four sections. The first, titled ‘The Divine’, offers explorations of ‘Divine Unity’ (John Andrew Morrow), ‘Creation’ (Anna Maria Martelli), ‘Wrath’ (Amar Sellam), and ‘Justice’ (Hisham M. Ramadan). This is followed by ‘The Spiritual’; the essays in this section examine topics such as ‘The Path’ (John Andrew Morrow) and ‘Servitude’ (Mustapha Naoui Kheir) as well as more evocative subjects such as ‘The Jinn’ (Anna Maria Martelli), ‘Fatimah’ (Bridget Blomfield), and ‘Intoxication’ (Matthew Long). Next comes ‘The Physical’, including but not limited to essays on ‘Water’ (Cyrus Ali Zargar), ‘The Tree’ (Said Mentak), ‘Food’ (Naglaa Saad M. Hassan), ‘The Phallus’ (Mahdi Tourage), and ‘Eyebrows’ (Aida Shahlar Gasimova). It concludes with essays on ‘The Societal’, among which are ‘Ijtihad’ (Sayyed Hassan Vahdati Shobeiri), ‘Governance’ (Zahur Ahmed Choudhri & Zahid Shahab Ahmed), ‘Otherness’ (Mohamed Elkouche), and ‘Ashura’ (Muhammed-Reza Fakhr-Rohani); this latter section undoubtedly aims to fulfil the editor’s vision (discussed in the Introduction) of producing a collection which fits the genre of mysticism (‘irfan and tasawwuf ) but nonetheless touches on social issues. While the essays are not focused specifically on Shi‘ism, the immediate relevance of some of the above topics to Shi‘ism is apparent. An extensive index rounds out the collection.