MAGIC IN ISLAM by Michael Muhammad Knight


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The mysteries and the esoterica of Islamic history and culture.

Knight (Why I Am a Salafi, 2015, etc.) begins with a scholarly explanation of why “magic” cannot be fully defined outside the confines of a European past; he concludes that, at best, it is a construct of any given culture and time and thus a fluid concept by nature. “Having performed the necessary deconstruction of categories and displayed critical self-awareness, now I’m going to do whatever I want,” he writes at the end of the introduction. “Maybe this book should just be called Weird Shit in Islam.” Despite that moment of levity, Knight presents an erudite and wide-ranging exploration of what might be popularly called “magic” in Islam. His subject matter spreads across centuries and continents. Knight begins, however, with the text of the Quran, in which he locates and discusses the Arabic term for sorcery. The term takes on a variety of meanings, ranging from satanic implications to mere superstitions. The Quran, as a book steeped in the power of the supernatural, has often been seen to have powers and properties that might be viewed as magical—e.g., the power to heal. Understanding Islam as a religion that cannot be studied apart from the cultures with which it has been in contact, Knight moves on to discuss astrology in Islam, a facet that often stemmed from contact with other religions. Similarly, the Quran mentions a figure named Idris, whom many trace back to the Hebrew Enoch and even to the Greek god Hermes. The author rounds out his book with a discussion of prophecy as projected through dreams and a look at Islamic power motifs in more modern black culture. Knight delivers a thought-provoking introduction to a little-examined subject, albeit a hard one to define.

Though surely controversial and certainly just the tip of the iceberg, this accessible book provides interesting food for thought.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-399-17670-8
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Tarcher/Penguin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2016


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