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Volume 4, No 3, Fall 1994 [back]

Book: The Tao of Islam -- A Sourcebook on Gender Relationships in Islamic Thought

Sachiko Murata
reviewed by Tanju «ataltepe

SUNY, 1992, ISBN: 0-7914-0914-7

Even though the title of the book reminds one of the popular and vulgarized treatments of various subjects in a pseudo-Zen way, this is a very serious and original approach to the cosmology of Islamic thought. The author is a Japanese with a doctoral degree from Tehran University in Islamic Philosophy. She is currently teaching at the State University of New York.

This unusual background brings out an unusual --unusual for the traditional Islamic studies literature of the Western academics-- aspect of Islamic thought: The Yin and Yang of it, to put it succintly. Professor Murata writes that when teaching a course on "Feminine Spirituality in World Religions" to American students, she found "that the only way to overcome the mental obstacles [regarding the status of women in Islam] in my students was to take a backdoor approach. Hence I came at Islam not from a Western context, with all the presuppositions about sexuality and gender roles that this implies, but from the East." Professor Murata is well qualified to open this door: As a Japanese she is well versed in the traditions that sprang from ancient China; as an academic in Islamic studies she is well grounded in the source material of Islamic mysticism and philosophy; and as a muslim woman she has the proper sensitivity towards her material.

Relationship or comparison of Islamic thought to the Jewish and Christian traditions are more customary and obvious. But this book illustrates in quite detail the commonality between the seemingly distant traditions of East Asia and Islam, but this should not be surprising since every tradition has glimmers of the Sacred however distant it may be from the origin.

The book consists of an Introduction and four parts. The first part deals with God, macrocosm (cosmos), and microcosm (human being). The second part, titled Theology, discusses the complementary dual polarity in Islamic thought, drawing heavily upon the sufi theological texts such as Ibn Arabi's. The third part, Cosmology, starts with the discussion of the verse "And of everything We created a pair." It moves to macrocosmic implications and to the human marriage and gender relationships. The fourth part, titled Spiritual Psychology, discusses what we can call the "matters of the Heart."

Many readers may find the subsection about the human marriage in Cosmology very interesting. Here the gender relations in Islam are examined in a way that transcends the legalistic framework or the socialogical apologetics. This does not mean that the author ignores the precepts of the sharia, she places them within the big picture of the whole creation. ~

Selections from Tao Teh Ching by Lao Tzu; English by Witter Bynner
When people lost the sight the way to live
Came codes of love and honesty,
Learning came, charity came,
Hypocrisy took charge;
When differences weakened family ties
Came benevolent fathers and dutiful sons;
And when lands were disrupted and misgoverned
Came ministers commended as loyal

Those who would take over the earth
And shape it to their will
Never, I notice, succeed.
The earth is like a vessel so sacred
That at the mere approach of the profane
It is marred
And when they reach out their fingers it is gone.
For a time in the world some force themselves ahead
And some are left behind,
For a time in the world some make a great noise
And some are held silent,
For a time in the world some are puffed fat
And some are kept hungry,
For a time in the world some push aboard
And some are tipped out:
At no time in the world will a man who is sane
Over-reach himself,
Over-spend himself,
Over-rate himself.

©1994 anadolu
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