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perspective of equality is slowly replacing the complementary rights

perspective. The author informs the reader about the current discourses on
gender equality and their historical roots. He argues that, contrary to the
expectations of some of Iran’s archconservatives and despite the many set-
backs for women under the Islamic Republic, the government’s official
stance toward women was a return to 1936 (the “Awakening Project”) rather
than to 1883 (the reactionary misogyny of “Disciplining Women”).
For example, women’s athleticism in the Islamic Republic (the Islamic
Women’s Olympics) is reminiscent of the early Pahlavi regime, in spite of
the veiling and seclusion. To further illustrate this point, Amin draws the
reader’s attention to Salam Iran, a website ( sponsored
by the Islamic Republic of Iran in Ottawa. The site is an example of the
extent to which Iranian women participate in the country’s public and civic
life. Another example of the current state of ideology is the Women’s
Bureau of the Presidential Office, which gathers a great deal of data and sta-
tistics on women in relation to arts, sports, education, and the family. Amin
argues that even such themes as “Women and Revolution” and “Women
and the Constitution” (Islamic revolution) are direct responses to the more
recent legacy of the “White Revolution” (Pahlavi revolution) that have their
roots in the first major legal alliance between the state and women: the
Marriage Law of 1931.
This book is an excellent source for students of Iranian history from a
gender perspective, academics, and those who wish to understand contem-
porary political issues in Iran. The book is also recommended for those who
wish to learn about contemporary Iran more generally, as a great deal of
what is happening there cannot be easily understood without an under-
standing of Iran’s recent history.
Roksana Bahramitash
Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Concordia University
Montreal, Quebec, Canada

The Crisis of Muslim History: Religion and

Politics in Early Islam
Mahmoud M. Ayoub
Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications, 2003. 179 pages.

A host of recent events – well known to all and not in need of rehearsal here
– have had, among a variety of other consequences, the unexpected effect of
Book Reviews 119

focusing the world’s attention on the diversity of Muslims and the Islamic tra-
dition. The constant talk of “Sunni triangles,” “Shi`ite clerics,” and “Wahhabi
radicals,” however, raises important questions about what precisely divides
the Muslim community along these lines. For Ayoub, the roots of this sectar-
ianism can be found, at least in part, in the crucial historical time period
known as the Rashidite (or “Rightly Guided”) caliphate. It is the “political
and socio-religious crisis” (p. 4) of this era (stretching from the death of the
Prophet until `Ali’s assassination) and its implications for subsequent gener-
ations, that form the subject matter of this book.
Ayoub envisions his work as filling a void found in most general intro-
ductions to Islam, which for all their other merits, often fail to provide a clear
account of this formative period of Islamic history. As for those who have
ventured to write in the area, Ayoub considers the works of both Muslim and
western scholars to be fraught with the political and theological biases of
their authors. His desire to avoid this pitfall motivates him to adopt the
novel approach of letting the “primary sources of Muslim thought and his-
tory” (p. 4) speak for themselves, a tack not unlike the one he uses in his
important contribution to tafsir studies: The Qur’an and Its Interpreters.
Using this methodology, Ayoub seeks to construct and present a bal-
anced account of the major historical events of the Rashidite era in an effort
to explore the interaction between considerations of religion and politics in
early Islamic understandings of the nature of authority. His analysis of the
various claims to the caliphate advanced by Abu Bakr, `Umar, `Uthman,
and `Ali, as well as by less successful contenders, is aimed at supporting his
central assertion that because “the Prophet died without leaving a clear
political system” (p. 22), the Companions did not agree – indeed they vehe-
mently disagreed – on answers to questions of political authority:
It must in fact be concluded that neither the companions of the Prophet nor
their successors were able to arrive at a universally acceptable solution to
the deep and persistent crisis of succession or caliphal appointment. (p. 147)

The uncertainty surrounding the nature of legitimate authority is a con-

stant theme throughout Ayoub’s narrative. Whereas Abu Bakr’s argument
for the Muhajirun’s precedence over the Ansar is based on the former
group’s tribal proximity to the Prophet, it disregards the closer and more
direct kinship of `Ali, the Prophet’s cousin. An exchange quoted later (p. 23),
however, reveals Abu Bakr’s conduct to have been motivated by a fear of
sedition, a desire for stability, order, and moral integrity that reasserted itself
in his appointment of `Umar (p. 31). This episode clearly demonstrates the
120 The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 21:4

complex interplay, highlighted by Ayoub, between political expediency and

more strictly religious considerations. Similarly, Abu Bakr’s egalitarian dis-
tribution of wealth (p. 28) and `Umar’s principled refusal to designate his
son as successor (pp. 87-88) are noticed by the reader to be in stark contrast
with `Uthman’s preferential treatment of his Umayyad kinsmen (p. 54), a
development that Ayoub considers an example of the evolving emphasis on
the “power, rather than the moral persuasion, of the caliph” (p. 54).
The lack of a definitive answer to questions of authority is perhaps suf-
ficiently revealed simply in the range of procedures employed in choosing
the caliph: competitive discussion and consultation among the elders of
Madinah in the case of Abu Bakr, direct appointment in the case of `Umar,
a six-man shura council that eventually chose `Uthman, the “election” of
`Ali, as well as the latter’s ensuing confrontation with Mu`awiyah, who saw
himself as `Uthman’s heir. The controversy surrounding political authority
is portrayed as the most pressing question of the time, and is played out in
history through the Muslim state’s transformation from a theocracy during
the Prophet’s lifetime to a “tribal meritocracy, then into a cosmopolitan
nomocratic kingship, and finally into many and often disparate modern
nation states” (p. 30).
Ayoub’s work is undoubtedly a thorough investigation into early
Islamic history. In that, he fulfills his goal of contributing a “clear and
somewhat comprehensive presentation of the formative period” (p. 4). Yet,
at times, the reader feels as though he may have fallen short of another of
his stated purposes: to produce an introductory work (p. 4). While his deci-
sion to offer various versions of the same event has significant scholarly
value, it is perhaps overwhelming for the novice. To compound matters, a
handful of passages seem to assume that the readers are already acquainted
with the history to which they are supposedly being introduced. Consider,
for example, the vague allusion to “the necklace incident” (p. 89) that, we
are told, sparked `A’isha’s animosity toward `Ali. Furthermore, Ayoub’s
methodological decision to present a wide array of primary sources occa-
sionally creates tensions within his own narrative. While `Umar is praised
as a far-sighted man (p. 41), he is (only three pages later) not astute enough
to have “completely perceived the far-reaching religious, political, social,
and economic consequences” of his selections for the shura council, sup-
posedly “weight[ing] the outcome in favor of `Uthman” despite being
personally inclined toward `Ali (p. 43-44). Finally, several noticeable typo-
graphical errors (e.g., spelling mistakes and errant diacritical marks) detract
from the overall quality of the book.
Book Reviews 121

Despite these objections, however, Ayoub’s work remains an important

contribution, not least for its ability to introduce English readers to classi-
cal sources of Islamic history in an accessible way. It portrays well the very
real and human nature of the early Muslim community, the urgent political
questions and crises facing this identifiably religious society, and how they
were resolved. The need to examine these responses in light of today’s real-
ities can hardly be overstated.
Junaid Quadri
MA student, Department of Philosophy
University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Short Arabic Plays: An Anthology

Salma Khadra Jayyusi, ed.
Northampton, MA: Interlink Books, 2003. 466 pages

Like most of the other anthologies edited by Salma Khadra Jayyusi, Short
Arabic Plays is a collection of translated Arabic literary works focused
around one particular genre. This anthology, part of Jayyusi’s Project for
the Translation of Arabic (PROTA), will bring attention to a dynamic, but
understudied, genre of Arabic literature. This diverse collection consists of
20 short plays by 15 playwrights, demonstrating the breadth of the genre
and its interest not only to scholars and specialists, but also to those con-
cerned with literature more generally.
One problem with this particular anthology, however, is that Jayyusi’s
seven-page editor’s introduction barely manages to explain the impetus
behind the project, make her acknowledgments and outline the major
themes in short plays in general – let alone contextualize the plays included
in this volume. Although it includes short biographies of the editor, contrib-
utors, and translators (after a brief glossary of Arabic words), there are no
introductions to the individual works or even such bibliographic indications
as their original titles and dates of publication. In contrast, other anthologies
by Jayyusi – for example, Modern Arabic Poetry: An Anthology (Columbia
University Press: 1987) and Anthology of Modern Palestinian Literature
(Columbia University Press: 1992) – are accompanied by useful and lengthy
introductions written by Jayyusi herself, as well as brief introductions to
each individual contribution.
Likewise, the anthology most closely related to this one, Modern
Arabic Drama: An Anthology, coedited with Roger Allen (Indiana