Friday, 1 May 2015

Review: "The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities"

Time and time again over the years, in spoken word as well as in writing, Amanullah de Sondy has stood up to face the established masculo- and hetero-normative Islamic hierarchy. He has called it what it is and demanded change. While his speaking engagements continue, De Sondy has culminated his written work for now with his book, The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities.

 The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities is an incisive and ground-breaking text that turns traditional thinking regarding Islamic masculinity on its head. De Sondy accomplishes this first by introducing the concept of multiple, equally valid masculinities. He then derives support for this central argument from the Qur'an itself, bypassing any imprimatur that traditional Islamic scholarship might grant to or withhold from his assertions. Throughout his book, De Sondy aims to chart a new course in religion and gender studies on several fronts: by focusing on masculinities, by shifting the focus of Muslim discourses away from an Arabo-centric Islam, and by highlighting the lives of figures who might be viewed today as "flawed" Muslims.

In a move which is foreshadowed in an earlier chapter on Muslim feminists, De Sondy chooses to centre the fourth and fifth chapters of The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities on the experiences of Indian and Pakistani Muslim men. This is part of his shift away from an Arabo-centric view of Islam in which the Arabic language and culture are treated as normative to Islamic theology and practise. A minor character in these last two chapters has a disproportionately large significance to other ways that De Sondy's book can be seen as liberatory: the figure, Shah Hussayn, was decidedly homosexual and pursued the love of a non-Muslim. In spite of all of this "misbehaviour," Shah Hussayn came to be accepted as a Sufi saint; and a shrine was built over his tomb.

What distinguishes Shah Hussayn from other Sufi saints is his romantic love for and partnering with a young Hindu boy - a relationship which violates traditional values such as heterosexual relationships and intra-Muslim marriage. De Sondy explains that Shah Hussayn employed various explanations to connect his same-gender love to divine principles, thus legitimising his love for the boy. This and other stories of Muslim personalities shift the focus towards an Indian- and Pakistani-centric view of Islam and tie in to the liberatory message of The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities.

De Sondy gives the reader some basic yet fundamental building blocks to further explore the topic of Islamic masculinities. In The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities, he introduces the reader to established concepts of Islamic masculinity. He then provides one with the biographical narratives of various eminent Muslim figures in Islamic literature to open up the dialogue to new ways of understanding Islamic masculinities. De Sondy encourages his audience to consider their gender identities in terms of submission to God, rather than by contrasting themselves with others. By the end of the text, readers should be equipped to use those biographical sketches or any other examples to construct their own concept of Islamic masculinities.

Amanullah De Sondy has made it clear that he has devoted much thought to every item in The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities, even certain key terms. Each of those pieces is instrumental in deconstructing rigid Islamic hierarchies. By attacking the notion of a monolithic Islamic masculinity, De Sondy offers one the very sledgehammer with which to shatter the foundational basis of rigid and oppressive interpretations of Islamic texts - interpretations that lend themselves to hierarchical patriarchies on which many Muslim societies are established. He thus offers much-needed hope to Muslims who are alienated by the current monolithic approach to gender by traditional clerics. In the vein of liberation theology, De Sondy's book throws them a lifeline to spirituality without which they would otherwise turn to a secular lifestyle.

Purchase The Crisis of Islamic Masculinities at Bloomsbury or Barnes & Noble.

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