2019 in books

A list of books that I read during 2019.

2061 Odyssey three

by Arthur C. Clarke

3001: The Final Odyssey

by Arthur C. Clarke

On the Harmony of Religions and Philosophy

by Ibn Rushd

Muhammad: Man and Prophet

by Adil Salahi

A World of Three Zeroes: the new economics of zero poverty, zero unemployment, and zero carbon emissions

by Muhammad Yunus

Major Themes of the Qur’an

by Fazlur Rahman

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams

by Matthew Walker

Childhood’s End

by Arthur C. Clarke

Ibn ‘Arabi: Heir to the Prophets

by William C. Chittick

Thinking, Fast and Slow

by Daniel Kahneman

Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy

by Jonathan A.C. Brown

The Sufi Doctrine of Rumi (Spiritual Masters. East & West)

by William C. Chittick, Seyyed Hossein Nasr

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking

by Samin Nosrat, Wendy MacNaughton (Illustrations)

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

by Yuval Noah Harari

The book was easy to read and engaging too. I picked it up hoping for it to be at least a popular science book that introduces the different facets of study in anthropology, providing a reference list for further more in-depth studies. However, it felt like a reductionism of specifically chosen concepts to create a somewhat fictional storyline.

While discussing the rise of monotheism and debunking historians who provide deterministic explanations of events such as the rise of Christianity, the author says the following:

Yet most historians tend to be skeptical of such deterministic theories. This is one of the distinguishing marks of history as an academic discipline – the better you know a particular historical period, the harder it becomes to explain why things happened one way and not another. Those who have only a superficial knowledge of a certain period tend to focus only on the possibility that was eventually realized. They offer a just-so story to explain with hindsight why that outcome was inevitable

This, I think, can be applied to this book. This book generalizes so many historical events that one can use the same line of reasoning to establish any conclusion one wants. Selection bias, a commonly known term in the statistical literature, is to choose samples in a particular way that confirms your own hypothesis. This book does something very similar, but instead of selecting specific events, the author seems to omit facts rather easily. http://www.ashfaqfarooqui.me/posts/2019/sapiens/

Kohinoor: The Story of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond

by William Dalrymple, Anita Anand

The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists

by Khaled Abou El Fadl

The book comes at a critical time when most of the discourses on Islam are filled with puritan rhetoric. It provides the fundamental differences in thought, logic, and sources followed by puritans and moderates. The first part of the book briefly highlights the historical background of the development of Puritan thought in Islam. The second part starts with the common ground between both the groups, followed by a discussion on the differences in the following areas: Theology, law and morality, approaches to history, democracy and human rights, and social interaction. Two additional chapters on Jihad and The role of women are added since these are the most misunderstood aspects, and existing discourses are mainly from the puritan point of view.

The book is meant for everyone interested in understanding the differences between the two groups, in that sense, I think, it is self-contained. However, some parts in the book are vague and miss certain nuances; for this, I suggest reading Reasoning with God: Reclaiming Shari’ah in the Modern Age alongside.

Do We Need God to Be Good?: An Anthropologist Considers the Evidence

by C.R. Hallpike

This book was suggested to me after I finished `Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind ` and had significant problems with the way the author treats the reading of religion.

This book by an anthropologist C. R. Hallpike is an academic work, unlike Sapiens. In this, he goes to explores the problems that have been handled by religion through the centuries. However, the main focus of the book is to expose and provide counter-arguments to the atheistic arguments posed by the likes of Dawkins; more specifically, the evolutionary biological view of human societies.

The book reads like a series of essays on different but interconnected topics grouped under four chapters. The first of which deals with the different aspects of human nature and explored what makes man unique in the universe. In the second chapter, the author looks at the relationship between morality and religion; while, briefly highlighting the evolution of religion and what it meant to man. The third chapter looks at Humanism in particular and its various facets and how these have come to define the world around us today.

The last chapter was harder to read compared to the previous ones. It presents the five different atheistic utopias that have existed in the world so far. These can be classified as utopias that aim to promote individualism (e.g., Objectivism) and others where the state becomes more important than the individual (e.g., Communism).

What I liked about this book was the author does not keep a narrow definition of religion, he isn’t informed about religion from the general stereotypes that are portrayed in media. His view on religion is broad and not constricted to that of the Abrahamic faiths. He is inclusive of various definitions of religion that have been used by different societies and tribes over time. He does not talk in generalizations about topics he does not seem to know. If, and when, there was a need to discuss specific theological points, he reverts to Christian theology but makes it clear as to why he chooses to speak about Christianity in particular.

Jihad,Violence, War and Peace in Islam

by Tariq Ramadan

A good introduction for someone interested in the concept of Jihad. It is, however, very brief for an interested reader. Specifically, the book does not provide a broader context about Islam for the reader to understand the nuances.

The Superiority of Dogs

by Ibn al-Marzuban

Speaking in God’s Name: Islamic Law, Authority and Women

by Khaled Abou El Fadl

A much-needed discussion on Authority and Authoritarian within Islamic Law. In this, rather dense, book, the author deconstructs the authoritarian nature that has seeped into the modern discourses on Islamic Law. Drawing from the vast resource of jurisprudential debates of the past, he presents the methodological requirements that need to be fulfilled when delving into the legalities of and developing, legislation from Islamic sources. Throughout the book, the authoritarian nature of Islamic law that has had a devastating impact on women–mainly in the modern world– is taken as a case study to bring out the differences between authority and authoritarian.

Though this is a very dense book and a tough read for the uninitiated to Islamic law, I think it is a must-read for anyone who wants to critique, and also improve the Islamic Jurisprudence. It is, however, recommended to start with the author’s other books Reasoning with God: Reclaiming Shari’ah in the Modern Age and Search for Beauty in Islam: A Conference of the Books before picking this one.

The Leadership of Muhammad

by Johan Adair

The Road to Mecca

by Muhammad Asad

Fahrenheit 451

by Ray Bradbury

V for Vendetta

by Alan Moore (Goodreads Author), David Lloyd

The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire

by William Dalrymple In a world plagued with misinformation, alternate facts, and whitewashed histories, William Dalrymple has done a fantastic job presenting a much needed nuanced picture of history/politics in the 18th century India. Today, the colonization of India is either glorified as a blessing or spoken as evil, depending on whom one talks to, while the Mughal rule is looked upon as evil. In this book, Dalrymple presents a nuanced history of the time, showing the politics that were played out, eventually giving rise to the British colonial project in India.

One thing that struck me was the stark contrast in narratives we learn in school, as children, and how that has given rise to the sectarianism found in India these days. For example, in school, we read about the Maratha wars against the Mughal empire. However, we never learn that it was the Marathas that helped bring back Mughal Shah Alam to the thrown in Delhi in 1772. The Mughal rule continued until 1857, though, as a mere puppet to the British. During the first war of Independence that took place in 1857, self-organized armies, both Hindu and Muslims, came to Bahadur Shah Zafar to seek his blessings/permission before going out to war. There is ample evidence to show that sectarianism was a fringe problem in Mughal India. And if we are going to teach history in schools, let it be a more critical history taking into account the politics of that time; so we can learn, and not repeat the mistakes of the past.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

by Malcolm X, Alex Haley Malcolm was a man of his time, shaped by the society he lived in. What is most remarkable about him is his eagerness to evolve himself. When in prison, he read everything he could lay his hand on developing his beliefs and philosophies. After prison, he spent the next 12 years in dedicating his life to the Nation of Islam, towards transforming the lives of his Afro-American brothers using the philosophy of Elijah Muhammad, as it had once transformed him. During this time, he fought and blamed all Whites for the current condition of the Black community. When he finally broke away from the Nation of Islam and traveled the world, he soon came to see beyond racial lines and then became a staunch human rights activist.

In this book, Malcolm, candidly, reflects on his life while (almost) dictating it to Alex Haley. The book was written during the last two years of Malcolm’s life; these were the most dynamic period of his life. It offers us insight into the events that shaped his life and also, to some extent, the evolution of his ideology. I hope to read his speeches and his dairy to get more insight into his thoughts after his break from the Nation of Islam.

There are several things to unpack in this book. The most important is the racial problem that existed and still does, where the marginalized community is conditioned to believe that they are of a lower stature to the dominant community; this is true even of today for many communities around the world live as if their minds are still “colonized.”

By the end of the book, the study of Malcolm’s life was, for me, a byproduct of everything I had learned from the book. What the book presents is that Malcolm X was, like anyone, at the end of the day, human. He had his set of flaws. It still amazes me how his strong views, on the mistreatment of blacks, did not help him see the parallels in his thoughts towards women; though, he was surrounded and supported by two very strong women – his wife Betty and his sister Ella. As humans, in spite of our flaws, the essence of life is the pursuit of truth and justice. In that, his life has lots to offer us.

Permanent Record

by Edward Snowden

The Caves of Steel

by Isaac Asimov


and the Destiny of Man]] by Charles Le Gai Eaton

A very lucid introduction to Islam and what it means to a believer. Unlike most of the other introductions that try to be objective and focus only on the subject of Islam, this book is written exploring the relationship to man, specifically in the modern age. It is important to note that this book, and the author, are a product their time.

The Naked Sun

by Isaac Asimov

Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past

by David Reich

An introduction and survey into the study of DNA analysis to understand human history. I was suggested this book after complaining about Sapiens, which was quite biased. Compared to Sapiens this was an insightful book, and inclusive of the different parts of the world. The ethical reflections by the author in part 3 of the book are interesting and important for anyone interested in the study of human genome.

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