Malise Ruthven

Malise Ruthven has written many books on Islam and the Middle East, among them Islam in the World, Fundamentalism and Encounters with Islam.

The Saudi Trillions

Malise Ruthven, 7 September 2017

It made perfect sense that the first port of call on President Trump’s first foreign trip, in May, was Riyadh. Saudi Arabia – the world’s second largest oil producer (after Russia), the world’s biggest military spender as a proportion of GDP, the main sponsor of Islamist fighting groups across Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria and Iraq, the leader of a coalition in a devastating war against Yemeni rebels now in its third year – is a country one can do business with.

More than a Religion: ‘What Is Islam?’

Malise Ruthven, 8 September 2016

For many years​ now – and especially since 9/11 – there has been much strongly felt disagreement about what Islam is. Is it a religious faith like Christianity, where theological notions such the Incarnation or the Trinity (rejected by Muslims) or the ‘messengership’ of Muhammad (denied by Christians) can be accounted for as variations between different groups of...

Tower of Skulls: Baghdad

Malise Ruthven, 23 October 2014

In​ 2006, when Baghdad was mired in sectarian killings and the murder rate was more than a thousand a month, Justin Marozzi spoke to Donny George, the director of the National Museum of Iraq, which had been looted after the invasion of 2003. The museum had lost as many as 15,000 pieces, including the priceless alabaster Warka Vase, thought to be the world’s oldest carved stone ritual...

Our Deputy Sheriffs in the Middle East

Malise Ruthven, 16 October 1997

Last month saw the massacre of two hundred innocents in the Algiers suburb of Bentalha, but British newspaper headlines were taken up with more exotic matters: the sentences facing two British nurses apparently convicted of murdering a third at a hospital complex in Saudi Arabia. Executions and floggings are routine in the wealthy desert kingdom: a version, Aziz al-Azmeh suggests in one of the best essays yet written on Saudi Arabia, of the ‘bread and circuses’ principle favoured by the Romans. Until now, however, the victims of these popular spectacles have either been Saudi nationals or expatriate workers from poor countries such as Sri Lanka or the Philippines. The much more menacing situation in Algeria would have barely merited a mention had it not been for the fact that the latest massacre – the third in as many weeks – took place near the centre of Algiers, too close to the international communications networks to be ignored.’

Politics and the Prophet

Malise Ruthven, 1 August 1996

For too long Islamic studies have existed in an academic ghetto which reinforced the essentialist view shared by the Islamologues, that Islam was somehow ‘different’ from the West. A more fruitful approach is taken by Michael Gilsenan in Lords of the Lebanese Marches, based on field work he conducted in a Sunni Muslim rural area of North Lebanon during the early Seventies, before the recent civil war. This beautifully written book describes the culture of masculinity in its multiple refractions through violence and narrative, joking and play, a world where status and power are organised vertically, where big landowners use the small landowners as their strong-arm men to control the sharecroppers and labourers at the bottom of the social hierarchy and to compete for supremacy with their rival lords. Sharaf, ‘the honour of person and family, which is particularly identified with control of women’s sexuality, is crucial to the public, social identity of men.’ The sharaf of the mighty is linked with the destruction of the sharaf of others: great lords gain honour by ritually humiliating subordinates, whom they force to transgress their own codes of honour. Not surprisingly, life at the bottom is brutish and insecure. The poorest women and their children must undertake work that others regard as shameful. They are powerless to resist sexual exploitation or abuse by their masters. It is not so much these actions themselves, as the stories to which they give rise and which give them meaning, that interest Gilsenan. ‘Men struggle to reproduce, memorialise and guarantee narratives of being and place in the world against the ruptures, absences and arbitrariness mat continuously subvert them.’

Islam and Reform

Akeel Bilgrami, 28 June 1990

It is not possible to write about Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses, and the Muslim response to it, without writing about the nature and history of Islam, the lives and problems of...

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Hot Dogs

Malcolm Bull, 14 June 1990

In recent years, nothing has done more to reinforce the European sense of cultural superiority than the sight of America’s televangelists. Easily stereotyped as politically reactionary,...

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