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If the hare sees the sea

Anna Della Subin: Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri

30 November 2017
The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition 
by Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri, translated by Elias Muhanna.
Penguin, 352 pp., £11.99, October 2016, 978 0 14 310748 4
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... them as a philosopher mightWith pleasant and charming wordsAn emerald wrapped in silkEnclosed in an ivory vessel.What is missing from the encyclopedia is a chapter on the heroism of translators. EliasMuhanna, now a professor at Brown, first encountered Ultimate Ambition as a student, when he was assigned to translate a hundred pages from an especially forbidding chapter on legal contracts, which ...

More than a Religion

Malise Ruthven: ‘What Is Islam?’

7 September 2016
What Is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic 
by Shahab Ahmed.
Princeton, 609 pp., £29.95, November 2015, 978 0 691 16418 2
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... mastered. But it has its advantages. Knowing that his authority is certain to be questioned Ahmed lets the sources speak for themselves before marshalling them for his argument. As he explained to EliasMuhanna, his former assistant at Harvard, he aimed to erect ‘a scholarly edifice so formidable’ that no one would be able to challenge it. Though many of the ideas he puts forward will be ...

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