"Muslim Imaginaries and Imaginary Muslims: Placing Islam in Conversation with A Secular Age." Journal of Religious Ethics 40, no. 1 (March 2012): 138-148.
This essay begins by exploring the extent to which the narrative of secularization presented in Charles Taylor’sA Secular Age might be complicated or otherwise challenged by taking account of parallel processes within Islamic thought and practice. It then considers whether Taylor’s argument might nevertheless be applicable to, or illuminative of, contemporary struggles with modernity in the Muslim world.
"Review of Roxanne L. Euben and Muhammad Qasim Zaman, Eds. Princeton Readings in Islamist Thought: Texts and Contexts from al-Banna to Bin Laden." Reason Papers: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Normative Studies 33 (Fall 2011): 201-206.
"Review of Khaled Abou El Fadl, Islam and the Challenge of Democracy." Political Theology 9, no. 1 (2008): 121-123.
"Review of Zachary Shore, Breeding Bin Ladens: America, Islam, and the Future of Europe." H-Net Reviews: American Studies (2007).
"Review of Ghazi-Walid Falah and Caroline Nagel, Eds. Geographies of Muslim Women: Gender, Religion, and Space."Geographies of Religions and Belief Systems 1, no. 1 (2007): 78-80.
"A Heart That Flees from Evil: The Moral Emotion of Hayaa in Islamic Thought." Working Paper presented at the Southeastern Commission for the Study of Religion Annual Meeting, Atlanta, GA, March 2006.
A surge of academic interest in the relationship between emotion and morality has led to a renewed interest in the comparative study of religious morality. Because religious traditions have a great deal to say about emotion and its importance in the moral life, scholars have begun to explore the complicated relationship between religious practice, emotion, and morality. This line of research is just beginning, but numerous essays on the subject have already been written. Surprisingly absent from this literature, however, are studies surveying the relationship between emotion and morality within the Islamic tradition. Though a great deal has been written about emotion within Sufi thought, little to nothing has been written about the role of emotion in orthodox Islam. This seems to be the result of the general assumption, popular amongst scholars of religion and anthropologists alike, that institutionalized and orthodox Islam is entirely legalistic and thus opposed to all expression of emotion in the moral life. This assumption is so pervasive that many anthropologists who recognize the very clear role emotion plays in the moral lives of Muslims seem unwilling to admit that these emotional norms could be the product of anything more than local culture. In this essay, I challenge this assumption by showing that the Islamic tradition does in fact have a rich history of speaking about the role of emotion in the moral life. I do so by surveying the Islamic discourse surrounding one particular emotion—haya`—as a paradigmatic example of the larger role emotion plays in traditional Islamic ethics. Roughly defined as the ability to feel shame, fear, or timidity in the face of evil, haya` is often described as an emotion that is necessary for progress in both the moral and religious matters, providing a perfect example of the prominence of emotion within the moral discourse of orthodox Islam.
"When Disaster Looms: Terrorism and Supreme Emergency in the Arguments of Michael Walzer and Usama Bin Ladin." Working Paper presented at the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, Philadelphia, PA, November 2005.
In his 1977 classic, Just and Unjust Wars, Michael Walzer sets out to describe and defend a rights based approach to just war theory. A crucial component of this approach is the principle of non-combatant immunity, which holds that innocent civilians can never be intentionally targeted in the course of a military engagement. Given Walzer’s commitment to this principle, many commentators find it odd that Walzer is also willing to allow for exceptions to this rule in cases of “supreme emergency.” One of the most important criticisms suggests that Walzer’s supreme emergency exception is problematic because it seems to allow for the moral justification of terrorist attacks similar to those directed against the United States on September 11th. As might be expected, Walzer does not believe his model commits him to such a position, and his most recent essays display a denunciation of contemporary terrorism as categorically unjustifiable. On Walzer’s account, the British bombing of Dresden constituted a justified act of “war terrorism” that was the last resort of a community hoping to defend against the supreme threat of a Nazi victory. Contemporary terrorism, however, is an act of political or religious terrorism which is often the first resort of groups hoping to achieve political success, the elimination of the enemy, or both. In this essay, I argue that this response reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the arguments and motivations of Islamic terrorists. Engaging in a careful analysis of the public statements of Usama bin Ladin, I show that it is not so easy to distinguish the motivations of contemporary Islamic terrorists from the motivations of the British during World War II. Though Walzer is correct to suggest that contemporary terrorism is political or religious in nature, it is not at all clear that bin Ladin understands his political terrorism to be distinct from what Walzer describes as war terrorism. Indeed, bin Ladin makes it clear that he understands the terrorism of al-Qaeda to be a fundamental component of an ongoing war with the West.
"The Shaykh of Islam: The Legacy of Ibn Taymiyya in 20th Century Political Islam." Working Paper presented at the Florida State University Department of Religion Graduate Symposium, April 2005.
In 1998, Usama Bin Ladin and a number of other Islamist leaders issued a fatwa urging all Muslims to kill Americans, both civilians and military, wherever and whenever they found them. A central component of the argument presented in this text was an attempt on the part of the authors to justify their position in terms of the precedents set by earlier Islamic scholars. Paramount among these was an argument made by the “Shaykh al-Islam," a 13th century Hanbali scholar, Tai al-Din Ahmad Ibn Taymiyya (1263-1328). Some scholars, including those who contributed to the 9-11 Commission Report, have argued that this reference is especially significant insofar as it is ultimately Ibn Taymiyya who provides the foundation for a position of “extreme intolerance” that is “motivated by religion and does not distinguish politics from religion.” Others, however, have argued that radical Islamists have bastardized the ideas of Ibn Taymiyya, using him to support a project he would have found appalling. Those who think there is a direct link, they argue, have either misunderstood Ibn Taymiyya or failed to realize what is actually motivating 20th century radical Islam. In this essay, I argue that both sides have misunderstood the complicated relationship between Ibn Taymiyya's ideology and the ideology of 20th century radical Islam. Scholars who suggest that Ibn Taymiyya’s teachings are utterly unrelated to the projects of radical Islam have misunderstood the extent to which Ibn Taymiyya’s religious arguments were also political and Islamist political arguments are also religious. Yet, those who defend a direct link fail to acknowledge the significant portion of Ibn Taymiyya’s work that bin Ladin and others selectively ignore. In short, both sides of the debate seem to have missed the subtle way in which Ibn Taymiyya’s ideology has been both directly inherited and significantly adapted by 20th century groups.