Thursday, February 9, 2023

Review Between Muslims, Religious Differences In Iraqi Kurdistan

Bush, J. Andrew, Between Muslims, Religious Differences In Iraqi Kurdistan, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2020


Between Muslims, Religious Differences In Iraqi Kurdistan by Andrew Bush is an interesting and unusual book about religion in Kurdistan. The author looked at collections of Kurdish poetry to see how intellectuals dealt with Islam and their lives in the past as well as three people who were not pious but still considered themselves Muslims and one that was and how that affected relationships. This microlevel approach was a new one. Most people who are not pious are no longer considered Muslims but Bush saw that was not always true and sought to explore what that meant for everyday life.


The first person Bush talked with was the most interesting and was a female poet in Sulaymaniya. The author spent four years talking with and observing her. The woman said she was tired of Islam. Her father was religious but she said she felt there was a generational difference between the two and she chose another path. Her father tried to get her to be more pious when she was young but she went in the opposite direction. Her mother said she didn’t want to follow tradition and left it at that, while her brother called her a non-believer. She still considered herself a Muslim however. This was a perfect example of how Bush dealt with his subjects. Many would not consider the woman a Muslim but she and her parents still did. She constantly interacted with religion in her relationship with them and others. It was a mainstay in her life even though she didn’t feel a strong connection anymore.


There’s another chapter on Mullah Krekar which Bush spells Mela Krekar, a famous Islamist who led the militant group Ansar al-Sunna and went into exile in Norway. Bush’s approach brought a new way to look at this infamous figure. Krekar wanted to transform daily life to create an Islamic society which was just what Bush was studying. Krekar rejected political parties and the state as corrupt and said that people needed to start with themselves and their families and friends. This would begin with the young who could use technology to learn more about Islam. Krekar acknowledged that this could lead to problems between parents and their children that said that was natural. He told a story about how he met a Communist woman and spent hours debating with her and she eventually wanted to learn how to pray and became an Islamist and he married her. This was the personal transformation that Krekar advocated for. This broke with most discussion of Islamist groups that talked about them wanting to take up the gun and seize the state or promoting traditional families and wanting to punish or kill non-believers. Yes, Krekar said one had to always be vigilant against the non-religious but those people could also be converted like his wife. He also didn’t think authority wrested with the parents but advocated for the kids instead which he acknowledged could break families apart. Krekar was focused upon the micro level of Kurdish society just like Bush was.


Not all of the chapters are equal in interest. One on a man named Newzad for example was more about his ideas on Kurdish poetry than about Islam. Poetry was the author’s entry way into talking with people in Kurdistan and there’s a whole chapter looking at poets from ancient times and their relationship with Islam and religion.


Overall, Between Muslims was a very short and engaging read. It brought a very new and original look at Islam and how people can take many different paths with their beliefs. This was a welcome change as many have portrayed Islam as a very strict and unbending set of norms. This book showed that there were people who were not pious and yet were still emersed in Islam in their day to day lives interacting with other people and were not shunned because of it. Even Mulla Krekar, an Islamist who warned against the threat of non-believers was focused upon personal relationships as a way to create his idealistic society. It makes Between Muslims a thought provoking book.


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