Book Review: ‘Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions’ by Abdal Hakim Murad
Those who know Shaykh Abdal Hakim Murad aka Timothy Winter (commiserations to those who don’t), will in most cases know of his series of contentions found on brother Masud’s site. The contentions are a series of one line wisdoms and musings of the Shaykh on a variety of different topics, many of which are beyond the understanding of mere mortals, so a commentary on them was well needed.
Each contention is given with a 1-3 page commentary, explaining the meaning of what was being said and a reflection on the lesson that can be learnt. In many cases the Shaykh’s quintessential English wit found in the contention itself carries over into the commentary. There are a few passages that are still quite difficult to understand, especially when he discusses modern and pre-modern philosophers and their ideas, and you have very little idea of the school of thought that philosopher belonged to and espoused. But other things are not so complicated, an example being in one of the commentaries he actually quotes a line from a Bjork song, that will give you a kind of idea the breadth of discussion found in this book. Overall the book is enjoyable to read and I finished it in just a few days, then again I may be a little biased as I’m a bit of a Tim Winter fanboy.
The cover chosen for the book is interesting, and is not really reflective of Tim Winter’s style. It shows someone in a hooded coat drawing graffiti that is actually the names of Allah. I think the purpose of choosing the cover reflects on the idea that many of the contentions are reflections on the negative parts of modern society, and how we as Muslims can come out of the ‘monoculture’ as he regularly refers to it, and make it into something beautiful in our contemporary age.
While I think this book would prove quite complicated for young Muslims, I think it’s definitely worth reading by new Muslims, and early-20s/university students. Both these groups are at a stage where Islam is shaping up to what it means to be a Muslim for the vast majority of their life, and the contentions, as well as Abdal Hakim Murad’s other work, is indicative of where we should be going as a British Muslim community. A community that is holistic, open minded, intelligent; a community that uses its faith as a means to beautify everything we do in our lives, as we can learn if we reflect on the hadith: “Allah has mandated excellence (ihsan) for all things. So if you kill, do so with excellence, and if you slaughter an animal, do so with excellence; sharpen your blade, and put the animal at ease.” Even our mundane, or lowly acts, such as slaughtering an animal, if infused with the remembrance of Allah can become excellent and that can diffuse into our environments and our societies and make the world we live in a much better place to be.
If you can’t get enough of the contentions I would recommend Brother Dawud Israel’s blog where he is also undertaking a commentary.
And to Him is our return.