What We Are Reading Today: Islamic Exceptionalism: How the struggle over Islam is reshaping the world

Updated 07 June 2018
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What We Are Reading Today: Islamic Exceptionalism: How the struggle over Islam is reshaping the world

“The Arab Spring was really … a collective loss of faith in politics,” writes Shadi Hamid in Islamic Exceptionalism, which argues for a new understanding of how Islam and Islamism shape politics. 

Islam has manifested its exceptionalism through its remarkable ability to withstand pressures of modernization and secularization in countries in the Middle East and beyond, he argues. Democratic countries such as Tunisia, Turkey, Indonesia and Malaysia have also been active Islamist centers.

“In Indonesia and Malaysia, there has been a coming to terms with Islam’s role in public life, whereas in much of the Middle-East, there hasn’t, at least not yet,” Hamid writes.

While Christianity has withdrawn from political life, Islam has retained its power and purity in the face of secularism. Hamid examines the reasons behind the failure of the Arab Spring, discussing the different modes of reconciling religion and state, the AKP model in Turkey and the Ennahda model in Tunisia. He is at his best analyzing the Muslim Brothers’ disastrous rule in Egypt. 

Islam’s relation to politics is unique and “the democratic process must play out for a long enough period so that Islam, Islamism, and democracy can evolve in a natural, uncontrived fashion,” he concludes.


‘Tales of Yusuf Tadrus’ — the story of a struggling artist with bills to pay

Updated 20 June 2018
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‘Tales of Yusuf Tadrus’ — the story of a struggling artist with bills to pay

  • Esmat’s novel is a glimpse into the life of an artist, his constant attempt to merge imagination with reality and the life of a Coptic-Christian in Egypt

CHICAGO: Winner of the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature in 2016, Adel Esmat’s “Tales of Yusuf Tadrus” is the story of a young man from the city of Tanta that sits in the Nile Delta. Yusuf struggles to find a balance between his dream of oil painting, canvases and light with his reality of teaching English, providing for a family and attempting to understand where he stands in the world. 

Esmat’s novel is a glimpse into the life of an artist, his constant attempt to merge imagination with reality and the life of a Coptic-Christian in Egypt.

Beginning every chapter with “Yusuf Tadrus Says,” Esmat delves deep into the life of his protagonist, a young man whose very birth leaves him uneasy in life. Knowing his mother had not intended on having children and had devoted her life to God, Yusuf believes he is destined to be extraordinary and embarks on a complicated journey in art and life.

Esmat’s portrayal of Yusuf’s struggle is intimate and detailed. Yusuf is an extremely introspective, introverted character, whose world clashes with his art as it takes him from Tanta to Alexandria, back to Tanta and as far as Al-Tur.

Esmat insightfully narrates an incredible story of struggle and longing. He paints a picture of Egypt, especially Tanta, of the alley where Yusuf grew up on Ghayath Al-Din Street and his family life, his mother who collects contributions for the Holy Bible Association, and his father, Khawaga Tadrus Bushra, donning a Saidi jallabeya, a skullcap and a white scarf as he sells dry beans and seeds. Yusuf spends his childhood riding his bicycle with friends, collecting contributions with his mother, experiencing the Six-Day War and winning a painting competition that brings him to the Palace of Culture on Al-Bahr Street where he learns to draw and, eventually, paint.

Esmat creates in Yusuf a multifaceted character who is both the protagonist and antagonist in his own story, tormented between a dream and reality against the backdrop of an unforgiving society.