DeLong-Bas, Natana J.
DeLong-Bas, Natana J.
Born in PA. Education: Middlebury College, undergraduate studies; Georgetown University, Ph.D. Religion: Christian.
Office—Near Eastern & Judaic Studies, Brandeis University, 415 South St., Waltham, MA 02454-9110; Theology Department, Boston College, 140 Commonwealth Ave., Chestnut Hill, MA 02467. E-mail—[email protected].
Brandeis University, Waltham, MA, visiting lecturer in Islamic studies, 2005—; Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA, adjunct professor of theology. Has worked as teacher and is senior research assistant at Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University, Washington, DC. Consultant to governments and corporations.
(With John L. Esposito) Women in Muslim Family Law, Syracuse University Press (Syracuse, NY), 2001.
Notable Muslims: Muslim Builders of World Civilization and Culture, OneWorld Publications (Oxford, England), 2006.
Deputy editor of The Encyclopaedia of the Islamic World and the World of Islam Electronic Resource Center. Editor and senior researcher for The Oxford Dictionary of Islam.
Natana J. DeLong-Bas is a scholar of Islam who has held teaching positions on the topic concurrently at Brandeis University and Boston College. She has done much work on the Wahhabi branch of Islam, which is practiced widely in Saudi Arabia but has also become associated with repression and violence, including the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Her book Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad seeks to provide a comprehensive view of Wahhabism, its founder, and its adherents, with the message that it need not lead to violent acts.
Having studied the writings of the sect's founder, eighteenth-century Muslim reformer Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, DeLong-Bas makes the case that Abd al-Wahhab believed jihad, or holy war, should be practiced only for limited, defensive purposes, and that he did not call on followers to be martyrs for their faith. Also, while Wahhabi Islam has been characterized as misogynist, DeLong-Bas maintains that Abd al-Wahhab supported equal rights for women. He sought primarily to return Islam to its roots, she adds, doing away with practices he considered contrary to the religion, such as ascribing godly traits to mere humans. Additionally, though, he urged tolerance of other faiths.
DeLong-Bas argues that the beliefs of others became conflated with Abd al-Wahhab's teachings after his death. For instance, in the nineteenth century Saudi leaders amended Wahhabism to reflect the teachings of Ibn Taymiyya, a leader from the Middle Ages who approved of Muslims making war on other Muslims if the latter did not use Islamic law as a basis for government. According to DeLong-Bas, this allowed the Saudis to fight the Ottoman Empire, and the same dogma has continued to influence violent extremists. In her view, extremists such as terrorist leader Osama bin Laden and the Taliban who ruled Afghanistan are not true Wahhabis.
Some critics found Wahhabi Islam a much-needed corrective to misunderstandings about this form of Islam, while others took issue with DeLong-Bas's assertions. Sara Powell, reviewing for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, thought the author "has produced a well-argued, logically constructed, and considered—if perhaps somewhat sympathetic—analysis." Powell pronounced the book a "tour-deforce of historic writing," scholarly yet accessible. A contributor to the Frontlist Web site deemed the book "an invaluable guide to a better and richer understanding of Wahhabism," further noting that it offers "groundbreaking and revealing interpretations." In the Middle East Journal, David E. Long observed that while "clearly revisionist," Wahhabi Islam "is a lucid and carefully documented assessment of Wahhabism" and "the first scholarly study of Wahhabism I have seen that was not written exclusively for other scholars."
Indira Falk Gesink, however, writing in History: Review of New Books, described the work as "problematic," saying DeLong-Bas "glosses over the difference between Ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab's teachings and Wahhabism as a lived practice." In a similar vein, Revealer Web site reviewer Adam Becker commented that even if one accepts all the author says about al-Wahhab, "the problem is that Wahhabism as it exists is obviously not necessarily so pleasant." He also disagreed with her assertion that Osama bin Laden and his followers in Al-Qaeda are not Wahhabis. Stephen Schwartz, critiquing for the Middle East Quarterly, remarked that it is "incontrovertible that Wahhabism has produced the violence of Al-Qaeda and groups like it."
Historian contributor Lawrence Rosen characterized DeLong-Bas's book as valuable but limited. "She has done an enormous service by bringing to western readers the fuller sense of al-Wahhab's writings and the undoubted misuse of them by some followers," Rosen reported. "As for the larger claim that his thought is largely without support for contemporary fundamentalists, the verdict may have to remain ‘not proven.’" Long noted that some of the factors that draw adherents to violent forms of fundamentalism, such as economic issues, are outside the scope of DeLong-Bas's study. Within its scope, he wrote, the book is "a monumental work."
Gesink, having voiced reservations about the book, allowed that "it is still a groundbreaking study; it is both controversial and informative," useful for "Middle East specialists, historians, and upper-level college students." Middle East reviewer Fred Rhodes deemed it "of interest for policymakers, scholars, the media, and the general public alike," while Long concluded: "It should be required reading for all those really interested in understanding the Wahhabi revival."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Al Ahram Weekly, November 2-9, 2005, "Book on Wahhabi Islam Banned by Al-Azhar."
Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, February, 2005, P.S. Spalding, review of Wahhabi Islam: From Revival and Reform to Global Jihad, p. 1036.
Historian, spring, 2006, Lawrence Rosen, review of Wahhabi Islam, p. 123.
History: Review of New Books, winter, 2005, Indira Falk Gesink, review of Wahhabi Islam, p. 76.
Library Journal, August, 2004, Gary P. Gillum, review of Wahhabi Islam, p. 87.
Middle East, January, 2005, Fred Rhodes, review of Wahhabi Islam, p. 64.
Middle East Journal, spring, 2005, David E. Long, review of Wahhabi Islam, p. 316.
Middle East Policy, spring, 2006, Gamze Cavdar, review of Wahhabi Islam, p. 153.
Middle East Quarterly, winter, 2005, Stephen Schwartz, review of Wahhabi Islam, p. 95.
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May-June, 2005, Sara Powell, review of Wahhabi Islam, p. 74.
Boston College Web site,http://www.bc.edu/ (March 21, 2008), brief biography.
Brandeis University Web site,http://www.brandeis.edu/ (March 21, 2008), brief author profile.
Frontlist,http://www.frontlist.com/ (March 21, 2008), review of Wahhabi Islam.
Justice Online,http://media.www.thejusticeonline.com/ (January 23, 2007, Bernard Herman, "Culture and Controversy."
Muslim Education Centre of Oxford Web site,http://www.meco.org.uk/ (March 21, 2008), brief author profile.
Revealer,http://www.therevealer.org/ (November 29, 2004), Adam Becker, "Apologetic Islam."
Saudi-American Forum Web site,http://www.saudiamerican-forum.org/ (March 21, 2008), "A Conversation with Natana J. DeLong-Bas."