The Other Islam
Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony
by Stephen Schwartz
New York, Doubleday, 2008
Reviewed by Antonio Saborit
September 7, 2008
The bloody conflict had ended in Kosovo at the end of the 1980s [sic], Stephen Schwartz recalled a few weeks ago in Washington, D.C, when he gave me the final proofs of his new book, The Other Islam. Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony, which will come out in a few days with the Doubleday colophon.
The interest of Schwartz in Islam was born during the 1990s, a side effect of his tasks as a journalist on the territory of former Yugoslavia. I met him here in Mexico in the middle of 1997, I visited him at work, in the newsroom of the San Francisco Chronicle, and he helped me go see the then-centenarian Ella Wolfe. In those days, Schwartz was concluding a manuscript which soon afterward was released under the title From West to East: California and the Making of the American Mind (Free Press, 1998).
But in reality Schwartz already had his head in Islamic studies. He spoke to me with much enthusiasm about Nedžad Ibrišimović and we decided to translate together one of his titles, The Book of Adem Kahriman, the Bosnian (Mexico, Breve Fondo Editorial, 2000.) To Islam are owed two more titles by Schwartz, one of which had good luck with readers: The Two Faces of Islam: Saudi Fundamentalism and Its Role in Terrorism (Anchor, 2003); the other, much less known although no less interesting, Sarajevo Rose: A Balkan Jewish Notebook (Saqi Books, 2005), in the pages of which he narrates some episodes in the history of the Sephardic Jews in the Balkans and their relations with the Muslim peoples of the zones, Bosnia in particular.
In the 15th century, Schwartz told Hernán Bravo Varela and me in an Italian restaurant on P Street, a considerable number of Albanians went by sea to Calabria and Sicily, with the aim of fleeing the Ottoman advance on their territory. At present they remain there, in two different communities, and they preserve their language as well as their Albanian style of dress. In these towns the women are the only ones who enjoy security, or, better put, are safe from kidnappings by the mafia, which fears the Albanians.
In the north of Albania, although not in Kosovo, there survives a tradition involving the law of honor and honor crimes, and a total of 40,000 men cannot leave their homes because they are targets in honor conflicts. But as long as they do not leave their houses they are safe thanks to an honor code according to which nobody can be attacked in his own home, although he may be in the roads and, generally, anywhere outside, except in the shadow of a [church or] mosque, where no attack may take place.
There are other rules about honor. A murdered man must be left face up with the end of not causing mistaken accusations; the weapon of a murdered person must remain with him, because one who takes it commits a second offense against the honor of the dead man's family, giving them the right to kill two members of the perpetrator's family.
The murderer must communicate with the family of the murdered man and inform them that he committed the crimes, also to avoid erroneous allegations.
Out of this conversation about violence and honor I recall an Albanian joke, which Schwartz also told us:
"On beginning a journey, fire, water, and honor discussed the measures they would have to take in case one of them got lost.
" 'If I get lost,' said Fire, 'you don't have to do more than find smoke to see me again.'
" 'If I get lost,' said Water, 'look for a green field and there I will be.'
" 'If I get lost,' said Honor, 'don't look for me, because once honor is lost it is never seen again.' "
Related Topics: Albanian Muslims, Balkan Muslims, Bosnian Muslims, European Muslims, Kosovo, Sufism
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free center for islamic pluralism mailing list