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Shahab Ahmed’s What is Islam? The Importance of Being Islamic is perhaps the most ambitious book in Islamic Studies of the last fifty years. One of the ways specialists might engage critically with Ahmed’s work is with his various presentations of the ideas of different Muslim actors featured in his re-conceptualization of Islam, upon which Ahmed often constructs his own positive theses. Does he represent their ideas accurately enough to justify the work that they do for him? For example, Ahmed’s treatment of “Muslim wine-drinking” relies on his setting up an opposition between the norms of the Law and an alternative set of norms determined by “Sufi-philosophical Islam.” In this paper, I suggest that Ahmed misrepresents this relationship. A careful study of the ideas invoked by Ahmed to support his thesis shows that a Sufi-philosophical exploration of wine-drinking was in fact compatible with the Law, even as it transcended It.

In: Journal of Sufi Studies