How To Write About Islam

Substitute, combine and conflate Islam, Arabs and the Middle East. Only twenty percent of Muslims are Arabs. The Middle East has plenty of other ethnic groups. The biggest Muslim majority country is Indonesia, which is further from Mecca than London is. Use whichever group is convenient for your point, or fits better for the copy desk.

Rely on antiquity to explain causes. Origin stories are great for comic books and history. Rely on them. The Hidden Imam hides TV remote controls all the time: be sure to put him at the centre of all geopolitical debates as well.  Arguments and schisms are ideal forms free from a context of time and space, so leap happily across multiple centuries for connections or conclusions. Any contrary examples or entire flourishing empires that happen to chronologically fall in between two steps in your argument can be safely ignored. Wars and treaties of the 19th and 20th centuries are also too recent to offer the broad vista your readers need.

Poetry is sewn like a silken thread throughout Islamic culture; the Qur’an is sometimes described as a poem dictated by Allah, the unique, the mighty. The poetic Muslim soul should not be sullied by description with brutish numbers. Economic or demographic details are tedious grey filler in your portrait of the spiritual world of Islam.

Use generalized definite articles a few times to give the article a sense of scholarly generality. If at all possible, discuss The Muslim as a noun, but if not, at least deploy general terms as adjectives, like The Muslim Mind, Islamic Civilization, or that notoriously opinionated piece  of civil engineering, The Arab Street.

Praise your subject and their generous traditions of hospitality to guests, at least when you’re not talking about how nasty and self-explosive they are.

Call for an Islamic Reformation. Don’t let the lack of an Islamic Pope deter you. European religious and political history translates simply into the Near, Middle and Far East.

Turbans and burqas. Oh yeah.

If you must use references, restrict them to a single source, preferably Bernard Lewis. Lewis is a Princeton scholar with vast experience and erudition, particularly on the Ottoman Empire. His political punditry and close association with the American government don’t need further attention. There’s certainly no need to mention any abstruse academic debates he’s been involved in.

Draw to an expansive and general conclusion about Islam as a whole, eschewing pedantically specific elements. Look into your heart. In the end, like Islam, writers need to find solutions within themselves.

((This guide is indebted to How To Write About Africa and a huge corpus of inspirational articles in the Anglophone press.))

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