Cover of Between Muslims by J. Andrew Bush
Between Muslims
Religious Difference in Iraqi Kurdistan
J. Andrew Bush


240 pages.
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Hardcover ISBN: 9781503611436
Paperback ISBN: 9781503614581
Ebook ISBN: 9781503614598

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Winner of the 2022 AMEA Bi-annual Book Award, sponsored by the Association for Middle East Anthropology (AMEA).

Within the broad contours of Islamic traditions, Muslims are enjoined to fast during the month of Ramadan, they are invited to a disciplined practice of prayer, and they are offered the Quran as the divine revelation in the most beautiful verbal form. But what happens if Muslims choose not to fast, or give up prayer, or if the Quran's beauty seems inaccessible? When Muslims do not take up the path of piety, what happens to their relationships with more devout Muslims who are neighbors, friends, and kin?

Between Muslims provides an ethnographic account of Iraqi Kurdish Muslims who turn away from devotional piety yet remain intimately engaged with Islamic traditions and with other Muslims. Andrew Bush offers a new way to understand religious difference in Islam, rejecting simple stereotypes about ethnic or sectarian identities. Integrating textual analysis of poetry, sermons, and Islamic history into accounts of everyday life in Iraqi Kurdistan, Between Muslims illuminates the interplay of attraction and aversion to Islam among ordinary Muslims.

About the author

J. Andrew Bush is a Visiting Fellow at Harvard Law School.

"A finely nuanced study about the impossibility of sequestering what is religious from what is not. In exemplary fashion, Andrew Bush shows us how the categories with which we work—religion, atheism, or secularism—are insufficient to understand the simultaneously sacred and profane world of everyday life."

—Faisal Devji, Oxford University

"Andrew Bush has written a remarkable book that makes highly original contributions to the anthropology of religion as well as Kurdish studies. There is no other book quite like this. Approaching Kurdish society through its poetics, he has grasped important insights into the ambiguities of everyday ethics underlying the social reality of contemporary Kurdistan."

—Martin van Bruinessen, Utrecht University

"Written with a scholar's rigor and a poet's grace, Between Muslims depicts textures of Islamic tradition rarely discussed in the literature. Fiercely independent in its approach to theorizing Muslim life, this deeply-layered monograph is a must-read for scholars in anthropology, religious studies, and beyond."

—Noah Salomon, Carleton College

"A refreshing departure from the focus on nationalist identity in studies of Iraqi Kurdistan, Between Muslims is a beautifully written and original work on the dynamics of Islamic traditions. Andrew Bush subtly explores how 'fractures of difference' are lived in everyday intimate relationships."

—Sara Pursley, New York University

"[G]roundbreaking and innovative... Between Muslims holds up as an accessible and eloquent account of social dynamics in contemporary Iraqi Kurdistan."

—Edith Szanto, Journal of the American Academy of Religion

"A nuanced reflection on how Muslims inhabit lukewarm attitudes toward piety in contexts suffused with piety. [Between Muslims] is also an elegant exploration of Kurdish poetry and the ways it animates contemporary Kurds' self-expression."

—Susan MacDougall, Ethnos

"Between Muslims is a major contribution to scholarshipon the importance of multiple ways of being Islamic."

—Jeremy F. Walton, Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association

"This beautifully written book explores a number of contradictions among those who have 'turned away from piety' and yet do not renounce Islam, but seek to know the 'beloved' in Iraqi Kurdistan. Through an insightful analysis of mystical poetry, Bush additionally demonstrates how the pious and those who have turned away from piety negotiate desire, understand apostasy, and relate to each other across different ranges of piety through patience and acts of 'holding back.'"

—The Association of Middle East Anthropology Book Award Committee

"The unique positionality of his subjects allows Bush to offer a valuable modus vivendi to the great 'text vs. lived experience' debate in the academy: his approach necessarily requires an engagement with text, but not as objects which naturally unfold according to their own purposes (as is often the case in our deliberations about Islam) but rather as objects continuously transformed in the process of being made meaningful to an individual's experience of the world, which itself cannot be extricated from its relationship with others. This refreshinglyunmodern emphasis on relationality (instead of isolated self-determining subjects) permeates the entirety of his study, focused as it is on the life-worlds that emergebetweenMuslims."

—Rushain Abbasi, Marginalia