A pious canine argues with a camel, a windy night lasts for years, and a Javanese keris blade is wielded to murder a village witch in Fairoz Ahmad’s enchanting short story collection Interpreter of Winds. A quick and charming read, this book includes four magical tales across Islamic communities in the Indonesian and Malay world. Some take place in a stylized colonial past and some in the contemporary world, where current struggles crash against the fantastical.

The desire to get one’s name right can exceed the confines of a misspelt Starbucks cup. To Shakespeare’s Juliet, famed for asking her lovestruck question, “What’s in a name?”, Zahia Rahmani, the Franco-Algerian author of the novel Muslim”, would respond: “Everything”. Call a rose by any other name, and it might doubt its own sweetness. The act of naming, or the denial of one’s name, can devastate one’s identity.

Commentaries on Islam in Indonesia—especially those attached to major political events such as the recent presidential election—often deal in simplistic binary terms: a uniform mass of apparently ascendant “conservative Muslims” is ranged against similarly uniform blocks of embattled urban liberals or rural traditionalists.

Beyond Debt: Islamic Experiments in Global Finance, Daromir Rudnyckyj (NUS Press, November 2018)
Beyond Debt: Islamic Experiments in Global Finance, Daromir Rudnyckyj (NUS Press, November 2018)

Beyond Debt describes efforts to create a transnational economy free of debt. Based on research in Malaysia, Daromir Rudnyckyj illustrates how the state, led by the central bank, seeks to make Kuala Lumpur “the New York of the Muslim world”—the central node of global financial activity conducted in accordance with Islam.

Bluntly and simply, this is a very scholarly book about twenty-one tombstones with Arabic and Persian inscriptions on them, epitaphs commemorating people whom most of us have never heard of. Every one of them is carefully photographed front and back, the texts transcribed and translated in the lengthy appendix. A second appendix describes “The Islamic Stelae of Hangzhou”.

It’s perhaps a stretch to consider Spanish history “Asian”. Yet a large portion of what we now call Spain, and for at least a couple centuries most of it, was part of the Muslim world, with a dynasty whose founder was the last remaining scion of the overthrown Umayyad dynasty in Damascus. Europe, Asia, East and West had, if they were defined at all, rather different meanings in the Middle Ages than than they do today.

To get the details out of the way first: Alisa Ganieva is a Russian writer of Avar/Dagestani extraction. She has been called “the first Dagestani author to have their [sic] work translated into English”, and her most recent translated novel, the 2015 Bride and Groom—which was shortlisted for the Russian Booker Prize—is set in the Muslim-majority and turbulent Caucasus region of Dagestan.