248 pp., 51/4 x 81/4, 10 illus., notes, bibl., index

ISBN 0-8078-2837-8

Published: Fall 2003

Following Muhammad
Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World

by Carl W. Ernst

Copyright (c) 2003 by the University of North Carolina Press. All rights reserved.

Dr. Carl W. Ernst (right) receives the Distinguished Prize in the Humanities at the Bashrahil Prize award ceremony in Cairo on July 4.


(Chapel Hill, N.C.) Dr. Carl W. Ernst, professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a leading scholar of Islam, received a major new prize from an Arab cultural organization in Cairo on July 4.

The Distinguished Prize in the Humanities, which carries a $30,000 cash award, was established this year in Egypt by the board of trustees of the Shaykh Muhammad Salih Bashrahil Prize for Outstanding Cultural Achievement.

Ernst won one of four distinguished prizes awarded in different fields to recognize "an Arab who stands out for his pioneering role and impressive accomplishment on the Arab cultural scene, or a notable figure, Arab or foreign, whose role has been effective and influential in the fields of social and humanistic activity."

Ernst was awarded the prize for his recent book Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World (UNC Press). The book introduces readers to Islamís ethics, practices, spirituality, and culture, while clarifying the diversity and debate within the tradition. It concludes with an overview of critical debates on important contemporary issues such as gender and veiling, state politics, and science and religion.

Other distinguished prizes were awarded to Amre Moussa, Secretary–General of the Arab League, and to the prominent Arab poet Adonis. Ernst was the only American among eight winners of the distinguished prizes and juried awards.

The Bashrahil Prize, awarded for the first time this summer, aspires to be comparable to the Pulitzer Prize in the United States, or the Booker Prize in the United Kingdom, as a recognition of literary and cultural achievement.

The prizes honor the late Shaykh Muhammad Salih Bashrahil, who was an eminent philanthropist in Mecca.

"I am particularly encouraged by this honor conferred by an Arab cultural organization, especially at this time," said Ernst, who presented a brief acceptance speech in Arabic. "This recognition of my book is an important statement about shared humanistic values that transcend political boundaries. It is also a great honor for me to be recognized alongside such outstanding contributors to modern Arabic literature and culture."

Departing from the usual Arab–centric bias, Ernst's book addresses Euro-Americans and illuminates the diversity of Muslim societies and thought. It describes how Protestant definitions of religion and anti–Muslim prejudice have affected how Islam has come to be viewed in Europe and America. It also explores the contemporary importance of Islam in both its traditional locations and its new homes.

"Numerous publications repeat incessantly the charge that terrorism is inseparable from Islam," observed Ernst. "I argue to the contrary that we must seek instead what others have called a dialogue among civilizations. Knowledge and respectful exchange should be our goals, rather than conflict. I am hopeful that my book, both in English and in translations into other languages, will help enable increased communication and dialogue between Americans, Europeans, and Muslims around the world."

Following Muhammad is being translated into Arabic, Indonesian, and Korean.

"My principal goal has been to change the focus of humanistic study in the American academy, so that Islamic culture and civilization are included as normal subjects of study, rather than as exotic and remote topics of interest only to specialists," Ernst said.

Carl W. Ernst is Zachary Smith Distinguished Term Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ernst is also author of Sufi Martyrs of Love: Chishti Sufism in South Asia and Beyond, among other books.

Following Muhammad was published in hardcover by the University of North Carolina Press in October, 2003. The paperback version will be released on August 30, 2004.

The book was published in the United Kingdom, Europe, and the Middle East under the title Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World by Edinburgh University Press.

Press Contacts: Dr. Carl Ernst, 919-962-3924, and Gina Mahalek, UNC Press, 919-966-3561, ext. 234.

For more information about this book see: www.uncpress.unc.edu/books/t-7369.html or http://www.unc.edu/~cernst/islam.htm

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