the search for beauty in islam: A conference of the books

DESCRIPTION:  Khaled Abou El Fadl is a classically-trained Islamic jurist, an American lawyer and law professor, and one of the most important Islamic thinkers today. In this updated and expanded edition of The Search for Beauty in Islam, Abou El Fadl offers eye-opening and enlightening insights into the contemporary realities of the current state of Islam and the West. Through a "conference of the books," an imagined conference of Muslim intellects from centuries past, Abou El Fadl examines the ugliness that has come to plague Muslim realities and attempts to reclaim what he maintains is a core moral value in Islam-the value of beauty. Does Islamic law allow, or even call for, the gruesome acts of ugliness that have become so commonly associated with Islam today? Has Islam become a religion devoid of beauty, compassion and love? 


Based on actual cases, this book tackles different issues and problems in each chapter through a post-9/11 lens, discussing such topics as marriage, divorce, parental rights, the position of women, the

Search for Beauty in Islam A Conference of the Books by Khaled Abou El Fadl
The Search for Beauty in Islam: A Conference of the Books


veil, sexual abuse, wife-beating, terrorism, bigotry, morality, law, and the role of tradition. Abou El Fadl argues that the rekindling of the forgotten value of beauty is essential for Muslims today to take back what has been lost to the fundamentalist forces that have denigrated their religion.

Table of Contents (New Edition)


Preface for the New Edition


  1. The Conference of Books: The First Admission
  2. The Night’s Visitor          
  3. The Pirates of the Intellect
  4. The Terror of Bigotry       
  5. The Civilization of the Book          
  6. The Interminable Conference         
  7. On Betrayal        
  8. A Prayer
  9. Donkeys Carrying Books   
  10. To Murder the Soul         
  11. A One More Knowing      
  12. Women as an ‘Awra        
  13. The Authoritative and the Authoritarian       
  14. On Obedience    
  15. To Suffer the Children      
  16. On Forms of Terror        
  17. Dial-A-Fatwa      
  18. On Knowledge   
  19. NYC Bombing   
  20. Umm Ahmad and the Judge
  21. The Book Massacres        
  22. To Kill Parenthood          
  23. Killing Flies        
  24. Attending Jum’a   
  25. Burdens of a Generation   
  26. The Dialectics of an Apology         
  27. The Essential Individual   
  28. The Search for Beauty      
  29. Hegemony and Terrorism  
  30. Longing for Brotherhood   
  31. The Culture of the Mamnu’ 
  32. On Being in Love
  33. Lecturing on the Ugly       
  34. A Night With the Qalam   
  35. A Homily for Ibn Rushd  
  36. The Sunna of the Beloved  
  37. Colonizing Women          
  38. The Page           
  39. My Friend          
  40. The Truth of Silence        
  41. On the Beating of Wives   
  42. The Beating of Wives Revisited      
  43. In Praise of the Marginal   
  44. A Love Song      
  45. Migrating to the Shaykhs    
  46. On Revising Bigotry         
  47. An Encounter With the Shaykh (On the Delusions of the Fog)  
  48. Finding the Shaykh           
  49. The Book of Suspended Judgment  
  50. Dreaming of the Prophet  
  51. Women as a Colony         
  52. In the Footsteps of the Beloved     
  53. The State Between Two States (A Partnership with God)        
  54. The Pearls of Beauty (On Re-Finding Our Lost Civilization)
  55. The Intellectual Refugee    
  56. When the Devil Speaks    
  57. Corrupting God’s Book
  58. The Remembrance
  59. The Scholar’s Road
  60. Muhammad, the Child
  61. The Revelation
  62. Shades of Divine Light
  63. The Restorations of the Night
  64. The Exorcisms of the Night
  65. The Unity of Strangers
  66. The Testimony
  67. Searching for the House of God
  68. Incoherence
  69. A Breath from God
  70. Derangements
  71. A Leader Among Us
  72. When God Asks the Child
  73. The Sites of Purity
  74. Banning the Conference
  75. 9/11
  76. Divine Threads
  77. Embraced by the Beloved
  78. The Shaykha’s Endless Jihad
  79. Waves and Rocks
  80. The Lord of the Essence: A Fatwa on Dogs
  81. Thieves of the Dark
  82. Quietus
  83. Notes of the Night          
  84. Notes of the Transformation
  85. The First Admission        

Glossary of Terms   


Selected Biographies




About the Author     


Conference of the Books: The Search for Beauty in Islam by Khaled Abou El Fadl
Conference of the Books: The Search for Beauty in Islam (Hardback)



The original volume entitled, "Conference of the Books: The Search for Beauty in Islam" was published by the University Press of America, an imprint of Rowman and Littlefield publishers.  It was published in Hardback and Paperback editions. Many of the original chapters of the first edition first appeared as articles in The Minaret Magazine, a circular published by the Islamic Center of Southern California in the 1990's.  


The new and updated edition entitled "The Search for Beauty in Islam: A Conference of the Books," was published by Rowman and Littlefield and included 22 additional chapters along with an updated preface. 

Conference of the Books:  The Search for Beauty in Islam by Khaled Abou El Fadl
Conference of the Books: The Search for Beauty in Islam (Paperback)


"...El Fadl attempts to offer interpretations that are humanistic and accommodating to modern values, yet simultaneously challenging for traditionalist scholars and preachers."

(An-Chi Hoh Dianu The Library Quarterly)



"This highly original book is in part a dialogue with Muslim scholars in the past, and, in part, a hymn to an enthralling vision that 'beauty' is to bring life to the truth of the Prophet. The dialogue shows the enormous breadth of [the author's] reading in classic works of learning by Muslims, and his vision suggests a new spiritual esthetic, which is both inspiring and challenging."

(Roy Parviz Mottahedeh, Gurney Professor of History, Harvard University)



"Khaled Abou El Fadl is emerging as a major Muslim voice for the twenty-first century. Conference of the Books is an excellent introduction to the ideas, insights, and reflections of this important scholar of Islam and Islamic law, author, and poet."

(John L. Esposito, Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Georgetown University)



"Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl, the most important scholar writing on Islamic jurisprudence and its development in the American context today, sets a high standard here for legal discourse and practice among North American Muslims."

(Karen Leonard, Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Irvine)



"Each independent essay may be read in any order, but collectively they illustrate richness and diversity."

(Charles C. Kolb, National Endowment for the Humanities, Religious Studies Review)


"The Conference of the Books is a collection of studies in the ethos of the Islamic intellectual heritage and the contemporary Muslim reality. The studies presented in this book arose from my encounters, as a jurist and teacher, with Muslims in the United States and other parts of the world. The essays were written in response to actual recurring problems in the Muslim community that are directly relevant to the moral and ethical definition of Islam in the contemporary world. The range of topics addressed in this book is quite broad; among others, the topics include censorship, political oppression, terrorism, the veil and the treatment of women, marriage, parental rights, the role of Islamic law, the dynamics between law and morality, and the character of the Prophet Muhammad. The range of topics was dictated by the types of issues raised by the people I encountered, as well as by my own spiritual and moral development. Therefore, there is a noticeable evolvement in these essays, and I leave it to the reader to decide on the direction and merit of this evolution.


"The essays, however, do not represent a systematic argument towards a specific conclusion, nor is this book intended as a scholastic discourse on the contemporary Muslim reality. The essays do not assume an air of detachment or academic objectivity but, rather, reflect a variety of moods; they are passionate, jubilant, angry, and sometimes sarcastic, but they are invariably committed. Each essay was written in the context of an imagined conference of books that occurs every night. The books represented here are the books of my personal library, which contains books on a variety of subjects including Judaism, Christianity, law, philosophy, and literature. However, the books represented in this conference are mostly classical Islamic texts, and these texts engage their readers in reflections about the contemporary Muslim reality. Books, in general, preserve snapshots of the intellectual activity of their authors. Classical Islamic texts are the repository of the intellects of the past—the intellects that eventually transformed into books. And, it is my belief that, of all God’s wondrous creations, the intellect is the most wondrous of all, and it is also my belief that a book is the gift of God that preserves the intellect for generations to come. With this in mind, I engaged the intellects of the past in addressing the intellects of the present. A Muslim may read these essays as the testament of a Muslim jurist on the problems that confront us today. A non-Muslim may read these essays for their sociological significance and for their relevance to comparative insights on law and theology. Yet, as the Islamic message was addressed to human beings at large, I wrote these essays for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.


"Each essay in this collection is designed to stand on its own merit, so the book may be read selectively or out of order. Nevertheless, there are unifying themes in this book, and these unifying themes are this work’s basic message. My primary focus is on the ethos of knowledge and beauty in modern Islam. Furthermore, this book seeks to create a nexus and bond between the Islamic intellectual heritage of the past and contemporary Muslim thought. Muslims today are uprooted from their intellectual tradition, and the result has been that Muslims have lost the ethos of knowledge, as well as their moral and intellectual grounding. The Islamic message started with a single book—the Qur’an—a book of remarkable moral vision and beauty. And, this single book has inspired an intellectual heritage of beauty and magnificence. It is my hope that the Conference of the Books will help rekindle the interest of Muslims in the book, and in their rich intellectual heritage..."