Michael Muhammad Knight, "Tripping with Allah: Islam, Drugs, and Writing" (Soft Skull Press, 2013)


Michael Muhammed Knight writes this book from a first-person perspective, as a piece of creative non-fiction. The book includes a liberal amount of swearing and sexual references, and Knight's writing style is raw, sometimes jarring, but smart and sophisticated. Indeed by pushing boundaries, it offers the reader an experience and angle that many authors prefer to avoid. Tripping with Allah: Islam, Drugs, and Writing (Soft Skull Press, 2013) includes personal, autobiographical reflections as well as detailed cultural and political histories of the many interactions between drugs and religion, specifically Islam. From the beginning of the book the reader expects the story to culminate in the author's experiential encounter with a visionary plant brew called ayahuasca, indigenous to South America and now popular throughout the globe, as a portal into the spiritual world. The twists and turns leading up to this encounter give the book some amount of narrative suspense, but it's a page-turner in any case. The reader, during her journey through Knight's narrative, will learn about how coffee was initially banned by Muslims and how socio-economics allowed wine--although explicitly forbidden by authoritative religious texts--a status over marijuana, which was not explicitly forbidden but still seen as a drug for the lower classes. The reader also learns about philosophical debates over authority to interpret Islamic metaphysical doctrines and how the world of academia functions. That the book's subtitle includes writing makes itself clear throughout the text as well, and readers who enjoy reflecting on the recreational as well as existential dramas of written language will find themselves gripped by Knight's process. He wrote the book, moreover, during his transition into a PhD program in religious studies, after already making a name for himself as a successful author of several books. Because of the liminal space from which he writes Tripping with Allah, as well as its artistic precision, the book should appeal to broad audiences and Islamic studies specialists alike.
Elliott Bazzano is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Le Moyne College. His research and teaching interests include theory and methodology in the study of religion, Islamic studies, Quranic studies, mysticism, religion and media, and religion and drugs. His academic publications are available here. He can be reached at (bazzanea@lemoyne.edu). Listener feedback is most welcome.

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