Let me disabuse Fred Donner of the notion that author Ibn al-Rawandi is the same person as Ibn Warraq (author of Why I Am Not a Muslim and Quest for the Historical Muhammad, among innumerable other scholarly titles on Islam). The assertion is false, even preposterous --- and a good indication that Fred Donner has read neither of these authors.
Ibn Warraq (whom I'm honored to call friend) has never claimed any association with Sufism, and in each of his many volumes takes a much tougher and more agnostic view of central Islamic theological points than Ibn Al-Rawandi. Ibn Warraq frequently focuses on the violent and warlike features of Islam, and passages in sacred texts that incite such jihad and violence. Al-Rawandi, while skeptical, is also nostalgic.
There are some similarities between the two: both were horrified by Ayatollah Khomeini's 1989 Islamic fatwa seeking Salman Rushdie's death for having written his novel Satanic Verses. Both are self-described ex-Muslims. And obviously, since Ibn al-Rawandi thanks Ibn Warraq for his encouragement, they do know one another and converse.
One enlightening difference, however, is Al-Rawandi's effort to explain, albeit sometimes in the quotations of others, how it is that Muslims perceive their belief and that of others. According to a citation of Frithjof Schuon (the subject of subsequent criminal prosecution and much controversy) --- which comes closest to anything I've seen to describing the "reality" --- is the "curious tendency [of the average Muslim] to believe that non-Muslims either know that Islam is the truth and reject it out of pure obstinacy, or else are simply ignorant of it and can be converted by elementary explanations..." The idea that anyone can in good conscience oppose Islam "quite exceeds the Muslim's imagination precisely because," to him, Islam is entirely coincident with "the irresistible logic of things."
To average Muslims, then, "no explanations are necessary," and indeed, no probing or doubtful questions are allowed or to be tolerated. To Islamic believers, not believing is "not like failing to turn up in church on Sunday," but rather akin to "a traitorous act in time of war." It's making an alliance with an enemy "for whom no good word can be said, an act for which the only appropriate penalty is death."
Furthermore, by way of explaining the appeal of Islam to some conservative intellectual Westerners (who take a romantic view of "The East" and Arabs) "Islam is in fact the last refuge," as they wish "that the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, the French Revolution, in short the 'modern world,' had never come about."
Al-Rawandi is also refreshingly skeptical about Sufism, which far too many Westerners believe to be a "kinder, gentler" form of Islam. This supposedly mystical counter-movement, however, is in the author's words "as much a late construct resulting from the Arabs' acquiring an empire as Islam itself." And like Islam itself, Sufism is also "heavily dependent on hadith qudsi, supposedly direct sayings of God not included in the Koran," That is to say, it is antithetical to logical reasoning and fully dependent on total acceptance of Islamic doctrine and an entire tradition without definitive evidence of any kind.
This book is not at all like the works of Ibn Warraq, except that if offers the willing reader much additional material as to encourage healthy skepticism of Islam, and particularly its mystical incarnations.
--- Alyssa A. Lappen