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Why I Am Not a Muslim
Why I Am Not a Muslim
by Ibn Warraq
Edition: Paperback
Price: 16.99

84 of 95 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Poorly written but still worth reading, 1 Aug 2004
This review is from: Why I Am Not a Muslim (Paperback)
As other reviewers have pointed out, Ibn Warraq is not a skilled writer: from a purely stylistic point of view this may be the worst book I have read all year. The content is more variable: some is almost as terrible as the style, but some is rather good.
Ibn Warraq's main thesis is easily summarised: religion is a bad thing; monotheistic religions are the worst; among monotheistic religions Islam is particularly awful. The weaknesses of the text mostly relate to his inability to distinguish between these three statements, and the tendency of his attacks to swing between these three targets almost at random. The most useful parts of the book are where Ibn Warraq comments in detail on Islam. Although he does little more than collect the thoughts of earlier authors, this is one area where readers are likely to be unfamiliar with the authors and their basic conclusions. The core of his argument, that Islam is intrinsically fundamentalist, will be familiar; what will be less familiar is his attacks on some cherished myths.
Few western readers will accept the basic Islamic belief that the Koran is the eternal and perfect word of God, which cannot be questioned but must simply be obeyed, but many people will accept the belief that the Koran we have today is the text recited by Muhammad. With a little history and textual criticism Ibn Warraq shows how this cannot be the case: the text we have is an edited compilation, with many changes driven by political convenience. The raw text is also problematic, with substantial contradictions between early and late verses, and with many individual verses appearing at extraordinarily convenient times. The Hadith are given even shorter shrift, being largely dismissed as inventions of later generations: he describes a trade in fake Hadiths, eerily similar to the trade in fake relics in medieval Christendom. Particularly valuable is the tracing of original sources: any reader of the Koran with a basic familiarity with Christianity or Judaism will recognise many stories as being familiar but strangely distorted, and Ibn Warraq traces these, usually to aprocryphal gospels or Jewish commentaries.
Beyond this Ibn Warraq demolishes many favourite myths about Islam: the "peaceful nature" of the early expansion, the "tolerant treatment" of non-Muslims in Muslim lands, the "respect and high status" accorded to women. These ideas are shown to be largely constructs of European thinkers who created a cosy image of rational and benevolent Islam to use as an argument against the Christian church, with little or no basis in reality.
Overall a depressing book, but ultimately an enlightening one.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 8, 2011 6:15 PM GMT


The Trouble with Islam: A Wake-up Call for Honesty and Change
The Trouble with Islam: A Wake-up Call for Honesty and Change
by Irshad Manji
Edition: Hardcover

10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An unusual perspective, 1 July 2004
Reviews of this book tend to be extremely polarised: readers either love it or hate it. The reality is (of course) somewhere inbetween, but on the whole the book is well worth reading.
This is not a detailed academic text, but it is not meant as such. Rather it is an open letter, adressed both to the Muslim community and to the wider world, drawing deeply on personal experience. The text is impassioned, but it is not a diatribe: given the author's background it is remarkably calm. Ultimately it calls not for an end to Islam, but rather for a reformation. The facts about Islam will be well known to anyone with a passing familiarity (such as could be obtained by reading a book by Karen Armstrong): what is unusual is the perspective and the determination of the author.
Manji begins with her personal experiences, growing up in a subculture filled with conformity and misogyny, and these themes run through the book. She documents the depressing features of many Islamic societies, both historic and present day: the opression of women; the vicious persecution of homosexuals; racism and the virulent hatred of Jews; slavery; political paranoia; ignorance and conformity; the forcible suppression of dissent. She explodes traditional myths, most notably the myth of medieval Islamic tolerance of Christians and Jews (while the record compares favourably with that of medieval Christendom, it does not look good by any other measure). Her first main theme is to trace these faults back to a fundamentalism which she claims is inherent in mainstream Islam.
Many Muslims would claim that Manji confuses religion and culture. Manji is well aware of this distinction but refuses to accept it. To her Islam is as Islam does, and the distinction is little more than an excuse.
After all this, why does Manji still call herself a Muslim? Partly, I suspect, sheer bloody mindedness, and a refusal to let the them grind her down. But she does draw hope from the Islamic tradition of Ijtihad, or renewal. Some Muslims claim that the spirit of Ijtihad is alive and well in the Islamic world; like Manji I see precious little sign of this. The second half of the book is a passionate call for radical renewal, combined with practical ideas on how to go about it.
Open your mind and give it a whirl!


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