on 1 May 2004
This volume brings together a superb collection of some of the most interesting work produced by Muslim thinkers in recent years. It accomplishes well what the editor set out to do: show the strength and depth of reformist islamic thinking. That the collection includes a few who might be viewed by some Muslims as on the fringe, or 'too secular', is merely a further indication of the multiplicity of perspectives currently finding expression among Muslims worldwide - whether on social or political questions. Such multiplicity is not, of course, new. Contrary to the shrill accusation of one reviewer on this forum, that "Islam cannot be reformed as it is the word of God (as set down in the Qur'an)!", these authors do not claim to reform the Quran, but to interpret it - just like generations of Islamic scholars have done for centuries. Fundamentalist critics such as the reviewer in question would do well to note the legitimate and age-old distinction in Islamic law between the so-called 'fixed' matters of worship ("al-thabit", relating to "al-asl"), on the one hand, and, on the other, those matters of practice and implementation that are open to interpretation: "al-mutaghayyir," (literally "the changing") relating to "al-mu'amalat". The authors in this collection follow in an honourable tradition in making the best use of the room for the latter: not in order to 'water down' the requirements of their faith, but precisely to make them more relevant and, as they would see it, the best possible reflection in today's world of the fundamentals of Islam.
Of course, given the social and political context within which 'Islam' is used by those suffering occupation, oppression, or economic destitution (and those sympatising with their fellow Muslims in such circumstances), it is not surprising that among sections of the Muslim community the finer points of interpretation tend to get overlooked or viewed with suspicion: when a rallying cry is required, sophistication and nuance tends to go out of the window to replaced by radical simplicity. All the more important, then, to remind ourselves of, and publicise, these other voices and strands within Islam and the Muslim world that this book highlights so well.
on 24 October 2002
This book sets out to debunk the idea that islam is purely radical and rigid, with no capacity for different opinions different to those proposed by hardliner, to manifest in an islamic frame work. It indeed does that. The lectures it contains, are from eminent muslim scholars. Ali Shariati, Muhammed Iqbal, with an excellent refutation of extremism by Yusuf-al Qaradawi, a prominent muslim jurist who regularly appears now on the arabic Al-Jazeera channel.
However, it isn't perfect! Some of the thinkers in this book seem to be playing some sort of apologetic role for western thought ( i.e. Ali abd-al-raziq, and egyptian jurist actually arguing for secularism, and Mamadou Dia, a Senegalese politician), whereas some are highly unorthodox (Mahmoud Mohammed Taha, a sudanese engineer executed for heresy by the Sudanese government). But by and large this book accomplishes its purpose, with an interesting array of topics discussed. I heartily recommend it, if not for the information contained within.
on 20 December 2010
"Liberal Islam" is a collection of writings by real or perceived Muslim reformers who argue that Islam is compatible with democracy, secularism, universal human rights and women's emancipation. With the exception of Benazir Bhutto, none of the authors in the collection are widely known in the Western world.
The book contains writings from almost all parts of the Muslim world: North Africa, West Africa, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia. There is also a contribution from Bosnia, and a text written by an African-American Muslim.
The most interesting texts are the ones dealing with women's rights, especially Muslim feminist Fatima Mernissi's attempt to deconstruct a popular anti-woman hadith (saying of the Prophet). Benazir Bhutto's arguments for a progressive interpretation of Islam are also interesting. Bhutto, of course, was the prime minister of Pakistan for two terms, becoming the first woman elected to lead a Muslim state. (Unless you count Aisha!) Another interesting contribution is Ali Bulac's analysis of the Medina Constitution.
A problem with "Liberal Islam" is that the editor's introductions to each text are very short. This makes the volume difficult to use for people unacquainted with the various authors. For instance, one wishes to learn more about the writer from Bosnia, who quotes both Plato and René Guenon, and sometimes sounds like Leo Strauss! One also wonders have much influence the respective writers really have. For instance, how important is "the reform group" in the Philippines?
For rather obvious reasons, I prefer modernist or secularist Islam to traditionalist or fundamentalist versions. Hopefully, ideas such as the ones in this book will one day become the dominant interpretation of this particular world religion!