Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Place of Tolerance in Islam by Khaled Abou El Fadl

This is a collection of essays by various religious scholars and thinkers. It was published in 2002, shortly after the 9/11 attacks. The title of the book comes from the title of the first essay, written by Khaled Abou El Fadl.

In his essay, El Fadl addresses the history of extremism in Islam, arguing that it is pushed to the periphery, sidelined by the majority, which rejects these extreme elements. However, he argues that in the last half of the 20th century, there has been a vacuum in religious authority. This vacuum has allowed Islamic puritans--as El Fadl calls them--to rise in prominence. El Fadl concludes his essay by making the case for tolerance in Islam. He argues that the views of Islamic puritans hinge on isolated verses from the Qur'an, when "it is impossible to analyze these and other verses except in light of the overall moral thrust of the Qur'anic message." The last paragraph of his essay is a call for Muslim scholars to "sustain the moral trajectory" of Islam by rejecting intolerant interpretations.

The next section of the books contains thirteen essays by a variety of intellectuals.* Their essays are written in response to El Fadl's, and range from slightly refocusing El Fadl's argument to attacking it on a fundamental level. Abid Ullah Jan was by far the harshest critic of El Fadl's essay, arguing that the problem is not a lack of tolerance on the part of Islam, but of the Western World. Some of Jan's argument was very compelling.

The final essay of the book is El Fadl's chance to respond, to refine his argument. He addresses the salient points of each essay, incorporating some aspects and explaining why he rejects others. His final thought: "It is in the power and is in fact the duty of Muslims of every generation to answer the question: What Islam? The response must not be left in the hands of the bin Ladens of the world."

While topics brought up in this collection of essays are complex and multifaceted, the essays themselves are refined, brief even. It was an interesting and insightful read.
* Tariq Ali, R. Scott Appleby, Akeel Bilgrami, Joshua Cohen, John L. Esposito, Sohail Hashmi, Qamar-ul Huda, Abid Ullah Jan, Stanley Kurtz, Ian Lague, Mashwood Rizvi, Milton Viorst, Amina Wadud

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