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A Call for Heresy: Why Dissent Is Vital to Islam and America Paperback – March 26, 2009


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press (March 26, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816651280
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816651283
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 6.3 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #479,517 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Majid, a professor of English at the University of New England, argues that the practice of discussion and dissent, which he broadly dubs heresy, has died in Islamic cultures and in America, resulting in a dangerous stagnation of thought in both groups—a trait the two groups have in common despite their opposition to each other. Majid is tough on Muslims for reacting to the challenge of modernity by desperately clutching to their faith, even where he believes it's unwarranted as with the use of hijab... He says that Muslims, and some Americans, are incapable of engaging in critical self-examination, afraid to suspend their beliefs even briefly for analysis. He laments that his own native, once cosmopolitan Morocco is currently being overtaken by Wahhabism. Heresy, he believes, will revitalize both societies and rescue them from their current suffocation by right-wing conservatives on both sides. His assertion that the Qur'an is of mixed and possibly nondivine origin will certainly not win any Muslim readers to his view, and his assessment of American culture as too religious is not particularly surprising. Majid mainly and excessively quotes other scholars' works, whereas Majid's own original arguments are preferable but too infrequent. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Book Description

A Call for Heresy discovers unexpected common ground in one of the most inflammatory issues of the twenty-first century: the deepening conflict between the Islamic world and the United States. Moving beyond simplistic answers, Anouar Majid argues that the Islamic world and the United States are both in precipitous states of decline because, in each, religious, political, and economic orthodoxies have silenced the voices of their most creative thinkers—the visionary nonconformists, radicals, and revolutionaries who are often dismissed, or even punished, as heretics.

The United States and contemporary Islam share far more than partisans on either side admit, Majid provocatively argues, and this “clash of civilizations” is in reality a clash of competing fundamentalisms. Illustrating this point, he draws surprising parallels between the histories and cultures of Islam and the United States and their shortsighted suppression of heresy (zandaqa, in Arabic), from Muslim poets and philosophers like Ibn Rushd (known in the West as Averroës) to the freethinker Thomas Paine, and from Abu Bakr Razi and Al-Farabi to Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. He finds bitter irony in the fact that Islamic culture is now at war with a nation whose ideals are losing ground to the reactionary forces that have long condemned Islam to stagnation.

The solution, Majid concludes, is a long-overdue revival of dissent. Heresy is no longer a contrarian’s luxury, for only through encouraging an engaged and progressive intellectual tradition can the nations reverse their decline and finally work together for global justice and the common good of humanity.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Author Anouar Majid compares religious fundamentalist trends with similar trends in Islamic societies. He presents a view of American history that helps us understand today's issues of separation of church and state. In an insightful Chapter titled "Regime Change," he discusses the US-imposed constitutions on Afghanistan and Iraq. These constituions differ from the US Constitution in that they enshrine a religion, Islam, and place its laws as supreme, with the secular principles of human rights, freedom, democracy, as secondary. This is the opposite of the US Constitution which specifically does not allow any religion to be established. This book is fascinating and traces many of the themes in today's Islamic societies that fuel terrorism, as well as helping us understand why Western societies and capitalistic consumption-led globalization is seen as such a threat, not only to Muslims, but many other cultures around the world.
Majid believes that the best antidote to fundamentalism in all monotheistic religions: Christianity, Islam and Judaism, is open-minded vigorous dialogue and dissent. Amen !

Hazel Henderson, President of Ethical Markets Media
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Brian A. Mclaughlin on December 1, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Majid has written a lucid and detailed essay extolling the virtue of heresy and issues a call for heresy today. Detailing both a history of heresy in Islam and Christianity and its impact of those world faiths, he has made an exceptional case for the importance and virtual necessity of dissent both from religious orthodoxy and political conformity. Citing the devastating impact that the imposition of orthodoxy has had on the evolution of Islamic culture he warns of the risk faced by a society that adopts an inflexible religious basis for citizenship. While also citing the errors of Western culture's misuse of Christian doctrine, he certainly acknowledges the positive impact that the adaptability of Christianity has had over the last 2,000 years.

Ultimately, he sees the slow slide to the institutionalizing of Christianity in politics in the US as destructive of what he sees as the strength of the original idea of the United States. In his view "Freethinking", including heresy and dissent, is what is needed at this time rather than the rigidity of orthodoxy.

Reading at times like a book of quotations from both Islamic and American "freethinkers", he is able to capture the wonder of discourse and point out the ultimate importance of open-mindedness, something that he sees as being lost in this world in which consumption and the accumulation of wealth has become too important and defines the bases for the Islamic condemnation of "modernity". I found the book pastoral, in the sense of one of those wonderfully inspiring Sunday homilies I hear too infrequently today. It is a call to our better selves and the wonder of being free to think and allow our minds to go where our thoughts take us.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
1 - The title - A Call for Heresy

Today the Muslim world is in deep turmoil. Islam is in crisis. Terrorism is only one aspect of the crisis. Another aspect is the search for intellectual and theological renewal. Thus a Muslim Heretics Conference took place in Atlanta, March 28-30, 2008, which called for an Islamic Reformation similar to the Protestant Reformation. The slogan of the Christian Reformation was "Scripture alone". The slogan of this mini Muslim reformation is very similar. It calls for a return to the Quran alone. Islamic orthodoxy (sunna) has deviated from the original path. The new movement calls for a return to the one and only source of Islamic Revelation, the Quran. This group of reformists referred to themselves as "heretics" in order to emphasize their criticism of the established orthodoxy. What is remarkable about them is that they use a Christian terminology in their theological discourse, the word heresy being typically Christian. It is used to refer to Churches that deviate in one way or another from the orthodox doctrine. In this context, heresy applies to believers who disagree with the orthodox majority on some theological issues.
In his book, Anouar Majid uses the word heresy in a rather improper way. He includes in it the unbelievers who reject the notion of Revelation and the central tenets of Islam. This is never openly stated, but is implied throughout the book.

2 - The subtitle - Why dissent is Vital to Islam and America

What is characteristic of the book is that it is highly critical of Islam and America, by someone who has personal ties to Islam and America. Anouar Majid is of Moroccan origin. He is Director of the Center for Global Humanities at the University of New England, Maine.
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By Ayman on November 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Hyperlinks and properly formatted Arabic words available from [...]

I first must say that this is the first review I've done of a book by an author who openly questions things that are widely-held tenets of Muslims such as the divine origin of the Qur'an, its complete transmission to us today, the infallibility of the Messenger Muhammad ''' '''' '''' ' ''' , the necessity of obeying the shari'ah (doing the ritual prayers, avoiding the consumption of prohibited items such as wine, etc.) and the reality of the Day of Judgment. While I do believe in these statements and I hope that one day my actions catch up with them, I have felt for a long time the necessity of embracing those who don't subscribe to these items.

The first benefit of embracing these people is that they often are producers in their societies, meaning driving them away impoverishes the nation. How many cities in the United States thrive because of concentrations of gays and lesbians? Did not Iran lose a lot when so many Iranians left the country after the 1979 revolution? And while there are many reasons people leave predominantly Muslim countries, there's no need to add repression to that list.

Second, and more importantly, the energy we "orthodox" Muslims spend discussing the errors of their ways distracts us from improving ourselves. We can even get to the point where we think attacking the k'fir, zind'q and f'siq is a substitute for good deeds. When I was in Egypt and would read in the paper of a mob attack on Christians, I often suspected that the very people who would rush to "defend" Islam by attacking Christians may never have done a rak`a. Or at least I could not imagine how someone with an iota of fear of Allah could participate in these activities.
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