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Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism Paperback – April 21, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Safi, a Colgate University professor, assembles a diverse set of essays by and about "progressive" Muslims. The essays vary in topic and in effectiveness, but generally seek to challenge the images of Islam held by both xenophobic Westerners and extremist Muslims. Safi's introduction, though showing insight into many problems today's Muslims face but rarely discuss publicly, is clunky, citing sources from Gandhi to Bob Dylan. Part I offers hard-hitting essays that are sure to be controversial in their discussion of what scholar Tazim Kassam claims is a "curtailment... of civil liberties such as freedom of inquiry and the expression of dissenting opinions" in the U.S. after September 11. There are also some triumphant essays. Scott Siraj al-Haqq Kugle superbly analyzes Islam's categorization of homosexuality as a sin in an essay that is long overdue and probably the only scholarly work of its kind. Gwendolyn Simmons's piece demands the establishment of feminism as Islamic in a touching essay-cum-memoir that connects her growth as a Muslim female to her experience as a young African-American during the Civil Rights era. The incomparable Amina Wadud offers an excellent article on racial tensions between immigrant and indigenous Muslims, while Marcia Hermansen pens the volume's bravest and most honest contribution, addressing the increasing conservatism of her American Muslim students-a topic previously not discussed outside the Muslim community. This collection is recommended for those who yearn for realistic information about Muslims, and for Muslims who are disgruntled with current Islamic leadership.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.


A significant and welcome effort providing an analytic overview by some contemporary progressive Muslim scholars. The book offers a very incisive critique and highlights the compelling need for a wholesome and rational approach to the issues. -- Islamic Studies Journal

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Oneworld Publications (April 21, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 185168316X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1851683161
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #754,994 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Omid Safi is one of the leading American Muslim public intellectuals.

He is a professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, and for the past seven years has led the Study of Islam Section at the American Academy of Religion. He is the author of Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters, as well as Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam. In addition, he edited the Progressive Muslims: On Gender, Justice, and Pluralism collection.

Omid draws on the Sufi tradition of Islam, connected to social justice traditions of liberation to articulate a dynamic vision of Islam rooted in mysticism and striving for a life of dignity for all.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Philip Cartwright on November 8, 2006
Format: Paperback
It seems that the book has polarised opinion. I would say that those who criticise the nature of the articles should practice what they preach; they should prioritise Seera and try and understand how things happened during the Prophet's times - certain facts bear repeating, such as the Shariah as we know it emanated from Shafi, a couple of centuries after the Prophet, that scholars were not given authority in the way they have now (how many scholars existed in the Prophet's times?) and Islam actually was a very liberal, people-sensitive religion - the Prophet always wished to avoid hud punishments wherever possible (and concubinage, slavery, polygamy were accepted norms of society albeit with restrictions). Even if you don't agree with the articles, it opens up a methodology of thinking about Islam which relies on re-analysis of scripture, hadith, historical reappraisal in order to contextualise hadith/scripture and sidestepping the supposed authoritativeness of scholarly rulings which have absolutely no deserved claim to be the 'right' interpretation, in fact the book highlights the fact that most Islamic scholars are nothing more tham memorisers of hadith/scripture and orthodox tafseer, without being versed in history, theology, philosophy, science, sociology, psychology and so on, knowledge one would expect to bear some influence in making scholarly rulings. The other facet of general human nature it brings out, is the tendency to render authentic and powerful religious norms simply because they are the more restrictive; it is a human urge to see rules requiring more sacrifice as being more worthy, and hence the absolute refusal to even enter into a debate as to whether homosexuality was really prohibited, for example.Read more ›
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41 of 50 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 6, 2003
Format: Paperback
Living in this age dominated, seemingly, by Islamophobes in the West (B. Lewis, Huntington, Pipes, etc.) and Muslim extremists (Wahhabis, Jama'at Islami, etc.), it is a breath of fresh air to see Muslims take on the task of reforming Islam along the lines of social justice and gender equality. I was tired of hearing about Muslims, and wanted to see them speak for themselves. This book does that.
The essays in this book are clear without being superficial, strong without being dogmatic. I have already recommended it to many friends and family members who want to see a more humane side of Muslims.
Great read...Wonderful to see so many female authors in this collection, and also the range of geographical and philosophical backgrounds: there are sunni, shi'a, and Sufi authors. Some are American, others from South Africa, Iran, Turkey, Malaysia, Lebanon, etc.
Great, great work on pluralistic and humane interpretation of Islam. It goes well beyond the old cliches of "Islam vs. West", "Us and Them". Inspiring to see Muslim views that are inspired by Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, feminists, etc.
You'll enjoy it...
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27 of 34 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
There is so much trash being published about Islam that it is liberating to see a book about how Muslims engage their own tradition with such honesty and openness. I was delighted to see the conversations that engage human rights, gender equality, and democracy so openly and honestly. I would recommend this volume to everyone, especially Muslims who are looking for resources within their own tradition. I would also suggest it to people who want to get a sense of how Muslims are constructively going about dealing with their own challenges. Great book!
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16 of 21 people found the following review helpful By David Kirchner II on December 16, 2003
Format: Paperback
This brilliantly edited collection of essays is a must read for anyone interested in learning a bit about some of the more socially progressive avenues being explored by Islamic scholars. Contrary to the media's portrayal of this vibrant religious practice, Islam is not a religion of bigotry and hate. The essays in thie book demonstrate a number of hermeneutic moves being made in order to use Islam to reform various repressive and oppressive social practices such as misogyny. This book is no paeon to the West, however; the essays are equally aware of the dangers presented by globalization and wreckless capitalism as they are of patriarchal social structures. In my opinion, the fact that this book contains elements of third world criticism is what makes it so extraordinary. In summary, for anyone looking for a book elucidating a few of the ways in which people are using Islam to advance a progressive, compassionate social agenda this is the book for you!
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By J. Hasan on May 10, 2006
Format: Paperback
Don't expect any conservatives to welcome any kind of a progressive.

I find it interesting that the only two groups panning Mr. Safi's text are dogmatic 'Muslim' conservatives unnerved at the thought of any kind of Islamic Renaissance and right-wing Orientalist neocon and/or neocon sympathizers squirming and jerking for any way they might rationalize their Islamophobia. Both right-wing groups have and will continue to fail and cast darkness on the Islamic world.

It seems to me that Mr. Safi certainly hit the mark he was aiming for. Here's to a future of hope! Insha-Allah. =)
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38 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Carool Kersten on March 2, 2004
Format: Paperback
During recent years Islam has been put increasingly on the defensive. In response to the flurry of sensationalist publications many Muslims have felt a need to take their recourse to apologetic counter reactions. Not the people involved in the Progressive Muslims Project, who are behind this collection of essays. Instead they have chosen for an assertive stance. But from that position they express some very surprising viewpoints.
In the future the present publication is going to be recognized as one of the watershed books on Islam written in the early post-9/11 period, and is bound to become a core reference for the new direction in which independently-minded Muslims will steer the debate on what it means to be Muslim in the 21st century. All contributors to this volume are Muslim scholars of religion with solid academic credentials and respectable track records as publicists, whose roots lie in the United States, Iran, Kuwayt, Pakistan, Malaysia, and South Africa.
Some of the essays are highly personal reflections on Muslim identity, including two courageous pieces on highly contentious issues concerning gender and sexuality. This review, however, focuses on a few contributions that will certainly reset the boundary marks of discourse on Islam; not only for academic research but also for the more activist engagement with the Muslim legacy.
The tone for these pioneering efforts is set in the introduction by the volume's editor, Dr. Omid Safi, who deserves credit for being one of the driving forces behind the Progressive Muslims Project. His essay "The Times They are A-Changing" can be read as a blueprint for a new, more assertive, approach to the debate on things Islamic in the contemporary world.
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