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

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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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press (March 26, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816651280
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816651283
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.7 x 8.8 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: #3,590,897 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top 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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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
I have had this book for several years. At times I found it a bit hard going but I have always come back to read more of it, and then to re-read it. The early part has good bits but it doesn't carry the reader along - the reader should persist. I am a voracious reader and have the habit (a bad one in some people's eyes) of folding down corners of pages to mark important points - I am now amazed by how many pages have folded corners - more than any other book I own. In the end I find myself wishing that "A Call for Heresy" was more widely read and influential than it apparently is - perhaps that is because it is from a university press. I am something of a long-time student of religion, especially early Christianity and Islam, and also of American history and politics. I find this book to do an excellent job of pulling the two together. I am Canadian but grew up in the US and was subject to its schooling, and I have lived among Muslims in SE Asia. I would highly recommend this book. The one bad review here is simply nonsense - obviously someone with an axe to grind who approached it negatively. I also like Majid's "We Are All Moors", written two years later, and for quite a while I thought it was the better book. It is better written re. style and organization but I now think that "A Call for Heresy" is the more rewarding of the two.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I read this book because it offered to describe a tradition of heresy in the Mohammedan religion, and I thought I might learn about that religion in a non-dogmatic way. It does talk about that tradition, but it talks about so many other things that it gets confusing. It also doesn't describe the religion very clearly, so its accounts of the heretical tradition-- which began and ended pretty soon after the religion originated-- lack context.
The author's comparisons of Christian and Mohammedan fundamentalism are interesting, but he loses me when he approves of Stephen Jay Gould's concept of Non-Overlapping Magisteria, of dividing what we've learned about the physical and biological world in the past few centuries from traditional religious and philosophical ideas and practices. Even the medieval religious heresies the author describes depended on the idea that divine providence imbued humans with transcendently rational minds. But as Freud has pointed out, the human mind is not rational in that way because it evolved from the animal mind, is, in fact, an animal mind. We'll never sort out the vagaries of traditional human behavior unless we begin to approach them through evolutionary and biological perspectives. The author writes admiringly of Thoreau's ethical idealism, for example, but he fails to deal with Thoreau's main concern, the relationship of human and non-human nature.
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