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Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue Hardcover – October 6, 2015
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“Provocative and profane… Islam and the Future of Tolerance exemplifies the virtues of open dialogue… All Harris and Nawaz seek is to give voice to the spirit of rebellion and reformation smoldering in the lands of Islam. Forcing it into flame will doubtless be a long time coming, but these two men should be lauded for endeavoring to provide a spark.”―Brian Stewart, National Review
“It is sadly uncommon, in any era, to find dialogue based on facts and reason―but even more rarely are Muslim and non-Muslim intellectuals able to maintain critical distance on broad questions about Islam. Which makes Islam and the Future of Tolerance something of a unicorn. Nawaz and Harris discuss Islamism and jihadism from a historical as well as a philosophical angle, with no trace of sentiment or dogma. Most conversations about religion are marked by the inability of either side to listen, but here, at last, is a proper debate.”―New Statesman
“The ideas it leaves behind―about religion, politics, values and interpretation―linger long after the book is finished. They seem a vital contribution to the current conversation, so often defined by the real or imagined divides that the authors encourage us to cross… Islam and the Future of Tolerance deepens our understanding of religion, ideology, politics and the possibility of common ground. It could hardly come at a better time.”―Jeremy Rutledge, Post and Courier
“[A] wise little volume.”―Ray Olson, Booklist
“Readers with a knee-jerk opinion of Islam will learn a lot.”―Kirkus Reviews
“A worthwhile read on the state of Islam and religious tolerance in the world today… Those interested in a deferential and detailed dialogue about human rights, Islam, jihadism, and pluralism will find this book both enlightening and engaging.”―Publishers Weekly
“In this conversation, Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz achieve what so many who take part in the debate on Islam and the West fail to accomplish: a civil but honest dialogue. The result is as illuminating as it is fascinating. Courteous and at times even chivalrous, the two men address every thorny issue on Islam, issues that lead so many others into wild shouting matches, personal attacks, and accusations of Islamophobia. In this gem of a book the authors lay it all out and set the rest of us a great example: that an incisive debate on Islam between a believer and a non-believer is attainable. Given the importance and the urgency of the topic, we must all read it and follow in their footsteps.”―Ayaan Hirsi Ali, author of Infidel, Nomad, and Heretic
“Free thought and rational inquiry once characterized the relative liberalism and humanism of ancient Muslim societies and civilizations: the leading Sunni Imam, Abu Hanifa, would debate atheists inside the great mosques of Iraq; the Abbasid caliphs hosted debates amongst the leaders of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam at their courts in Baghdad; the Mughal emperors engaged in debate with Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists. Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz should be commended for conducting a frank and wide-ranging conversation about a number of key issues around religion, reform, and Islam in the modern world. Nawaz’s approach is based upon detailed familiarity with extremist worldviews, and with the history and tradition of reform theology and renewal within Islam that desperately needs to be amplified. I hope that this debate will be a fruitful endeavor, and illustrate that, in our increasingly-polarized world, it is possible and even normal for people with different viewpoints to have a civilized conversation and to learn from each other.”―Sheikh Dr. Usama Hasan, Islamic scholar
“Back in Islam’s formative centuries, the engagement of Muslims with their ideological opponents helped them to forge the doctrines and traditions of their nascent faith―and perhaps now, as Maajid Nawaz locks horns with Sam Harris, we are at the start of another stage in Islam’s evolution. It is certainly a privilege to read their conversation, and to enjoy a flavor of those great debates between rival scholars that were once staged for the entertainment of the Caliph in Baghdad.”―Tom Holland, historian and author of In the Shadow of the Sword: The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire
About the Author
Sam Harris is the author of The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, The Moral Landscape, and Free Will, among other writings.
Maajid Nawaz is the author of Radical and a cofounder and the chairman of Quilliam―a globally active think tank focusing on religious freedom, extremism, and citizenship.
- Publisher : Harvard University Press; 1st edition (October 6, 2015)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 144 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0674088700
- ISBN-13 : 978-0674088702
- Item Weight : 6.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 4.4 x 0.7 x 7.2 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #233,478 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Maajid Nawaz is a completely different guy than Harris. A former Islamist, Nawaz spent several years in Egypt as a prisoner where he had an awakening, politically and spiritually. After being released from prison, he renounced Islamism and became a secular Muslim (a Muslim who does not want Sharia law imposed on the world, but still a believer in the religion). He wrote a memoir, Radical, and established a think-tank to counter terrorism known as Quilliam. In short, Nawaz began his life in intolerance, but is now an outspoken proponent of tolerance. Knowing that he would be a more than adequate intellectual opponent for Harris, I thought this had the makings of a good bout, and I was not disappointed.
The book begins, and it is in dialogue format throughout, with Harris recalling that he first encountered Nawaz when Nawaz was debating former Muslim and critic of religion Ayaan Hirsi Ali. In the debate, Ali took the side that Islam was a religion of violence, while Nawaz took the side that Islam was a religion of peace. After the debate at a dinner that both authors were at, Harris asked Nawaz if he was being honest when he said he believed that Islam was a religion of peace. Nawaz answered that he was, and that he would be happy to discuss the matter with Harris further at a later time.
Nawaz then briefly recaps his story of being an Islamist and then becoming a secular Muslim. He also distinguishes and defines Islam, Islamism, and Jihadism. According to Nawaz, Islam is a religion, and religions are set of ideas so they are neither peaceful nor violent necessarily (though certain interpretations of them can be). Islamism is the desire to impose certain reading or teachings of Islam on society at large. Jihadism is the desire to impose Islamic teachings on society by force. So, all Jihadists are Islamists, but not all Islamists are Jihadists; Nawaz himself was a Islamist but because he never used force to accomplish his aims he was not a jihadist.
After clearing up the definitions, Nawaz states that there is no absolute way to interpret scripture, so no one can be absolute about their religion. Since there is no absolutely correct way to interpret scripture, this will lead to pluralism about scripture, which will in turn lead to secularism and humanistic values. If this happens, and it can according to Nawaz, then Islam can find its place as other religions have in a modern, secular world.
Harris, who does most of the listening, is not as optimistic as Nawaz about this. He reiterates things he said in other books that it is simply impossible or very unlikely to reform something as long as scripture is respected because while some may reform there will always be those who can say that it is fine for other people to interpret scripture as they choose, some people will choose to interpret it in an Islamist or Jihadist way, so the problem will always be there. Nawaz agrees that this can be a problem, but recalls the Golden Age of Islam and points out that Islamism and Jihadism are modern phenomena and that the past shows that Muslims can in fact be tolerant. Harris retorts that Islam was imposed and spread from the start by violence, even by the Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him). Nawaz does not disagree with this, but points out that there have been eras where Islamism and Jihadism were not significant problems, so it is possible for Muslims to assimilate.
The book ends with Harris and Nawaz agreeing that the battle to save the world from Islamism and Jihadism must be fought on multiple fronts. For starters, we cannot be afraid to say, as former U.S. President Barack Obama was, radical Islam. If we are fighting against something, we need to be very clear what it is we are fighting against. Second, we cannot exclude Ex-Muslims and non-Muslims from the fray; we are all in this together. Third, we must all regard pluralism and secularism as the end goals, if everyone can share these values then there is a chance we can win this fight. In the end, this is a war of ideas, and the secularists have better ideas than the Islamists and the Jihadists.
The book is well-written and shows thoughtful, informed conversation on both sides. In short, this book is itself a testament of what we are looking for; those of different faiths or no faith at all sharing a seat at the table and talking about their differences openly and clearly with no thought of violence, i.e pluralism and secularism.
I do have one criticism of the book, and it is aimed at Nawaz. He states several times that there is no correct reading of scripture, and this is not a view that many religious people will accept. While we may not always agree all the time about a given passage, that does not mean that the passage is therefore meaningless. This is an appeal to mysticism, and the Abrahamic religions in particular shun mysticism (though there Sufism does embrace mysticism). It would be better to say that there are things in religious texts that are not compatible with western society, but that these need to be taken in context of the times and that we need to do careful exegesis in order to get to the bottom of what a text is saying, but it is simply erroneous to say that there is no correct way to read texts, and believing that will not lead to pluralism, secularism, or tolerance. Good argument and a willingness to listen lead to those values.
We are going to be dealing with Islam, violence, and the conversation of how to be tolerant for the rest of our lives. Harris and Nawaz' book is a good start in talking about how to have that conversation, and evidence that it can in fact be done. I recommend this book to Muslim, and non-Muslim, because we must solve this problem if the human race wants to live in a tolerant manner.
But Maajid Nawaz also describes his intentions to reform Islam. As a former extremist, he is the founder of the first counter-extremism organization in the world. He is incredibly intelligent and articulate, and as a first-hand participant, Nawaz is on the front lines of understanding the problem of Islam and its 1.6 billion adherents. This is a problem we can't ignore as American's, and one that requires not simply our attention but our participation for the sake of our children and grandchildren. I highly recommend this book to all American leaders in the private, public, and religious sectors.
This book couldn't have been written at a better time, or by two better minds.
Top reviews from other countries
The result is less an argument between two adversaries pushing their world-view; rather it’s two smart insightful guys engaging in an informative and wide-ranging dialogue, genuinely seeking to understand the alarming influence of “Islamism” on the modern world and how to deal with it.
Nawaz helpfully clarifies the distinctions between jihadists (globalists like IS or Al Qaida, and regional jihadists like Hamas and Hezbollah); the various types of Islamists (revolutionary or political) who cannot be categorised as jihadists; and the much larger group of conservative moslems worldwide who occasionally sympathise with one or more of the jihadi or Islamist factions but are just as often openly opposed to them. These various groups in certain circumstances intersect and overlap in Venn-diagram fashion, so it is a mistake to think of them all in the same way.
Nawaz advocates an Islamic reformation such as that endured by Christianity between the 14th and 17th centuries and an end to the stranglehold of Islamist theocratic dogma, which he sees as anathema to the progressive secular liberal values which increasingly characterise the modern world. Harris argues that this laudable ambition may prove to be idealistic and probably untenable in the face widespread Islamic dogmatism rooted in scriptural literalism: he makes the point repeatedly (and in different ways) that the jihadists may be essentially more honest in their literalist interpretation of the Koran and the Hadith, that a literal reading of the Koran makes Islam fundamentally unreformable without outright repudiation of its essential tenets of belief, i.e. apostasy.
This is a valuable, informative and insightful dialogue between two very smart people about an important subject, a world away from the dumbed-down banter aired in TV and internet debates or the ideologically obsessive “alternative” media which is invariably even worse.
Overall: excellent. My only possible gripe would be that the book is too short and the asking price rather high, but on the other hand proofreading and presentation of this smart pocket-sized hardcover volume are first-class.
What makes Harris' involvement in this project so impressive is that he is prepared to defer to Nawaz who has the greater and most specific knowledge. I already knew Harris' thoughts on most of these issues but reading Nawaz taught me a lot. I didn't agree with all that Nawaz said. In particular, with one slight exception, I found his suggestion that the literal reading of the Qu'ran is just one of several to involve the kind of disingenuous mental gymnastics that plays into the hands of his opponents. When one has to try so hard to discern reasonableness in a religious text, it should alert one to the implausibility of the premise that the text has a divine author. Even so, Nawaz has a lot to say and is well worth reading.
If I had a gripe, it would be that the price tag does not match the slenderness of the volume.