Author: Michael Wolfe (Editor), Beliefnet (Producer)
Publisher: Rodale Press (July 2004)
Pages: 256 Binding: Paperback
Description from the publisher:
In the months after September 11, American Muslims heard the familiar sounds of Islam being defined by others. On television, from the Capitol, from the pulpit, in the classroom, and, worst of all, on videotapes from Osama bin Laden's cave, commentators, politicians, scholars, and wealthy terrorists were busily telling Muslims the "real meaning" of Islam.
Western Muslims knew something had to be done or Islam might be tarnished, even corrupted. In the past year, they have gathered informally to discuss the past, the present, and how things ought to be. Over time, they began to conceive, then voice, then, finally, put to paper ideas about how they might define Islam in this century. In the year since September 11, American Muslims began to do something extraordinary. They began to reclaim the core values of Islam.
Taking Back Islam is a bold collection of voices in the vanguard of the faith, voices of men and women who remain devout and utterly convinced of Islam's power to help create a just, ordered, and beautiful world but who are also unafraid to be critical of those who would distort Islam for violent or political ends. Many of these writers are American Muslims who benefit from a commitment to democratic pluralism as well as a commitment to Islam.
"I believe in Allah and America," writes Arsalan Tariq Iftikhar. "The Qur'an has a radical message of tolerance," says Kabir Helminski. "American Muslims have a special obligation," according to Ingrid Mattson. "Many Muslims suspect that Islam's 'traditional lands' have less to teach us than they claim," writes Michael Wolfe.
The unique nature and strength of these voices, fueled by a strong desire to tap the best traditions within Islam, offer hope for rescuing a faith that has been injured from within by extremists and demonized from without by Western culture.
Michael Wolfe is the author of books of poetry, fiction, travel and history. His most recent works are a pair of books from Grove Press on the pilgrimage to Mecca: The Hadj, a first-person travel account and One Thousand Roads to Mecca, an anthology of 10 centuries of travelers writing about the Muslim pilgrimage. In 1997, Wolfe hosted a televised account of the Hadj from Mecca for Nightline on ABC. He is currently at work on a four-hour television documentary on the life and times of the Prophet Muhammad. He lives in California.
By Michael Wolfe
Taking Back Islam records the latest chapter in a centuries-long conversation that non-Muslims may never have heard. For Islam is surprisingly undoctrinaire and open to discussion. And as doctrines go, Islam's is simple--broad enough that 1.5 billion people around the world can agree on it. Only three things are really required to be a Muslim: belief in God, knowledge of his message, and respect for the prophets from Abraham to Jesus to Muhammad. Beyond that, quite a lot is up for grabs.
Muslims in general don't like the word "reform," with its various English connotations. Yet, as Salam Al-Marayati reminds us in "The Rising Voice of Moderate Muslims," a kindred word is found in the Qur'an. "In Arabic, it is called islah and is the root meaning of the word maslahah, which means 'the public interest.' Historically, Muslim intellectual leaders such as Farangi Mahall Wali Allah, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, and Muhammad Abduh . . . have used reason to create revivalist movements." Wali Allah of India helped to reaffirm the use of reason in legal interpretation and "condemned the blind imitation of tradition. Al-Afghani challenged Muslims to think of Islam as consistent with reason and science. Abduh believed in educational reforms throughout Muslim society." There is plenty of precedent, then, in Muslim thought for bringing Islam into close accord with people's present needs. Since September 11, however, a lot of American Muslims have begun to look beyond these classic independent thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to think and write on their own authority.
September 11 forced a reckoning of sorts, and it has led us to be more self-reliant. When any religion is new to a place, as Islam is new to America, the tendency to take one's cues from the Motherland is strong, wherever that Motherland is perceived to be. And then there comes a moment to grow up. For many American Muslims, that moment arrived in the weeks following September 11, when a substantial number grew disenchanted with the habit of looking abroad for leadership. The near extinction of Afghanistan at the hands of the Taliban, the abysmal state of education in Pakistan, the murderous mullahs of al-Qaeda misquoting the Qur'an on video, along with a host of other glaring moral failures, have led many American Muslims to suspect that Islam's "traditional lands" have less to teach us than they claim.
Ten years from now, this period may mark the time when American Muslims found their real voice. Taking Back Islam is a book by progressive, mostly American, Muslims--people who are in love with Islam, who are proud of Islam, and who are confident enough in its strength to believe that it can stand up to honest introspection. "Speak the truth," the Prophet Muhammad said, "even if it hurts you." A sometimes-painful struggle of a faith in search of its soul informs this book. There runs through its pages an anxiousness for the life of a faith we love. This anxiousness is creative, giving rise to new formulations and fresh answers, and to a strong desire to tap the best traditions of Islam.
Many of the essays here are not about politics, and that in itself is significant. As their authors reflect on how to reclaim Islam, they often turn not to questions of power, but to matters of faith and practice and tradition. As Leila Dabbagh writes in "Muhammad's Legacy for Women," "My ancestors faithfully practiced the five pillars of Islam without losing sight of the fundamental requirements of everyday civil and compassionate living." Her words sound a theme we hear often in these pages, of "getting back to basics," of recovering the sweetness inherit in a religion that has been seriously injured from within by extremists and demonized from without. The Prophet Muhammad once was asked, "What is religion?" He answered, "One's regard and conduct towards others." That is the sort of vision American Muslims are trying, God willing, to reclaim.