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A Call for Heresy: Why Dissent Is Vital to Islam and America by [Majid, Anouar]
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A Call for Heresy: Why Dissent Is Vital to Islam and America Kindle Edition


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Length: 280 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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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.


Anouar Majid is founding chair and professor of English at the University of New England and the author of Freedom and Orthodoxy: Islam and Difference in the Post-Andalusian Age; Unveiling Traditions: Postcolonial Islam in a Polycentric World; and Si Yussef, a novel. He is also cofounder and editor of Tingis, a Moroccan-American magazine of ideas and culture.


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  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 891 KB
  • Print Length: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press (18 September 2007)
  • Sold by: Amazon Australia Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00JY0BVZU
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Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars 10 reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars we know that we have made great mistakes, But there doe's not seem to be ... 3 May 2017
By panagoulis - Published on Amazon.com
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Way too angry and scary, we know that we have made great mistakes, But there doe's not seem to be other countries that step up to the plate . My family ask me to put the book down, mainly because I became so angry . I 'm equally worried about the author and his role as a professor, who's mind he is screwing up. BAH HUNBUG
4.0 out of 5 stars A must-read 22 July 2011
By Roger Green - Published on Amazon.com
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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.
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended 11 June 2010
By Joseph C. Codsi - Published on Amazon.com
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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. I assume that he was raised in the Islamic faith in his native Morocco, and that he became, after long years in America, secular minded. He is equally distressed by the decadence of the Muslim world and by the deviation of America from the original path, as it was defined by the founding fathers who created a republic based on secular grounds and egalitarian values. His criticism of Islam and America is therefore grounded in deep love for both of them. This makes his book highly valuable not only for Muslims but also for Americans. It is a thought-provoking reading. I highly recommend it, especially for Muslims who live in America.
The book reveals a hidden dimension of Islam that is usually ignored in the Muslim world. I am referring here to the first two centuries of Islam, when orthodoxy was still vaguely defined. This allowed for religious and political dissent to be expressed openly and without violent censorship. With the advent of orthodoxy (defined by theologians and enforced by the Abbasside caliphate) an Islamic Inquisition saw the light, and Islam was taken hostage by the requirements of power. The theological intransigence that is observed today is the legacy of that past, which spells obscurantism, spiritual infantilism and religious decadence.
Anouar Majid is a very good student of American history. It's the story of how America became a world power and lost her soul in the process. A Christian saint wrote an autobiography which she entitled "Histoire d'une Âme" (the story of a soul). In its pages devoted to America, Majid's book traces the story of the American soul. There is here a lot to ponder and reevaluate. This is a very advanced reading of American history.

Joseph Codsi
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Respectful Heretic 13 November 2008
By Ayman - Published on Amazon.com
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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.

Finally, I am trying to cultivate in myself some naïveté about other human beings. So whenever I hear or see some Muslim (or someone who might be a Muslim) doing something apparently contradictory to my understanding of Islam, I imagine that he is a mal'm't' ''''''' (in a good way).

Now all of this is not part of Professor Anouar's book, but it's just my intro to encourage Muslims to read the book. One other feature which allowed me to read this book is the generally respectful and balanced tone which Professor Anouar uses regarding al-Islam and its symbols '''''. What I mean by this is that he does not distort Islam by claiming that Islam enjoins a specific shameful incident, and where Muslims do wrong, he also mentions how non-Muslims may be doing something similar. It's always amazing to me how modern liberal commentators talking about Muslim oppression forget that their own societies participated in the last 70 years in some of the most terrible bloodshed in human history. I remember in my lifetime how my United States government described the African National Congress as a terrorist organization and supported apartheid.

The author calls for heresy, "because all societies are diminished when multiple ways of being are eroded by self-appointed, single-minded guardians of authenticity." (p. 2) Nor do Muslims alone need heresy; Americans as well have become victim to a rigid view of themselves that is just as much a religion (he calls it "Americanism"- p. 5) as Islam.

The author praises Sam Harris, the author of The End of Faith, for the timeliness and boldness of his writing. He does criticize Harris for ignoring the role of secular circumstances in religious developments in our times. Are the actions of Muslims today the result of ideas and texts originating 1000 years ago or the current world system? Are American Christian conservatives the result of the Puritan colonists or the market fundamentalism of the neo-liberals?

I believe this linking of Muslims to the rest of the world is what separates Professor Anouar's book from mass of critics of Muslims. When these critics criticize Muslims without linking them to what's going on in the rest of the world, the only viable solution is their (military) extermination and subjugation. Professor Anouar writes:

Clearly, then, regime change, whether through military intervention, economic sanctions, or even friendly bank loans and grants is not the answer to Islam's long-enduring impasse. The only way out from the Muslims' intellectual crisis, which is at the heart of all the ills plaguing Muslim societies, is through the adoption of new forms of inquiry and protocols of discussion in a vibrant culture of ideas. Yet the burden of change and critical self-examination doesn't fall on Muslims alone, but on the world's people as a whole, since by now the entire planet is threatened with massive damage, or, rather, premature extinction, if our ways don't change, and change radically as well. ... The brave voices of American dissent ... have been silenced by the loud cheering for the virtues of unbridled capitalist globalization. ... One laments the bad timing for such a lapse, too, because no tradition can be more helpful to Muslims than that of America's revolutionary generation. Many of the problems facing Muslims today, especially the place of religion in public life, were worked out successfully in eighteenth-century America. (pp. 14-5)

The first chapter, Death in Cancun, is an attack on neo-liberal globalization. More interesting to the readers of this blog are chapters 2 and 3, Specters of Annihilation and Islam and its Discontents, respectively. Specters of Annihilation is a summary of the rise of Islamism or Islamic fundamentalism, primarily relying on Karen Armstrong's The Battle for God. Armstrong argues that modernity has generated fundamentalist responses in all world religions. Professor Anouar shows how the writings of Muhammad Qutb and Nadia Yassine fit the pattern Armstrong identified and how Muslims' responses to the threat of annihilation modernity posed have not succeeded in either limiting the threat or reconciling Muslims to modernity.
Islam and its Discontents examines North African and European reformist Muslims of the last 40 years. While their embrace of a "progressive interpretation of Islam may seem to be the best solution for Muslims in the present, mostly because Islam is a fact of life in Muslim societies and there seems to be no practical way of changing the situation. The problem with that approach, however, is that once one posits the Revelation as a nonnegotiable act, one is conceding, admittedly out of convenience, much of the ideological and cultural terrain to the ulema and the mostly conservative juridical corpus that underpins their theology." (p. 102) Professor Anouar recommends approaches which start with the human origin of the mushaf '''' (the written text of the Qur'an we use today). For the argument of the human origin of the mushaf, he cites Alfred-Louis de Prémare's Aux origines du Coran: Questions d'hier, approaches d'aujourdhui, which the author notes has been published in Tunis. While the author does not discuss in detail the texts of hadith reports, one can assume that he recommends that Muslims similarly not treat these texts as revelation. (pp. 102-7)

My favorite chapter was America and Its Discontents. I never studied American history, and I honestly need to review this chapter several more times before I can write anything about it. Suffice it to say that I am puzzled how the disparate groups of religious fanatics and subjects of bizarre social experiments who colonized North America managed to unite into a functioning country. According to Professor Anouar, heretics were essential in this process, and the current American malaise is due to its lack of heresy.
4.0 out of 5 stars Imagining The Wider Gate 10 March 2008
By William Dahl - Published on Amazon.com
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A Call For Heresy - Why Dissent is Vital to Islam and America by Anouar Majid University of Minnesota Press Copyright 2007 by The Regents of the University of Minnesota.

As professor and founding Chair of the Department of English at the University of New England, and the author of Postcolonial Islam in a Polycentric World, that was recommended as a book to understand the context of 9/11 by the American Association of University Professors, one might expect that A Call For Heresy may be a challenging, intellectual read. It was for this reader.

Although Majid states that "Sometimes all we need is a different perspective to untie knotty problems, loosen the climate of suspicion, and, if all works well, increase the possibilities for dialogue and thoughtful collective action. By looking at the fortunes of Muslim and American societies together, we may perhaps recognize the futility of armed conflict and consider solutions that address underlying causes, rather than exacerbate anger and confusion." (Preface ix). Well, that's a hope and a basis for inquiry that I'm willing to learn more about.

Majid's insights on the role of religion as a component of the world's challenges was expansive and deep. For example, ""The supreme deity of the United States right now, the absolute and absolutist god that broaches no dissent, is not Jesus or his increasingly vociferous defenders, but capitalism. In fact, religious fundamentalism, as with all other forms of fundamentalism, doesn't happen in a cultural vacuum, but emerges in response to a sense of threat to one's being or core beliefs. Fundamentalism is often situational; it always expresses itself in relation to a contending force."(p. 11).

Yet, beneath the blaring news blasts the clash between fundamentalists in a variety of cultures create, the voices and hearts of partisans who seek reconciliation, understanding and cooperation are drown out. In every society, this group of partisans is summarily marginalized by the mainstream ideologues and dogmatic believers. Majid's suggestion? Encouraging freethinkers to speak up. "We need a healthy culture of freethinking, a tradition of heresy, or zandaqa, that would help the indoctrinated see past their convictions toward a future that opens the wider gate of the common good, not squeeze us through the tunnel of narrow interests and the end of life." (p.49).

This book is a contemporary, intellectual treatise about hope. About the necessity to continue to think, speak and imagine an inquiry and dialog, that examines our respective traditions and reduces the "causes of conflict and violence" and "broaden the scope of tolerance and push it to include innovative thought without punishing humans for daring to imagine life-saving alternatives."(p.49).

This book is a work of the heart of a freethinker, Anouar Majid, who is encouraging us to engage in the honorable, yet risky endeavor of creating the wider gate.

I was inspired, educated and enlightened by this book. I hope you will be too.

Bill Dahl