Elise Bellin, Librarian of the Islamic Resource Center, wrote this book review as part of an ongoing series that focuses on a range of books within the IRC collection as a service to the community.

Progressive Muslims on Justice, Gender and Pluralism

Progressive Muslims on Justice, Gender and Pluralism, Edited by Omid Safi © 2003 – ISBN 1-85168-316-X

“… If Allah had so willed He would have made you one single Community (ummatan wahidatan) but He wanted to test you through that which He has given you, so race to do good  (fastabiqu al khairaat)…“    5:48

In Progressive Muslims, On Justice, Gender and Pluralism editor Omid Safi has collected fourteen essays by contemporary Muslim thinkers and activists who have taken up the challenge to implement God’s command to “enact justice (‘adl) as well as goodness and beauty (ihsan), which lie at the heart of the Islamic tradition”.

These authors delve into some remarkably uncomfortable questions.  Ebrahim Moosa writes about how the complex Islamic tradition has been subject to “extraordinary assault in the past two hundred years from both within Muslim society and outside.”  Khaled Abou El Fadl focuses on the problem from within, standing up to “those whose God is too small, too mean, too tribal and too male”.

Writing about Gender issues, Sa’diyya Shaikh discusses how patriarchal Muslims “discredit and malign” Muslim feminists, but shows also how some European men have “manipulated Western feminist discourse in furthering imperialism”.  Kecia Ali takes a very close look at the traditional jurisprudence regarding marriage as developed by early classical jurists and demonstrates how their doctrines based on an analogy to slavery and other types of ownership are “entirely inadequate” to serve as a basis for laws governing Muslim families today.

“Unfortunately,” writes Amir Hussain, “there are Muslims … who have no interest in pluralism …. and often see their particular way of being Muslim as the only way to be Muslim.”  Farish Noor suggests that recognizing the multiplicity within ourselves may help us to realize that “in the midst of that confusing and complex heterogeneity that is the OTHER, are also values, beliefs and ideas that are common to ours.”

The burden on contemporary Muslim intellectuals is heavy indeed, but in answer to Gwendolyn Simmon’s question “Are we up to the challenge?” it seems there are at least fifteen brave ones in the race to compete to do good.  We can at least cheer them on.

Founded in 2010, the Islamic Resource Center (IRC) is the first Islamic public lending library in Wisconsin. The IRC aims to provide resources to educators, students, health professionals, interfaith groups, and any members of the Milwaukee community that want an accurate understanding of the Islamic faith, its practices, and its people.