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The Place of Tolerance in Islam

Product Description
We suddenly find ourselves with very little knowledge of a religion and culture that continues to have an enormous impact on our world. Through a close reading of the Qur’an, Khaled Abou El Fadl shows that injunctions to violence against nonbelievers stem from misreadings. Even jihad, or so-called holy war, has no basis in Qur’anic text or Muslim theology, but instead was an outgrowth of social and political conflict.

Reading the holy text in the appropriate moral and historical contexts shows that Islamic civilization has long been pluralistic, and even usually tolerant of other religions. Leading scholars of Islam offer nuanced commentary

The Place of Tolerance in Islam


  1. This book never comes to grip with the essence of Islam: conquest through Jihad of lands peopled by non-Muslims, followed by one of three outcomes for those people: 1) death 2) immediate conversion 3) the imposition of the status of dhimmi, at first held to apply only to Christians and Jews, and later, out of expediency, to Zoroastrians and even Hindus (who otherwise were killed outright). The status of “dhimmi” was not one of “tolerance” in the Western sense, but rather one of deliberate humiliation (not just the payment of the jizyah, or head tax, but also the manner of its payment, need to be understood), and degradation, including but not limited to financial, legal, social, and political disabilities, which over time led the formerly non-Muslim populations to wither, as people were expelled, or left, or both communities and individuals were unable to bear up under their humiliating dhimmi status and over time converted. The failure of this book to explain precisely what “dhimmitude” means fatally vitiates the entire enterprise, and calls into question the author’s authority. For there can be only two possibilities. Either he really is unaware of the treatment of non-Muslims under Muslim rule, over vast territories, and 1300 years, and does not understand how irrelevant is the post-Enlightenment idea of “tolerance” to the fixed Muslim position vis-a-vis non-Muslims,in which case he cannot be trusted as a scholar, or he knows perfectly well how non-Muslims were treated (in Muslim theory and practice) but wishes to engage in some dreamily distracting talk that deliberately conflates Western ideas of “tolerance” with the very different Muslim notions, in Qur’an and hadith and sira, as codified in the shari’a. Non-Muslims cannot afford to be mislead in this manner any longer, no matter how attractively presented0.

    This book should be a great favorite among the unwary and the gullible; of course it will be praised by Muslims who are willing to accept essentially minor quibbles with their faith as long as it is presented as a religion of “tolerance,” and the far more damning problems, involving central tenets of Islam that are deeply rooted in what is, and must be (as the word of God) essentially immutable, are deliberately omitted. El Fadl’s attempt to overlook, to confuse, to explain away, to misstate, and to wrap the whole undertaking up in pieties and a rhetorical display of false moderation makes this book one more addition to, and not a deviation from, the growing library of Muslim apologetics that have nothing to do with serious scholarship, or with any attempt to confront the problem Islamic tenets present head-on, so that they may be brought out into the open. Only thus can any kind of reformation, unlikely as it is, can even remotely be considered. This kind of apologetics, masquerading as the “brave” statements of someone who has actually dared to defy the putative “extremists,” are themselves part of the problem.
    Rating: 1 / 5

  2. Since 9/11, I have immersed myself in many books, including this one, trying to learn as much as I can about Islam. It helps that my stepfather is a Muslim from Syria. He has friends that come to the house to visit that seem straight out of the Taliban, and others that are not so religious. The only thing my stepdad and his friends share 100%, is their hatred for the Jews. I am still learning and reading and watching current events. I say watching, because I believe one’s behavior speaks volumes to what a person really believes, as to what they say they believe. A person can say they have total respect and admiration for someone, but all the while, they are holding that persons severed head behind their back while speaking to you. In reading this book, it showed me again, the vast differences in beliefs that Muslims share. Since it’s beginning, Islam’s greatest Caliphs have been murdered by other Muslims. Early on in Islamic history, two major sects were born, Sunni and Shia. They can’t agree on Islam, and kill each other to this day because of it. Even the Prophet himself, killed other Muslims he said were no longer Muslims but apostates. Jihad against apostates is more violent and brutal than any other form of Jihad. The “tolerant” rules of Jihad, definitely do not apply to them! So what is the real Islam? Has it been determined as of yet? There are clear and theologically sound arguments for all sides of the Islamic coin. The trick is, which side of that coin represents the real Islam. Could they all be correct? All the sides think so!! Question is, which side will win…
    Rating: 3 / 5

  3. Finally a breath of fresh air , away from either cliche stereotypes of Islam or puritanical versions of it . A good book for both academics and lay persons wanting to learn more about some aspects of islamic theology and history and how they pertain to present day debate about Islam and democracy . All put forward in a simple and eloquent manner . The various essays in this book just prove that there is wide room in Islam for diversity of opinions sometimes mutually excluding one another . More importantly it goes to show that it is imperative to keep the doors of dialogue wide open . And this book has successfully achieved both .
    Rating: 5 / 5

  4. Since September 11th of 2001, there has never been a greater need for a scholarly piece of work on the tolerance and mercy of Islam. With media and political parties painting Islam in a negative light and fueling the portrayal of Muslims as extremists and haters of the West, I was elated to read an academic piece of work that portrayed them in a more objective light. I am unclear if I have found that in The Place of Tolerance in Islam.

    The book opens with a twenty-page title essay by El Fadl that proclaims Islam to be an inherently tolerant religion, and he tries valiently to support his thesis with historical, textual evidence. The remainder of the book is divided into a number of scholarly essays that respond to El Fadl’s claims of a tolerant Islam, composed of a relatively mainstream selection of scholars that range from “insiders” of the Islamic faith to American scholars who comment from an external point of view.

    Theoretically, this widespread selection would give a well-rounded and thorough examination of the argument of tolerance in Islam; however, the brevity of the responses (at an average of five pages each) gives little chance for any of the respondents to fully articulate their point or strengthen it with evidence.

    A better structure would have given El Fadl more pages with which to defend his thesis, and trimmed the commentators down to three or four (and giving them plenty of pages with which to argue for or against El Fadl’s position). As it currently stands, the reader is left wondering what the issues are in the book (more than this broad issue of “a tolerant Islam”), and how they can be solved, or if they even can be solved. The more introspective essays lead one in the direction that perhaps there can be no resolution under the current concept of religious freedom, and that major changes will need to be taken in the worldviews of not only Islam, but in the worldviews of Christians, Jews, and all other religious participants.

    Structure can’t account for everything, however. El Fadl wastes half his essay giving historical background, leaving only a few precious pages to profess and defend his thesis. This creates a shaky argument for which the remaining essays have little groundwork to rebut, causing nearly all of the respondents to shakily respond. Of the essayists, only two provide a fully on-topic response: Jan and Bilgrami, both from strikingly-divergent perspectives, give amazing insights into the place of tolerance in Islam and provide perhaps the only solid framework for the book.

    Overall, I feel as if El Fadl made a good effort in attempting to show the place of tolerance in Islam, and the essays presented that argued for or against his position were, to the best of their abilities, a noble effort. But the compilation of the 11 essays was far too small a space to adequately tackle such a controversial and complex issue, and as a result, the book in total was a flawed and flimsy collection that seemed to create more questions than it answered. It’s definitely not a book for lay-readers, but if you’re really interested in Islam and reframing your misconceptions about it, it might be a starting place that will help you on the way to finding good resources.
    Rating: 3 / 5

  5. Excellent book on the place of tolerance in Islam! And yes Islam just like any religion can be either tolerant or very oppressive depending on the believers interpretations. The reader/reviewer who gave one star wishes to imply that there is no tolerance in Islam and that it is just a violent religion. What childish notions, believers of all relgions have oppressed minorities and forcibly converted them. This is not an accusation that can only be leveled at just Muslims, but to all followers of any religion. Ther is ample evidence that shows contrary to popular belief Islam was NOT spread by the sword.
    Rating: 4 / 5


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