David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Optimistic New Book From Muslim Writer

Brandon Sun, May 29, 2017 – David McConkey

Humanity has a problem. More than one billion people are Muslims who follow the religion of Islam and its holy book, the Qur’an. But parts of the Qur’an are outdated and inappropriate for the 21st century.

Yet criticizing the Qur’an is itself a problem.
In Muslim-majority countries, someone guilty of criticizing the Qur’an can be subject to imprisonment, torture or the death penalty. Even in Western countries, a Muslim questioning the Qur’an can be ostracized from their family and community. And a non-Muslim criticizing the Qur’an can be labelled as bigoted, racist or “Islamophobic.”

Fortunately, a new book does a great job of tackling these issues and presenting optimistic, positive approaches for the future. The book, by Pakistani-Canadian writer Ali A. Rizvi, is The Atheist Muslim: A Journey from Religion to Reason.

Author Rizvi writes clearly and forcefully about the challenges facing the world's Muslims. These challenges were put into stark focus by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. But even aside from links to terrorism, Islam is in need of big changes. Muslims are held back because Islam is unfriendly towards women, science and progress in general. 

Rizvi knows what he writes about. Born in Pakistan, he was raised in a Muslim family. His parents were teachers who sought better opportunities abroad. The family lived for years in Libya and Saudi Arabia before eventually settling in Canada.

As a teenager, Rizvi began to ask why the Qur’an was so out of synch with modern society. When he studied to become a physician, science led him to a greater appreciation of the natural world than the Qur’an could offer. Yet even as he rejected some aspects of Islam, he wished to keep a close connection with his Muslim family and heritage.

Rizvi draws an important distinction between “Muslim” and “Islam.” Muslims are people. They should be given the same respect as people from any ethnic or cultural background.

Islam is a religion. Everyone should be free to accept, to criticize or even to mock that religion as they might any set of ideas.

In other words, people have rights and are entitled to respect. But beliefs and books do not have rights and are not entitled to the same respect.

Rizvi says that Muslims must move beyond their belief that the Qur’an is the perfect, timeless word of a deity. Instead, the Qur’an can be seen as an imperfect, human creation of a particular time in history.

For example, he notes that the Qur’an (like the Bible) approves of polygamy and slavery. Perhaps such practices were appropriate in the past. But morality has progressed.
Atheist MuslimCan you be an atheist while also a Muslim? Yes, the author says. Rizvi points out that even deeply religious people pick and choose from their religious texts.

Rizvi recommends that Muslims do as Jews and Christians do: honour their ancient scriptures, but adapt them for today. Look at a passage like Exodus 35:2. Even Christians who follow the Bible “literally” do not really think that people who work on the Sabbath should be put to death!
Because of the author’s vast knowledge, this book could be used as a primer on Islam today. Among the topics he covers are the life and teachings of the prophet Muhammad; the origins of Islam in Judaism and Christianity; the splitting of Islam into Sunni, Shiite and other groups; and interpreting the Qur’an in a modern context.

I see two groups who would benefit most from reading The Atheist Muslim. One group would be non-Muslims who want to learn more about Islam and how the religion could adjust to the modern world. The other group would be young Muslims who want to set aside out-dated parts of Islam, but who still consider themselves Muslims and want to have good relationships with members of their family and their community.

The author’s message to other Muslims is about finding a good balance today between the “Muslim” and “Islam” parts of their identity.

“Imagine if, as a Muslim,” Rizvi concludes, “you could keep your family and community traditions, enjoy those Ramadan iftar parties, and celebrate Eid holidays with your family and friends as always – but without the burden of belief, or having to defend every line in your scripture.”

* * * *
See also: 

The Atheist Muslim on Amazon.com     (on Amazon.ca)

Reading the Qur’an Key to Understanding Islam

United Church Minister Part of Rise of Vocal Atheism

Authors Leading Vital Conversation About Islam

Book Provides Intriguing, Scientific Glimpse into State of Religious Beliefs

Book Looks at Islamic World

Atheist Cards

Other Reviews




David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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