In This Review

The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam From the Extremists
The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam From the Extremists
By Khaled M. Abou El Fadl
HarperSanFrancisco, 2005, 320 pp

Is Islam the solution or part of the problem? Abou El Fadl depicts an ongoing struggle between puritans and moderates to define and apply Islam today. Those he labels puritans embrace an absolutist and intolerant orientation. The moderates draw on the more humanistic heritage hammered out by generations of ulama (religious scholars). That heritage has been badly undermined in modern times by the replacement of Islamic legal thought and institutions with Western courts and codes, but most of all by the intolerant doctrines of the Wahhabis, spread with the help of Saudi oil revenues, and of those groups known as Salafis, whose ideology stems in part from Wahhabism. The moderate Muslim outlook that Abou El Fadl champions can, however, build on that battered tradition -- through a dynamic process engaged with a changing world, not through restoration of a supposed lost golden age. A scholar trained in both Islamic and Western law, Abou El Fadl presents a brilliant brief for that humanistic Islamic tradition while getting in some well-placed blows against those puritans. He takes on tough issues such as Islam and human rights, the status of women, and jihad. In the process, he serves up one of the more engaging primers on Islam available.