Liberal Islam? The editor preempts the skepticism in his very first sentence, noting that this "may sound like a contradiction in terms." But, he goes on knowledgeably to show, such a phenomenon does actually exist, even if it is, in his terms, a "neglected tradition" whose power peaked before 1920 and whose exponents have since then been disproportionately the victims of violence. The first items in this anthology date from the 1920s but the great majority (20 out of 32) of them date since 1980. Kurzman does an exemplary job of selection—the excerpts are both interesting and important—and of finding writings from across the Muslim world, not just the Middle East. Authors include both those who are the household names of Islamic thinkers (Fazlur Rahman, Mahmoud Mohamed Taha) and others who are deeply obscure (Rusmir Mahmutcehajic, Ali Bulaç).
By "liberal Islam," Kurzman means a strain of thought that takes Islam seriously and generally subscribes to the following six views: "opposition to theocracy, support for democracy, guarantees of the rights of women and non-Muslims in Islamic societies, defense of freedom of thought, and belief in the potential for human progress." (The sourcebook then presents readings under these six rubrics.) The categories are certainly sensible, but some of the writers Kurzman chooses to include as liberals do give pause: Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the Tunisian Islamists and a man excluded from the United States for his role in fomenting violence against the government of his home country? ‘Ali Shari‘ati, the theorist of the Islamic revolution in Iran? Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Islamist who told an audience in Kansas City in 1989, "On the hour of judgment, Muslims will fight the Jews and kill them"1 and whose book, The Permitted and the Prohibited in Islam,2 was banned in France? The editor should have both brought a greater dose of skepticism to his readings and looked beyond the formal texts to see what else his authors were doing and saying.
1 Jihad in America, PBS documentary, Nov. 21, 1994.
2 Yusuf al-Qaradawi, Al-Halal wa'l-Haram fi'l-Islam (Cairo: Dar Ihya' al-Kutub al-‘Arabiya, 1960. Among its many non-liberal assertions is Qaradawi's citing "some scholars" who say that eating pork "frequently diminishes the human being's sense of shame in relation to what is indecent."