Work Title: A Call for Heresy: Why Dissent Is Vital to Islam and America
Work Author(s): Anouar Majid
University of Minnesota Press
280 pages, Hardcover $24.95
Reviewer: David Priess
Recent years have seen no shortage of books offering remedies for the perceived woes of the Islamic world. Most of these---at least the ones receiving attention in the West---focus on the need for Muslims to modernize and democratize or, alternatively, return to the roots of Islam to better prepare for the future. In A Call for Heresy, University of New England Professor of English Majid contends that the Islamic world instead requires the same thing that America now needs: a renewal of heretical tradition.
Displaying an impressive knowledge of Islamic thinkers, from the twelfth century philosopher Averroes to modern Iranian dissident Abdul Karim Soroush, Majid makes a good case both for the richness of heresy in the classical age of Islam and for its relative dearth today. He emphasizes the Sufi mystics, for example, for successfully declaring the advantages of the individual mind and soul over legalistic dogma and restrictive interpretations of Islam. Only the author's over-reliance on paraphrasing the ideas of others instead of offering more of his own judgments diminishes the value of this section of the book.
Majid does not stop there, however. He also examines the United States, noting that "freethinkers" like Thomas Paine, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau...