The Trouble with Islam Today

I bought this book a fair while ago but never got around to reading it. Recently a few of my relatives borrowed the book and have begun raving about it, so I decided to give it a whirl myself. While I am not as besotted with the book as my family is, I must admit it is certainly thought provoking.

The contents of The Trouble with Islam Today by Irshad Manji is pretty much what would would expect from the name. The author, Irshad Manji, is a self-described Muslim and “Muslim Refusenik” (you can read the book to find out exactly what she means by that), and the book she has written is part memoir and part open letter to “all concerned citizens worldwide”. In keeping with its by-line “A wake-up call or honesty and change”, the book examines Islam, and calls for honesty, criticism, and open debate over many aspects of modern day Islam. Manji takes the Muslim world to task for what she sees as the poor treatment of Women, a propensity for victimization, widespread “Jew-bashing”, the “dictatorship of desert Islam”, Foundamentalism (not a spelling mistake), innate tribalism, and the lack of critical thinking and open debate (among many, many other things). But what was especially noticeable to me was Manji calling for a greater operation of “Ijtihad”, a concept I had never heard of (and I am quite sure many others had never heard of), which means to practice the Islamic faith independently of religious authorities. In short, the book is a call for wider introspection and reform in the Muslim World.

There has been plenty of criticism of this book based on the religious and historical veracity of many of the claims Manji makes (just as there has been lots of praise of her work). Personally, I do not have the expertise to critique on those grounds, but I do think this book is lacking in other areas. For starters, Manji falls into the trap that often befalls those who wish to critique religion from the inside; she has failed to outline the liability of God. In her criticism of the fallibility of the Quran, of the Desert Centrism, of the Lack of openness and debate, of the maltreatment of Women and other outsiders; the fault always lays with us lowly and petty humans. Never is God questioned, never is his divine plan questioned. It is a discussion of religion without a discussion of God. Maddening. Secondly, there is really very little groundbreaking done in this book, apart from the earth shattering revelation that it was authored by someone claiming to be a practicing Muslim. Many (if not all) of the Criticisms leveled will be immediately recognizable to anyone who has read even the most reverential atheist’s book, and many of the suggestions are also similar, with a little Islamic spin. And finally, the book is often hard to follow. As it is written as an open letter it is understandable that the writing is informal, however, Manji often goes on wild and long tangents, breaking her train of thought and causing the reader to have to backtrack in order to understand what is going on. The tangents themselves are often interesting, but it does lead to a very unsettling reading experience. This is one of the reasons the book took me so long to read, I kept having to double back.

Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a good and important book. It has a great and important message, and I can understand how it will be more meaningful coming from a Muslim than an atheist (although that kind of fly’s in the face of the book’s overarching message). This is a book many people should read, especially non-muslims who have very little idea of the depth of opinion within Islam, but also Muslims who need to realize that pluralism, debate, criticism and openness are the only paths to progress. On the whole my criticisms and reservations with this book are mere nitpicking. I would (and will) recommend this book to one and all.

Walter Isaacson’s Einstein

Having been so impressed by Isaacson’s portrayal of Benjamin Franklin, and not knowing nearly as much about Einstein’s life as I wanted to, I decided to also read Isaacson’s biography of Einstein. However, it must be noted that this book is not simply a biography. Isaacson has delved deep not only into the life of Einstein, but also into the world that he inhabited and profoundly affected; the science of the 20th century and the history of the 21st century. While this does mean the book is often a bit slow and convoluted, it also means that it is incredibly informative. It brilliantly paints the portrait of a vivacious character, a person far more interesting than the sum of his famous work. Correspondingly it also brings a greater understanding of Einstein’s work (both scientific and otherwise), and how it greatly affects us even now. Continue reading “Walter Isaacson’s Einstein”

Benjamin Franklin

I had been wanting to read a good biography on Benjamin Franklin (and some of the other founding fathers) for a fair amount of time. While I am very interested in American history, especially the story of it’s founding, so far I have found the books on the subject to be very dry. I start them, put them down, and then forget them. But, Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson is very different from any I have tried before. Isaacson’s work is a breath of fresh air. The former editor of Time Magazine brings a journalistic flair to what could have been a dry topic. Rather than a lifeless tome written by a tired old professor, this is a biography that is full of energy and passion. Continue reading “Benjamin Franklin”

The One World Schoolhouse

Over the past year I have heard quite a lot about Khan Academy from friends, family, classmates, and even Youtube. So a few months ago I finally decided to give Khan Academy a go. I thought maybe it would be a good tool for revising some of the Economics that I have forgotten, and some of the Science I never knew. Well, I have been downloading and watching the videos ever since. I have learned and relearned everything from Macroeconomics and how to calculate probability, to why it feels hotter when it is humid. I have found it so useful and unique, that I decided to give Khan’s book a go as well. I was not really expecting much more than your average book written by a do-gooder hoping to make some money to live, but this book contains a startling amount of information and insight on the history and deficiencies of the modern system of education. A very good and important read.  Continue reading “The One World Schoolhouse”

The rise and Fall of the Third Reich

I picked up the famous book “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” a few months before going to Germany on exchange. I was planning on studying mostly history while in Germany and I figured I needed a refresher course before I arrived. Unfortunately, the book is so long, so convoluted and so boring that I didn’t finish it until well into my exchange. Even taking into account the 1280 pages, the book took me an abnormally long time to read. I found myself making any and all excuses to put it down, and I even finished two other books while I was reading it. Continue reading “The rise and Fall of the Third Reich”

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