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A Call for Heresy

Why Dissent Is Vital to Islam and America

2009
Author:

Anouar Majid

A Call for Heresy

Confronting the fundamentalism that afflicts both Islam and the United States through traditions of dissent

A Call for Heresy discovers unexpected common ground in the deepening conflict between the Islamic world and the United States. Anouar Majid argues that the Islamic world and the United States are both in precipitous states of decline because, in each, religious, political, and economic orthodoxies have silenced the voices of their most creative thinkers. The solution, Majid argues, is a long-overdue revival of dissent.

A towering Islamic intellectual.

Cornel West

A Call for Heresy discovers unexpected common ground in one of the most inflammatory issues of the twenty-first century: the deepening conflict between the Islamic world and the United States. Moving beyond simplistic answers, Anouar Majid argues that the Islamic world and the United States are both in precipitous states of decline because, in each, religious, political, and economic orthodoxies have silenced the voices of their most creative thinkers—the visionary nonconformists, radicals, and revolutionaries who are often dismissed, or even punished, as heretics.

The United States and contemporary Islam share far more than partisans on either side admit, Majid provocatively argues, and this “clash of civilizations” is in reality a clash of competing fundamentalisms. Illustrating this point, he draws surprising parallels between the histories and cultures of Islam and the United States and their shortsighted suppression of heresy (zandaqa, in Arabic), from Muslim poets and philosophers like Ibn Rushd (known in the West as Averroës) to the freethinker Thomas Paine, and from Abu Bakr Razi and Al-Farabi to Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. He finds bitter irony in the fact that Islamic culture is now at war with a nation whose ideals are losing ground to the reactionary forces that have long condemned Islam to stagnation.

The solution, Majid concludes, is a long-overdue revival of dissent. Heresy is no longer a contrarian’s luxury, for only through encouraging an engaged and progressive intellectual tradition can the nations reverse their decline and finally work together for global justice and the common good of humanity.

A Call for Heresy

Anouar Majid is professor and founding chair of the Department of English at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine. He is the author of Freedom and Orthodoxy: Islam and Difference in the Post-Andalusian Age and Unveiling Traditions: Postcolonial Islam in a Polycentric World, which was recommended by the American Association of University Professors as a book for understanding the context of 9/11. He is also the cofounder and editor of Tingis, a Moroccan American magazine of ideas and culture.

A Call for Heresy

A towering Islamic intellectual.

Cornel West

Majid argues that the practice of discussion and dissent, which he broadly dubs ‘heresy,’ has died in Islamic cultures and America, resulting in a dangerous stagnation of thought in both groups—a trait the two groups have in common despite their opposition to each other. He says that Muslims, and some Americans, are incapable of engaging in critical self-examination, afraid to suspend their beliefs even briefly for analysis.

Publishers Weekly

Open-minded readers will gain many insights from Islamic and early American ‘heretics’ bestowing a rich appreciation for the value that voices of dissent bring to any society.

ForeWord Magazine

A Call to Heresy is analytically fruitful and handles works in Arabic and French adeptly. The book should be useful to an audience in need of less cantankerous and more productive ways to look at the ground that Islam and the West share.

Digest of Middle East Studies

Issues are addressed in an even-handed manner, all the more remarkable given the politically charged nature of interpretations of events and situations taking place in the past decades.

Multicultural Review

Once upon a time, heretics were burned at the stake. You’re about to meet a man who would put a microphone in their hand and have all of us listen to them. Heresy, says Anouar Majid, just might save us from an apocalyptic future. . . . A Call for Heresy: I hope a lot of people read it.

Bill Moyers

For Muslims to embrace their faith without rejecting modernity, the kind of dissent that challenges intolerance and promotes reasoned diversity is necessary. For this reason alone, reading Majid’s masterful narrative is vital.

Contemporary Islam

Majid’s work is brave, controversial, and passionately argued. He challenges the easy stereotypes in American and Muslim societies, constantly asking for ‘heretics’ on all sides to reach out to each other. The ‘heretic’ in Majid’s account is an individual with the moral and interllectual tenacity to speak out and weave new narratives of existence out of the opulent cloth of ambiguity and complexity.

Dawn

Majid’s Call For Heresy is a well-researched, well-written book mapping our current challenges as a global community and offering a fresh perspective to go beyond the cultural walls that have besieged our contemporary discourses. It is a book that can inform and stimulate both
American and Muslim readers alike.

Journal of Law & Religion

Equally engaging and insightful.

The Muslim World Book Review