Title: Rethinking Islam: The Battle for Democracy, Freedom and Women's Rights
Author: Katajun Amirpur
Publisher: Gingko Library (2015)
Katajun Amirpur’s book, Rethinking Islam: The Battle for Democracy, Freedom and Women’s Rights, explodes the myth that Islam is a backward looking religion. A belief that Islam is backward-looking, primitive or antithetical to post-Enlightenment thought and logic has tended to underlie many a Western perspective of the religion as it exists. Consequently, there have been consequential impacts of partiality on other allied fields, such as policy and political discourse. Against this backdrop, Katajun Amirpur’s newest tome is a breath of fresh air, as it tells the truth through voices that are drowned out by misconceptions.
In Rethinking Islam, Katajun brings forth some of Islam’s most inspiring thinkers in the current day and age, such as Abu Zaid, the free-thinking Egyptian Qur’an Scholar, Abdolkarim Soroush, an academic and a former member of Ayatollah Khomeini’s Cultural Revolution Committee and Amina Wadud, an American feminist who was the first woman to lead the faithful in Friday Prayer, along with a slew of other thinkers in Islam. In bridging the gap in global understanding of Islam and the reality of what Islam is, Katajun has projected a very important platform to pivot public meditation on Islam itself. In her discourse, she makes it a point to explore the lesser known, but immensely powerful tradition of inquiry and dissent within the realm of Islam and its tenets. And the revelation is marvellous: for this silent force of resilience is devoted to the core values of democracy, women’s rights and human rights. The manner of rejecting fundamentalist assertions that are passed off as Islam, and the way in which she asserts their unanimous call for a diversity of opinion, welcoming greater freedom and the equality of the sexes, are both the hallmarks of Katajun’s writing.
Islam is arguably one of the most misunderstood religions in the world – especially since there is a blatant clothing of the religion with extremism and radical fundamentalism. In this context, Katajun’s book is a masterpiece that reflects on Islamic reform, and intersperses the core tenets of Islam along with the intellectual thoughts of many a scholar of Islamic studies. The Qur’an remains the central focal point of the dialogue in the book – but the interpretative framework boils down the actual quintessence that the religion stands for. Diversity in conceptual thinking, clarity of thoughts and ideas, the preference and appreciation for democracy and rights, and the need for constant reform are all embroidered into the fabric of Islam. The militancy and radicalism in interpretation of the religion has only been to the detriment of the religion, and Katajun’s text is a beautiful exemplification of the bare facts as they are.
What strikes you about the book is that it is not the hackneyed in-your-face assessment of what prevails and then a process of dismantling and deconstructing it. What the book does, instead, is to offer you the information in its true form, and then allows you to think. Unlike most books in this day and age, Rethinking Islam does not push for an agenda or think for you. Instead, it gives you the tools and the wherewithal and lets you form an opinion. That the opinion formed converges with the true grain of what Islam is and stands for, is a representation of the stellar quality of Katajun’s writing and articulation. Couched within the ideology of the Qur’an and the spirit of inquiry it encourages, the book brings forth a very creative interpretation of Islam. Therefore, reading this book does not need a precondition of expertise on a reader’s part.
By the end of the book, you come to understand reformist Islamic thought as it is.