Sunday Star reviews "Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State"
- John GoddardThe Toronto StarMuslims are self-secure enough to face hard truths about Islam, asserts Toronto's Tarek Fatah.He had better hope so. Many other authors inviting Muslims to critically examine their religion have had to fear for their lives. Irshad Manji, formerly of Toronto, now of New York, and author of The Trouble with Islam, travels with a bodyguard. Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Dutch author of Infidel, travels with two. Robert Spencer, American author of such works as The Truth about Muhammad, writes that he "lives in a secure, undisclosed location."Fatah, too, has received death threats over the years, to the point where he resigned two years ago as communications director for the Muslim Canadian Congress in an effort to lower his profile.This book will raise it again and he would be wise to look out for himself. Yet throughout Chasing a Mirage, Fatah comes across as somebody who genuinely believes that ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, Muslims truly are mature enough to face even the harshest truths he is prepared to tell.He speaks with deep affection for Islamic civilization, especially for its poetry and music, and its scientific and mathematical achievements.He addresses Muslim readers as his co-religionists. Unlike the recent wave of Christian-atheist writers such as Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion) and Christopher Hitchens (God is Not Great), who write as critics outside the faith, Fatah includes himself in the Muslim community. He dubs himself a "secular Muslim" but a Muslim nonetheless.He also presents a pervading sense of being motivated not so much by anger at extremist clerics, who he says have perverted Islam's message, as by a love of what he sees as core Islamic values.Extremist clerics and their followers are chasing a mirage, he says. They are chasing the false dream of an Islamic state that was never contemplated in the Qur'an or by the Prophet Muhammad.True Muslims, he maintains, prefer to cultivate "a state of Islam." They prefer to internalize Islamic spiritual values to help guide personal deeds and actions. For that, no special political state is needed."One state requires a theocracy, the other a state of spirituality," he writes.Fatah grew up in Pakistan, became a journalist, worked for 10 years in Saudi Arabia and settled in Canada in 1987. In occasional op-ed pieces in the Star and elsewhere, and in appearances on such programs as TVO's The Agenda with Steve Paikin and as host of Vision TV's The Muslim Chronicle, he has long displayed a keen intelligence and quick wit.In the book, he also shows himself an able researcher and scholar.What Fatah calls "a rising tide of hijab mania" the Islamist injunction for women to wear the headscarf springs from a Qur'anic verse that in fact requires women to cover their bosom, he says.Writing of Saudi Arabia, he says that 95 per cent of Mecca's heritage buildings have been destroyed in the last two decades, mostly to build lucrative highrises overlooking the Ka'aba, or Grand Mosque.Lost structures include the house of the Prophet's wife Khadijah, demolished to make way for public toilets, and the house of Abu-Bakr, the Prophet's successor, for a Hilton Hotel.Even the Prophet's 1,400-year-old home is under threat, he says, quoting London's Independent newspaper and other sources, for a project known as the Jabal Omar Scheme, which includes seven apartment towers and two 50-storey hotels."Mai Yamani, the exiled Saudi author of The Cradle of Islam, said it best," Fatah writes: "When the Prophet was insulted by Danish cartoonists, thousands of people went into the streets to protest. The sites related to the Prophet are part of their heritage and religion, but we see no concern from Muslims."The reason, says Fatah, is that "across the world, Saudi-funded organizations ensure that any criticism of the Saudi regime and state is seen as an attack on Islam."Perhaps the most original passages of the book come in chapter six, "The Prophet is Dead." In it, Fatah broaches the mother of all taboos.Most Muslim scholars repeat the legend that, following the death of the Prophet, an era of universalism and meritocracy emerged in Arabia, he oberves. Men and women were judged solely on the basis of their piety, not on skin colour, race or tribal ancestry. Not so, Fatah says.When an exclusive inner circle not a wider, unanimous consensus as commonly preached chose Abu-Bakr as successor, they also signalled that only an Arab belonging to the Quraysh tribe could be caliph. They established the Arab as tribally and racially superior to the non-Arab.To this day, Fatah points out, the supreme leader of the mainly non-Arab Islamic state of Iran must trace his ancestry to the Quraysh specifically, to the Syed branch of the Hashemite clan of the Meccan Quraysh, descended from the Prophet's daughter Fatima."When Muslims buried the Prophet," Fatah says, "they also buried with him many of the universal values of Islam that they preached."Fatah's text teems with local references. He bears witness to chilling anti-Western speeches at a Toronto assembly for Muslim youth, takes the reader inside Toronto's MuslimFest "no women singers allowed" and traces the ties to radical Islam of such organizations as the Islamic Society of North America and the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations.Chasing a Mirage is a richly layered work of stark realities. If Toronto were looking for an open discussion on the Islamist agenda, this book would make a good starting point.
-------------------------------------Star reporter John Goddard covered the release of the American embassy hostages by Islamic militants in Tehran in 1981. Last year he travelled for a month through the Islamic Republic of Sudan on a media fellowship from the Canadian Association of Journalists and Canadian International Development Agency.