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Chasing a Mirage a "notice to liberal and moderate Muslims to put their act together"

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  • Nargis Tapal
    June 30, 2008 BOOK REVIEW A tour de force A call-attention-notice to liberal and moderate Muslims worldwide to put their act together By Zubair Masood The News
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      June 30, 2008
       
      BOOK REVIEW
       
      A tour de force
       
      A call-attention-notice to liberal and moderate Muslims worldwide to put their act together
       
       By Zubair Masood
      The News on Sunday, Karachi
       
      The book under review is Tarek Fatah's encounter with truth, most of which is unsavoury, to say the least. Because Fatah takes some highly controversial and even taboo subjects by the horn, the book can be termed an act of great courage. It is a sort of call-attention-notice to liberal and moderate Muslims worldwide to put their act together and take on the regressive Islamists, who have hijacked their faith for political power and pelf.
       
      Tarek Fatah is no stranger to controversy. In the late 1960s, he was a left-wing student leader in Pakistan. Being uncomfortable with his struggle for equity and social justice, the then military governments arrested and incarcerated him twice. After a distinguished career in journalism and advertising, he finally settled in Canada, his adopted homeland, in 1987.
       
      Fatah has been contributing op-eds to mainstream Canadian newspapers, such as the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail and the National Post. In addition to appearances in many TV programmes, he has been hosting Vision TV's popular programme Muslim Chronicle.
       
      Because of his eclectic, iconoclastic and liberal views on Islam, and the current deplorable plight of Muslim communities across the world, Fatah has often invited ire and even death threats from his more conservative brothers-in-faith. But even the death threats have not deterred him from saying what he so passionately believes in.
       
      In 2001, Fatah founded the Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC), an organisation of liberal and moderate Muslims in Canada. It supports liberal and secular causes throughout the world. Since its inception, the MCC has been an effective countervailing force against Islamist organisations that have an obscurantist agenda to pitch the already disadvantaged Muslims against the world community.
       
      Since its publication, Fatah's first book, entitled Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State, has generated a lot of controversy and healthy debate on a number of issues, which have been bothering Muslims for the last 1400 years. It is not a textbook on Islamic history, yet it offers a scholarly and well-researched critique of the Middle Eastern Islamic dynasties for affording the readers a better understanding of the so-called Islamic states in a historical perspective.
       
      Fatah maintains that throughout Islamic history, there has been no such thing as an "Islamic state" and that the term is actually an illusion. Relying only on hard and irreducible historical facts, he tries to drag Muslims out of comforting, yet misleading, myths. "Muhammad (PBUH) was not sent to earth to be a ruler of the Muslim world. He was Allah's apostle on earth, a messenger for all humanity, who left behind a moral compass to serve as guide for a more ethical, equitable and just society," he maintains.
       
      Presenting a succinct analysis of the Caliphate, which most Muslims revere as Islam's golden age, Fatah invites the Muslims "to consider the possibility that the state and government created by Abu-Bakr (RA) after the death of Muhammad (PBUH) was not the first Islamic state, but rather the first Arab state. It encompassed the Arabian Peninsula and gave the Arab people a sense of pride in their accomplishments. It allowed them to contribute to human civilization as other civilizations had done before them."
       
      "This state found its legitimacy in Arab identity and Quraysh tribal ancestry. Islamic principles of universalism and equality came second. Had it been an Islamic state, the Sindhi and Berber Muslims would not have been treated as second-class Muslim citizens, forced to pay jazia -- a tax imposed on non-Muslims by Islamic caliphates," he adds.
       
      While discussing the mirage the Islamists are chasing, Fatah makes a thoughtful and incisive distinction between an "Islamic state" and a "state of Islam", which in fact are two parallel strains of the religion. The first -- an "Islamic state" -- is a utopia nurtured by political Islam; it comes into being when a political entity uses Islam to govern and control society. On the other hand, the second -- a "state of Islam" -- is an individual's moral and spiritual choice, which governs his or her personal life.
       
      Fatah has no issue with the second, which he says is rooted in core Islamic spiritual values and is compatible with modern democracy. This spiritual Islam has enriched Muslim communities with poetry, music, mathematics and science. On the other hand, he believes that the first is linked with terrorism and subjugation of women and minorities. The political Islam, he adds, is at loggerheads with the Western liberal democracies for a chimerical supremacy.
       
      Eulogising Islam as a religion of peace and freedom, Fatah advises the Muslims to get rid of the dreams of establishing a formal, political Islamic state that governs using Islamic principles and laws. Instead, he urges the Muslims to seek a state of Islam within themselves, in a more spiritual sense, and adopt a secular approach to everyday life.
       
      Tarek Fatah discusses at length present day Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia as case studies of political Islam in the contemporary world; and shows how in each place Islamist ideas were promoted and actualised, and how they fared. He shows how unreliable leaders have used the utopia of an Islamic state to acquire illegitimate control over people. He also shows how these theocracies have discriminated against women and minorities, and have been harsh on dissent.
       
      Fatah also discusses issues such as jihad, hijab, Shariah, Islamic banking, terrorism and Islamist's agenda of waging a holy war against the West for the greater glory and supremacy of Islam. The most important thing about the book is that it is highly readable. The author gives the reader his unique perspective on many an issue plaguing Muslim communities in clear and precise, yet forceful, prose.
       
      In short, Fatah has written this book with passion, which is manifest in poetical expression reminiscent of Joseph Conrad. In this important addition to literature on the subject, he has given us many an insight into the predicament of Muslims in the modern world and it should be a must-read for anyone who cares about these issues.
      -- Zubair Masood
       
      • Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State
      • Author: Tarek Fatah
      • Publisher: John Wiley & Sons Canada
      • Price: $31.95
      • Pages: 432
       



       
       
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