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The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists

Friday, January 16, 2015

Author: Khaled M. Abou El Fadl

Paperback: 336 pages
Publisher: HarperOne; Reprint edition (January 23, 2007)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0061189030
ISBN-13: 978-0061189036

About the Book

Despite President George W. Bush's assurances that Islam is a peaceful religion and that all good Muslims hunger for democracy, confusion persists and far too many Westerners remain convinced that Muslims and terrorists are synonymous. In the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11, the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the recent bombings in London, an unprecedented amount of attention has been directed toward Islam and the Muslim world. Yet, even with this increased scrutiny, most of the public discourse regarding Islam revolves around the actions of extremist factions such as the Wahhabis and al-Qa'ida. But what of the Islam we don't hear about?

As the second-largest and fastest-growing religion in the world, Islam is deemed by more than a billion Muslims to be a source of serenity and spiritual peace, and a touchstone for moral and ethical guidance. While extremists have an impact upon the religion that is wildly disproportionate to their numbers, moderates constitute the majority of Muslims worldwide. It is this rift between the quiet voice of the moderates and the deafening statements of the extremists that threatens the future of the faith.

In The Great Theft, Khaled Abou El Fadl, one of the world's preeminent Islamic scholars, argues that Islam is currently passing through a transformative period no less dramatic than the movements that swept through Europe during the Reformation. At this critical juncture there are two completely opposed worldviews within Islam competing to define this great world religion. The stakes have never been higher, and the future of the Muslim world hangs in the balance.

Drawing on the rich tradition of Islamic history and law, The Great Theft is an impassioned defense of Islam against the encroaching power of the extremists. As an accomplished Islamic jurist, Abou El Fadl roots his arguments in long-standing historical legal debates and delineates point by point the beliefs and practices of moderate Muslims, distinguishing these tenets from the corrupting influences of the extremists. From the role of women in Islam to the nature of jihad, from democracy and human rights to terrorism and warfare, Abou El Fadl builds a vital vision for a moderate Islam. At long last, the great majority of Muslims who oppose extremism have a desperately needed voice to help reclaim Islam's great moral tradition.

Critical Praise

"This is an exceptionally courageous book to be written by a person of Muslim faith in these days. It underlines the often overlooked fact that the real conflict in the Middle East today is not between Sunni and Shia. The true struggle is a civil war between two different versions of Sunni Islam – the moderates and the “puritan” extremists -- and at this point the “puritans” are winning." -Gary Sick, Gulf 2000

“The Great Theft is probably the most dramatic manifesto from an American Muslim since the September 11 attacks.” —Associated Press

“Those looking for an understanding of the Muslim world and its relationship to the West…will find this book invaluable.” —Dallas Morning News

“Mother Jones and the National Review rarely see eye-to-eye, but we both agree on this essential title.” —Mother Jones Magazine

“An uncommonly rich, learned and easily accessible framework for understanding the current theological struggle within Islam.” —Washington Post Book World

“… [The Great Theft] lucidly answers important questions Westerners have about Islam.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Khaled Abou El Fadl has made a contribution that should be widely distributed and deeply reflected upon.” —Globe and Mail (Toronto)

“One of the more engaging primers on Islam available.” —Foreign Affairs

Book Review

By: Gary Sick

The title tells it all. This distinguished scholar of Islamic law believes that “moderate” Islam – the lived Islam of many millions of people – is being wrested away by the extremists, whom he calls “puritans.”

In his view the puritans are not interested in the lived Islam. Instead, puritans care “about an imagined Islam – either as an imagined past in the form of mythology, or an imagined future in the form of a promised utopia.” Puritans believe that “Muslims should be coerced to live according to the law, and that the law should not be made to serve the
people.”

Where did the extremists come from? His answer is very clear: The Wahhabists emerging from Saudi Arabia “have influenced every puritanical movement in the Muslim world… . Every single Islamic group that has achieved a degree of international infamy, such as Taliban and al-Qaida, has been deeply influenced by Wahhabi thought.”

He is equally outspoken about the remedy for this situation: “It is due time that moderate Muslims realize that they are in a state of war with puritan Muslims.” His answer is “a counter-jihad [without bloodshed] to reclaim the truth about the Islamic faith and win the hearts and minds of Muslims and non-Muslims all around the world.”

This is an exceptionally courageous book to be written by a person of Muslim faith in these days. It underlines the often overlooked fact that the real conflict in the Middle East today is not between Sunni and Shia. The true struggle is a civil war between two different versions of Sunni Islam – the moderates and the “puritan” extremists -- and at this point the “puritans” are winning.

For those who think that Muslims have not been protesting the perversion of their religion, this is a necessary corrective. Abou El Fadl is quiet spoken but his dismantling of Wahhabi doctrine is historically grounded and devastating.

I realize that that is not a universally popular view. I do not pretend to be an Islamic scholar, and I welcome the views of those who are much more expert. However, the rise of al-Qaeda, Jabhat al-Nusri and ISIS seem to embody perfectly the observations that Abou El Fadl offered nearly a decade ago. And his proposed solution, though very long term, seems as realistic as anything I have heard.

The fundamental dilemma, from a policy point of view, is whether Saudi Arabia is prepared to put the kind of moral, spiritual and financial effort into defeating this perverted ideology that it did in nurturing and propagating it.

About the Author:

Khaled Abou El Fadl is one of the most important and influential Islamic thinkers in the modern age. An accomplished Islamic jurist and scholar, he is a professor at the UCLA School of Law, where he teaches Islamic law, immigration law, human rights law, and international and national security law. As the most critical and powerful voice against puritanical and Wahhabi Islam today, he regularly appears on national and international television and radio, including CNN, NBC, PBS, NPR, and the Voice of America (broadcast throughout the Middle East).

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