In this short book, Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz invite you to join an urgently needed conversation: Is Islam a religion of peace or war? Is it amenable to reform? Why do so many Muslims seem drawn to extremism? What do words like Islamism, jihadism, and fundamentalism mean in today’s world?
Remarkable for the breadth and depth of its analysis, this dialogue between a famous atheist and a former radical is all the more startling for its decorum. Harris and Nawaz have produced something genuinely new: they engage one of the most polarizing issues of our time―fearlessly and fully―and actually make progress.
Islam and the Future of Tolerance has been published with the explicit goal of inspiring a wider public discussion by way of example. In a world riven by misunderstanding and violence, Harris and Nawaz demonstrate how two people with very different views can find common ground.
In this conversation, Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz achieve what so many who take part in the debate on Islam and the West fail to accomplish: a civil but honest dialogue. The result is as illuminating as it is fascinating. Courteous and at times even chivalrous, the two men address every thorny issue on Islam, issues that lead so many others into wild shouting matches, personal attacks, and accusations of Islamophobia. In this gem of a book the authors lay it all out and set the rest of us a great example: that an incisive debate on Islam between a believer and a non-believer is attainable. Given the importance and the urgency of the topic, we must all read it and follow in their footsteps.
Free thought and rational inquiry once characterized the relative liberalism and humanism of ancient Muslim societies and civilizations: the leading Sunni Imam, Abu Hanifa, would debate atheists inside the great mosques of Iraq; the Abbasid caliphs hosted debates amongst the leaders of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam at their courts in Baghdad; the Mughal emperors engaged in debate with Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists. Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz should be commended for conducting a frank and wide-ranging conversation about a number of key issues around religion, reform, and Islam in the modern world. Nawaz’s approach is based upon detailed familiarity with extremist worldviews, and with the history and tradition of reform theology and renewal within Islam that desperately needs to be amplified. I hope that this debate will be a fruitful endeavor, and illustrate that, in our increasingly-polarized world, it is possible and even normal for people with different viewpoints to have a civilized conversation and to learn from each other.
Back in Islam’s formative centuries, the engagement of Muslims with their ideological opponents helped them to forge the doctrines and traditions of their nascent faith―and perhaps now, as Maajid Nawaz locks horns with Sam Harris, we are at the start of another stage in Islam’s evolution. It is certainly a privilege to read their conversation, and to enjoy a flavor of those great debates between rival scholars that were once staged for the entertainment of the Caliph in Baghdad.
The reform of Islam is shaping up to be the most important issue in political ideology of the twenty-first century. This honest and intelligent dialogue is a superb exploration of the intellectual and moral issues involved.