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Book review: Correcting misconceptions of Islam

9th Apr 2021
Book review: Correcting misconceptions of Islam

The Muslim Problem: Why We’re Wrong About Islam and Why It Matters, by Tawseef Khan, 249p, Atlantic Books, 2021. £14.99 Hardback / £12.99 Paperback

Living schizophrenic realities is something Muslims are very familiar with. We live in communities where we are collectively feared making us extremely mindful of our actions in public, but we find ourselves equally critical of our own. For the many uncomfortable encounters that we have within and outside of our religious communities, this book offers detailed and informed rebuttals. He states early in the book, ‘I remember the jokes made by high-school acquaintances, where the punchline centred on me being a terrorist. How my friends laughed without hesitation, and I felt such impotence at having no comeback’. (p 3) This book is Tawseef Khan’s comeback.

The relentless public attacks on Muslims leave a derogatory imprint in our self-perceptions. ‘This hostility encourages a culture of defensiveness; it stifles self-reflection and progress. Muslims fear the price of integration on Western terms. We fear loss – of ourselves, our culture, our customs, our way of life – to be embraced. But sometimes we end up clinging to the symbols of faith – things that will set us apart from the west – rather than faith itself. (p 62) It leads to an unspoken belief that there is nothing in our histories and heritage to be proud of. This book seeks to remedy that lack of confidence and offers a critique of ‘Western’ systems that claim superiority over others.
‘… the Muslim imprint on the West is too strong for those of us living here to be pushed outside of it.’

Khan is adamant about the historical contributions of people of colour, and Muslims to the ideas that the West claim monopoly over. Often, the works of our predecessors have shaped the West into what it is today.

The features that define the democracy of the West is not new and can be found in our histories. Khan cites the examples of the Abbasids whose judiciary arm was separate from its government. When we think of the Magna Carta as a document that first ensured the rights of the minority, whereas Khan mentions a document authored 600 years earlier – the constitutional charter of Madinah, which ensured the safety of the minorities that lived in the multi-religious city. ‘Democratic values are not foreign to Islam. I suggest we invoke remembrance of our heritage to make this clear. Muslims don’t require a reformation similar to that which occurred within Christianity and produced Protestantism. We simply must return to our inclusive, diverse and innovative roots.’ (p 46)

It is also a conversation that Khan wishes to have with Muslims or pockets of the community that he disagrees with. When he talked about the Muslim families that protested the introduction of the RSE curriculum in the UK, he states, ‘Religious rights are not absolute; Muslims can’t use them at the expense of other people’s humanity. We can’t use them to advance prejudiced positions and expect to be respected.’ (p 58)

This book is a healthy mix of a learned understanding of our histories – it is by no means comprehensive – and his understanding of faith. His book could have benefited from other individuals’ thoughts and perspectives on the issues he is opining over. It would add a gravitas, which the book does not possess.

If you spend hours in front of the mirror having the best comeback to all that comes your way, this book might help in getting the right words out at the right time.

Aasiya I Versi

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

The Muslim News Awards for Excellence 2015 was held on March in London to acknowledge British Muslim and non-Muslim contributions to the society.

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