Ahmed Lotfy Rashed. What Would a Muslim Say? Conversations, Questions, and Answers about Islam. Common Word Publishing, 2016. See here to purchase the book.
Ahmed Lotfy Rashed was born in Egypt and grew up in the United States. His education and vocation are in the sciences, but he himself is Muslim and is well-read in Islamic law and history. He has worked to educate non-Muslims about Islam, by speaking at schools, churches, and temples, and by responding to people’s e-mails about Islam.
This book is the first volume of a series that shares e-mail conversations that Rashed has had with people about Islam. The book is divided into sections, according to the questioner. Only the person’s first name is presented, and Rashed states that the e-mails have been edited to protect people’s privacy.
There is a spectrum of questioners who are presented in this book. Some questioners are antagonistic towards Islam, seeing it as a violent, misogynistic religion. Some have those concerns but are, or become, more open to listening to what Rashed has to say in the course of the dialogue. Some are thinking about converting to Islam. One person asks how to be sure that the Quran is inspired, and another person wrestles with whether to convert to Islam because she is homosexual. Another person is going through the Quran and asks Rashed how Muslims interpret and apply certain passages. For instance, Islam is against people making money as a result of interest, so can Muslims own stocks or have a savings account? Rashed discusses the variety of ways that Muslims have dealt with this teaching.
Rashed argues against what he believes are mischaracterizations of Islam, as he refers to the Quran, teachings attributed to Muhammad, and secular historians. According to Rashed, authentic Islam opposes racism, misogyny, and religious compulsion. Jihad occurs defensively or to protect Muslims from persecution, and authentic Islam is against taking the lives of civilians. Suicide, and thus suicide-bombing, is condemned in authentic Islam. As far as Rashed is concerned, Muslims who act contrary to these teachings are not acting according to authentic Islam. Rashed also refers to Muslim authorities who have condemned terrorist attacks.
The book is not a PC whitewash of Islam, though, for Rashed defends aspects of Islam that might offend a number of modern Westerners. I have encountered Muslims who see Judaism and Christianity as legitimate paths to God, but Rashed appears to uphold the necessity of accepting Muhammad’s message, which he believes corrects the inaccuracies that have accumulated in Judaism and Christianity. Rashed states that Islam opposes religious compulsion, but he defends sharia law, stating that governments should reflect God’s law. He argues that such laws are reasonable, however, as when he contends that the stoning of adulterers is to be limited and should occur against adultery that is so flagrant and public that it undermines public morality. Rashed also affirms that Islam opposes homosexual sex.
Rashed’s responses are friendly, engaging, and informative. He links to sites that provide more information, and he refers to resources that are probably useful, such as a particular translation of the Quran that offers ideas about the specific historical situation that each passage was addressing. Rashed comes across as someone who is eager to engage any question that people may ask. While he sometimes asks people where they are on their religious journey with respect to Islam, he is eager to address questions that are asked simply to gain information, apart from any desire to convert.
In terms of critiques, while there were times when Rashed specifically cited sources, there were also times when he did not provide the citation. He just quoted the Prophet, without specifying where one can find that quote. The book would also have been better had it engaged more the traditional Islamic passages that critics of Islam have cited in arguing that Islam is racist, misogynistic, and violent. These passages have been cited by such critics of Islam as Robert Spencer and Hank Hanegraaff. But even Mark Robert Anderson, author of The Quran in Context, who has graduate degrees in Islamic studies from McGill University and has studied and taught in Egypt and Jordan, argues that Muhammad’s wars were not always defensive. Rashed may tangentially address such concerns when he argues that not all Islamic laws are universal but that some applied to specific situations, or when he acknowledges that Islam engaged in the empire-building that others did. More engagement with controversial passages would have enhanced the book, however; still, it should be remembered that this is only the first book of a series.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author. My review is honest.