Tarek Fatah is no stranger to
controversy. In the late 1960s, he was a left-wing student leader in Pakistan;
and 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, Fatah finally settled in
Canada, his adopted homeland, in 1987.
He has been contributing op-eds to
mainstream Canadian Newspapers: the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail and the
National Post; and in addition to appearances in many TV programs, he has been
hosting Vision TV’s popular program: the Muslim Chronicle. Because of his
eclectic, iconoclastic and liberal views on Islam and the present deplorable
plight of Muslim communities across the world, he 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
In 2001, Fatah founded Muslim Canadian
Congress, an organization of liberal and moderate Muslims in Canada. This
organization supports liberal and secular causes throughout the world. Since
its inception, the MCC has been an effective countervailing force against
Islamists organizations: Canadian Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR),
Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and Canadian Islamic Congress (CIC) -
to name but a few - with their obscurantist agenda to pitch the already
disadvantaged Muslims against the world community.
Since its publication, Fatah’s first
book, ‘Chasing a Mirage’ has generated a lot of controversy and healthy
debate on a number of issues, which have been bothering the Muslims for the
past 1400 years. It is not a textbook on Islamic history, yet it gives 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 Islamic state and that Islamic state has actually been an illusion. Relying on hard and irreducible historical facts, he tries to drag the Muslims out of comforting, yet misleading myths. He maintains that “Muhammad (upon him be peace) 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”. 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 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.” He goes on to add, “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”.
Mirage: The Tragic lllusion of an Islamic State
While discussing the mirage the
Islamists are chasing, Fatah makes a thoughtful and incisive distinction
between ‘Islamic state’ and a ‘state of Islam’, which in fact are two
parallel strains of the religion. The first ‘Islamic state’ is a utopia
nurtured by political Islam. It comes into being when a political entity uses
Islam to govern and control society, while the state of Islam is an
individual’s moral and spiritual choice, which governs his personal life.
Fatah has no issue with this ‘state of Islam’, 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. While he finds political Islam connected to 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 them, in a more spiritual sense, and adopt a secular approach to
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 actualized 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.
In this book, Fatah also discusses
modern issues such as jihad, hijab, Sharia laws, Islamic banking, terrorism
and Islamist’s agenda of waging a holy war against the infidel West for the
greater glory and supremacy of Islam.
The most important thing about this
book is it is highly readable. Fatah gives us his unique perspectives on a
myriad issue plaguing the Muslim communities in clear and precise, yet
forceful prose, that takes the readers along. Actually, he has written this
book with passion, which is manifest in poetical expression reminiscent of
Joseph Conrad while at times, his prose has a rhetorical, even polemical touch
characteristic of the scriptures.
In this important addition to literature on the subject, Fatah 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.
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