July 
2008

Vol 8-No. 1


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Book Review


An Act of Courage

Book review by Zubair Masood *

Chasing a Mirage is Tarek Fatah’s tour de force and an encounter with truth, most is which is unsavoury, to say the least. In this book, Fatah takes some highly controversial and even taboo subjects by the horn and the book is, therefore, an act of great courage. It is a sort of call-attention-notice to liberal and moderate Muslims worldwide to put their act together and take on the regressive Islamists, who have hijacked their faith for political power and pelf.

More on the Book

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 believed in.

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”.   

Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic lllusion of an Islamic State
Tarek Fatah

ISBN: 978-0-470-84116-7
John Wiley & Sons Canada, Ltd  $31.95 

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 everyday life.

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.

Zubair Masood is a freelance writer. He can be reached at Email zubairmasood@hotmail.com

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