Ed Husain’s latest book, The House of Islam, A Global History, is an honest and informative writing about the past and current state of Muslims in the world according to a former Islamic radical. There are many similarities between Husain’s account and other apologists’ writing on Islam and its diverse history and interpretation of its creed. However, there are also unique differences which makes his book an interesting read.
Husain is very critical of fundamentalism in Islam. He wrote about himself as an Islamist in his first book, The Islamist: Why I Joined Radical Islam in Britain, What I Saw Inside and Why I Left. Husain living and working with his wife in Saudi Arabia where his faith was born was not something he anticipated. He experienced racism, sexism and seeing many Muslims living in abject poverty. This was his house of Islam firsthand experience that opened his eye. Husain has not abandoned his belief but his outlook on life and what Muslims should do for a better future has changed. He has a deeper understanding of Islamic history, sharia law and what reforms Muslims should strive to make in their religion.
Husain provides reliable statistics about Muslims and their current and future growth in the world. He informs the reader that Muslims are only going to get bigger with their population projected to reach 3 billion by 2050. Husain’s identity at the same time is deeply rooted in Islam and he has no doubt about its superiority but at the same time he rejects violence and fundamentalism. Throughout the book he focuses on the positive, spiritual and humane examples in Islam which to him are rich enough for Muslims to disown jihadism and reject any tendency toward senseless and indiscriminate killing in its name.
He points to the fact that only 20 percent of Muslims are Arabs which is an indication of Islam and its cosmopolitan demographics. However he also warns that ‘the Muslim world is undergoing a renewed Arabisation, led by Saudi Arabian-Influenced Salafism and international activism of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.’
Husain tries to be fair to both Sunnies and the Shiites when he discusses their differences. The reader gets a good picture of their theological disputes starting shortly after Prophet Muhammad died. He briefly mentions the occasion “in the dessert called Ghadir Khumm where he [Muhammad] and his companions were resting, the Prophet pointed to Ali. ‘To whomever I was a master, Ali is their master,’ he said. Was the Prophet now naming a successor? If so, why do this in front of a smaller crowd, and not before the vast crowds in Mecca? The word he used was maula, which is also Arabic for tribal protector, overload, friend or patron.”
The are other reasons to doubt the Shiite claim for Ali’s right to the caliphate which Husain should have mentioned. For example, if the succession of Ali as the first caliph was ordained by Allah why not a single explicit Quranic verse was revealed to the community of Muslims? Husain’s solution to mend the disunity and bring reconciliation to Sunni and Shiite Muslims is a deeper understanding of the sharia.
Husain challenges the Muslims to question the hadiths that are not aligned with the Quran. For example, ‘there are alleged hadiths calling dogs and women filth, and condemning Jews, homosexuals and Christians…Verifying and questioning certain hadiths, therefore, is more than an academic exercise.’ Unlike other apologists who readily accept the authenticity of the hadiths Husain believes that because the hadiths were written 200 years after the Prophet, it should not be blindly accepted.
Husain invites Muslims to be tolerant. He does not believe any one should be killed on blasphemy charges. The killing of the Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, Charlie Hebdo journalists and bloggers who were hacked to death, among others can only alienate people from Islam. He provides many examples to show that the Prophet and his companions showed mercy to those who left or offended Islam. Husain also urges Muslims living in the secular society to be grateful for the freedom they have to work and prosper, build mosques, schools and proselytise where as non Muslims in Islamic countries have lesser or virtually no rights.
It is sometimes blurry to see what Husain wants to happen in the Muslim world politically. He clearly identifies with the Arab Spring and believes that it is not over yet. But he also advocates for participation of all Muslims in the political process. But isn’t this a recipe for disaster if all these Muslim groups brought their own interpretation of Islam at the table? Wouldn’t it be better if all Muslims agree in separating religion from the state as the first premise for their unity and cooperation?
For him the Middle East can become a prosperous, open and peaceful region if the neighbouring Muslim countries cooperate with each other.
Husain is a moderate and compassionate voice of Islam. For him the Middle East can become a prosperous, open and peaceful region if the neighbouring Muslim countries cooperate with each other. And Islam does not have to be left behind if a society wants to become independent, tolerant and confident in its future. He believes the sacred has a special place in Muslim countries which should be cherished and protected but not with guns and violence but with tolerance and compassion.
There is a lot to take home from this book. It gives courage to those who are moderate Muslims to speak their mind without fear. His critical assessment of the current state of Islamic world and its challenges petition the Muslims to be more discerning and think critically and question the status quo.
Ed Husain is also someone who is both the outsider and insider. A Muslim from Indian heritage living in England he has tried to bring harmony to his own conflicting and competing ideas of faith, freedom, sacredness and individual freedom, western and Islamic values, like so many people like him he’s been viewed as a foreigner among the British and a westerner among believers.