Book review: Islamsk humanisme

Islam is sometimes mentioned as one of the great monotheistic and humanistic religions. This may sound lofty when contrasted with the common demonizing of late. Norwegian Muslims are often publicly silent about their religion. Other Norwegians may therefore perhaps assume that Islamic religion is rather frozen and static.

However, there is only so much room for nuances or in-depth knowledge in the current media debates touching on Islam. These are all too often linked up with either immigration or terrorism. A new book published by Frekk forlag is out to rectify this. "Islamsk humanism" is a collection of essays written by Norwegian Muslims to lessen misunderstandings about Islam, underscoring the vast diversity and humanism in Islam.

In the preface it is stated ""We hope with this book to get the debate about Islam into a more objective and nuanced track and give the rising generation Norwegian Muslims an insight into the Islamic variety that rarely get space in the media. The book presents a small discussed perspective on Islamic and humanistic traditions and thinkers, to provide a more nuanced picture of today's most controversial religion. "

To this aim the book delivers. The cultural history and richness of Islam is highlighted. And central theological concepts are discussed with relation to contemporary society. The book stresses that most Muslims in western societies have more gender parity. And according to their view gender parity has a solid basis in Islam. Also they underline that there is a clear development where Islam is being criticized from within, in accordance with secular gender roles, equality before the law and individual choice.

The writer Lena Larsen highlights a modern development where religious experts refine and develop already existing theology with international human rights. From a historical viewpoint, Farhan Shah analyzes humanistic concepts such as the free will and the nature of rationality, as they appear in older Islamic texts. The well known concept of the Umma, religious community of Muslims, is put into several contexts by Nora Eggen. She shows that the Umma has often been invoked politically, yet the meanings of Umma in the Quran may be said to have more universal and truly humanistic characters. Moral philosophy is covered by Umar Ashraf who discusses moral prejudice with reference to the Islamic concept of Taqwa (the personal relation between God and worshipper). He argues that Taqwa gives no one right to judge other fellows. Yet this moral judging and prejudice is one of the more frequent problems about religious practices. Other central theological concepts are discussed throughout the book. In the final chapter Linda Noor gives an interesting analysis of political radicalization in Islam and Jihad´s name.

The general argument in this book is what one might call revisionist or liberal Islam. It may be argued that this kind of thinking is the exception rather than the rule. However, the book clearly gives evidence to such thinking in contemporary Norway, which inherently must be viewed an asset. And the authors challenge us, when they repeatedly claim that sizable portions of Western muslims, often majorities, also adhere to liberal and humane thinking and values with basis in Islam.

- Jørgen Flatabø

(Cover design by Annette L`Orange, courtesy by Frekk forlag)