HEINEMANN £17.99 (310pp) £16.99 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

No God but God, by Reza Aslan

Visions of an Islamic reformer

For many troubled Muslims, this book will feel like a revelation, an opening up of knowledge too long buried, denied and corrupted by generations of men (all men, like in all religions) who have succeeded in turning a religion of hope, liberation, imagination, spirituality and mercy into a heartless rule-book of control freakery.

Muslim keepers of the latter will rage against Reza Aslan as his careful scholarship and precise language dismantles their false claims and commands. Orthodoxies bite back when the daring interrogate them. For non-Muslim readers, the author is a fascinating guide who takes them through 1400 years of a complicated and exhilarating journey, starting with the birth of Islam, with animated debates about what it means to be a Muslim, and the tensions between eternal divine laws and human evolution.

This is not uncommon: there is a line of inspiring authors who have "explained" Islam and narrated the foundational stories of that belief-system. But Aslan and a small number of emerging voices have embarked on something much more radical. Ziauddin Sardar in Britain is one of them, as are Tariq Ramadhan in Switzerland and Amina Wadud, who proudly led a mixed congregation in prayers in New York this spring. Ramadhan has called for the end of hudood punishments - stoning, amputations, executions. Bravery indeed.

They are making history with poise and confidence. Like Martin Luther, most of these reformers shape their challenges in terms of simple faith, essence, and original principles which make more sense to them than the pontifications of dogmatists. Aslan writes of a worldwide battle: "a jihad if you will - to strip the Traditionalist Ulama of their monopoly over the meaning and message of Islam and pave the way" to realise "the long-awaited and hard-fought Islamic reformation." In the Muslim world, and in Europe and the US, the message of Islam is being re-defined by first and second-generation immigrants. This new-wave Islam wants Muslims to merge the values of their ancestors with the democratic values of their homes. The reformation Aslan anticipates will be "a terrifying event", but it will engulf the world.

Aslan is acutely perceptive when he writes that 11 September was as much a manifestation of this clash as a blow to the superpower. However, confused and solipsistic, the authorities in the US and UK cannot deal with audacious reformers whose intellect challenges their stereotypes and geopolitical games. So much easier to do business with tyrants, autocrats and lackeys. Ramadhan is labelled "dangerous", denied a visa to take up a post in the US; Aslan is branded a "fundamentalist". They carry on, in the creative space between two wilfully ignorant civilisations.

Aslan locates Islam in the historical landscape, unpicks myths and gives us a rounded Prophet, who was a man steeped in the influence of Christianity and Judaism. Before the prophetic visions, Muhammad was drawn to monotheistic thinkers, troubled about his wealth and privilege. Some readers will bristle to read this section, other may have their own interpretations. Such robust debates are essential. Ijtihad - independent reasoning - is intrinsic to Islamic scholarship.

My arguments with Aslan are political. He does not embrace the secular state - in my view, the only safe state for human rights and pluralism. Nations where majority religions dominate the public space inevitably relegate others to subservience. In time, authoritarianism takes hold. It happened in India under the Hindu nationalist government and in Iran under Khomeini.

Aslan remembers the early promises of the Iranian revolution. Now he imagines Islamic enlightened politics will arrive in Iraq - another hopeless hope, I fear. Iraq's secularism has been destroyed and its Islamicisation brings foreboding for secular Muslims, women, Christians and Jews. Maybe he will be proved right and a just Islamic, Iraqi state will emerge. If so, I will be happy to surrender to this young writer and his ideals.

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's 'Some of My Best Friends' is published by Politico's

Buy any book reviewed on this site at Independent Books Direct
- postage and packing are free in the UK
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Clothing items bearing the badge have become popular among music aficionados
musicAuthorities rule 'clenched fist' logo cannot be copyrighted
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson will star in Seth MacFarlane's highly-anticipated Ted 2

film
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike in 'Gone Girl'

film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
    Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

    Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

    Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
    Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

    Education, education, education

    TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
    It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

    It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

    So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
    This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

    Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

    Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
    We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

    Inside the E15 'occupation'

    We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

    Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

    The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
    Witches: A history of misogyny

    Witches: A history of misogyny

    The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
    Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Meet the most powerful woman in US television

    Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
    'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

    Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style