A fascinating journey into Islam's diverse history of ideas, making an argument for an "Islamic Enlightenment" today
In Reopening Muslim Minds, Mustafa Akyol, senior fellow at the Cato Institute and opinion writer for The New York Times, both diagnoses “the crisis of Islam” in the modern world, and offers a way forward. Diving deeply into Islamic theology, and also sharing lessons from his own life story, he reveals how Muslims lost the universalism that made them a great civilization in their earlier centuries. He especially demonstrates how values often associated with Western Enlightenment — freedom, reason, tolerance, and an appreciation of science — had Islamic counterparts, which sadly were cast aside in favor of more dogmatic views, often for political ends.
Elucidating complex ideas with engaging prose and storytelling, Reopening Muslim Minds borrows lost visions from medieval Muslim thinkers such as Ibn Rushd (aka Averroes), to offer a new Muslim worldview on a range of sensitive issues: human rights, equality for women, freedom of religion, or freedom from religion. While frankly acknowledging the problems in the world of Islam today, Akyol offers a clear and hopeful vision for its future.
In this thoroughly researched and fervently argued book, Turkish journalist Akyol (The Islamic Jesus) follows the development of Islamic thought from its golden age of philosophy and science to today's strains of conservative orthodoxy. Akyol surveys prominent thinkers (particularly 12th-century Andalusian polymath Ibn Rushd), writers (among them 11th-century Persian philosopher Al-Ghazali), and even important fictional characters such as Hayy ibn Yaqzan, the protagonist of a popular 12th-century tale. He also challenges the idea that "Islam, right from its core, has been an unusually dogmatic religion" and "an exceptionally rigid and absolutist version of monotheism." The reality, he argues, is that restrictions on intellectual freedom within Islam were a result of political expedience specifically medieval sultans interested in preserving their own authority rather than any features inherent in the religion. Akyol's analysis serves as a theology as well as a history, advocating for a more tolerant and open Islam based on the primary teachings of the Koran, though readers unfamiliar with Islam will have a hard time following the author's theological reasoning. Scholars of Islam, and especially Muslims interested in the faith's future, will find Akyol's take trenchant and satisfying. \n