the great theft: wrestling islam from the extremists

By Khaled Abou El Fadl


EXCERPT: "...The objective of this book is to argue that there is an already- existing schism in Islam between Muslim moderates and what I will call the Muslim puritans. Both moderates and puritans claim to represent the true and authentic Islam. Both believe that they represent the Divine message as God intended it to be, and both believe that their convictions are thoroughly rooted in the Holy Book, the Qur’an, and in authentic traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, who was God’s final prophet and messenger to humanity. Puritans, however, accuse the moderates of having changed and reformed Islam to the point of diluting and corrupting it. And moderates accuse the puritans of miscomprehending and misapplying Islam to the point of undermining and even defiling the religion.


"Observers of the current Islamic condition, such as the average journalist, politician, or layperson who are not specialized in Islamic studies, often find the situation confusing and even chaotic. These observers hear many competing and contradictory versions of what Islam is or should be, and it is never clear who among Muslims believes in what, and why. In addition, it is rarely clear whether all the competing claims about Islamic tenets are legitimately anchored in Islamic theology and law. Perhaps the most common inquiry and source of confusion is: To what extent do Islamic theology and law encourage and promote terrorism? In my view, the equally compelling question is: Is there in fact an existing, reformed vision of Islam competing with a more conservative and strict version of the religion?


"In this book, I will argue that indeed Islam is at the current time passing through a transformative moment no less dramatic than the Reformation movements that swept through Europe at one time, and led to long and bloody religious wars. Although this transformative moment is no less dramatic than the European reformations, in the Islamic context at the present time it is not as developed or acute.


"Nevertheless, there is a significant rift between the belief system of the reformed moderates and the more conservative and strict puritans. We understand the difference between Islam as it is understood by puritans like the Taliban and Bin Laden, and Islam as it is understood by what I will argue are the majority of less visible Muslims. Moderates constitute the silent majority of Muslims in the world, but puritans have an impact upon the religion that is wildly disproportionate to their numbers. Regardless of the present constitution of the Islamic world, the transformative moment of which I speak is embodied by the fact that there are two paradigmatically opposed worldviews that are competing to define the truth of the Islamic faith. By “truth of the Islamic faith,” I mean what becomes the accepted precepts and axioms about the place of Islamic history in the Muslim psyche, the foundational message of the Qur’an, the quintessential lessons taught by the Prophet Muhammad, the moral priorities of the individual believer, and the ethical parameters that guide Muslims in interacting with others. Puritans and moderates not only disagree on all these issues, but they also each struggle to make their paradigms and worldviews the overwhelmingly dominant and long-lasting truth of Islam. In their most pure and unadulterated forms the views of the two groups are irreconcilable, and therefore, although some form of coexistence might be possible, the two views tend to clash and compete. It might be possible for each view to exist as a school of thought within Islam and to tolerate and perhaps respect the other, but this is becoming increasingly difficult. The acts of terrorism and violence committed by the puritans are increasing the pressure for confrontation and for a decisive transformation in Islamic history..."




PART ONE: The Battleground for Faith

  1. Islam Torn Between Extremism and Moderation
  2. The Roots of the Problem
  3. The Rise of the Early Puritans
  4. The Story of the Contemporary Puritans

    PART TWO: Charting the Moderate Versus Puritan Divide

  5. What All Muslims Agree Upon
  6. God and the Purpose of Creation
  7. The Nature of Law and Morality
  8. Approaches to History and Modernity
  9. Democracy and Human Rights
  10. Interacting with Non-Muslims and Salvation
  11. Jihad, Warfare, and Terrorism
  12. The Nature and Role of Women









“The Great Theft is probably the most dramatic manifesto from an American Muslim since the September 11 attacks.” (Associated Press)


“Those looking for an understanding of the Muslim world and its relationship to the West…will find this book invaluable.” (Dallas Morning News)


“Mother Jones and the National Review rarely see eye-to-eye, but we both agree on this essential title.” (Mother Jones Magazine)


“An uncommonly rich, learned and easily accessible framework for understanding the current theological struggle within Islam.” (Washington Post Book World)


“… [The Great Theft] lucidly answers important questions Westerners have about Islam.” (San Francisco Chronicle)


“Khaled Abou El Fadl has made a contribution that should be widely distributed and deeply reflected upon.” (Globe and Mail (Toronto)


“One of the more engaging primers on Islam available.” (Foreign Affairs)