Truly modern Muslims

Thomas Small in the Times Literary Supplement:

P7_SmallShahab Ahmed begins What is Islam? with an intriguing anecdote. At a Princeton banquet, a Cambridge logician turns to a distinguished Muslim academic seated at the same table and asks him whether he considers himself a Muslim. “Yes”, the Muslim replies. This is puzzling, so the don, operating under the customary misunderstanding that Islam is, in essence, a fiercely puritanical religion as hell-bent against wine-bibbers as it is against music-makers, homosexuals and the veneration of icons, motions to the Muslim’s glass and asks further, “Then why are you drinking wine?” The answer he receives provides the book with its starting point: “My family have been Muslims for a thousand years,” the Muslim says, “during which time we have always been drinking wine. You see,” he goes on, smiling at the don’s bewildered look, “we are Muslim wine-drinkers.”

The rest of the book attempts to make sense of what it means to be a Muslim wine-drinker, along with several other perplexing contradictions at the heart of the Islamic tradition: textual literalism and rational philosophy à la Avicenna; strict legalism and antinomian mysticism; dogmatic monotheism and Sufi monism; sexual puritanism and homoerotic love poetry; or the contradiction most perplexing to thinking people today, between Islam as the “religion of peace” and Islam as the self-professed religion of militant jihadists – a paradox demonstrated most recently in Manchester, where twenty-two people enjoying themselves at a pop concert were cruelly murdered by Salman Abedi, a Muslim suicide bomber; and in London Bridge, where a trio of knife-wielding jihadists killed seven more.

More here. [Thanks to Ali Minai.]