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Islam for the advanced

Kari Vogt's new book on Islam is not for beginners, but contains a wealth of knowledge and material for those who want to learn a little more.


In the amount of this autumn's Islamic books, we find several well-known names, and one of these is religion historian Kari Vogt – well-known commentator and authority on Islam. She has not jumped on the bandwagon, but has written about Islam and Muslims for a long time.

Her first book on Islam was House of Islam from 1993, which introduced this world religion to lay people. Her next book Come to stay (1995) was a presentation of European Islam, followed by the natural continuation Islam in Norwegian (2000). In addition, Vogt has also written two other books on Islam, Travel in Iran (1997) and breakthrough (2002), the latter written together with Anders Heger.

Back to the starting point

In relation to the first three books, which follow one another in a pattern of increased focus on Islam in general, Islam in Europe and Islam in Norway, Vogt in this book returns to the starting point. However, this is not a book that should be the first book on Islam one reads, as I am afraid one can easily be confused.

For while the book is easily understandable in linguistic terms, it contains a far more complex and, for a newcomer, often confusing amount of information. This is in many ways a continuation of House of Islam, Vogt also suggests in the introduction: "Everything that the contours of the time were clear is now clearly evident." And the need to nuance the language of "liberal" and "fundamentalist" Muslims, depending on whether we agree with some or not, is stronger than ever.

Vogt's strength is in many ways the position she has acquired in relation to the Muslim environment. This is not because she does not address problematic issues, as some of her critics accuse her of, but that she addresses these with respect for "the others." This means that criticism and questioning on the part of Vogt are not received with the same hostile attitude that many writers who try to say something similar will encounter. That is not to say that everything she thinks and says is in line with how a Muslim views himself and his religion. Many of her views and much of her understanding go beyond how most Muslims would perceive them. The point, however, is that she presents her own, or others' views, like this only and nothing more. This is not as provocative as demanding the right to define the facts of others.

Do not judge

The first two chapters present everything from the story of the Prophet's life to current issues such as forced marriage and minority rights for the reader. Here you get the Islamic points of view that the various groups choose to use for their arguments. Vogt does not try to judge what is right, but rather tells how the different groups look at this, and why. Vogt also devotes a chapter each to the Muslim mystics and Shia Islam.

However, it is the last two chapters that are interesting with this book. Here is presented "political" Islam and the reform movement. Vogt presents here the breadth of what is often called political Islam, where you find everything from militant and revolutionary groups to people like Egyptian Islamist Adil Husayn, who say: "These are humanistic ideals that exclude despotism and all totalitarian solutions, which increases people's participation in political processes and ensures a fair distribution of goods. ”A line of thought that could slip into the Nordic political discussion without anyone raising an eyebrow.

Lack of conceptual understanding

Unfortunately, terms such as Islamists, fundamentalists and fanatics are often used interchangeably, and the understanding of these concepts is extremely lacking. Vogt contributes here to show the complexity, but is not quite able to cultivate concepts that can be used. This is a difficult task, also because one talks at the same time about the conceptual understanding of daily life and professional literature. At the end of the chapter on political Islam, we meet A., a young, well-educated Egyptian, who, with shocking calm, explains his attachment to al-Qaeda and terrorist theology.

What should be thought of are his views on scholars such as Sheikh Yusuf al-Qardawi and the Muslim Brotherhood. These are attacked as extremists from some quarters, while A. sees these as moderate, and mainly good, Muslims. The problem is that persistent attacks on these from European and American sides are leading to increased support for the real extremists. These respect, for example, Sheikh Qardawi purely religiously, but believe that since his dialogue-oriented style leads to nothing but attacks from the West, one needs to use other and more violent means. This chapter could with advantage have been supplemented with interviews of other groups, which are so far presented in the text, but where one can get hurt for leaving A. as the only representative of political Islam. An interview with another Egyptian, Adil Huseyn – mentioned above, could have been an important balancing force here.

The last chapter is about the reform movement within Islam and ends with interviews with three different reform thinkers. Here we find the Muslim feminist movement, and a multitude of voices showing a picture of Islam we rarely see in the media.

Vogt's book is not an enchanting text, but much is learned about the diversity and breadth of Islamic and Muslim thinking. As previously mentioned, this is not an introductory text to Islam, but contains a wealth of knowledge and material for those who want to learn a little more. The Norwegian Islam debate could advantageously have several voices of Vogt's caliber.

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