Islam and the Secular Challenge: Remembering Shabbir Akhtar

Category: Faith & Spirituality, Featured Topics: Obituary Views: 694

Professor Shabbir Akhtar departed this world in July 2023, but his enduring legacy will continue for generations through his works, available in multiple languages, including English and Arabic. He was not only a philosopher and thinker but also an esteemed academician, polyglot, and renowned expert on the New Testament.

Born in Pakistan, he later migrated to the UK with his family. While his father worked as a bus driver, Shabbir Akhtar pursued a path of religious studies, surpassing his contemporaries in the study of various religions, including his own.

He earned his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in philosophy from the University of Cambridge and completed his Ph.D. in philosophy of religion from the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, in 1984. His doctoral thesis was titled "Religion in the Age of Reason: Faith and the Apostasy of Humanism."

From 2012 to 2023, he served as a faculty member in Theology and Religions at Oxford University, UK. Prior to that, he was an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Old Dominion University, USA (2002-2011) and an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the International Islamic University, Malaysia (1994-1997).

Professor Shabbir Akhtar's literary contributions include various impactful books available in multiple languages, such as English, French, Bosnian, and Indonesian. Some of his notable works are "Be Careful with Muhammad! Salman Rushdie and the Battle for Free Speech," "The New Testament in Muslim Eyes: Paul's Letter to the Galatians," "Islam as Political Religion: The Future of an Imperial Faith," "The Quran and the Secular Mind: A Philosophy of Islam," "Love in the Wrong Season: Collected Poems," "Muslim Poetic Imagination," and many others.

Akhtar's books on "Islam As A Political Religion," "New Testament from a Muslim Perspective," and "The Quran" showcase his thought process and profound knowledge. He offers a profound insight into Islam, the Quran, and Christianity, addressing an audience rapidly gravitating towards secularism. He passionately defends Islam as a genuine and final religion, delving into the essence of its political ideals.

In 1989, he penned an article in The Guardian concerning Salman Rushdie, stating, "Anyone who fails to be offended by Rushdie's book ipso facto ceases to be a Muslim." He presented the options of emigration (hijrah) to the House of Islam or a declaration of holy war (jihād) on the House of Rejection for Muslims who find living in the UK intolerable due to the Rushdie virus.

Akhtar's earliest book, "Reason and the Radical Crisis of Faith" (1987), emphasizes the significance of a Muslim reformer who strengthens Islam without weakening its essence. He questions whether the West would prefer an empowered Islam or an impotent version that has given rise to terrorism and extremism as substitutes for genuine political engagement.

He urges for an organic, non-imposed 'colonial' reformation supported by the West. Simultaneously, he advises Muslims to confront modernity's intellectual terms while preserving the essence of their tradition, akin to the tale of Daniel in the den.

Acknowledging the absence of a clerical hierarchy in Sunni Islam, he recognizes a Muslim thinker's voice as an individual calling out in the wilderness. He contests the use of terms like 'Islamism' or 'Islamist' to define Islam, much like 'Christianism' and 'Christianists' cannot fully encapsulate Christianity.

Identifying ten features of Islam as not merely a religion but also a political and ideological faith, his work provides a comprehensive introduction to Islam, Prophet Muhammad's life, and the Quran's content. It delves into Islam's historical evolution from an empowered, legal, and imperial faith to a private, ethical, and rational faith.

Akhtar questions whether Islam will survive solely as a theology or transform into an ideology. He critiques Western Christianity and Liberal Judaism for succumbing to capitalist secularism and assimilation. He asserts that Islam cannot be easily accommodated into cultural and religious pluralism defined solely by Western perspectives.

In "The New Testament in Muslim Eyes: Paul's Letter to the Galatians," Shabbir Akhtar rejects the 'salvation offer' of the Gospel. He distinguishes the Arabic īmān, defined as 'knowledge entertained with certainty,' from the Greek pistis, which he perceives as mere 'speculation.' He advocates for candidly declaring the errors of Christianity without caution or diplomacy.

In "The Quran and the Secular Mind," Akhtar argues that Islam's decision to confront rather than accommodate secular belief makes it unique. He urges viewing the Quran with its distinctiveness and integrity rather than seeking parallels with biblical Semitic faiths.

He emphasizes critical reasoning rather than merely extracting and illustrating Quranic dogma.

Professor Shabbir Akhtar's profound contributions will undoubtedly impact Muslims growing up in the West. As awareness of his works spreads, readers will encounter an authentic and unapologetic rational explanation of Islam, challenging conventional beliefs and promoting deeper understanding.

Some Books by Professor Shabbir Akhtar

  Category: Faith & Spirituality, Featured
  Topics: Obituary
Views: 694

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