Author: Khalid Duran with Abdelwahab Hechiche
Publisher: The American Jewish Committee
The motivation for the publication of Children of Abraham - An Introduction to Islam for Jews, as stated by its publisher, The American Jewish Committee, was to promote "mutual respect" and "reconciliation" between Muslims and Jews. However, in reading the book, one wonders just how far the publisher and author expected to move towards that altruistic goal. It is clear that the text will create controversy, potentially to the point of generating more bad blood between Muslims and Jews. The issue at hand is the presentation of Islam, which is at times grossly inaccurate, leaving the reader with an unauthentic picture of Islam, Islamic activism and the "Islamic movement".
Since its publication in the spring of 2001, Children of Abraham has received rounds of criticism from the Muslim community, most notably from the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). However according to the book's author, Khalid Duran, that criticism took a new turn recently when a threat was made on his life because of the content of his book. Duran claims that a fatwa was issued by Jordanian Sheik Abdel Moneim Abu Zant's organization, the Islamic Action Front, calling for his death. Abu Zant has denied the existence of such a fatwa; although, were the charge to be true, it would no doubt elevate Duran to a Salman Rushdie-like status, which of course would not hurt book sales in the West.
Duran, 61, a scholar of dubious distinction has taught at Islamabad University, the Free University of Berlin, and is currently a visiting scholar at five U.S. universities. He is also the president of the Ibn Khaldun Society - which he describes as an international group of 800 Muslim thinkers - and is the former editor of the now defunct TransIslam Quarterly.
"Don't judge a book by its cover," goes the saying; but if Children of Abraham were judged by its cover art, "guilty as charged" might very well be the verdict. The cover violates the general Islamic injunction against visual representations of Prophets, by showing Abraham (as) preparing to sacrifice his son Ishmael (as). It is a detail non-Muslims can overlook; but from an Islamic perspective, it is a gaff that could possibly be seen by some as a portent of things to come in between the book's pages.
Some of what is contained in Children of Abraham is, to a degree, troubling for Muslims. Duran's asserts that 85% of the Qur'an is disputable and "open to interpretation". He also casts certain aspects of Muslim ritual and worship in a negative light when he states that the fasting during Ramadan "disrupts normal economic activity."
Of additional concern is Duran's reliance on weak sources, although one could never be sure, for throughout the book Duran provides very few references. For example, he writes the following account of an incident that happened upon the Prophet Muhammad's (peace be upon him) triumphant return to Makkah: "Upon his victorious return to Mecca, the Prophet had 360 idols to smash. When one of his Companions, who helped in the iconoclasm, threw down a little wooden cross, the Prophet picked it up, put it in his pocket, and said, 'Not this one.'" (p. 21)
Even if this account were popularly known amongst Muslims, a citation would still be prudent from the standpoint of scholarship. But, given the fact that it runs somewhat contradictory to Islam's understanding of the Prophet Jesus and his relationship to the crucifix, the need for a reference is clear, yet Duran fails to provide one.
Similarly, in another place, while admitting that it might be of doubtful authenticity, Duran says that, "According, to Islamic eschatology, at the end of times the direction of prayer will again be towards Jerusalem where most of the eschatological events will take place" (p.143). Duran writes that this belief, "exists as an element of popular faith with millions," and again provides no reference.
Another issue of concern in Children of Abraham is Duran's targeting of Islamic activists, his general position being that what they represent is not true Islam. He even goes so far as to compare Islamic activism with Nazism (p.33) and with fascism (p.53). He writes, "Islamists mold tradition to serve their political ends, causing them to clash with traditionalist Muslims who resist the manipulation of religion for power politics."
Even the slogan, "No Capitalism, No Communism; Islamism, Islamism!" is, according to Duran, "a rather late version of a fascist slogan from the 1930s that found its way to General Peron's Argentina in the 1940s: Ni Capitalista, Ni Comunista; Peronista, Peronista!" (p.53). Duran's claim is that Islamic activists are nothing but supremacists who have hijacked key Islamic terms, like "jihad" and "shari'ah", to serve their own ends.
He even goes so far as to make the outlandish assertion that many women wear hijab only because they are mass-produced and distributed for free by Islamists. Duran then follows this up by playing upon Western anti-Islamic sentiments saying, "In terms of crimes against women, the Muslim world is second to none."
Reading through the book, one realizes that it is not a work of scholarship, but of an author of few credentials. In short, Children of Abraham - An Introduction to Islam for Jews, is a third-rate book by a second-rate author published on first-rate paper.