A Malaysian Bookshelf

The three texts by and with the young Malaysian editor Al Mustaqeem Radhi brought together here are meant to provide some intellectual particulars but also, as importantly, the texture of a particular voice--one committed to the philosophical tradition of liberal Islam.

In the main essay “The West in the Travel Journal of an Imam in Paris” Radhi rereads critically an “Orientalist view of the West”, the journal of Tahtawi, an Egyptian imam dispatched to Paris in mid-19th century on a ‘research trip’ of Enlightenment France. This classic travel account (whose full title translates as “ An Extraction of Gold in a Summary of Paris”) has been widely studied as a historic document in the annals of Islamic modernization, and compared, for instance, to Tocqueville’s roughly coeval survey of America. Radhi here approaches Tahtawi’s journal with less reverence and more skepticism, as if in dialogue with a contemporary, paying special attention to its kernels of dogma, then ricocheting them as salvos against the strictures of State Islam in today’s Malaysia. Not for nothing was Islam and Pluralism, a volume of essays he subsequently edited, among those several recently confiscated by the Malaysian authorities.

In the entirely personal “Letter to My Mother on the Question of Choice, written during Radhi’s stay in Iowa City, the very idea of ‘apostasy’ is challenged in an at once personal, defiant and sarcastic mode. Finally the interview, in which Radhi shares the occasion with another unorthodox young Islamic scholar, the Bulgarian-born poet Aziz Shakir-Tash provides some background to the particular path he has taken.

Nataša Ďurovičová