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  • Writer's pictureAslam Abdullah

Professor Shabbir Akhtar: The Muslim Philosopher of the Future


Professor Shabbir Akhtar left this mortal world in July 2023, but his legacy will live for generations to come through his work available in English, Arabic, and many other languages.

He was a philosopher, thinker, academician, polyglot, and expert on New Testament. He taught at Oxford University. Born in Pakistan, he migrated with his family to the UK. His father worked as a bus driver, and he self-drove on the path of religious studies, outpacing his generation in studying religions, including his own.

He studied philosophy (BA and MA degrees) at the University of Cambridge. He got his Ph.D. in philosophy of religion from the University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, in 1984), his thesis being "Religion in the Age of Reason: Faith and the Apostasy of Humanism."

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

His books in English include

  • 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,

  • The Final Imperative: An Islamic Theology of Liberation,

  • A Faith for All Seasons: Islam and the Challenge of the Modern World,

  • The Light in the Enlightenment: Christianity and the Secular Heritage,

  • A Season in the Ghetto: Collected Poems,

  • Be Careful with Muhammad!: The Salman Rushdie Affair,

  • The Mother of Judas Iscariot and Other Poems,

  • Reason and the Radical Crisis of Faith,

Many of these books are also available in French, Bosnian, and Indonesian languages.

Akhtar's books on Islam As A Political Religion, New Testament from a Muslim Perspective, and the Quran highlight his thought process and the depth of his knowledge. He offers a primer on Islam, Quran, and Christianity to an audience that has sold its soul to secularism. He defends Islam as an authentic final religion., and explains the nature of its political ideals. In 1989, he published an article in The Guardian on Salman Rushdie: "There is no choice in the matter. Anyone who fails to be offended by Rushdie's book ipso facto ceases to be a Muslim. Those Muslims who find it intolerable to live in the United Kingdom contaminated with the Rushdie virus need to seriously consider the Islamic alternatives of emigration (hijrah) to the House of Islam or a declaration of holy war (jihād) on the House of Rejection." The article also included the much-quoted sentence: "The next time there are gas chambers in Europe, there is no doubt concerning who'll be inside them."

Shabbir Akhtar's first book was Reason and the Radical Crisis of Faith (1987); in Political Islam, he argues that only a Muslim reformer who strengthens Islam, not emasculates it, carries any integrity among Muslims. He asks Western non-Muslim readers if they would prefer a legitimately empowered Islam or an impotent Islam that has recently given us terrorism and extremism as a substitute for politics and policies.

He asks the West to support an organic, not an imposed 'colonial' reformation. On the other hand, he advised Muslims to be like Daniel in the den, They must face the lion and take on modernity's intellectual terms without relinquishing the authority of the best of their tradition.

He admits that In the absence of a clerical hierarchy in (Sunni) Islam, a Muslim thinker is always only an individual voice, crying in the wilderness.

He argues that terms such as 'Islamism' or 'Islamist' do not define Islam, as 'Christianism' and 'Christianists' can not define Christianity.

He identifies ten features of Islam as a religion but as a political and ideological faith.

This book is a complete introduction to Islam, the life of Prophet Muhammad, and the contents of its scripture. It also gives a history of Islam to explain how Islam evolved from an empowered, legal, and imperial faith into a private ethical, and rational faith.

He asks if Islam will survive as theology or ideology. He explains that Christianity. Liberal Judaism and Western Christianity have accommodated themselves to capitalist secularism to the point of assimilation without remainder. Akhtar asserts that Islam cannot be accommodated into frameworks of cultural and religious pluralism defined wholly by Westerners.

In the New Testament in Muslim Eyes: Paul's Letter to the Galatians, Shabbir Akhtar rejects 'the salvation offer of the Gospel.

He writes that 'we know reliably little or nothing' about Jesus, while 'Muhammad was a man who lived in the whole light of history.

Akhtar defines the Arabic īmān as' knowledge entertained with certainty but allows the Greek pistis only the sense of mere conjecture or 'speculation. He questions the need to be cautious or diplomatic when declaring the error of Christianity.

In The Quran and the Secular Mind, Shabbir Akhtar argues that Islam is unique in its decision and capacity to confront, rather than accommodate, the challenges of secular belief. He contends that Islam should not be classed with the modern Judaeo–Christian tradition since that tradition has effectively capitulated to secularism and is now a disguised form of liberal humanism. He insists that the Quran, Islam's founding document and scripture, must be viewed in its uniqueness and integrity rather than mined for alleged parallels and equivalents with biblical Semitic faiths.

Akhtar argues that reason is critical rather than merely to extract and illustrate Quranic dogma.

Akhtar's contribution will impact the thinking of Muslims growing up in the West. As people will become aware of his work, they will find a rational explanation of Islam is unapologetic and authentic.

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