Quaker Universalist Voice

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Reason is a Challenge for Quakers and Islam

A Review of Soulymane B. Diagne, Open to Reason: Muslim Philosophers in Conversation with the Western Tradition (2018)

Soulymane  B. Diagne, Open to Reason: Muslim Philosophers in Conversation with the Western Tradition (2018) seeks to show the richness and diversity of intellectual and philosophical tradition in the Islamic world about faith and practice. This tradition was less direct engagement with the West than engagement with the universal human challenges faced by all people with the growth of science and human reason.

The book has an unfortunate book cover, which does not support the richness and diversity argument of the book’s content.  The cover appears to endorse the danger and violence of the heart of Islam in showing the disintegration of the Kaaba site at the heart of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, not a renewal of Islamic thought.  There is little in this image to support renewal.  The cover graphically reminds the reader of a disintegrating Kaaba. The cover image also graphically reminds U.S. readers of 9/11 and the disintegration of the twin towers.  This sinister image is initially deflecting for the reader.  It misdirects potential reader attention from an excellent book content.

The book is an English translation of the original French text.  The author provides helpful endnotes, a bibliography, an index, and a list of other titles in the Religion, Culture and Public Life series by Columbia University Press. For unfamiliar readers, a list of names of the key actors would have been helpful.  The book does not mention Quakers.

The book’s title in English is slightly inaccurate. The current title is Open to Reason: Muslim Philosophers in Conversation with the Western Tradition. A more accurate title is “The Struggle with Reason within Islam.” It reflects part of the common struggle of us all, within all religious traditions, in managing understanding of reality within our tradition with reason and experience. 

The book’s Introduction provides a helpful guide to the argument in the text to those readers who are unfamiliar with the Islamic intellectual tradition. The chapters are organized around individual Muslim philosophers over a period of centuries, with a gap of 500 gray years in the middle of silence (14-18th centuries) that implicitly represents a time of false internal respect for the past and text of scriptures.  Quakers had a similar experience in the 19th century.


The narrative in this book is a universal story of a religious community dealing with reason and experience in an increasingly confining tradition.  The pain and hostility are comparable.  The same process is addressed in Christian history and Quaker history as people seek to understand reality and assess guidance for practice.  


For Quakers, this book, and the thinking process that it describes, presents a useful parallel perspective with the clarity that comes with distance. It provides an occasion for Quaker humility in the face of this human dilemma and an opportunity for pause in reflection on our Quaker tradition.   


  • Is the ritual of silent meeting for worship a hiding place or a healthy resource in engaging reason and experience with our Quaker tradition?
  • What are the institutional resources available to Quakers in assessing any dismissal of the Bible from the Quaker tradition?
  •  How do Quakers effectively share the Quaker understanding of reality with children in the face of current experience with our global culture?


  • S. Diagne, Open to Reason: Muslim Philosophers in Conversation with the Western Tradition (2018)
  • G. Reynolds, The Qur’an and the Bible: Text and Commentary (2018)
  • L. Winner, The Dangers of Christian Practice: On Wayward Gifts, Characteristic Damage, and Sin (2018)
  • J. Meggitt,  Early Quakers and Islam: Slavery, Apocalyptic and Christian-Muslim Encounters in the Seventeenth Century (2013)
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