[T]he devastation unloosed on Muslim societies in our day by fundamentalism . . . seems to be not merely the erasure of the living, oral, ethical, and human traditions of Islam but the literal destruction of and annihilation of the Muslims who are the bearers of those traditions. In Algeria, Iran, Afghanistan, and, alas, in Egypt, this narrow, violent variant of Islam is ravaging its way through the land.

In this passage from Chapter 5, Ahmed further explores the conflict between the way religious ethics are lived and the way they are taught, especially pertaining to our contemporary global political climate. Though some may see Islam as a violent faith, Ahmed writes that it is violent only when it falls into the hands of extremists and fundamentalists, who bend and twist ancient texts to support their fanatical world views. Such a major world faith must leave room for multiple interpretations, even for those who want to go by “the book.” Ahmed writes about how Muslim scholars used to study many texts in order to understand various objections and debates and to come to an informed consensus regarding theological interpretations. More radical Muslims today, Ahmed writes, take their literal truth from one text only.

Written Islam, Ahmed points out, is not the Islam of the “book,” the Quran, but the Islam of medieval texts that give rise to rigid, fundamentalist interpretation of religious doctrine. This is also what Ahmed recognizes as “official Islam,” something that the Muslims she identifies with, conditioned by living under numerous authoritarian regimes that co-opt their faith, reject on principle. Her critique of this narrow view emphasizes the importance of considering multiple points of view, whether evaluating a text or examining the larger implications of the ethics that grow from faith. Ahmed sees the living manifestations of religious ethics all around her, especially in women. This is a living, expansive expression of faith, in contrast to the type of Islam she talks about in this quote, which is restrictive and often hostile.