Real self-love goes so deep that it doesn’t need justification. The second a Jew starts preaching to me about the virtues of Judaism—how our culture has produced 97.8 percent of all Nobel Prize winners (or whatever bogus number she invents), or is uniquely interested in disputation and questioning and argument, or has a special kind of social consciousness—I know that she is trying to talk herself into Jewish pride. The point, as I see it, is not to love being Jewish because we’re such beacons of tikkun olam, but to love being Jewish because so few of us are. Most of us are mediocre assholes just doing our best, like those of every other religion, ethnicity, or extended family.

The idea that anyone could reject the leadership of the church but lay claim to being authentic Mormons seemed absurd, almost illogical. But of course that’s what Jews—and Catholics—do every day. And the traditions, in their way, accept these facts on the ground. Even the most orthodox Jew will accept anyone with a fellow mother as a fellow Jew, and Catholic teaching holds that a Catholic is always a Catholic (even excommunication does not efface baptism, to be technical about it). Mormons will get over their Salt Lake City heliotropism, I am sure of it. The Salt Lake City kind will just be the orthodox kind.

If there is one tradition that would seem to test my thesis, it is Islam. The Islamic world is, of course, filled with lapsed Muslims, cultural Muslims, quasi Muslims, and ironic Muslims—but these days, pervasively, those Muslims cede real authority to what we might call Quranic Muslims, those who foreground strict religious observance, as inspired by one major text.
Ahmed never draws the comparison to Judaism—in fact, it’s conspicuous that he doesn’t. At the end of his book, Ahmed has argued for over five hundred pages, drawing on original translations from half a dozen languages, that Islam is a culture, a people, and a set of scriptures, and above all that its essence can be found in the hermeneutic, interpretive argument over time among partisans of each of the above. In short, he has argued for a multifarious, multivalent Islam that every Jew will recognize from her own crazy, mixed-up files on Judaism. Why would he avoid saying so?

Mark Oppenheimer
Can Islam Be More Jewish?