Islam and the Future of Tolerance: The Movie

On September 10, 2001, Sam Harris was studying neuroscience in California, and Maajid Nawaz was in Egypt working as a top recruiter for one of the biggest Islamist organisations in the world, pushing for an Islamic caliphate. The next day sent them down paths that would converge 15 years later in an unlikely collaboration. Harris entered life as a public intellectual after 9/11 and soon found himself regarded as a leading voice of the “New Atheist” movement, along with Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett. He spent much of the next decade writing books such as The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation, and The Moral Landscape and publicly engaging religious scholars and apologists in highly contentious conversations. Meanwhile, Nawaz was arrested and thrown into an Egyptian prison, where he spent four years before beginning his slow journey out of radical Islamism. By the time he emerged, he had decided to dedicate his life’s work to reforming Islam from within. He started Quilliam, a counter-terrorism think tank. The two men clashed for the first time in 2010, at a restaurant in Manhattan, after Nawaz had participated in a debate where he argued that “Islam is a religion of peace.” The conversation broke down before it began. Harris and Nawaz butted heads and walked away. Five years later, Harris reached out to Nawaz, unsure of the outcome. They began to engage in a conversation about the viability of prospects for reforming Islam. Their conversation proved so fruitful that they published the dialogue as a short book. Facing death threats, boycotts, and criticism from the conservative right and the regressive left, the two decided to take the conversation public in a series of joint appearances across Australia. Islam and the Future of Tolerance is a feature-length documentary that tells the story of an unlikely conversation on a topic of grave importance, and how it changed two foes into friends. This film chronicles the initial clash and ultimate collaboration between the prominent atheist author and neuroscientist Sam Harris and the former Islamist Maajid Nawaz. Together they immortalised their dialogue in the critically acclaimed Islam and the Future of Tolerance, published by Harvard University Press in 2016. Their collaboration has galvanised a movement in which courageous voices speak up (and speak louder) about the need for reform to correct Islam’s incompatibilities with 21st-century liberal values. This film will expand that conversation globally.

Out of a desire to challenge intellectual comfort and a thirst for democratising the dialogue between society’s innovators and the people who benefit from them, Think Inc. has teamed up with the award-winning filmmaker Jay Shapiro to bring you Islam and the Future of Tolerance: The Movie.

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Ultimately, this film offers hope that conversation can succeed. It will serve as an inspiration—that two people starting out so far apart could find common cause—and a call to action. If the choice is always between conversation and violence, this film is a plea for the former.

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University of NSW