What can We Learn from Islam: The Struggle for True Religion by Marcus Braybrooke
The Rev. Dr. Marcus Braybrooke DD., is a retired Anglical Clergyman. He was Executive Director Council of Christians & Jews 1984 - 87, and Chairman of the World Congresses of Faiths 1978 - 83 & 1992 - 99, and is its current President. He is the author of more than a dozen books. His Lambeth Doctor of Divinity was presented by the Archbishop of Canterbury in recognition of "his world-wide work for inter-religious understanding and co-operation." Text copyright 2002 by Marcus Braybrooke. Published by John Hunt Publishing Ltd, Alresford, Hampshire SO24 9AU, UK. Used by permission of the author.
Chapter 10: Islam in the Modern World
The last two hundred years have seen enormous challenges to all religions. Intellectually, Darwin, Freud, Marx, Nietzsche and the development of modern scientific ways of thinking have transformed the way we see the world and man and woman’s place in it. Critical study of religious texts has implied that these are human creations rather than divine revelations. Politically, two of the major ideologies which dominated the twentieth century, Fascism and Communism, were anti-religious. Technologically, patterns of life have changed dramatically in the more affluent parts of the world.
Religion, as we have suggested, has to some extent, especially in the West, been pushed to the margins of life, although the secular society of which many people spoke so confidently in the sixties and seventies is now more questionable. Secularism is a word used to cover several phenomena. It implies the autonomy of daily life. It excludes the interference of religious authorities in government and in political and economic life. Thus in the USA, there is a clear separation of church and state. Likewise, India, constitutionally -- if not in practice -- is a secular state in the sense that no religion is meant to be given favored treatment. A secular society may also mean one in which individual citizens do not have any moral pattern of behavior imposed upon them by the state. For example in many Western countries homosexual acts, which were until quite recently illegal and punishable by law, are now considered a private matter for consenting individuals. In the same way, in many countries, abortion, with certain restrictions, is no longer illegal. Secularism may also describe a change of mood by which people no longer seek to explain life by reference to religious beliefs. They will look for a natural rather than a divine cause of illness or disaster. Some sociologists of religion suggest that in the West religion should be regarded as a private or even a ‘leisure time’ activity. This, of course, is not a view that a committed Christian would accept and is even more alien to the devout Muslim, who, if he or she has been brought up to think of Britain or America as ‘Christian’ countries, is puzzled by what seems to him or her their moral decadence, especially in terms of permissive sexuality and drug-taking.
In addition to these challenges, which all religions have had to face, much of the Islamic world has had to cope with Western imperialism and the political, economic and military dominance of the super-powers, and now particularly of the USA. Many of the challenges to religion mentioned above were cradled in Western society, so they can seem to Muslims a Western threat.
It is hard to generalize about two centuries and large areas of the world. Individual Muslim countries are each different. The responses of religious people to change can, however, usually be classified in terms of those who seek to maintain the tradition, those who claim to be returning to the pure faith, reformers who allow for alterations to practice, but no substantive change and those, often labeled modernists by their critics, who draw on outside sources in their reinterpretation of a faith. Different writers use rather varying labels for these four categories.
The Cambridge scholar Akbar Ahmed includes amongst those who maintain the tradition, scholars such as Ali Shariati and Ali Ashraf, as well as Ismail Faruqi and Hossein Nasr, both of whom I had the privilege of getting to know through the World Congress of Faiths. These writers concentrate on the larger message of Islam and avoid narrower sectarian quarrels. Often, their scholarship has been inaccessible to and rather remote from ordinary Muslims.
The term modernist is used by Akbar Ahmed of creative thinkers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such as Sir Sayyed Ahmed Khan, who established the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh, which was consciously modeled on Oxbridge, and which I once briefly visited. Another modernist, who I take him as an example, was Sir Muhammad Iqbal (1876-1938). One of the best known Muslim exponents of Renewal, he wished to create a synthesis of Muslim and Western thought.
Iqbal tried to reinterpret Islam in the light of the Sufi heritage and Western philosophy, especially the creative evolution of Bergson. The key feature of Iqbal’s thought was the notion of reality as pure duration, with God and human beings interrelating dynamically in the universe. He believed that the marriage of intellect and love could transform human beings into a higher level of being. Iqbal’s constant theme was ‘Arise, and create a new world’. His poetry in Urdu and Persian inspired Indian Muslims in the first half of the twentieth century to shape and improve their condition of life and was a factor behind the creation of Pakistan. In his Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam (1928), Iqbal gave a more systematic elaboration of his Islamic vision, arguing for a return to independent judgement, ijtihad, and the establishment of a legislative institution for the reformation of Islamic law. One Indian Muslim professor of philosophy drawing attention to the word ‘reconstruction’ rather than ‘re-interpretation’ said that Iqbal ‘while he seems to be elaborating the meaning of a verse of the Qur’an, is really using it as a peg to hang his own ideas on.’
Wilfred Cantwell Smith, who taught in Pakistan and later became Professor of the History of Comparative Religion at Harvard, wrote, in a book published in the middle of the last century, ‘Today if Islam would function in this radically new world in which we find ourselves, it must be refashioned to give dynamic initiative and vision to man facing a life of opportunity and to give him creative love towards the community of his fellow men. Such a refashioning was a service rendered to Islam chiefly by the outstanding Muslim poet and thinker of the century, Muhammad Iqbal.’ Cantwell Smith’s comment, which he might well have revised later in his life, is interesting for the assumption, common at the time that he wrote it, that liberal re-interpretation must be the way forward for religion in the modern world. As a long standing member of the Modern Church People’s Union, I sympathize with this, but it is not the dominant mood in Islam today, although Iqbal’s influence is not forgotten.
The term modernist is also used by Akbar Ahmed of some contemporary writers, but in a different sense to that in which we have been using it. The common feature, he says, ‘is the general belief that religion as a force or guide is no longer valid in our age.’ He mentions writers such as Tariq Ali, Salman Rushdie, who have been influenced by Marxism and, on the right, Shahid Burki and Rana Kabbani, although the latter has moved closer to the traditionalists. Writers on both flanks, he says, echo ideas and concepts from outside the Islamic tradition.
Far more common than modernists are those who are concerned to reform abuse or corruption, but who in no way wish to question the message of Islam. Reform, of course, can be quite superficial but it can be far reaching. I take too examples: Maulana Wahiduddin Kahn, who is a member of the Indian Muslim minority, and Farid Esack, who is a from South Africa, where again Muslims are in a minority.
Maulana Wahiduddin Kahn ‘stands out as a voice in the wilderness’, said Dr Yoginder Sikand, in a paper I heard recently at a conference at the Punjabi University in Patiala. Kahn called for an understanding of Islam that is both rooted in the original sources of Islam, while at the same time willing wholeheartedly, although critically, to engage with modernity, responding positively to serious concerns such as questions of peace, inter-religious dialogue and political activism.’
Maulana Wahiduddin Kahn was born in what is now Uttar Pradesh in 1925. At first he joined the Jama’at-i-Islami Hind, which was founded by Abul ‘Ala Maududi. Kahn was searching for a socially engaged spirituality, but he came to see that the agenda of the Jama’at, which was working for the establishment of an Islamic state in India was impractical. He moved for a time to the Tablighi Jama’at, but by 1975 he had cut his links with it because of its hostility to the creative application of Islamic law to the challenges of changing social conditions. In 1976 Khan set up his own research center in New Delhi. He believed that a new understanding of Islam was necessary to appeal to modern educated Indians.
Khan accepts that Muslims in India are and are likely to remain a minority. They need to seek a solution to their problems by internal reform rather than by conflict with the state or the dominant Hindu majority. He takes seriously the issue of pluralism and inter-community relations and stresses the need to build bridges with people of other faiths. He quotes from the Qur’an the saying ‘Unto you your religion and unto me mine.’ (109, 6). Islam enjoins Muslims to live with others as brothers in spirit. Khan argues that the Muslims of India today find themselves in a position similar to that of the Prophet and his followers in Mecca, when the nascent community was small and relatively powerless. Just as the Prophet at that time concentrated on peaceful preaching so Muslims in India today should do the same. They should also concern themselves with the problems and issues of the whole country instead of just thinking about their own communal interests.
Khan suggests that the traditional distinction between the ‘house of Islam’ or lands ruled by Muslims, dar-ul islam, and lands ruled by non-Muslims, traditionally known as dar-ul harb or ‘the house of war’ needs to be rethought. The term ‘house of war’ only applied to those lands where Muslims were persecuted for their faith and had to resort to violence in self-defense. There should be a third category, which he calls the ‘house of invitation’ or dar-ul da’wah, to refer to lands under non-Muslim control but where Muslims are welcome and have full civil rights. Here the Muslim responsibility is to address non-Muslims with the message of Islam but not to seek confrontation. A similar view was expressed when a delegation from the World Muslim League visited Oxford in March 2002. In answer to a question Dr Abdullah of the League said that the distinction between the ‘house of war’ and the ‘house of Islam’ was a historical concept which does not apply today. He stressed that Muslims in Britain should see themselves as good British citizens.
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan also insists that non-Muslims should not be spoken of a kafirs. To do so is ‘to violate God’s injunctions.’ The term kafir should only be applied to someone who knowingly rejects or conceals the truth.
Khan has not created a ‘movement’ and he has been attacked for collusion with the ‘enemies of Islam.’
Reference has already been made to Dr Farid Esack’s book On being A Muslim. This and another book, Qur’an, Liberation and Pluralism., are both written in the context of the struggle in South Africa against apartheid -- a struggle with which many Muslims, including Esack, identified. This struggle led Farid Esack to reflect on key Qur’anic passages used in the context of oppression to rethink the role of Islam in a plural society. He shows how traditional interpretations of the Qur’an were used to legitimize an unjust order, but that these same texts, if interpreted within a contemporary socio-historical context, support active solidarity with people of other religions in the struggle for change. In describing the objectives of his book, Esack puts first the wish ‘to show that it is possible to live in faithfulness to both the Qur’an and to one’s present context alongside people of other faiths, working with them to establish a more humane society.’ Towards the end of the book, he refers to a Call of Islam publication Women Arise! The Qur’an Liberates You, which says that ‘we must unleash a debate on the question of women so that equality and freedom become achievable.’ But the document hastens to add that ‘this debate need not depart from the pages of the Qur’an at all for within these pages there is sufficient evidence to suggest that Muslim women can and must play a full role in our society.’
The key difference, which is not always easy to make in practice, between those I label Reformers and those who seek Renewal is that those who are Reformers do not question Islam’s authoritative sources, but are willing to debate how these have been interpreted. Those who speak of Renewal seek to marry the teachings of Islam with philosophical ideas drawn from external sources. There are other examples of reformers who could be mentioned, such as Chandra Muzaffar, from Malaysia, who is President of the International Movement for a Just World and whose spiritual commitment has led him to participate actively in politics. Most reformers are also involved in inter-faith activity. Where, the application of faith to the search for peace and social justice is a high priority, it is natural to look for allies among people of other faiths who share this passion.
Others who share this social passion blame the West for many of the ills and are less interested in interfaith dialogue. Akbar Ahmed uses the term radical to group together thinkers, such as Shabbir Akhtar, Parvez Manzoor, Ziauddin Sardar and Kalim Siddiqui, known for his leadership of the British Muslim Parliament, who all reject the possibility of a modus vivendi with the West. In this they are similar to those who seek a return to the pure faith, who are sometimes called reactionaries and sometimes labeled radicals, although I am by no means suggesting that they would support violent opposition.
Reactionaries are those who recognize the challenges of the modern world to Islam and seek to resist them. They may welcome technological advance and scientific discovery, but reject many of the assumptions of secular society. I think it is necessary to repeat the distinction I made in the chapter on the Qur’an between reactionaries and traditionalists -- using the word in a very different sense than when I referred above to Seyyed Hossein Nasr and other scholars. Traditionalists live much as their parents did and continue to practice the religion in which they were brought up without much awareness of the challenges to it posed by modern society. Reactionaries consciously reject and resist those challenges. For a very small minority, that resistance may be expressed by violence.
As an example, I take the Wahhabiya movement, partly because of its influence. Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-87) initiated an ultra-conservative puritanical movement, which adhered to Hanbalite law in the Arabian peninsula during the eighteenth century. The movement rejected centuries of legal interpretation as well as the mysticism of the Sufis. Al-Wahhab found a champion in the tribal leader Muhammad ibn Sa’ud and the Saudis became the main supporters of the movement. In 1801, the Wahhabis slaughtered two thousand ordinary citizens in the streets of Qarbala, so violence is nothing new to this movement.
Another influential figure was al-Afghani (1838-97), who was born in Iran but who spent his formative years in Afghanistan. He aimed to rally the Muslim world to realize its power as an international community and by raising its political and intellectual standards to combat Western colonialism. Freedom from foreign rule was he hoped to be followed by the establishment of a pan-Islamic state and the union of all Muslims under a caliph. He regarded the Arabic language as of primary importance in promoting Muslim unity. His programme, he believed, would lead to improvements in the living standards of all Muslims. He affirmed the transcendental truth of Islam in his The Refutation of the Materialists. Towards the end of his life, he was hunted down by the Iranian authorities, but although three of his colleagues were hanged, he himself died of cancer.
In the early part of the twentieth century, the Muslim struggle against the West turned into a mass movement. In 1928 an Egyptian called al-Banna (1906-49) founded the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun, which rapidly gained support across the Middle East. Banna, who like many other radicals was a middle class intellectual, was in sympathy with the ideas of Afghani and deplored the disunity and moral laxity of Egyptian society, which he blamed on British occupation. One day, he wrote, six laborers from a British camp came to see him and said:
‘We are weary of this life of humiliation and restriction. Lo, we see that Arabs and the Muslims have no status and no dignity. They are not more than mere hirelings belonging to the foreigners. We possess nothing but this blood... and these souls ... and these few coins... We are unable to perceive the road to action as you perceive it, or to know the path to the service of the fatherland, the religion and the nation as you know it. All that we desire now is to present you with all we possess, to be acquitted by God of the responsibility, and for you to be responsible before Him for us and for what we must do.’
So the Muslim Brotherhood was born. By 1949, it had 2,000 branches and some half million members. Banna told his followers in 1943, ‘You are not a benevolent society, nor a political party, nor a local organization having limited purposes. Rather, you are a new soul in the heart of the nation to give it life by means of the Qur’an.’
Banna’s aim was to free Egypt from British control and to establish an Islamic state, eliminating such Western influences as night-clubs, casinos and pornography. After the Second World War, al-Banna took up the cause of the Palestinians, but his activities were restricted by the Egyptian government. At the end of 1948, many members of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested. Soon afterwards a young member of the movement shot and killed the prime minister of Egypt, Nuqrashi Pasha and seven weeks later Hasan al-Banna was himself assassinated by secret servant agents.
The Brotherhood never fully recovered from the death of its founder, although the writings of Sayyid Qutb, who was executed in 1966, had considerable influence. His widely read Malim fi al-Tariq argued that social systems were of two types. Either there was a Nizam Islami -- a true Islamic order -- or a Nizam Jahli, that is the rule of pre-Islamic ignorance. As Egypt did not belong to the first category, it belonged to the second and therefore it was the duty of true Muslims to wage jihad against ignorant and despotic governments. In passing it is worth emphasizing that radical Muslims are often as critical of many Muslim governments, which they consider in the pay of the West, as they are of Western powers themselves. Members of the Muslim described Egypt’s defeat in the Six-Day War ‘as a sign of God’s punishment for leaving the path of Islam.’ They too were responsible for the assassination of President Sadat, whom they accused of treachery against Islam and the Palestinian people by his agreement to the Camp David Accord.
The most spectacular victories for militant Islam have been the Iranian revolution in 1979 and the capture of Kabul by the Taliban in 1979. The Shah of Iran and his father had tried to westernize their country. Traditional Muslim style of dress were banned and western education promoted. Opponents ran foul of the much feared secret police. When Muslim clergy protested, the Shah dismissed them as ‘black reactionaries’. He expelled the most vociferous protester, Ayatollah Khomeini (1902-89), a leader of the Twelve Shi’ite Muslims, who in exile became more dangerous and eventually succeeded in overthrowing the Shah in 1979. As leader of the revolution, he purged Iran of Western influences. His fatwa or ban against Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses was widely accepted in the Muslim world.
The Taliban was originally a military group, formed in response to the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. As part of the Cold War against the Soviet Union both America and Britain trained Taliban fighters in guerrilla warfare and supplied arms and money. When they gained power, the Taliban showed themselves even more rigorous than Ayatollah Khomeini in imposing a version of Islamic law, which most Muslims regard as crude and distorted.
Recent years have also seen a revival of the original militant movement founded by al-Wahhab with a network of organizations, under various names. These groups have been involved in prolonged struggles in Algeria, where the Islamic party won a general election but were denied power and where there have been atrocities on both sides Militants are said to be responsible for the deaths of seventy tourists at Luxor in 1997 and to be linked with armed groups in Kashmir. The most notorious group is, of course, al-Qaida, led by Osama bin-Laden, which the USA accuses of responsibility for the twin tower tragedy on September 11th, 2001.
It must be emphasized that the great majority of Muslims want nothing to do with violence and most have condemned the terrorist attacks on America. Even so, it is important to hear what some of these militants are saying so as to see how the world is seen through the eyes of the most alienated Muslims. Terror draws its sustenance from disaffection which is caused by the hopelessness of those who feel victimized by poverty and injustice.
Ayatollah Khomaini was a long standing critic of the Shah of Persia’s regime, but during his exile, he broadened his opposition to attack the institution of monarchy itself and to call not just for adherence to Islamic law, but for the establishment of an Islamic state. In about 1969 he gave a series of lectures to his students, which were published as a book entitled Velayat-e Faqih. It is a blueprint for the reorganization of society. It is a handbook for revolution. There are four main themes. First the book condemns the institution of monarchy as alien to Islam, abhorrent to the Prophet and the source of all Iran’s misfortunes over 2,500 years. Secondly, it presents the Islamic state, which is based on the Qur’an and modeled after the Islamic community governed by the Prophet in the seventh century, as a practical form of government realizable in the lifetime of the present generation and not as some distant ideal. Thirdly, and this is particular to the Shi’ite tradition, the claim of the clerical class, as heirs of the Prophet, to the leadership of the community is forcefully asserted. Justice and an expertise in Islamic law are essential for those who rule. ‘The real governors’, he says, ‘are the Islamic jurists themselves.’ Although leadership is vested collectively in the religious leadership (ulama), it can be vested in a single leader. Fourthly, Velayat-e Faqih calls on all believers to work actively for the overthrow of the non-Islamic state. ‘We have no choice’, Khomaini wrote, ‘but to shun wickedness, and to overthrow governors who are traitorous, wicked, cruel and tyrannical.’ He urged revolution, but not violence.
The statements of Osama bin-Laden are more directly political in tone. In a ‘World Islamic Front Statement’ entitled ‘Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders’, he argues that the United States of America has created a state of war against the Muslim world and in particular the people of the Arabian Peninsula. He speaks of the occupation of the Arabian Peninsula, which contains Islam’s most holy places, arguing that it is being used by the Americans as a staging post for continuing aggression against the Iraqi people, of whom he claims more than one million have been killed. Further he complains of the ‘occupation of Jerusalem and the murder of Muslims there’ -- Israel, being seen as an American puppet state. These American actions, in his view, amount to a ‘clear declaration of war on God, his messenger, and Muslims.’ Further because ‘the ulema have throughout Islamic history unanimously agreed that the jihad is an individual duty if the enemy destroys Muslim countries’, Osama bin-Laden, therefore, declared that it is a duty for every Muslim who can to kill Americans and their allies and he quotes from the Qur’an (2, 193 and 4,75) to justify this call.
This is an extreme position, which I in no way seek to justify, but if there is to be an alternative to violent reaction to violence, then at least we need to hear the complaint of those who sympathize with Osama bin-Laden’s attack on America and the West. Two years ago, not for the first time, I visited a Palestinian Refugee camp. In the bitterness and despair of those we talked to I felt more than ever their deep sense of injustice and of a wasted life. The causes of the situation are complex and neighboring Arab nations have been almost as much responsible as Israeli governments. The human tragedy is overwhelming as also is the suffering of many families in Iraq, because of sanctions imposed by the USA and Britain (although nominally by the UN). One could add to the political complaints, the failure of Western powers to protect the Bosnian Muslims or to curb the ruthless Russian suppression of Chechnyan rebels. Terrorism is not to be condoned and I deplore all violence, but in every age victims of ruthless regimes have been driven to armed resistance. One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom-fighter.
There is also a sense amongst some Muslims that Western concern for human rights is selective and that the world economic system operates largely to the benefit of the West and certain Arab rulers who are in league with them. To some eyes globalization is seen as bed-fellow of modernism.
I do not want to pursue the political analysis, but it is impossible to separate political and religious issues in the present situation. What is felt by many Muslims as injustice, contributes to oppositional attitudes and the rejection of all that the West stands for. Raficq Abdullah, a Muslim lawyer who lives in London, writes that for millions of Muslims who live in poverty and who feel profoundly marginalized, modernity has nothing to offer them. It embodies ‘the virulent return of jahilliyah or ungodliness which now infests the whole world including Muslim societies... It is justified by man-made laws which transgress God’s legislative authority as enshrined in the religious law or Shariah. This comprehensive failure to abide by the only sovereign law which is God’s exclusive attribute and prerogative is the cause of moral decay and spiritual bankruptcy. A true Muslim’s only shield against this seemingly intractable threat to his or her identity is a reversion to the authentic experience of Islam as it was practiced during the lives of the Prophet and the rightly-guided Caliphs.’ Raficq Abdullah is at pains to make clear that Islam is not a monolithic entity, but adds that the rejection of modernity and the ‘West’ is shared by both Sunni and Shi’a Islamists. As Raficq Abdullah makes clear, he does not share these views, and accuses those who take this position of committing ‘epistemological legerdemain by projecting their deeply nostalgic version of events of the founding moment of Islam as ahistorical categories, as givens which it would be sacrilegious, indeed blasphemous, to place under critical scrutiny’.
Raficq uses the term Islamists. I have tried to avoid the term ‘fundamentalist’, which as I have already explained is misleading and ‘extremist’, which may be an excuse for not listening to the call for justice of those who feel marginalized. As Raficq Abdullah points out the way in which some in the West speak of all Muslims as if they were terrorists is as bad as the way some Muslims see all Westerners as enemies of the true faith. As Edward Said has observed, ‘the real battle is not a clash of civilizations, but a clash of definitions.’
The struggle should not be the West against the world of Islam, rather a struggle is going on for the soul of Islam. Professor Khalid Duran, of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, writing well before the tragic events of September 11th, made a distinction between Muslims and Islamists.’ He compares the distinction to that in Germany between evangelisch and evangelikal (Protestant and Protestant fundamentalist). Similarly before the fall of the Berlin Wall both regimes in Germany claimed they were democratic. Two titles which sound almost the same may have sharply different meanings. One Muslim explained the difference by saying that ‘Muslims say "God is most great", whereas Islamists say "Islam is most great", although that is rather too simple.
Most of the Muslims I know and the ones whom we are likely to meet in dialogue are Muslims -- in the sense I am using it. They are also usually heirs to the Enlightenment so share many of the assumptions of the modern paradigm. Even so, we need to try to understand something of the appeal of the Islamists.
As we have seen, the origins of the Islamic Movement lie with the Wahhabi movement that emerged in Central Arabia in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Its aim was to revive the Muslim society of seventh century Medina in its ‘pristine purity’. A similar vision inspired Hasan al-Banna who founded the Muslim Brotherhood Party. He wanted to return to original Islam ‘cleansed of all later accretions such as theology, philosophy and mysticism. Compare this to the motto of Z. A. Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party ‘Our religion is Islam, our political system is democracy, our economic orientation is socialism’ -- a slogan that was anathema to Islamists. There is a real ideological struggle in many Muslim countries reflecting radically different understandings of the Muslim religion.
In part, the Islamists, as we have seen, reject centuries of legal scholarship and the mystical tradition. They are fundamentalist in the sense that scriptural statements are not seen in their historical context and are treated as absolute - whereas any revealed statement ought to be open to interpretation. This points to the very different assumptions of those who are and are not heirs to the Enlightenment. In his book on Judaism, Hans Küng speaks of paradigm shifts and suggests that you can have periods when people of the same faith are living in different paradigm times, which means that they have few shared assumptions about life and the world. Islamists reject ‘modernism’, partly because their view of life starts from different basic assumptions.
The struggle within Islam is primarily a matter for Muslims, but sympathetic friends need to be aware of the struggle that is taking place, and to be supportive of those Muslims who are willing to take the risk of dialogue. They can help to make known the views of the latter group, thereby resisting the stereotyping of Muslims which will make prophecies of a clash of civilizations self-fulfilling. This is also a time when more than ever Christians need to seek dialogue with those Muslims who are willing to take part in it.
It is also vital to help Muslims in Europe and America feel that they are accepted as full citizens and that they have a stake and share in our society. One of the dangers in some urban areas of Britain is that young Muslims not only feel alienated from ‘white English society’ but are also increasingly alienated from the mosques and the leaders of the Muslim community. In 2001, I was invited to the Awards for Excellence ceremony organized by the Muslim News and also to the opening of a new Muslim center near Paddington Station by Prince Charles. It made me more aware how many Muslims are making a rich contribution to British life at all levels of our society. But many others, like a young Muslim woman at a check-out in Cowley or a Rhodes scholar at one of the colleges in Oxford have told me that they feel marginalized and have experienced discrimination and racial abuse. The search for a genuinely multi-cultural and multi-religious society is more important than ever and the work of the various interfaith organization needs to be strongly supported.
On the international scene, governments, all governments have to address the root causes of poverty and injustice -- and this includes tackling trade discrimination, the arms trade as well as seeking solutions for long-standing areas of tension in the Middle East and in Kashmir and Sudan. People of faith have constantly to call upon the leaders of the nations to live up to their responsibilities. The tragic events of September 11th could be a wake-up call to seek for the new world order that some of us talked about and hoped for with the start of a new millennium.