Categories
Americas Arab West Report Published Articles

Islam and the West: A Personal Reflection

Note: This post today was originally written in February of 2010, but never published on the blog, only at Arab West Report. I was reminded of it by the controversy in recent weeks concerning the proposed Muslim community center / mosque at Ground Zero. The leader of the project visited Egypt several months ago, and I attended his lecture. Imam Faisal Abdul Raouf was not a household name at that time, though the Ground Zero plans were already contemplated, if not underway.

The essay which follows has nothing to do with his Ground Zero plans, but addresses the larger question of the place of Islam in the West. The post is a bit lengthy, but I hope you progress through to the end to read along with my efforts to look inward at the psyche of America, indeed my own misgivings and hope, in order to find the best way forward. I wish that in light of the issues being raised at Ground Zero, my conclusion might help us find that way.

On a lighter note before we begin, I have experimented with placing a survey at two places in the post. I’ll be very interested to see your vote, and will look forward to any comments you have to offer. Thanks.

In recent days I have had the opportunity to encounter a picture of Islam as a message of love and tolerance from two very different Muslim voices, Imam Faisal Abdul Raouf and Sheikh Ahmad al-Sayih. Imam Faisal is head of the Cordoba Initiative, an independent organization seeking to promote international understanding and acceptance between the Western and Islamic worlds. He is the son of Egyptian sheikhs from al-Azhar, but was educated in Great Britain and served many years as an imam in a New York City mosque. He visited Egypt and presented his work at the Sawy Culture Wheel, sponsored by the US Embassy, in which he outlined his vision, distributed an Arabic translation of his book, and sought to recruit support and partners for his international organization. A summary of his presentation can be found here.

Sheikh Ahmad, meanwhile, is an Egyptian sheikh from al-Azhar, now retired. He has taught in Egypt, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, and currently is concerned to combat the growing Wahhabi influence on Islam, both in Egypt and worldwide. He believes this is a corruption of Islam as it tends to reject the religious other, whereas Islam in its essence is the same message as that which was revealed in the earlier religions. Sheikh Ahmad is from the region near Nag Hamadi, where six Christian young men were recently killed exiting Christmas mass, along with one Muslim police officer, and has spoken out against this crime. I interviewed him in this context, hoping both to better understand the situation and gain counsel on how to assist in peacemaking there. A summary of this interview can be found here.

This essay will be an attempt to compare and contrast these two Muslim voices based on the reactions they produce, first in their Arabic audience, second in me, as a Western Christian. Though I was unable to interview Imam Faisal, the question and answer period of his presentation revealed the controversy his ideas elicited from the predominantly Egyptian audience. Conversely, though I have not personally witnessed the effect of Sheikh Ahmad’s teachings on Egyptian public opinion, he himself highlighted much of the controversy he has engendered. As mentioned above, both men preach a message of Islamic love and tolerance. Why should love and tolerance produce any controversy at all?

This essay will begin from the starting point of Islam as a world religion, and therefore like all its peers it is comprised of vast and flexible source material. Believers in Islam can find ample texts to support a variety of positions, and while each may argue with the other over best interpretations, inasmuch as they work from the same basis and maintain the accepted boundaries of faith—themselves open to dispute at times—they represent a message which is intrinsically Islamic. As a non-Muslim it is not my place to comment on the message of love and tolerance as opposed to extremist thought; it will be the perspective here that Islam, like all religions, can support many emphases, which can be highlighted or downplayed according to the person, movement, culture, or age.

Both Imam Faisal and Sheikh Ahmad highlight Islam as a message of love and tolerance. They differ widely, however, in their presentation and audience. Imam Faisal, though born to Azhari Egyptian parents is thoroughly comfortable in the Western cultural world, to which he speaks primarily. His English pronunciation is perfect and his dress impeccable. He declared that his motivation to help Americans understand Islam grew exponentially after the attacks of September 11, 2001, when he and his community were put to the test in defending their faith against the actions of Islamic terrorists. He discovered that America was not necessarily against Islam, but needed to see an Islam which was not a threat, first to its safety, second to its cultural values. In the course of explaining the true message of Islam over and over he saw also the need for Muslims in the West to practice their faith within this culture, so as to win a place of natural being and acceptance. Concerning the controversy in Switzerland over the building of minarets, he urged Swiss Muslims to build Swiss mosques, acceptable to the culture so as to become part of the established and normal landscape. His message was for Islam to become Swiss. He noted, also, that in his presentations he discovered a growing Western hunger for spirituality, which many were finding in Islam.

Sheikh Ahmad, meanwhile, speaks no English whatsoever, dresses like a traditional Azhari scholar, and converses even informally in Arabic diction fit for the Friday pulpit. Through his many years teaching in the Persian Gulf states he became very familiar with Wahhabi teaching, which he grew more and more to find was poisoning the precious Islamic message of love and tolerance. He writes and speaks extensively to expose the false foundations of Wahhabi thought, which he finds grounded in some of the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, most of which his scholarly study has found to be baseless. Among these traditions is source material for violent and separatist preaching highlighted by some Muslims today, which in actuality, he believes, were composed when the later Islamic community was growing apart from the Christian milieu of the fading Byzantine Empire which it had largely conquered. His message was to return to the original preaching of Muhammad, which emphasized the community with and respect for other religions, Christianity in particular. He had special praise for the monks of Makarius Monastery in Egypt, in whom he found the real Islamic spirit of love and tolerance.

The controversy of Sheikh Ahmad’s views is found in his calling into question many of the inherited traditions of Islam. In doing so he disturbs the traditional acceptance which many Muslims have given to the traditions in general, potentially prompting a reevaluation of the faith, as so much currently accepted as Islam is built from this source. Sheikh Ahmad declares, actually, that 60% of current Islam stems from faulty traditions, and therefore must be jettisoned. This is not an easy message for ordinary Muslims to hear.

The controversy Imam Faisal’s views produced was different, as he questioned not the religious sources of Islam, but its cultural ones. Though only a quarter of the world’s Muslims are Arabs, its foundations are still largely Arabic, certainly through the language, and also through the culture of Arabia which birthed the faith and established its early patterns, generally accepted as normative. Imam Faisal, however, highlighted that in history Muslims have always adapted their faith to the local culture, and urges Muslims today to do the same in the West. If Islam there remains foreign—Arab, Pakistani, etc.—it will not become accepted. Though not as controversial as the source criticism of Sheikh Ahmad, for the Muslims of Egypt attending the Sawy Culture Wheel presentation, proud of their self-identity as leaders of the Arab world, this is not an easy message to hear.

Therefore, though the vast majority of the Egyptian Muslim audience of both Muslim voices would agree with the message of Islam as love and tolerance, the manner of establishment was discomforting for many. One called into question the accepted cultural basis of the religion, the other the accepted religious basis. The discomfort should not be surprising, for most believers of any religion inherit their values without much thought or questioning. For these, Islam is love and tolerance. Practitioners of religion, however, especially those who are forced to consider their faith outside its comfortable context, must deal with the faith in its entirety and complexity. Imam Faisal has found the fear of Islam in the West to be tied to the foreignness of the culture of its adherents. By removing the cultural component the message of love and tolerance is better received. Sheikh Ahmad, however, has found that Islam is threatened by Wahhabi emphasis on certain traditions. By invalidating this religious component the message of love and tolerance is better established. Yet in explaining why Islam is a message of love and tolerance to those who already believe this, they cause ordinary believers to think about their received faith, and examine it. This is not an easy process to bear, and controversy is the natural result.

Thinking about received traditions is not limited to Egyptian Muslims, and this Western Christian found himself in similar territory. This next section of the essay is meant as exploration of psyche, and not necessarily evaluation of ideas, certainly not confidence of convictions. Yet as I was interacting with both Muslim voices I found myself drawn to and favorable toward one, while I was questioning of and guarded against the other. I wonder which the reader, especially the Muslim reader, might suspect of me before I continue. In which ways have my biases been experienced so far?

It is important to emphasize that the message of Islam as love and tolerance is an easy one for the Western Christian to accept, and the promotion of this message within Islam would certainly call for rejoicing. The Western Christian, inasmuch as he or she knows Islam, either condemns it as a religion of violence or commends it as a religion of peace and tolerance. The more generally educated Western Christian comment on Islam may be seen in that thought with which I began this essay: Islam is composed of vast and flexible source material, from which self-described Muslim voices draw both messages. The Western Christian may or may not be as conscious that both the Western and the Christian traditions are similarly variable, but this fact is true of almost all world systems of thought. It is impossible for worldviews to hold historical and international sway unless they are of this nature.

Therefore, the Western Christian of any ideology would be glad to find love and tolerance promoted within Islam. For the Westerner, this means that adherents of the religion will not threaten us, in either our safety or our cultural values. For the Christian, this means that the dominant expression of faith can find common ground in what is often seen as a rival, and thus oppositional, religion. In theory, though practice is always a different and more difficult matter, joint declarations of love and tolerance presents Islam as an ally of both.

Yet the voice of Sheikh Ahmad is much easier to digest. From this point forward I must state that I am describing my own palpitations of heart; though I believe these to be representative of an average Western (or at least American) Christian, I can speak with no certainty about this matter. Each is invited to speak for himself.

Sheikh Ahmad dares to critique the received traditions of Islam, commenting directly on the sources which promote interpretations of violence. Should the Western Christian crassly rejoice in the long awaited exposure of Islam, he or she does so poorly. Sheikh Ahmad is purifying Islam from what he believes are false accretions from pure religion; yet what remains is still pure Islam. Still, he speaks to the Western Christian fear that violence, though certainly not the only message of Islam, exists truly within the heart of this faith. By stating it does not, he puts his foreign audience at ease. We have no idea if he is or is not correct in his assessment, but we are glad to hear it nonetheless.

Drawing only from the presentation of Imam Faisal, combining with experiences of other Western Muslim preachers, this thorny issue of sources is often left unaddressed. The message of love and tolerance is appreciated, but if background issues of both textual and historical violence remain only in the background, the Western Christian remains wary. Is love and tolerance the message of Islam when it is a minority faith, or in a weakened state, which will give way to sources, emphasized currently by some adherents of Islam, which highlight differences and propose superiority, when its foundations are stronger? Put another way, is Islam about love and tolerance in its essence, or is this a means to attract enough support until power is adequately accumulated? At that point, of course, love and tolerance will not disappear, but other messages may come out from the background. All religions must answer this question; given the complex relationship between the Western Christian and the Islamic worlds throughout history, it is asked contemporarily of Islam. Perhaps Muslims should also ask it of us.

The question I wished to pose to Imam Faisal during his presentation was this: Pope John Paul II had been a leading critic of Western violence, as in the current Iraqi war. He has also strongly condemned and apologized for Christian uses of violence, as in the Crusades, Inquisitions, and Christianization of Latin America. Most Muslims and you today condemn the attacks of September 11; are Muslims in general, and are you in particular, ready to condemn those who have committed violence in the name of Islamic empire, common to all empires, as being against the nature of true Islamic faith? Specifically, were the wars of Islamic expansion (al-futuhat al-Islamiya), in violation of Islam? Middle Age believers of both faiths mixed religion and empire without apology. Many 21st Century Christians now apologize for this; are 21st Century Muslims able to do the same?

I wavered considerably in asking this question. In the end I decided against it, for I felt I would be asking not of sincere inquiry, but of combativeness and challenge. The question may be valid, but I would not have been asking from a proper spirit. Furthermore, my question would rightly be seen as a trap. If he were to answer ‘no’, he would undue his message of love and tolerance in the eyes of the West, authenticating the suspicion of it being the message of Islam as minority or weakened faith alone. Yet if he were to answer ‘yes’, especially given his Egyptian audience, he would likely unleash a torrent of controversy, as Muslims rightly celebrate their golden ages of civilizational superiority. Yet would Islam in essence declare the manner of establishing this civilization as faulty, flawed, and sinful?

Yet there is another, more pernicious question that gets raised in the heart of the Western Christian, one which undermines his own values of love and tolerance. The message of Sheikh Ahmad is more easily digested because Sheikh Ahmad, no matter the symmetry of his values and those of the Western Christian, remains ‘other’. He remains foreign. Imam Faisal, on the other hand, is a Westerner. He is one of us, but he is a Western Muslim. Does being a Westerner overpower his Muslim identity, making it easier to accept him as ‘us’? Or is his Western state simply a garb under which beats a Muslim soul, making his acceptance more difficult, threatening to group him with ‘them’? Yet, regardless of his constitution, why do these questions concern us so?

The values of Western Christian civilization have in recent ages extended a welcome to people of all faiths. Freedom of religion is a cherished and inviolable right, and nations of the West added to their melting pot Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Sikhs, and allowed all to build their houses of worship, practice their rites, and even spread their religious beliefs. Perhaps America has integrated these communities better than Europe, but all have held that religion should not be a barrier to welcome and participation in society. If the reality falls short of the rhetoric it reveals the sublime ideal for which to aim.

Yet despite the declining significance of religion in Western life the cultural foundation maintains its Christian basis. This is an understated value for Westerners in general, though it is present below the surface, but it is cherished by the Western Christian. The inclusion of foreign faiths has not bothered either group, for until now they have been welcomed as full participants in society—but here is the unspoken reality—as long as their faiths remain foreign. The Muslim in the West is generally free to construct a mosque, conduct his prayers, and fast as he wishes. Yet these values, no matter if the response is of condescension or respect, remain imported, cherished by a welcomed ethnic group, but belonging to them and not to us. This Muslim may play on the work sports team, join in the national day neighborhood celebrations, and attend parent-teacher meetings at school. He is free to be an Arab, or Pakistani, or whatever citizen of the West. His Islam, or his Buddhism, or whatever, is his own, and not ours.

This is a very delicate matter, and it would not be spoken like this publically. The discourse esteems the right of religion, and the Westerner, including the Western Christian, will rejoice that the Muslim is free to have his or her Islam. Imam Faisal, however, has recognized that the natural result of immigration is transformation of culture; his efforts threaten to disturb the balance by making Islam ‘ours’.

This is not an accusation against him; in his focus and words he is very wise. More so, his discourse is inevitable. As long as communities of Muslims exist in the West, no matter their place of origin, there will emerge a Western Islam. This speaks back to the opening premise of religion as being vast and flexible. Western values and Islamic values have been and will increasingly negotiate together to produce a new, and viable, interpretation of the religion, one which will likely express itself in congruity with the greater host culture. Imam Faisal wishes to speed up this process, but it will happen with or without him. All families wish to live in peace with those around them; as Muslim families live in peace with Western culture, they will invariably be shaped by it. Their expression of Islam will likewise bend to this reality. In dominant Islamic cultures the purists, though they be misnamed, may protest, as was seen at the presentation of Imam Faisal, but these cries will be futile, falling on the deaf ears of an emerging Muslim community.

The careful reader, however, will notice that the second half of the familiar couplet has fallen out of the last paragraph. This is what will happen in the West, but what is the effect on the Western Christian? He can only be confronted by his schizophrenia. As a Westerner he is powerless to protest, for the process of assimilation is a cherished part of his being. His own ancestors negotiated this path long ago, between Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, and of which he or she is a result. Yet as a Western Christian this assimilation of other religious groups undermines the particular Christian nature of the culture. Perhaps with Islam this is felt more deeply because of ingrained historical attitudes between the faiths. If Islam becomes Western then it becomes ‘us’. Yet there is that within Christianity, as with exclusivist tendencies in all religions, to restrict ‘us’ to those likeminded. The Western Christian has no problem inviting the Muslim to become ‘us’ in a Western sense, but this entails leaving Islam as his personal, foreign expression of faith.

This is further complicated by uncertainties about Imam Faisal, here and hereafter used as an expression of Western Islamic preaching. Is he a missionary? He is free to be, of course; Western Christian values demand this. When the odd Westerner converts to Islam and dons a traditional robe, grows a long beard, and changes his name to Muhammad so-and-so, this causes little concern, for every individual is free, and he has clearly left many expressions of his culture to adopt those of the peculiar foreigners. Yet Imam Faisal is urging Western Muslims to become, and presumably to remain in the case of a convert, Western. It is more of a challenge to accept the reality of Jeremy Smithson, Muslim, wearing a three piece suit, or perhaps jeans, t-shirt, and baseball cap.

Therefore Imam Faisal is open to the challenge: Is his bridge building work done in order to make fertile ground for Islam, so that over time Islam becomes part of the Western cultural identity, and more and more Westerners find peace within its fold? Again, it is his right, but is this his message? If it is, is it admitted? The Westerner may feel the suspicion under the surface, whereas the Western Christian may be immediately more defensive. Yet how can one know? It is uncharitable to toss around accusations, and as a Westerner, the Christian cannot protest. He can only lament the declining status of his faith within his own culture, at least inasmuch as Christianity is the primary, or among the leading, informants of the culture.

Of course there are several other options available. The Western Christian can adjust and resign himself to the inevitable social demographic patterns of life. He or she can renew internal Christian energy and seek re-evangelization of the culture and the inhabitants thereof. He or she can become angry and hostile toward these new Muslim interlopers, and seek the defamation of their faith, warning of the hidden agenda behind the slogans of love and tolerance. At least, this can be done within the allowable limits of Western culture. Passing special favor onto a man like Sheikh Ahmad might be seen as a clever passive-aggressive expression of this last option.

I dare not choose between these options listed, but if there is a path to be proclaimed as ideal, it may have to decouple two of the often used expressions of this essay. The first to be dissolved is ‘Western Christian’. In doing so it leaves each identity free to be honest with its own nature, and exposes the unholy alliance between the two. Western Christian culture is the last remaining remnant of Western Christendom, which coupled Christian faith with temporal power. It is not as if there was no good produced from this union; the humanistic values of the West were ultimately formed in negotiation between faith and power. Perhaps the same could be said of the great and tolerant Islamic civilizations of history. Yet in clinging to the desire for Christian culture the Western Christian is longing for superiority, dominance, and control. Though never to be expressed in this way, when spoken in these terms it exposes the distinct unchristian nature of this desire.

This does not mean that Western and Christian should become oppositional; on the contrary they make keen allies. Yet why should not Islam, or Hinduism, or Buddhism also become allies in this endeavor? Most Western Christians have already transformed the once despised Jews into participants in an acclaimed ‘Judeo-Christian culture’. The questions posed to Islam in this essay are essential for determining if indeed this religion can become an ally in the equation, but is there any reason to suspect that possessors of a vast and flexible religious heritage could not become as such?

The second decoupling involves the epithet ‘love and tolerance’. Tolerance is a negative virtue. It speaks to the right to leave one alone to do as he wishes and to believe what he will, provided respect is granted similarly for the rights of others. As such, it is the perfect, correct, and cherished value of Western culture. The Western Christian, however, needs to evaluate where his truest identity lies. Christianity speaks not of tolerance—though it is not absent from the discourse—but of love. Love extends welcome. Love shares resources. Love forgives faults. Love hopes for the best. Love humbles itself. Love sacrifices for the success of others. Love is willing to perish rather than deny its nature.

It is difficult to translate these sentiments into practical reality, but I believe this is the necessary attitude Western Christians must adopt toward the emerging Muslim communities within their midst, as well as toward Islam worldwide, and all other religious adherents beside. If in the end these prove themselves ungracious recipients then this is the risk associated with love itself. It is poured upon all, worthy and unworthy. Christians should be conscious of their own tradition which declares them to be unworthy recipients of the love of God; how then can they be miserly toward others? If these take such love and trample upon it, undoing the very nature of the societies which welcomed them then this is the risk associated with love itself. Christians should be conscious of their own tradition in which Christ, in obedience to love became obedient to death, even death on a cross.

At this the Western Christian will long again for the Western nature of his identity; after all, from this base of power he or she can find protection. The answer of God, however, is resurrection and redemption. This hope, however, is only in God; it is the attitude of Christ which Christians must hold.

Within this arrangement the Christian, now potentially free of his limiting couplet, must face the question earlier posed to Imam Faisal: Are you a missionary? The Christian is free to be, of course, inasmuch as anyone is free to be a salesman for a preferred commodity. In fact, the commodity is valuable, both for the individual and for the world. It would do well to be marketed. Love, however, seeks not its own. The Christian must consider long and hard his motivations. Is a desire to see one’s faith in the lives of others emerging from the natural and human desire for strength, importance, and triumph, however defined? If so, these are the very attitudes denounced by Christian faith. If not from love nothing is gained, though mountains be moved in the process. Given the vagaries of the human condition, who can confess to a pure heart? God is gracious; he will redeem all which comes from love, and allow all else to be burned as chaff. Where in this equation falls the desire to see ‘love’ proclaimed by the lips of others? May each Christian, may each human, submit this question only to God.

It is imagined, not unreasonably, that Sheikh Ahmad, Imam Faisal, and the author of this essay trust that within ourselves there is the desire to please God; though this be submitted to him, it is only through our actions these desires become of use to people around us. Please judge, but be charitable. May we all extend such charity to one another.

6 replies on “Islam and the West: A Personal Reflection”

Hi Jason,
Thanks for this thorough article. So interesting that you were able to hear both these men speak — from such different perspectives.
Your comments are very insightful. I kept thinking of various Christian connections. Evangelical Christians don’t want our faith to be adapted to the culture, so why should Muslims? Liberals do want the culture to change our beliefs, ex. abortion, gay marriage, role of women/wives, etc.
One of the things I would like to ask a Muslim leader who wants American to accept them and their religion: Why do you want freedom of religion in our county when NO Muslim-majority country offers freedom of religion?
There is so much to be considered, not just religion, but nature of government, laws (sharia!) etc. It certainly isn’t an easy situation.
I will reread this to get more understanding.
Thanks again!

Janet

Like

Fascinating. Great analysis that impacts many discussions, including the current “Ground Zero Mosque” discussion.
I think what we’re seeing is that the West has developed a certain consensus regarding religion–absolute equality is required, even to the point of excluding, or attempting to exclude, all religious viewpoints equally. Islam, on the other hand, is a religion that expects, even demands, preferential treatment. Do you think this is the viewpoint that these men are attempting to change? If they succeed, this could work. Until they do (if they ever do), we will continue to have problems.

Like

Jayson,
Thanks for the essay and your insight. The controversy appears to be growing as the threat of cultural demise seems to be invasive in our society today. The argument of religious tolerance impacting the values upon which this nation was founded is one that needs an answer. True, all religions must be welcomed and accepted for the immigrant coming to this country. Changing the value system to tolerate another’s religion is, I believe, a deeper issue. The right or wrong of Islam’s beliefs only becomes an issue as it infringes upon my ability to practice western Christianity upon the principles set forth by the founding fathers. These thoughts are off the top of my head, however. I will again read your essay and give it more thought.

Aunt Mickie

Like

Aah, very insightful, as I said here, on Gordon’s conversation thread. And as I said there, I have some thoughts on what you write.

But first, the August 20-21 replies …

Janet Neidhardt said: I would like to ask a Muslim leader who wants American to accept them and their religion: Why do you want freedom of religion in our county when NO Muslim-majority country offers freedom of religion?

Well, I certainly don’t want what God has told us will mostly not happen (“acceptance”), but we want religious liberty because that is what God has Mandated for all humanity. As for “muslim-majority country” freedoms, everyone has religious liberty in muslim-majority countries except muslims. In Saudi Arabia, those of other faiths cannot build churches or establish televangelist facilities, but expatriates working in Saudi Arabia conduct their usual congregational activities in their homes, inside walled compounds like most “established” people in the Middle East enjoy for their family’s privacy. Muslims, however, are expected (or in places required) to pursue the dogmatic orthodoxy and practices, and have no liberty to even discuss their faith with a view to “reforming” the corrupted version of “Islam” instituted by the Abbasid Tyranny over a millennium ago. That’s why muslims come to America, to escape that tyranny that they know is utterly antithetical to Islam.

Abu Tulip said: Islam, on the other hand, is a religion that expects, even demands, preferential treatment.

This is untrue. Some muslims demand preferential treatment on the basis that Islam (which they really don’t know that well) is superior to all other faiths. Strangely enough, that idea of “superiority” is common to all religions, and certainly true of Christianity, whose adherents claim to espouse the only effective religion ~ which Islam does not do. And if it wasn’t Christians in Colonial America who wrote the First Amendment, giving “preferential treatment” to people of faith, then where might it have come from? Hmmm … wasn’t it Islam that established that religious liberty for all humanity? Well shucks, yes it was.

Mickie Booker said: The controversy appears to be growing as the threat of cultural demise seems to be invasive in our society today.

Yes. Throw red, white, and blue clay into a melting pot and you’ll get a sickly lavender. Toss red-blooded and blue-blooded Americans into a melting pot with other-colored Americans, and we get purple rage as every culture starts to lose its distinguishing characteristics in favor of a monoculture unacceptable to everybody.

Except one culture that is protected from any and all criticism, which finds the “melting pot” confusion of cultural values and understandings quite useful for serving an organized political and social agenda.

But Islam is quite definitely the antithesis of this “melting pot” quagmire, as Jayson illuminates. The only “cultural” effect of Islam is to provide encouragement for the elimination of cultural practices that corrupt human nature ~ such as female genital mutilation, economic slavery, racial and ethnic prejudices, “ruler-subject” political schemes, corruption of justice institutions, faith-based animosity, et cetera. Aunt Mickie continued:

Changing the value system to tolerate another’s religion is, I believe, a deeper issue. The right or wrong of Islam’s beliefs only becomes an issue as it infringes upon my ability to practice western Christianity upon the principles set forth by the founding fathers.

America was founded on Islamic values, the foremost of which is religious liberty ~ freedom of and from religion for all people. Muslims have the same values common to all other religions, as originally established, and a particular congruence with those Christian values that have been preserved despite doctrinal contentions that divide today’s American Christians.

When Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses ~ or any other missionaries ~ come to our door, we invite them into the Kingdom of God in which we live, and we have wide-ranging discussions aimed at affirming their fidelity to what they believe and introducing them to Islam’s mandate to protect and defend their religious communities and their absolute right to administer their affairs themselves, according to their own beliefs and judgments of what is right and true.

Secular laws originally drawn from the Torah, such as prohibition of murder, theft, and false witness, and a scalable national constitution, and from the Gospel, such as arbitration and pacific cooperation across faith boundaries, and from Islam, such as individual property rights immune from eminent domain for all people (instead of just for chiefs of tribes or kings), federalism, due process of law, reason and scientific methodology, universal political enfranchisement, and universal religious liberty, are commonly beneficial for all houses of faith. Why would anyone of any faith wish to change that?

Changing shallowly-held values is something of a melting-pot sport, with entertainment media creating unattainable fantasy worlds and inspiring habitual intoxication as an alternative escape from reality, as well as a method of dissolving the moral and inspirational imperatives of cultures to be eradicated and subjugated. How many generations have been led into the Fire since Jesus showed people how to live in the Presence of God?

But Islam strengthens human values, it does not seek to change them ~ how can something arising naturally from human nature be changed, without impairing or destroying that very human nature that God created in us? We are the most hardy creature in creation ~ but empathy, compassion, affection, concern, and kinship are vulnerabilities in our intellectual makeup, and where there is opportunity for gain, the ambitious and envious will always seek out ways to exploit those weaknesses that make us uniquely human.

No, the only thing you have to fear from Islam itself is your imagination. As for deranged muslims, we corral them when we can, and in cases where we can’t, we thank you for ridding us of them when you do.

And I’ve been up all night again, writing on the Web, which at my age is not a good idea. So I’ll take my leave and try to get back to Jayson’s superbly insightful tract tomorrow.

Salaam …

Like

To Jayson: Your essay raises questions that warrant answers: on …

“Islamic” violence …

The question I wished to pose to Imam Faisal … are Muslims in general, and are you in particular, ready to condemn those who have committed violence in the name of Islamic empire, common to all empires, as being against the nature of true Islamic faith?

Well certainly. Violence committed in the name of an “empire” is just as reprehensible as violence committed in the name of “the people,” if by “violence” you mean bloodshed neither in defense or in the course of justice. God has informed us of bloodshed that may ~ or must ~ commence at our hands in His Name, and no other bloodshed is acceptable to Him, although He permits it. But you get more specific …

Specifically, were the wars of Islamic expansion (al-futuhat al-Islamiya), in violation of Islam?

Some were, some weren’t. “Al-futuhat al-Islamiyya” is better translated as “The Opening of Islam” than “Islamic expansion,” but that is inconsequential, the phrase was used to justify things it does not embrace. Certainly after the Byzantine-Roman legions peremptorily attacked Arabia after the entire population had embraced Islam, the liberation of the Promised Land from their occupation was not only consistent with Islam, but prophesied repeatedly in the Old Testament; and the Byzantines not only knew that, but their Emperor and their Orthodox Pope acknowledged it to our emissaries ~ the Pope publicly, whereupon he was killed on the spot by the soldiery.

Then the semi-annual Byzantine campaigns against the muslims demanded a response, and the defensive wars carried the battles to the sea ~ whereupon the Byzantines attacked muslim shipping, and by sea in the eastern Mediterranean, for some centuries before Constantinople became Istanbul with support from its inhabitants.

In the east, however, the Umayyads and then the Abbasids needed to occupy restless armies with no other vested interest in the regimes to support their subsistence or the extravagances of the royal courts, and those imperial wars were certainly questionable, as muslim scholars have since elaborated. Did oppressed people ask the muslims for relief? In some cases, but certainly not all ~ pockets of independence were slaughtered out of hand, and that certainly is not at all consistent with “Al-Futuhat al-Islamiyya.”

Were the Umayyad Kingdom and Abbasid Tyranny scarcely distinguishable from other decaying empires at the time? Certainly. Rapacious ambition is certainly no monopoly of anyone, as we see in our own American history and today’s wars of conquest and occupation ~ virtually all of which, you might note, are against historically muslim lands, from which little has come to America in the way of retaliation or offensive defense. 9/11, in this context, was minor in comparison to the wars of the Twentieth Century, and a symbolic attack with no impact on industrial resources or offensive capacities ~ as we have seen.

I don’t trivialize 9/11, America’s on-going history of aggression and rapaciousness does. What makes 9/11 an enormity is American complicity in it, and the domestic response to it ~ not to mention the slaughter of literally millions of Afghanistan’s pacific peasantry and Iraq’s innocents, with Iran’s millions ~ of a nation that has not attacked anyone since it was driven out of the Promised Land ~ waiting for Israeli warplanes to arrive through Saudi air space.

But the Abbasid rapine ~ or rather those actions of the muslim leaders of the period ~ was inexcusable. But it is for God to condemn or exonerate them, it is ours to condemn the acts, learn from them, and avoid them. Many have not done that, in ignorance they don’t imagine possible.

Middle Age believers of both faiths mixed religion and empire without apology. Many 21st Century Christians now apologize for this; are 21st Century Muslims able to do the same?

Certainly not. As Salahuddin is portrayed to have said, offering reassurances at the surrender of Jerusalem by the defeated Crusader State, “I am not those people.” What value is there in an empty apology offered on behalf of another? It cannot be but insincere, as no guilt attaches to those who did not commit the wrong. Do we lament the wrongdoing of our predecessors? Certainly. But they may ask forgiveness of those they wronged when they meet before God ~ and whether what amounts, largely, to tit-for-tat imperial ambitions will be forgiven by God is for Him to decide. Our “apology” in those circumstances is meaningless and would be nothing more than vanity.

The “Clash of Civilizations” …

Muslims rightly celebrate their golden ages of civilizational superiority.

No, they wrongly celebrate their period of civilizational superiority. Our “Golden Age” was the time of the Messenger and thirty years after his return to his Lord, after which Islam was in a state of collapse for the next thousand years. Islam mandates a federalism of autonomous self-governing religious and ethnic communities, not a religious or “holy family” empire, and the vaunted courts of the Abbasid Tyranny were rife with corruption and worldly ambition, not admirable except to worshippers of dominion. The fruits of the Kingdom that came to Europe through Jewish and Christian scholars of Islamic Spain during the Reconquista are not so prominent in contemporary thought among today’s muslims as is the dominion of the Abbasid Tyranny, which few see in retrospect as tyranny.

“Foreign” and “Western” voices …

The message of Sheikh Ahmad is more easily digested because Sheikh Ahmad, no matter the symmetry of his values and those of the Western Christian, remains ‘other’. He remains foreign. Imam Faisal, on the other hand, is a Westerner. He is one of us, but he is a Western Muslim.

Yes, from what I have seen, the Imam is an “American” muslim, literally moving toward a “new school” that is actually the “old school” dating back to man’s earliest origins. But ‘Abdur-Ra’uf’s thinking remains that of the “old schools” of the terminally-collapsed millennial muslim world, which he struggles to reform, and which posits American culture as “other.” So he remains “foreign” in the perceptions of others, despite the symmetry of his values with those of American Christians. Yes, he is perceived as “more threatening” to American gestalts, because he is here with a missionary flavor to his advocacy of what are essentially American values. This is a holdover from “foreign” thinking that has obstructed perception of the essential kinship among the faiths of Abraham. Christians rightly perceive that there is no legitimacy to the missionary proselytizing erroneously imported into muslims’ thinking ages ago. We are an invitation, or we are not ~ nothing we can say or do “invites” when we are not ourselves, simply as neighbors, inviting by our cooperation, manners and affection.

“Foreign” muslims in America …

The Muslim in the West is generally free to construct a mosque, conduct his prayers, and fast as he wishes. Yet these values, no matter if the response is of condescension or respect, remain imported, cherished by a welcomed ethnic group, but belonging to them and not to us. This Muslim may play on the work sports team, join in the national day neighborhood celebrations, and attend parent-teacher meetings at school. He is free to be an Arab, or Pakistani, or whatever citizen of the West. His Islam, or his Buddhism, or whatever, is his own, and not ours.

This is a matter of perception. Rituals and practices are not what makes someone a muslim, but a condition of the heart and reliance on God’s Word are the aim of those rituals and practices. A “shari’ah” is a path to water ~ in this context, the water of Knowledge of God and His tangible Presence. It is the water, not the path, that is recognizable as “ours” by others who pursue another path. A muslim whose path has not taken him far enough to be drowned in God’s Mercy has little to show others that they can recognize as “theirs” other than gracious manners and neighborly affection displayed by a stranger ~ when he has them to show.

“American” muslims “foreign” …

Imam Faisal, however, has recognized that the natural result of immigration is transformation of culture; his efforts threaten to disturb the balance by making Islam ‘ours’.

America is rife with Christian muslims and Jewish muslims who will, in all likelihood, remain Christian and Jewish. As they come to recognize in Islam the tenets and values of their own faith, and adopt the tools of transformation hitherto forgotten in their own paths, they will transform the culture. ‘Abdur-Ra’uf may have forgotten that it is God Who returns us to His Presence, not us, not even the masters of the applied sciences of tasawwuf, who can only indicate a direction for someone to look and pray that God will allow him to see.

America will change, there is no doubt of that, it’s prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures. But it will be Americans who change themselves, by their own will and desire, not by Islam or the influences of ‘Abdur-Ra’uf or any of us.

As long as communities of Muslims exist in the West, no matter their place of origin, there will emerge a Western Islam. … Western values and Islamic values have been and will increasingly negotiate together to produce a new, and viable, interpretation of the religion, one which will likely express itself in congruity with the greater host culture.

What you describe has been established in America for half a century, and was built into the foundations of the Republic before the Constitution was written. But it is not a “new interpretation” of the religion, it is the return of the religion to its eventual home, established and prepared by European Christians fleeing oppression in search of religious liberty. ‘Abdur-Ra’uf perceives this but obscurely, it is not part of his religious understanding, but of his experience.

This is what will happen in the West, but what is the effect on the Western Christian? … The Western Christian has no problem inviting the Muslim to become ‘us’ in a Western sense, but this entails leaving Islam as his personal, foreign expression of faith … It is more of a challenge to accept the reality of Jeremy Smithson, Muslim, wearing a three piece suit, or perhaps jeans, t-shirt, and baseball cap.

(smile) I argue my cases pro se before our State and federal courts in a woolen three-piece suit and a color-matched wool felt “tarboosh” ~ a fez, but not so tall as those you see in Shriner parades. I’ve prevailed in all of my cases, to the embarrassment and chagrin of licensed attorneys from the largest law firms in the region. The only Americans “challenged” to accept me are those who deny that Jesus was the Messiah, or imagine that I do ~ which of course we don’t.

I’ll admit, however, that those whose purple rage evaporates when I speak to them tend to wonder, later, how in the world that happened. But then, so do I …

Christianity speaks not of tolerance — though it is not absent from the discourse — but of love. Love extends welcome. Love shares resources. Love forgives faults. Love hopes for the best. Love humbles itself. Love sacrifices for the success of others. Love is willing to perish rather than deny its nature.

Love does not perish, it can’t. But love overpowers hatred. (Maybe that’s how it happens …)

Christians should be conscious of their own tradition which declares them to be unworthy recipients of the love of God; how then can they be miserly toward others?

No one is “worthy” of His Love. He loves those He does because He is The Loving, The Merciful, and because He created us, as we are, for that.

Those He does not love, He cares for but does not care about ~ He said “… and these are for the Fire and I don’t care.” Those who deny or oppose Him do not afflict Him at all. They despise themselves or wander, mystified and lost, and He does not afflict them ~ they afflict themselves. No one can live without His Love except in misery and despair, dead to all that is good and wonderful, in fear of everything including themselves. But that is the fruit of their own choosing, God has not done anything to them except feed them and keep them alive that they might turn to Him. And when they finally burn out their bodies and die, He gives them a new life to start over, with whatever they have sent ahead for themselves.

Christians should be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves. It’s dangerous to love those God has rewarded with the curses included in the Promise to Him that they broke. They lead those who love them in only one direction ~ deeper and deeper. God does not love them and neither should you. That does not mean we should despise them, but only leave them to God and what they have chosen in preference to Him. He still feeds them and protects them until they ~ as individuals ~ earn the curses He Promised them, and still, after that, gives them infinite opportunities to turn to Him. But they are not to be followed or loved in opposition to God’s judgment.

Just as God warned Adam and Hawwah (Eve) of one who is an enemy to all of us, so Jesus warned us of those who have joined themselves to that enemy ~ as the prophets of old stated quite clearly. “We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement,” from Ezekiel 13, is not vague. There are people who don’t know Jesus was the Messiah, and there are those who know it without doubt and deny it. Jesus was not equivocal or ambiguous about that, and just as we follow what Jesus said that benefits, so we should follow what Jesus said in warning.

Love cannot overcome hatred when God has written it into someone’s heart with indelible ink for all eternity. Love must heed Jesus’ warning in order for The Lover in us to survive.

Yours is among the writings I have seen lately that affirm my faith in what God is doing in America. Thank you ~ and keep writing.

Like

What's your opinion?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s