Islam & Modernity

Not All Muslims Think Alike

Since the dreadful events of September 11, 2001, Americans have been living in a world riven by antagonism between Muslims and non-Muslims, a polarization arguably not seen since the medieval period and the Crusades of Christian Europe. In the face of this antipathy, it’s important to acknowledge that just as the West today is more religiously diverse than was Europe when Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade almost a thousand years ago, so too is the Muslim world. Too many talking heads in the American media want to reduce the Islamic tradition to its most politicized and militant version. Such a simplification insults the richness of that religious tradition.

When I recently read through the names of those who died in the World Trade Center that September morning, I was struck by how many were identifiably Muslim. In this regard it seems wholly suitable that Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf wishes to build, on a site two blocks from Ground Zero, a community center and mosque. Like us, our Muslim neighbors need a place to pray and mourn for their relatives and friends who died on that terrible day. But the willingness, even the ability, to extend sympathetic support for such a need depends on a  knowledge of Islam many Americans lack.

To understand Muslims today one needs to recognize three strands of faith—in effect three different cultures—among Sunni Muslims, who account for nearly nine-tenths of the world’s Muslims. (In discussing these subgroups, I do not wish to slight the 10 percent of the world’s Muslims who are Shiite, nor the 1 percent who are neither Sunni nor Shiite.) First is the relatively small but intense Sunni minority that advocates a radically countercultural understanding of Islam. These are the people characterized in the West as Islamists (formerly referred to as Muslim fundamentalists), and most have been influenced by the conservative understanding of Islam propagated in and by Saudi Arabia. A second, larger population participates in the Islamic tradition but can be characterized as culturally secularized, often more influenced by socioeconomic and political forces than by the Qur’an. Most of these culturally secularized Muslims live in Turkey, the Balkans, the former Soviet Asian republics, and parts of Africa. But the largest bloc of Muslims are people of faith participating in a centrist tradition whose understanding of Islam engages with the many nonreligious factors in their world; they can best be described as inculturating their faith in a world that is only partly Islamic. These are Muslims for whom faith and culture are not completely coextensive. Most Arabs (Saudis excepted) and most South Asian Muslims fit into this category.

The Sunni Muslims I characterize as countercultural sometimes trace their ideas back to key passages in the Qur’an. The Qur’an came to historical birth in the two decades before Muhammad’s death in 632, and in its original setting it was in some sense markedly countercultural, critical of Muhammad’s contemporaries and their faithless ways. The Qur’an refers derisively to elements of pre-Islamic Arabian culture as jahiliyya, a term usually translated as “ignorance” but more akin to “barbarism.” Jahiliyya appears only four times in the Qur’an, each time in a passage of revelation received by Muhammad when he was attempting to establish an ideal Islamic rule in Medina. For instance, during a battle with the Meccans in the year 625, when some of Muhammad’s army broke ranks to take booty—standard practice for the pre-Islamic Arabs—many were killed and others wounded; and the Qur’an excoriates them for falling back into pagan Arab ways, “entertaining wrong suppositions about God, suppositions typical of barbarism” (Qur’an 3:154).

The Qur’anic term jahiliyya provided the rigorist Ibn Taymiyya (1263–1328) with a useful category for condemning the Mongols, converts to Islam who invaded the Middle East, destroyed the ailing Sunni caliphate, and established a rule that owed more to their own legal tradition, the Great Yasa of Genghis Khan, than it did to Islamic sharia. In turn, much of what is called Islamism today stems from the work of twentieth-century writers who studied Ibn Taymiyya. Two of the most influential are the Indian-born journalist Sayyid Abul A‘la Maududi (1903–79) and Sayyid Qutb (1906–66), an Egyptian novelist radicalized by his experiences as a student in the United States in the late 1940s. Undoubtedly the most influential Islamic rigorist in the Arab world, especially since his execution by the Nasser government in 1966, Sayyid Qutb embraced a pristine vision of Islam based less on history than on a catechetical idealization of history. In this he was much affected not only by Ibn Taymiyya’s denunciation of the Muslim Mongols, but also by the writings of Maududi. Both Sayyid Qutb and Maududi were autodidacts, as far as Islamic legal tradition is concerned. The countercultural vision of Islam they espoused, divorced from any past concrete cultural expression of Islamic faith, was a reactionary schematization, conspicuously lacking the historical and cultural depth that might have informed a more humane vision. Their writings, translated into English, have gained them a following among other Muslim autodidacts throughout the world.

These examples of post-Qur’anic invocation of jahiliyya reveal an expansion of the term well beyond its original sense. The jahiliyya of the Mongols had to do with their reliance on the Yasa of Genghis Khan alongside Islamic legal sources. Yet far more significant than any injury to Islam by the Mongols was the benefit to Islam brought by their conversion—the greatest eastward expansion of Islam in its history. Indeed, the historic genius of Islam has been its ability to penetrate non-Arab cultural settings and to bring to them, if only gradually, a deepening sense of the oneness of God and the moral demands that Islamic monotheism involves. Ibn Taymiyya, a Syrian Arab, had little historical perspective on the extraordinary process of Islamization that was going on in Central Asia in his lifetime. The countercultural Muslims holed up in Afghanistan’s Tora Bora caves today share this shortsightedness. For us it is important to realize that such countercultural Muslims remain a small minority of the world’s total Muslim population. To be sure, they are a very dangerous small minority. But the threat they pose is not only to non-Muslims, but also to other Muslims whose relationship to outside cultures is more benign.

The Muslims I have characterized as culturally secularized also trace a history back to the beginnings of the Islamic tradition. An early Qur’anic passage hints at a certain harmonizing of revelation with the surrounding culture of pre-Islamic Mecca. Two brief suras (105 and 106) indicate a deeply ingrained sympathy for at least one aspect of pre-Islamic culture, the religious cultus at the Ka‘ba. This cubic shrine at the center of Mecca was polytheistic by the time of Muhammad’s birth (though Muslim tradition maintains it had been built as a monotheistic sanctuary centuries earlier by Abraham and Ishmael). When the Christian Ethiopian army of Abraha, armed with an elephant, laid siege to Mecca in the year 570, divine intervention, apparently in the form of flying insects, saved the polytheistic Ka‘ba: “Have you not seen what your Lord did with the people of the elephant? Did he not make their plans go awry?” (Qur’an 105:1–2)

The Sura of Quraysh, probably referring to God’s frustration of this Ethiopian attempt to conquer the Arabs of Mecca (the Quraysh), alludes as well to the centrality of the Ka‘ba “for making the Quraysh secure” (106:1). In this passage God assures Muhammad of the continued importance of this shrine, even if the shrine remained (until purified by Muhammad on the day of Mecca’s conquest in 630) polluted by idolatrous practice. This Qur’anic benevolence towards the Ka‘ba encouraged converts, assuring them that the cubic shrine—often visited by pilgrims who also traded in Mecca—would continue to guarantee the town’s prosperity when the Ka‘ba returned to monotheism. Of course, both the Qur’an itself and the written accounts of what Muhammad said and did (the literary corpus called Hadith) deplore the polytheism of preconquest Mecca. Yet none of these sources proposes a permanent replacement for the Ka‘ba; and the continued socioeconomic and political importance of the Quraysh and the Ka‘ba, carried on from pre-Islamic into Islamic times, may serve symbolically for other forms of continuation and transformation in the later history of Islam.

Part of this later history centered on a relatively small coterie of medieval Muslim philosophers, who viewed the religious intellectuality of Hellenism as parallel or even superior to that of the Qur’an. (It is no surprise that most modern Muslims of a countercultural bent utterly reject the intellectual contributions of these Hellenists.) Their practice of falsafa, a word borrowed from the Greek philosophia, encompassed much more than what we call philosophy today: not only logic and metaphysics, but also mathematics, astronomy and astrology, medicine, and even alchemy. Falsafa never had a large following, but it did provide some Arab Muslims (and more Iranian and Turkish ones) with an alternative worldview. Some of its most prominent practitioners tried to reconcile the revealed Qur’an with their Greek-derived thought, suggesting that the Qur’an provided for the non-philosopher the basic insights of what falsafa taught the cognoscenti. Abu Nasr al-Farabi (d. ca. 950), though more devout than some later Muslim philosophers, maintained that the ideal ruler could not be guided only by revealed images—for example, the Qur’an—but needed to study Greek wisdom to equip himself as a kind of Platonic philosopher-king. The late-twelfth-century Spanish-Moroccan philosopher Ibn Tufayl wrote a philosophical novella, Hayy ibn Yaqzan (“Alive, the Son of Awake”), which tells of two men who try to preach philosophical religion in a country ruled by religious literalists. They give up and withdraw to a life of contemplation on an otherwise uninhabited island.

Falsafa persisted in the Sunni Muslim world in the notable career of Ibn Tufayl’s illustrious disciple (and successor as a court functionary in Morocco), Ibn Rushd, known in the West as Averroës. The discreet Aristotelianism practiced by these late-twelfth-century philosophers in Spain and Morocco found worthy inheritors in thirteenth-century Paris, most notably the Latin Averroists contemporary with Aquinas. Centuries later, the Muslim Aristotelians’ wedding of Hellenism and the Qur’an would provide a model for Jamal al-din al-Afghani (1838–97), an Iranian Shiite who hid his identity in pursuit of a grand scheme to unite Muslims against European hegemony in the Muslim world. From Afghani derives not only the so-called Muslim Modernism of the turn of the last century, but also some of the more radical Muslim anticolonial movements that followed. In 1871, during one of his sojourns in Egypt, Afghani took private students from among the religious scholars at the staid Azhar University, including the man who became the father of Muslim Modernism in Egypt, Muhammad ‘Abduh (1849–1905). Afghani introduced ‘Abduh to falsafa, by then long out of intellectual fashion in the Sunni world. ‘Abduh went on to become famous for his rationalistic explanation of all things miraculous in the Qur’an, in effect presenting the whole of Islam as a philosophical religion. (He also sufficiently distanced himself from Afghani’s anticolonialism to become the Grand Mufti in Egypt during the British Consular period.)

Afghani and ‘Abduh shared a somewhat instrumental conception of Islamic faith, viewing it as an ideology that could be used to modernize the Muslim world. The Qur’an had to be interpreted in such a way as to make it an instrument of modernization and scientific advancement. Like the Muslim philosophers who were their intellectual forebears, Afghani and ‘Abduh were quite capable of excerpting from the Qur’an words and phrases that fitted their modernizing cultural agenda. Not every later admirer of Afghani and ‘Abduh has shared their enthusiasm for rationalist explanations. Yet even if their brand of modernism is somewhat out of fashion today, their intellectual quest to find the relevance of Islam in contemporary societies continues.

It is important to emphasize that Islam also has a tradition lying somewhere between the two varieties described above. This centrist tradition of Muslims who inculturate their faith recognizes the importance of cultural elements with little or no connection to Islam. This centrist tradition suggests that God’s self-revelation, the Qur’an, speaks to all forms of culture. For such Muslims the Qur’an recognizes something profoundly important—something deeply in tune with the revelation given to Muhammad—even in matters, events, and circumstances not specifically derived from Muhammad’s unique experience of God: modern science, the arts, secular economic and political developments.

The Qur’an contains many indications of sympathy for elements in pre- and non-Islamic cultures. One of its earliest passages looks sympathetically on the Christian Byzantines in their struggle with the Sasanian Persians. The Sura of the Romans assures Muhammad and the first Muslims of Mecca, who sympathized with their fellow-monotheist Greek Christians, that the Eastern Roman army’s defeat in Syria in 613–14 is not the end: “The Romans have been conquered in a nearby land, but after their defeat they will conquer within a few years” (Qur’an 30:2–6). Qur’anic sympathy for Byzantine Rome in its struggle with the Persians did not prevent the caliphs who succeeded Muhammad from conquering Byzantine territories and including them in the burgeoning Arab empire. Yet there remained in the subsequent Islamic tradition a certain sympathy for the faith of fellow monotheists, especially Jews and Christians, though relations with actual Jews and Christians Muhammad encountered in Medina soured after the year 624. Such sympathies make clear that the tensions of the modern Middle East should not be retrojected wholesale into the past. Not every Muslim society has been equally generous in dealing with the “protected people” of other monotheistic faiths; but compared to the way Byzantine and Latin Christians treated Jews and Muslims, the Muslim empires of the medieval era were much more generous with, and accommodating to, Jews and Christians.

Finally, although modern times have produced many well-known countercultural Muslims—and certain Western commentators on things Islamic tend to be obsessed with these thinkers—there are notable examples of Muslim scholars today who have managed to integrate their Islamic faith with the best in the liberal tradition of the West. Many of these younger Muslim scholars have found a congenial academic setting in Europe and North America. Two of the most important are Tariq Ramadan (b. 1962) and Khaled Abou El Fadl (b. 1963).

Ramadan, whose appointment to a professorship at Notre Dame in 2004 was voided by a State Department directive denying him a visa to enter the United States—a directive happily reversed in January 2010—has written extensively on the experience of being a European Muslim. A grandson of the famous Egyptian founder of the very countercultural Muslim Brothers, Hassan al-Banna, Ramadan takes a much more nuanced attitude toward secular culture than did his grandfather (see “Fellow Travelers?” Commonweal, July 16). Contrary to much contemporary Muslim countercultural thought, he insists that “Islam is not a culture,” but rather a faith tradition that can coexist with and interpenetrate an array of cultural settings. “The ‘way of faithfulness’ integrates all the knowledge, arts, and skills for people’s well-being that humankind has been able to produce,” Ramadan writes. “This principle of integration, as we have defined it, has made it possible for Muslims to live in very varied cultural environments and to feel at home.”

Khaled Abou El Fadl, a professor at the UCLA School of Law, noted for his critique of the Saudi version of Islam, has a view on the relationship between Islam and culture very similar to Ramadan’s. “According to one Prophetic tradition,” he writes, “wisdom and knowledge have no nationality and therefore, regardless of the source, Muslims are free to learn as long as they use this knowledge to serve God and pursue Godliness on this earth.” One of the “distinguishing attributes” of Muslim moderates, Abou El Fadl asserts, “is that they take full advantage of the scientific advances in the social sciences and humanities.”

What needs underlining in modern times, and especially here and now in the United States, is the variety of ways in which Muslims past and present have understood the relationship of their faith to culture. Only when we understand this variety will we begin to grasp the richness of that religious tradition, a richness not exhausted by the proponents of any one particular school of thought. Jews and Christians, in particular, must learn how to interact creatively with all three types of Muslims. We might start by welcoming Muslims to pray in the mosque next door—and even in a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero.

 

Funding for this essay was provided by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.


Related: Groundless, by the Editors
Wrong Then, Wrong Now
 and
The 'Ground Zero Mosque' & the K of C's Mother Church
, by Paul Moses

Topic Page: Muslim-Christian Relations

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The fact that someone even has to state that "Not all Muslims think alike" is a sad endictment of the state of American intelligence.

What's with the pretentious Arabic spelling and superfluous (in English) commas?   In English, the Moslem holy book is spelled Koran.  

The fact that liberals assume that everyone who disagrees with them doesn't know that all Muslims are not alike is a sad indicment of progressives arrogance.

It is incomprehensible that our liberal politicians continue to bow before and support a "religious" cause that can work its followers into violent anti-American rage with threats of death and destruction to Americans everywhere over the burning of a book , the presence of a painting or a cartoon but not only condones but supports suicide bombers, the stoning to death of one of its followers,  the subjection of non-believers and women and Saudi Arabia's banning of the Christian Bible, Jewish torahs and religious houses of worship.Isn't there something wrong with demanding tolerance for those who show no tolerance for others? How difficult is it for supposedly intelligent experts in their field to fail to understand that the American people who have accepted Muslims for years are finally being exposed to the true nature of Islam a total command and control governmental operation with religious overtones.An organization whose mullahs and imams have failed to condemn or speak out against terrorists, those who slaughter innocent Muslim and non-Muslims, those who behead captives live on TV , fly planes into office buildings all in the name of Allah. No condemnation of mullahs who issue fatwas, an Islamic license to kill, on anyone for any perceived slight of Islam, the Prophet or whatever reason he thinks justifies a death sentence. In the real world, issuing an order to or soliciting for someone to kill another person is a criminal offense and subject to arrest and trial but political correctness allows Muslim clerics to order killings without fear of punishment and the Western world cringes at the idea that a fatwa or a threat might be issued for an author, comedy show, publisher, movie director, actor, historian, museum or even a University, the Metropolitan Museum and Yale are the most recent examples along with Comedy Central that have and so practiced self-censorship and political correctness under or to avoid threat or actual attacks from Muslims.Until the first arrest order is issued for a mullah who declares a fatwa against anyone for any reason, the rest of the world is under the control of radical Islam.Where are the "moderate Muslims against sharia" marches andprotest groups, the "Muslims against fatwas" protest groups, the 'Muslims against suicide bombers protest groups, the "Muslims against car bombs in Times Square, markets, assemblies of job seekers and other crowded places'" protest groups.Where is the moderate Muslim outrage, the condemnation, or even issuing fatwas by peaceful Muslim mullahs against the " the few terrorists today" who take hundreds if not thousands of lives, many other Muslims, Jews, Christians and other innocents with suicide bombers and attacks by heavily armed terrorists. Why ignore or hide the truth? Is there a conspiracy of silence? Or fear that some radical mullah will issue a fatwa against any Muslim who objects to violence against both believers in Islam, but not followers of the right sect, or any non-believers.It is up to the peaceful moderate Muslims to stop the carnage carried out in the name of their god.Obviously Mr. Ryan needs to  refresh himself on the history of Islam and to the writings on Islam by noted observers and academics. One could start by reviewing the words of Winston Churchill on Islam from The River War (1899), his account of the Sudanese campaign. Winston Churchill was a man whose prescient warnings about Hitler were ignored by the world.Here is the full text""How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearfulfatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities - but the influence of the religion paralyses the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytizing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome."It wasn't only Churchill who observed and understood the true nature of Islam but also Thomas Jefferson.Sorry folks, but there were no Muslims on the Mayflower as is inferred at every opportunity by the President and also on this program. Thomas Jefferson did possess a copy of the Koran which Keith Allison, our first Muslim Congressman, used to make his oath of office. But what was Jefferson opinion of Islam? Did he believe the Muslim religion represented a calming influence in world affairs? Far from it. In 1786 Thomas Jefferson, then US ambassador to France, and John Adams, then US Ambassador to Britain, met in London with Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, the Dey’s ambassador to Britain, in an attempt to negotiate a peace treaty with the Barbary Pirates based on Congress’ vote of funding. To the US Congress these two future Presidents later reported the reasons for the Muslims’ hostility towards America, a nation with which they had no previous contacts.“...that it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman (Muslim) who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise.”Jefferson had it right. The Marines were sent to Tripoli to put and end to Muslim piracy. Today's experts, including Presidents Bush and Obama had it wrongAnd then there is Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington whose book "Clash of Civilizations," described in detail the clash between Islam and the West, that "Islams Borders are bloody and so are its innards"Mohammed is recorded as dying, on or about, 632 AD. And what followed was not an "under seige" mentality. Wars for enrichment followed.Islam had its own agenda long before the Crusades. If peaceful -- what were Muslim armies doing in Europe 300 years before the Crusades? And hundred of years thereafter?Seventy-seven years after Mohammed's death, in 711 AD -- some 300 years prior to the first Crusade -- it was Muslim military forces who crossed the Straits of Gibraltar from North Africa into Spain and in less than a decade crossed the Pyrenees.In 732 AD , the Muslim forces under the command of Abd-er- rahman, were decisively defeated by Charles Martel and the Franks at the Battle of Poitiers [Tours].Nine hundred years later, in September 1683 AD -- Ottoman Empire Muslim armies led by the Turkish commander Grand Vizier Kara Mustapha were at the gates of Vienna.They were defeated by a combination of Austrian, German, and Polish armies.If peace was Mohammed's message -- a subtle proposition at best -- his adherents missed the point then and miss it now.Second the world needs to understand that Islam was not spread by sandal shod mendicant mullahs preaching from the Koran but by mounted scimitar wielding jihadists as described in "Dhimmitude for Dummies" By Victor Sharpe in which the following is found:"But what of the peoples and nations that fell under Islamic occupation? For them the story was one of forced conversions to Islam, slavery, death and the Islamic institution of dhimmitude .This is the word that describes the parlous state of those who refused to convert to Islam and became the subjugated, non-Muslims who were forced to accept a restrictive and humiliating subordination to a superior Islamic power and live as second class citizens in order to avoid enslavement or death. These peoples and populations were known as dhimmis , and if such a status was not humiliating enough, a special tax or tribute, called the jizya , was imposed upon them and upon all dhimmis .Dhimmitude is the direct outcome of jihad, which is the military conquest of non-Islamic territory mandated by Allah as a spiritual obligation for every individual Moslem and Moslem nation.From its beginnings in the seventh century, Islam spread through violent conquest of non-Moslem lands. In the eighth century, a formal set of rules to govern relationships between Moslems and non-Moslems was created based upon Moslem conquests of non-Moslem peoples. These rules were based upon jihad , which established how the Moslems would treat the conquered non-Moslems in terms of their submission to Islam.Jihad can be pursued through force or other means such as propaganda, writing, or subversion against the perceived enemy. The so-called enemies are those who oppose the establishment of Islamic law or its spread, mission, or sovereignty over them and their land.Propaganda and subversion are the very means now being employed against the West and Judeo-Christian civilization, and Islamists have shown themselves to be brilliantly adept at manipulating the gullible and uninformed western media in pursuit of their aims of world domination."

 I see E. Patrick Mosman likes to cherry pick history to make his case against Islam. The same exact thing could be done to Christianity. It would not take long to string together enough "Christian" instances of violence, barbarism, intolerance, and stupidity down through the centuries to make make it look like your version of Islam's twin brother.

But, like your one-sided diatribe, it would prove nothing.

If you have found any errors in my alleged 'cherry-picked' history lesson please feel free to offer correctionsIf citing historical facts is cherry-picking, then Mr.Ryan's 'paid for' essay is a one-sided view of Islam replete with cherry-picked quotes from the Koran and cherry-picked Islamic history. When Catholic priests were carrying guns and leading 'liberation theology' rebels, Pope John Paul Ii spoke out and publicly rebuked one of the priestly leaders in Central America. Where are the moderate Muslim leaders leading 'crusades' and protests against theocratic leaders in Iran and Saudi Arabia, the Taliban, af Queda terrorists, car bombers of public places and suicide bombers who proclaim their Islamic faith as justification for their acts of death and destruction? Why must non-Muslims defend Islam as a peaceful and moderate religion when their own 'moderate' leaders practice silence which signifies assent to radical Islamists?

Contemporary media reports regarding today's Islamic societies to me read like very similar accounts of medieval Christian Europe: jihads in place of crusades; sharia imposed oppression in place of inquisitions; corrupt mullahs in place of corrupt cardinals and popes; war lords and wealthy sheiks in place of dukes and kings; mujahadeen in the place of Templars; Islamic women today veiled in chadors in place of medieval women little more than breeding chattel.

I can just hear the historians shrieking at the liberties I am taking, while not perfect and reflective of very different social and historical developments, the parallels are very frightening.

There seems to be some kind of natural historical process going on because Islam is roughly the same age now (dating from the 700's) that Christianity was in medieval times, roughly 1300 years old.

Is it possible that Islam is on the front end of three hugh cultural shifts leading eventually to renaissance, reformation and scientific revolution.

The economic power of Islamic societies will only increase exponentially in these last days of ancient sunlight when fossil fuels are increasingly exploited. 

Perhaps the best thing western societies can do to help Islamic societies avoid the worst of our historical mistakes is to culturally and intellectually engage them. Both of our cultures need to educate themselves about the best of the values of the other.  

In the process, the now secular west may re-learn a few lessons about "the compassionate and merciful."

Instead of burning Qu'rans, maybe we Christians should be reading and studying the sacred Islamic texts when we meet for Sunday liturgies?

And please, no more papal loose talk about how Islam being "evil and inhuman" and spreading "faith by the sword." 

Mr.Jenkins,Pope Benedict XVI set forth the basis for a dialogue in his presentation at Regensburg in 2006 and it caused a firestorm of made for TV protests in the Muslim West Bank with English language 'Kill the Pope' signs and burning of effigies. The Pope's presentation can be found at:

Papal Address at University of RegensburgFaith, Reason and the UniversityMemories and ReflectionsPope Benedict XVIhttp://www.zenit.org/article-16955?l=english

A commentary on the Pope's presentation can be found at :

Pope Provocateur Bret Stephens

http://hnn.us/roundup/entries/30084.html

You will find that there is no "papal loose talk" but the reaction was still violence.

 

 

 

Congratulations to Mr. Mosman!! He is spot on. Where are the passages in the New Testament that incite violence? There are plenty in the Koran. Are Catholic martyrs engaged in murder at the time of their martyrdom, like Muslim martyrs are? Did Mohammed ever say, “Put thy sword into its place for all those who take the sword will perish by the sword.” No, I think that it was Jesus that said (Matt: 26 52) or “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s? Certainly not. Again it was Jesus , Matt 22 17-21. When the IRA was raising money in the US for their terror campaign, four prominent Irish American politicians courageously spoke out against NORAID (Carey, Kennedy, Moynihan and O’Neill.) As Mr. Mosman asks, where are the moderate Muslims condemning the rampant world wide violence in the name of Islam? Couldn’t the Henry Luce Foundation or Commonweal find a single Muslim of repute to condemn violence? Why not? Liberals always apologize and temporize before violently aggressive thugs. When Reagan called the Soviet Union an “Evil Empire”, liberals were outraged and had to change their Depends, even though everyone who lived under Soviet domination knew that it was true. Similarly, Americans are catching on that Islam is not just another peaceful faith. Most Muslims undoubtedly are peaceful, but it is an indication of how large a percentage of Muslims support the terror, that “moderate” Muslims are afraid to speak out. If “moderate” Muslims are afraid, we need to be very circumspect about Islam.

Mr Ryan describes Sayyid Qutb (1906–66),as an Egyptian novelist radicalized by his experiences as a student in the United States in the late 1940s. and proceeds to offer a rather benign self-taught individual somewhat out of mainstream of Islam. Other scholars have described Sayyid Qutb in different terms. The following is the introduction of presentation by Dr.Simon Ross Valentine entitled "Sayyid Qutb: terrorism and the origins of militant Islam Dr. Simon Ross Valentine December 12, 2008""Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) is widely accepted, not only as one of "the spiritual leaders of radical Islamism",(1) but as "the architect of worldwide jihad".(2) Qutb´s influence has been profound. His thinking has provided the motivation and legitimizing ideology behind 9/11 and other recent terrorist attacks on the west. François Burgat, in his book Face to Face with Political Islam (2003) reminds us how Qutb´s "single shadow covers every wing [as well as the Jam´iyyat al-Ikhwan al-Mulimin, the Muslin Brotherhood] of the Islamic movement".(3) Lawrence Wright, in The Looming Tower (2006) suggested that Al-Qaeda would not have come into existence without the influence of Sayyid Qutb.(4) With these points in mind it would be fair to say that a full understanding of Qutb and his ideology is necessary if we are ever to overcome the threat of militant Islam."The full text can be found at:http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/84614

Mr. Ryan, Great attempt to bring a voice of reason into the debate.  Some of the reactionary comments by readers, the unwillingness to be open to the other, is disturbing.  Surprising that those of us who lived through WWII never lumped all Germans in one category as we did the Japanese.  There is something to be learned from that.

For those seriously interested in perspectives on Islam, I would recommend Hamid Dabshi's Islamic Liberation Theology.  The introduction is a bit repetetive, but he speaks from within the culture with knowlege, insight and as a member of the whole human race.

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About the Author

Patrick J. Ryan, SJ, is the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham University.