Rizwi S. Faizer Ph.D. McGill
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© 1998 Rizwi Faizer.
| Tomorrow 's Islam
Geraldine Doogue and Peter Kirkwood.
Sydney: ABC Books, 2005.
Geraldine Doogue and Peter Kirkwood interview several significant muslims living in the West, namely, Dr. Faiz Khan, Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf, Ayse Oncu, Ayse Bohurler, Ridwan al-Killidar, Baroness Pola Uddin, Tariq Ramadan, Muqtedar Khan - introduced to us in Chapter One-in an attempt to understand what tomorrow's Islam would bring given the predicament of the Muslim world after the terrorist act of 9/11 in the USA.
The chapters that follow examine the politics of the world's Muslims from various angles. Chapter Two tries to understand the meaning of the term jihad, and asks, "does Islam condone violence?" Chapter Three notices the considerable poverty/lack of modernity of the Muslim world and wonders if this is a permanent condition or one that merely reflects a transition. The earlier success of the Muslim world is contrasted and the question, "What went wrong?" posed by the well known Princeton Islamicist, Bernard Lewis, is revisited. Chapter Four asks whether democracy could be compatible with an Islamic state. Chapter Five examines the level of integration that exists among Muslims and the rest of the populous in the Non-Muslim or Western nations. Chapter Six questions the freedom of the woman in Islam. Chapter Seven examines the attempts at modernizing Islam; chapter eight looks at the Islam of Indonesia--an essentially non-Arab part of the world; and finally, in Chapter Eight, the life of the Muslim community in Australia is observed.
There is much to be said for the book. For instance jihad is accurately translated as struggle rather than fight, and Islam's insistence that war is permitted only as an act of defense is clearly explained. At the same time, through the words of those interviewed, Usama Bin Laden's right to declare war on behalf of the Muslim world is denied, for as is explained, his position as the leader of that community has not been granted (p. 95). Moreover, Bin Laden's identity as a "good" Muslim is also challenged on the basis that Islam does not permit the killing of the innocent (p. 95 he is pronounced a hirabi rather than a jihadi ). The Chapters on Indonesia and Australia provide a much appreciated explanation of Muslim life, political and religious, in those nations.
Indeed the writers deserve praise for daring to venture into the investigation of a faith which has such a minimal organizational structure. There is the God given Quran: But who determines what it means? And as for the sayings of the Prophet, is there any agreement among the Muslims as to which of these are the more authentic? Islam has no "church" in the sense that Christianity or even Buddhism has. There is no Pope or priesthood that takes on the responsibility of establishing and maintaining a considered doctrine interpreting the Quran and hadith. Nor is there any kind of formal political structure to go by even the essential socio political structure which had been maintained from the time of the Prophet through the institution of the caliphate has been destroyed. And yet, the editors are able to portray an extremely fair understanding of what Islam teaches. I would certainly recommend it for every student of Islam.
Nevertheless, there are issues that I find questionable. For instance, on what basis were those who were interviewed chosen? Why were there two women picked from Turkey? Could they not have found someone from Morocco or Egypt? Or South Africa, for instance, where all kinds of experiments are being conducted today, including a congregational prayer that is inclusive of the larger non Muslim community ( see for instance, Tayob's Islam in South Africa (University Press of Florida, 1999) important because there is here a Muslim community that recognizes the validity of discourse with peoples of other faiths.
But there is a far more damning aspect; and here I refer to the conclusion Ms. Doogue comes away with after her interviews, a conclusion with which she sets out to prelude her second chapter. Let me quote her words exactly:
"Roughly I expected our interviewees to say something like this: 'We Know there are major problems in Islam . . . All this embarrasses us. We acknowledge that, of all the major religions, Islam seems to have the greatest challenge adapting to the modern world and we need your help in solving this.' This was probably utopian but it was hope." Yet she her self explains the process of ijtihad a means by which Islam enables the community to deal with the progressing world. On the other hand, why should Muslims look to others to help adapt Islam? Personally I think the non-Muslims-whether they be Hindu, Christian, Jewish, must learn to let Muslims do their own interpreting and re-interpreting. It is only then that the results will be authentic. Of course there are the rare Non-Muslims who might empathize with the Muslims and help them in times of crisis, but this should not be the result of Muslims asking others for help. It should come out as a result of an inevitable coping with modernism from people in general-both Muslim and non-Muslim. To me her statement displays an arrogance/ignorance, for the West has many problems of modernity including those of poverty and racism as well as child care and family life, problems for which many, whether American, European, or Australian, are still seeking answers. Consider the school shootings in the U.S.A. and Scotland -- these are problems of modernization -- which the Islamic world just does not need -- and this is why simply emulating the West is just not desirable!
Unfortunately she does not stop with these words, but continues on to say: "Plus, like Judea Pearl . . . I wanted to hear these progressives unambiguously denounce the growing practice of killing innocent human beings as a means of communicating (and what does she think happens when a bomb is dropped on Baghdad or tanks roll into Ramallah and Bethlehem? Are these not acts of terrorism?)." As far as I can see, the volume contains, repeatedly, the words of these interviewees denouncing exactly that, and insisting that Islam does not in any way condone violence against the innocent. Let me quote their words from her very book. Thus Faiz Khan declares, ". . . Criminal activity has no place in authentic religious practice. . . . I resented the fact that Islam was hijacked that day. . . . Muslims knew that this has nothing to do with Islam (P.79)." Tariq Ramadan states, . . . "The first feeling on Sept. 11th was shock. And immediately I said, its not acceptable. We had Muslims say, oh, its not Muslims, and even if they are Muslims, its not Islamic. . . . If you are promoting violence . . . This is against my religion [Islam] (p.80)." According to Muqtedar Khan, "Mr. Bin Laden has done far more disservice to Islam . . . because he has distorted Islam, he has abused Islam (p.94)."
Terrorism is a political act. When such decisions are taken, those involved do not look to religion to decide their actions. Certainly the U.S.A. has not, and neither has Britain. To have supplied Saddam with poison gas to kill Iranians was immoral. To bomb Iraq with depleted uranium was immoral. American Presidents and British Prime Ministers are usually Christian. Does this mean that Christianity has anything to do with their actions?
The point is that for violence to stop, those who perpetrate acts of terror must understand the consequences of their actions. A step in this direction is taken by the Indian born-political science lecturer from Michigan who explains, "There are certain reasons why the Arab world in particular and the Muslim world in general have strong resentment against the U.S. A." In listing them, he begins, "Every day the Arabs see images of children dying. For them September 11th happens everyday in Palestine . . .( p. 82)." It is important that both the editors of this volume and its readers understand that this is not merely an excuse or a context for Bin Laden's rage, but a very real cause for grievance among the peoples of the Middle East.
Reviewed by Rizwi Faizer
Jan 30th 2006