Muslims, Christians & Jews

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By

A. G. NOORANI[1]

Abstract

(It is hard to expect that Muslims will not be affected by political setbacks. But retreat into the past is no solution. “Back to Islam” can be – provided it is Islam shorn of the dross which came to cover Islamic thought over the centuries. Self-confidence alone can prepare Muslims to think afresh – and to combat the politics of the West without overlooking the Quran’s message on the People of the Book. Hate is suicidal. – Author)

It was a Christian who assured Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) that he had, indeed, received a Revelation from Allah and was his Prophet and Messenger. The episode is narrated by Ibn Ishaq in his Sirat Rasul Allah (A Guillaume; The Life of Muhammad; An English translation, Oxford University Press, Karachi, 1955; pp. 104-107. For a shorter account vide Karen Armstrong’s insightful work ‘Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet’; Victor Gollauncz; 1991; pp. 80 – 85 from which this account is drawn).

Muhammad (PBUH) was forty when he first received the Revelation. He was terrified and thought that he was possessed. Trembling, he confided to his wife. “Khadija hastened to reassure him. God did not act in such a cruel and arbitrary way. Muhammad had tried honestly to live in the way that God required and in return God would never allow him to fall: ‘You are kind and considerate toward your kin. You help the poor and forlorn and bear their burdens. You are striving to restore the high moral qualities that your people have lost. You honour the guest and go to the assistance of those in distress. This cannot be, my dear.’ To reassure him further, she suggested that they consult her cousin Waraqa, who was learned in the scriptures and could give them more expert advice. Waraqa had no doubts at all. ‘Holy! Holy!’ he cried at once : ‘ If you have spoken the truth to me, O Khadija, there has come to him the greatest namus who came to Moses aforetime, and lo, he is the Prophet of his people’. The next time he met Muhammad at the Ka’aba, the Christian hurried over to the new Prophet of the one God and kissed him on the forehead.” (Armstrong.; p. 85).

Yet, the Chosen One kept silent for about two years, as did Khadija and Waraqa. “It was a time of treat desolation, … had God found him wanting as the bearer of revelation and abandoned him? The silence seemed catastrophic, but then came Sura 93 – the Sura of Morning – with a burst of luminous reassurance:

By the white forenoon

and the brooding night!

The Lord has neither forsaken thee nor hates thee

and the Last shall be better for thee than First.

Thy Lord shall give thee, and thou shallot be satisfied.

Did He not find thee an orphan, and shelter thee?

Did He not find thee erring, and guide thee?

Did He not find thee needy, and suffice thee?

As for the orphan, do not oppress him,

and as for the beggar, scold him not;

and as for thy Lord’s blessing, exalt it.

Muhammad was now about to begin his mission. He had learned to have faith in his experiences and he now believed that they came directly from God. … This act of faith demanded courage, but now he had resolved to take a step which would demand even more resolution. He had decided to accept Waraqa’s interpretation of his experience: he had been called to be the Prophet of the Quraysh. Now he would have to present himself to his people. Waraqa warned him that this would not be easy.” (pp. 89-90).

This is an historic episode of profound and lasting significance for two reasons. Imposters rush out to proclaim themselves and amass fortunes. Muhammad (PBUH) suffered in silence for long. When he went forth, it was in full knowledge that he was seeking a life of trial and tribulation. He lived in poverty. Secondly, it reveals, in a flash as it were, that there was then none of the great barriers between Muslims and Christians that we witness today. There is a striking unity of theme in the Prophet’s Message, all his utterances and his practice, in the verses of the Quran, and in the letters he sent seeking acceptance of his message. That single theme was the Oneness of God. He asked nothing for himself still less denounce their faith as false.

To Negus, the King of Ethiopia, the Prophet (PBUH) wrote: “I praise Allah, except Whom there is none to be worshipped, who is the Ruler of the world. He is innocent and pure (free from all blemishes, defects, flaws, or short-comings). He gives refuge and sustains all.

“I do admit that Isa (Jesus) (A.S.) son of Mariam (Mary), was the soul from Allah and His word (Order) he was infused to Mariam, who was clean and proof against evil. And Isa (A.S.) was born of Mariam. Allah created him from His soul and breath in the same manner as He created Adam (A.S.) with His own hand. I invite you towards Allah the One who has no associate. Believe in Him and join me in obedience to Him. Follow me and accept my Prophethood because I am the Messenger of Allah. I have wished you well in conveying the message of Allah in all sincerity. It is up to you to accept my sympathetic advice. Extend the same invitation to your subjects. I am sending my cousin Jaffer (R.A.A.) with the other Muslims. When they reach you, treat them hospitably, by setting aside the vanity and pride of a ruler. Peace be on him, who followed the right path.” (Sultan Ahmed Qureshi, ‘Letters of the Holy Prophet; Noor Publishing House, Delhi; 1986. The Compiler cites full references such as Abu Jafar al-Tabar’s ‘History, Sahil Bukhari’ and others).

Another letter to the King read: “From Muhammad (S.A.W.) the Prophet of Allah to Negus, King of Ethiopia. Peace be on him who follows the guidance. I praise Allah Who alone is to be worshipped. He is the Master of the entire Universe. He is Sublime. Only He is the haven of peace and security. I testify that Isa (Jesus) son of Mariam (Mary) is the spirit of Allah and His word, which He communed to Mariam (Mary) the pious and thus she became the mother of Allah’s Prophet Isa (A.S.). Thus Allah created him from His spirit and infused it into Mariam just as He made Adam (A.S.) with His powerful hand.

“Now I invite you to accept the obedience, sympathy, and love of Allah Who is One and Who is without an associate. You should follow me and should believe in the message of Allah which I have brought. I call you and your army towards Allah Who is worthy of all respect and esteem. I have thus discharged my duty of conveying His message and advice. You should accept it . May peace be on the followers of the guidance.” (ibid; p. 52).

A third letter, this time to the King’s successor, read “O people of the Book! Ignore all matters of difference and dispute, and agree to a thing to which you and we are equally committed, and it is that we should not worship anyone except Allah. And neither should we associate anyone else with Him nor should we regard anyone else as our Sustainer. If they object to it, tell them, “you will bear witness that we believe in Allah.” (ibid.; p. 65).

The letter to Heracles Caesar was in the same terms. “I invite you to the fold of Islam. Therefore, if you desire security, accept Islam. If you accept Islam, Allah shall reward you doubly and if you refuse to do so, the responsibility for the transgression of the entire nation, shall be yours.

“O people of the Book! Leaving aside all matters of differences and disputes, agree on a thing, which is equally incontrovertible both as you and we are concerned and it is that we should not worship any one else except Allah. And we should neither associate any one else with Him, nor regard any one else except Allah as our Sustainer. If you deny this, you must know that we believe in Oneness of Allah, in all circumstances.” (ibid.; p. 54).

The letter to Haiz Ghassani, King of Damishq (Damascus) was brevity itself. “Peace be on him who follows the right path, believes in it and regards it as true. I invite you to believe in One Allah, who has no associate. Your country would remain with you”. (ibid.; p. 62).

Along with the letter to the ruler of the Roman Empire, rival to the Byzantium Empire, another was sent to the Pope. “Peace be on him, who believes in Allah. I am of the faith that Isa (Jesus A.S.) son of Mariam (Mary) was the spirit of Allah and His word! Allah infused him in the pious Mariam.

“I believe in Allah, all His Books and His Commands which he sent to Me and which He sent to Ibrahim, Ismail, Ishaq and Yaqub (A.S.) and their descendants. I also believe in what was given to Musa and Isa (A.S.) and other prophets by Allah! In faith and belief, we do not differentiate in accepting any of the prophets. We are Muslims (meaning obedient to Allah) Peace be on him who follows the guidance.” (ibid.; p. 73).

Centuries later, on 12 September 2006, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated the fifth anniversary of 9/11 by citing on the next day, a 14th century slur on the Prophet  (PBUH) that he had brought “things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached”. He was speaking at a house of learning, the University of Regensburg. Only six months earlier the Danish Cartoons had infuriated Muslims all over the world; especially in Europe. (Denmark’s coarse and revolting Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who refused to receive protests, is now very appropriately Secretary-General of the NATO). The Pope, was of course well aware of it and apparently shared Rasmussen’s world view. His offence was deliberate. Pas Karen Armstrong pointed out , he “quoted without qualification and with apparent approval, the words of the 14th century Byzantine emperor Manuel II : ‘Show me just what Mohammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.’ The Vatican seemed bemused by the Muslim outrage occasioned by the Pope’s words, claiming that the Holy Father had simply intended ‘to cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward the other religious and cultures, and obviously also towards Islam.’ But the Pope’s good intentions seem far from obvious”.

Benedict XVI did not apologise. He contented himself with a five minute speech to Muslim diplomats in an “audience” of thirty minutes, shaking hands with all of them, in damage control. “The circumstances which have given rise to our gathering are well known”. He pleaded for a dialogue. No apology was offered. (International Herald Tribune; 26 September 2006).

The Pope’s performance was in line with hallowed precedent which Armstrong recalled. ‘In the 12th century, Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, initiated a dialogue with the Islamic world. “I approach you not with arms, but with words,’ he wrote to the Muslims whom he imagined reading his book, ‘not with force, but with reason, not with hatred, but with love’. Yet his treatise was entitled ‘Summary of the Whole Heresy of the Diabolical Sect of the Saracens’ and segued repeatedly into spluttering intransigence. Words failed Peter when he contemplated the ‘bestial cruelty’ of Islam, which, he claimed, had established itself by the sword. Was Mohammad a true prophet? ‘I shall be worse than a donkey if I agree,’ he expostulated, ‘worse than cattle if I assent!’

“Peter was writing at the time of the Crusades. Even when Christians were trying to be fair, their entrenched loathing of Islam made it impossible for them to approach it objectively. For Peter, Islam was so self-evidently evil that it did not seem to occur to him that the Muslims he approached with such ‘love’ might be offended by his remarks. This medieval cast of mind is still alive and well…. It is always difficult to forgive people we know we have wronged”. (The Guardian, reprinted in Asian Age; 19 September 2006).

James Carrol, one of the finest columnists of The New York Times, reminded his readers that this very Pope had opposed the admission of Turkey to the European Union. He went further back in history. The Pope’s fulminations “ignore history: Christianity, beginning with Constantine and continuing through the Crusades up until the enlightenment, routinely ‘spread by the sword the faith’ it preached ; Islam sponsored rare religious amity among Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the very period from which the insulting quote comes.

“More significant, though, for any discussion of reason and faith is the fact that Christian theology’s breakthrough embrace of the rational method, typified by St. Thomas Aquinas’s appropriation of Aristotle, and summarized by Benedict as ‘this inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry,’ was made possible by such Islamic scholars as Averroes, whose translations of Aristotle rescued that precious tradition for the Latin West. Benedict make no mention of this Islamic provenance of European and Christian culture.” (International Herald Tribune; 26 September 2006).

But the Muslim of today is none too willing to “embrace the rational method” either. The waves of revivalism and fundamentalism were a response to the march of Western imperialism but intellectual stagnation had set in before that. There is sadly, little sign of revival of “the rational method” which Muslims gifted to Europe centuries ago.

Three of the wisest men of our times have addressed the problem realistically. They are Desmond Tutu, a Nobel laureate, Andre Azoulay,         adviser to the King of Morocco and founder of the group ‘Identity and Dialogue’ which is devoted to promoting Jewish-Arab understanding, and Ali Alatas, former Foreign Minister of Indonesia and a special envoy of the United Nations. They hold that “there is no basis, in our opinion, for the claim that ‘civilisations’ are set on an inevitable collision course. … the history of relations between Muslim and Western societies is not primarily one of conflict. Despite periods of war; Islam, Christianity and Judaism have all benefited from each other through trade and intellectual exchanges. Historically, under Muslim rule, Jews and Christians have largely been free to practice their faiths and many rose to high political positions in Islamic empires. Similarly, in recent centuries, political, scientific, cultural and technological developments in the West have helped influence the Muslim world in many positive ways.

“We firmly reject the claim that the roots of the widening rift between Muslim and Western societies lie in religion or culture. Rather, they are to be found in politics. In our view, there are two key factors feeding the current climate of suspicion and fear that mars relations across communities. In the first instance, the Israeli-Palestinian issue has become a key symbol of the rift between Western and Muslim societies and remains one of the biggest threats to international stability.” (The Hindustan Times, 16 November 2006).

The extremist Muslims’ reaction has been criticized even by a sympathetic Karen Armstrong. “In the Islamic empire Jews like Christians had full religious liberty; the Jews lived there in peace until the creation of the State of Israel in our own century. The Jews of Islam never suffered like the Jews of Christendom. The anti-Semitic myths of Europe were introduced into the Middle East at the end of the last century by Christian missionaries and were usually scorned by the populace. But in recent years some Muslims have turned to passages of the Qu’ran which refer to the rebellious Jewish tribes of Medina and tends to ignore the far more numerous verses which speak positively of the Jews and their great prophets. This is an entirely new development in a history of 1,200 years of good relations between Jews and Muslims.” (Armstrong, p. 209).

Little do such Muslims realize that in reacting as they do, they are being untrue to their own faith, Islam. The Quran’s message is as clear and relevant now as it was when it was revealed centuries ago. Fundamentally, the Quran declares : “It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards the East and the West, but righteous is the one who believes in Allah, and the Last Day, and the angels and the Book and the prophets, and gives away wealth out of love for Him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and to those who ask and to set slaves free and keeps up prayer and pays the poor-rate; and the performance of their promise when they make a promise, and the patient in distress and affliction and in the time of conflict; and these are they who keep their duty” (2:177).

“And they say: Be Jews or Christians, you will be on the right course. Say: Nay (we follow) the religion of Abraham, the upright one, and he was not one of the polytheists.

“Say: We believe in Allah and (in) that which has been revealed to us, and (in) that which was revealed to Abraham, and Ishmael and Isaac, and Jerome and the tribes, and (in) that which was given to Moses and Jesus, and (in) that which was given to the prophets from their Lord, and we do not make any distinction between any of them and to Him alone we submit” (2: 135 and 136). It is a consistent theme. Each section of mankind received a Messenger who spoke to them in their own language even though some of whom are not mentioned.

“And certainly We sent messengers before thee – of them are those We have mentioned to thee and of them are those We have not mentioned to thee” (40 : 78).

“And We sent no messenger but with the language of his people, so that he might explain to them clearly” (14: 4). The Quran is a guide to those “who believe in that which was revealed to thee and which was revealed before thee” (2: 4).

However, there came a stage in the history of man when divine revolution ceased to be necessary. The Quran explicitly says “Muhammad is not the father of any of your men, but he is the Messenger of Allah and the Seal (Khatam) of the Prophets” (33: 40). The word khatam signifies, both, finality and perfection. (13: 88 finality of the Book).

The Prophet’s Letters followed the Quran. The Treaty of Medina accepted the Jews as part of the ummah (For the text vide Charles Kurzman (Ed) ‘Liberal Islam : A Sourcebook’; Oxford University Press, 1998; pp 170-173. Professor Muhammad Hamidullah deserves credit for highlighting this important document). It was a Treaty between ten clans of Jews and the Prophet (PBUH). It was a charter for the Jews in Medina. (Vide Barakat Ahmad; ‘Muhammad and the Jews’, Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi, 1979)

.

Barakat Ahmad records: “It appears that only a belief in the Unity of God was essential for the membership of the ummah. There were no Christians in Medina, so they did not join the ummah. But in 9/630 when a deputation of Christians under the leadership of Abdul-Masih Aqib, al-Ahyam and Bishop Abu Haritha b. Alqama visited Medina the Apostle invited the Christians to join him on the basis of the unity of God. He said: ‘O People of thye Book! Come to a word equal between us and you that we worship none but Allah, and that we associate no partner with him, and that some of us take not others for lords beside Allah.’ It is significant that this invitation was extended to them after they had declined the apostle’s offer to accept Islam”. Even a hostile writer like Bernard Lewis notes that “This first Constitution of the Arabian prophet dealt almost exclusively with the civil and political relations of the citizens among themselves and with the outside” (‘The Arabs in History’; 1950; p. 43). So much for the champion of the Islamic State.

Clause 25 of the Treaty declares “The Jews of Banu ‘Awf, together with Muslims, constitute an ummah. The religion of the Jews is for themselves, the religion of Muslims for themselves”. Clauses 26 to 33 extend Clauses 25 to other Jewish clans.

Is it not time Muslims brought their concept of the ummah in line with the prophet’s Letters, the Treaty of Medina and the Quran? All who believe in the Oneness of Allah are part of the ummah. The Jews and the Christians predominated them. Hence the reference to “the People of the Book”. But Iqbal wrote a whole poem in honour of swami Ram Tirth who wrote respectfully of the Prophet (PBUH). Who then, constitute the ummah in the 21st century?

The Jews did not live up to their word. Montgomery Watt found it “interesting to speculate on what would have happened had the Jews come to terms with Muhammad instead of opposing him. At certain periods they could have secured very favourable terms from him, including religious autonomy, and on that basis the Jews might have become partners in the Arab empire and Islam a sect of Jewry. How different the face of the world would be now, had that happened!” (Muhammad el Medina; p. 219).

For seven hundred years they lived together. Ellis Rivkin writes “Every phase of Islamic growth was accompanied by a positive and creative reaction among Jews. Every phase of Muslim breakdown was accompanied by a disintegration: a golden age when Spain’s wealth grew; humiliation and exile when it dwindled.” (‘The Shaping of Jewish history’, Charles Scriber’s Sons, 1971; p. 138) The rise of Zionism was to put an end to any prospect of a rapprochement. Meanwhile, the Islamic world began to flounder. In 1492 Ferdinand and Isabella conquered Granada, the last Muslim stronghold in Spain. In 1499 Muslims were given a choice between conversion and expulsion. The Edict of Expulsion gave the same choice to the Jews who had flourished under Muslim rule.

Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453 but their march was halted in Vienna twice in 1529 and 1683. The empire became the Sick Man of Europe. In 1830 France conquered Algeria, and Tunisia in 1881. Britain ousted the Mughals in 1857, attacked Alexandrina in 1882 and occupied Egypt. Sudan was taken over in 1809. Libya and Morocco fell in 1912. The Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1915 carved up the Middle East between Britain and France and laid the foundations of the State of Israel. In 1917 Britain and Russia over ran Iran.

This was bound to affect the Muslims’ view of the West and their thinking on Islam. Secularists were affected. They flourished once in Iran. “In Iran, during the second half of the nineteenth century, a circle of intellectual thinkers, politicians, and writers were passionate in their admiration of European culture. Fathadi Akhundzada (1812-78), Malkum Khan (1833-1908), Abdul Rahim Talibzada (1834-1911), and Mirza Aqa Khan Kirmani (1853-96) were in some ways as rebellious as the Zionists. They constantly clashed with the ulema, wanted to establish a wholly secular polity, and tried to use religion to effect fundamental change…. Kirmani was particularly outspoken…. ‘While European learned men are busy studying mathematics, sciences, politics and economics, and the rights of man, in this age of socialism and struggle for the improvement of the conditions of the poor, the Iranian ulema are discussing problems, of cleanliness …’ True religion, Kirmani insisted, meant rational enlightenment and equal rights.” (Karen Armstrong; ‘The Battle for God’; Alfred A. Knopf; 2000; p. 152).

Muslim response assumed diverse forms – apologetics, revivalism; intolerance and fundamentalism. Jihad and the Islamic State acquired a vogue. A people who feel besieged are quick to perceive insult of which there was, and still is, no dearth. Witness the respectability of Islamophobia in Britain.

There has been on both sides of the divide an intellectual as well as a moral failure. It is hard to expect that Muslims will not be affected by political setbacks. But retreat into the past is no solution. “Back to Islam” can be – provided it is Islam shorn of the dross which came to cover Islamic thought over the centuries. Self-confidence alone can prepare Muslims to think afresh – and to combat the politics of the West without overlooking the Quran’s message on the People of the Book. Hate is suicidal.

None championed the Palestine cause more ardently and eloquently than did that fine Christian Arab Charles Malik, Foreign Minister of Lebanon. His article entitled “The Near East: The Search for Truth” (Foreign Affairs, January 1952) is a highly neglected classic. He wrote: “There is an amazing ignorance of Christian literature, doctrine and life, despite the fact that Christ and His Mother are deeply revered by Islam. There isn’t a single Moslem scholar in all history, so far as I know, who has written an authentic essay on Christianity; whereas Christian scholars, both Arab and non-Arab, have written authoritative works on Islam, and on other religions too. … There will always be fear, uncertainty, embarrassment, uneasiness, lack of joy, lack of freedom, a predisposition to self-defense, until this intellectual and spiritual balance is redressed.

“Islam explicitly grounds itself in the Judaic-Christian tradition and conceives itself as completing and sealing that tradition. There is room here for a responsible investigation into what it has adopted and what it has rejected from this tradition, and into the sort of Christianity Islam came in touch with. Since the Christian tradition persists independently of Islam, and in all likelihood is not going to be displaced, it is obvious ‘whether Islam’ is inseparable from ‘whence Islam.’…

“ ‘Whither Islam’ must depend in part on how much the Christian and Moslem worlds can in this materially and existentially interdependent world sit together and inquire, on the deepest possible plane, through their scholars and thinkers, in all patience, humility, love and openness, into the truth of Christianity and truth of Islam, and into their common spiritual and temporal problems. …

“On the level of the universal, and therefore of truth, peace and understanding, the following five great achievements of the Moslem world in the ages of its greatest brilliance cannot be stressed enough: the humble receptivity of important thinkers and seekers to the truth of cultures outside their own; the great achievements of Arab science, especially in mathematics, physics, astronomy and medicine; certain brilliant achievements of Moslem theology (al-kalam); the wonderful line of Moslem-Arab philosophers; and perhaps on the deepest level the unbelievable spirituality of certain Sufis. The ‘Whither’ we are seeking is in my opinion largely ‘whether’ these five solid achievements can be rediscovered, reappropriated, reinterpreted, developed and perfected. If only Ibn Rushd and Jalal-al-Din Al-Rumi can be loved, understood and transcended.”

The very fact that the Prophet (PBUH) sent Muslims to Ethiopia, to take refuge from Oppression, signifies that Islam can exist and flourish in a non-Muslim State. Rachid Gharuouchi holds that Muslims “are permitted to participate in establishing or administering non-Islamic governments” (Kurzman; p. 92) About one-third of the Muslims in the world are minorities in the countries in which they live. Has Islam no message for them? In Europe, North America, and Australia, Muslims live among Christian; in India, among the Hindus; and in Xijiang among the Hans.

How do we get out of the rut? The reader must forgive me for quoting Karen Armstrong. She combines empathy with candour and is honest to the core. “Hatred of the West is a relatively recent prejudice in the Islamic world. A hundred years ago, every single leading Muslim intellectual, with the exception of the proto-fundamentalist, Al-Afghani, saw Western modernity as deeply congenial and, even though they hated European colonialism, many wanted their countries to look just like Britain and France. Relations soured not because of an inherent “clash of civilization,” but because of Western foreign policy, which continues to fuel the crisis. …

“The emotions engendered by these crises are a gift to those, in both the Western and the Islamic worlds, who, for their own nefarious reasons, want the tension to escalate; we should not allow ourselves to play into their hands.” (Guardian reprinted in The Hindu; 15 March 2006).

There is another voice in the same cause. It is that of Jonathan Lyons; a journalist who holds a doctorate in sociology and has lived for years in the Islamic world. His book, ‘Islam Through Western Eyes’ (Columbia University Press, New York, 2012), makes a valiant informed effort to bridge the tragic divide. After taking the reader through centuries of the West’s Islamophobia, he proposes: “a new model for approaching the world of Islam – a ‘hidden history,’ as it were, of its practices, beliefs, and culture. To begin with, we must acknowledge that the established Western discourse of Islam does not – or, at the very least, does not necessarily – reflect the reality of Islam itself, what I have referred to earlier as ‘Islam qua Islam.’ Rather, this discourse is the product of a process that has embedded a particular discursive formation in Western thought.  …

“Next we must deliberately remove the central pillars of the thousand-year-old anti-Islam discourse and examine what remains behind. Or, to return to the question posed at the outset, we must ask when we open this particular window, what is it that we see that has not been seen before? Were we to set aside these central notions – that Islam is inherently violent and spread by the sword; that Muslims are irrational, antiscience, and thus antimodern; and that they are sexually perverse and hate women – as flawed representations of the nondiscursive reality of Islam, then whole new vistas of possible relationships between East and West will begin to open up before our eyes.

“From this vantage point, we can now begin to recognize the emerging outlines of the west’s enormous debt to Islamic science and philosophy and the accompanying need to reexamine the way we think about the history of ideas entirely. We can start to discern the deep fault lines that run through then predominant notion of Islam as inherently violent and the way this notion distorts the West’s understanding, conceals its own motives and interests, and renders appropriate and successful policy responses virtually impossible. And we can at last acknowledge that the near-total inadequacy of our understanding of gender relations in Islamic societies has obscured contemporary Islam’s claims to its own, non-western idea of modernity.

“By opening up space for the civilization of Islam in the idea of Western culture, we are suddenly faced with a compelling new model of relations between the two – one of continuous interaction of cultures locked in relations for one thousand years – in which it is hard to say where one ends and the other begins. This model, then, calls for the compilation of a new, hidden history of Islam that fills in those areas declared off limits by the anti-Islam discourse. But, first, we must radically rephrase the West’s favorite polemical question – What’s wrong with Islam? – to a less comfortable query : What’s wrong with us?”

That is a question which every honest, thinking person – Muslim or other – should put to himself. Gamal Abdel Nasser said that he belonged to three concentric circles – Islamic, Arab and African. So, do all Muslims – the faith, Islam; the nationality and what they must accept – the Western Intellectual Tradition which with its own severe tests helps us to understand our past better and makes us more confident to face the future.


[1] The author is an eminent Indian scholar and expert on constitutional issues.