Labor of Love
By Karamatullah K. Ghori
Canada

Globalization, a blessing or curse, is the hottest debate of our times. It is an issue that remains pending — the jury on it would be out for a long, long time. The strident mantra of the 21st century may be manna to the aggressively-enterprising corporate cabal in the West; however, in the East, it is mostly perceived as another deceptive version of the 19th-century Western colonialism that looted and plundered the rich-in-resources Asia, Africa and Latin America, filling Western treasuries until they overflowed.
In the Islamic world, spanning from Morocco to Indonesia, comprising 57 sovereign states and one-fourth of humanity, globalization is being increasingly associated with the ‘War on Terror’, which in itself is seen as a war against the Muslims, wherever they may be.
The template to this Muslim mindset, irrespective of whether it is right or wrong, is the global scenario unfolding since the cataclysmic events of 9/11 and all that has transpired in its wake. Muslim masses have a point in arguing, with facts to back up their hypotheses, that the Western leaders and ideologues — men like George W. Bush, Tony Blair and John Howard, among others — have cleverly exploited the post-9/11 sense of hurt of their people to unleash a vengeful war of attrition against Muslims. The events in Afghanistan, Iraq and occupied Palestine speak for themselves. George W. Bush’s so-called ‘War on Terror’ is assuming the tone of a new crusade as he himself had initially christened his onslaught on the heels of 9/11.
The only difference between the classical crusades and their latest version is that contemporary Western armies are being resourced by a combination of corporate mafia and neo-con evangelists, whereas in the past the brew was a mix of royalty and church. Another innovation is the corporate-owned Western news media whose services and expertise are being harnessed, globally, in the dissemination of varnished and ‘kosher’ truths.
Prof Akbar S. Ahmed is one of the few voices pleading for course-correction in a blind pursuit of agendas set, largely, in ignorance and based on half-truths. From his academic perch at the American University in Washington, Akbar has been waging a one-man’s resistance in the academic domain.
Akbar’s has been a rare voice of reason amongst West-based Muslim scholars operating in largely unhelpful and hostile surroundings. He has been at it, patiently and diligently, since the day-after 9/11 because of his conviction that an open-ended war, with obviously hostile intent and agenda, waged by the West against Muslims, is the wrong tool, given the hugely yawning religious, racial and cultural divide between the West and the Islamic world.
But Akbar’s own modus operandi is not geared towards finger pointing entirely at the West. His plea for reason is focused equally in the direction of the Islamic world. He holds both responsible for operating in ignorance and not trying to understand each other with the intent to narrow the gulf currently dividing them. He’s also critical of the Muslim mode of denial, which, to his mind, isn’t doing a service to any Muslim or Islamic cause.
Akbar woke up early to the ineluctable need of bridge-building amongst the followers of the leading Abrahamic faiths of the world in the wake of 9/11. His book Islam Under Siege (2003) was a passionate plea for reason and sanity all around, especially to the beleaguered Muslims of the West who, even after six years since 9/11, are still not being allowed to disappear from a microscopic radar screen, with all their moves minutely scrutinized and deduced.
But Islam Under Siege was largely the intellectual product of an armchair analyst, no matter how clinically researched and brilliantly argued. And that was also before the American armies went rampaging into Iraq to lay waste a country, which had nothing to do with 9/11, and was in no way responsible for the evil perpetrated in its guise.
Iraq veritably hit the Islamic world like a ton of bricks, convincing even those otherwise inclined to give all the benefit of the doubt to the West that it was a war against the world of Islam, the protestations to the contrary of its authors notwithstanding.
Sensing the new mood swing in the Muslim world, Akbar discarded his own armchair to venture out into the field to take the pulse of the throbbing heartland of the vast arc of Islam and its Muslim masses, and the intelligentsia felt the impact of this latest Western onslaught against them. But he did something unprecedented, too: he decided to take along some of his young students, both male and female, in lockstep with him to see and experience the post-9/11 and post-Iraq invasion Muslim world, first hand and draw their own conclusions.
Why did Akbar think of this maverick move? Because he seems close to being convinced that the crop of think-tank ideologues and brainy gurus hogging the Washington beltway can no longer be relied upon to be reasonable, or give up their pre-conceived mindset of disbelief of everything Islamic. But the younger generation of Americans isn’t saddled with the kind of baggage dragging down their forebears and stilling them into intellectual stupor.
It isn’t only an intellectual torpor; influential voices in the pantheon of American intelligentsia and journalism — like a rabidly Muslim-baiting Charles Krauthammar of The Washington Post — have also been belligerently propagating their concoctions of hate against the Islamic world with unremitting zeal. They are provocatively hawking their bellicosity and telling Washington’s obliging ruling elite that the time for talking is over; it’s now the moment of action. These merchants of doom are one reason for an exacerbating trust-deficit between the West and the Muslims of the world.
So Akbar took his young acolytes along on a journey of discovery, visiting in the process a swath of Muslim countries, including Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Qatar, India, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia. One surprise to this scribe, however, is the glaring omission of Iran. Why was one of the most important Muslim states in the world left out of the itinerary of Akbar’s team? Wouldn’t its inclusion have given a greater balance to the study of contemporary Islamic world, particularly because it’s the epicenter of contemporary Shia revivalism as a political force in the Middle East? Any study of the contemporary Muslim world is incomplete without an empirical study of Iran.
Akbar’s field study of the Islamic heartland is pegged like a tripod, surveying the three most defining models of Islamic thought and action: the Sufi model of total devotion to Allah and peaceful co-existence — Sulh-i-kul (peace-with-all) — with His creations, epitomized by Ajmer, renowned for the shrine of the great saint and mystic Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti Ajmeri; the Aligarh paradigm steeped in modernity and liberalism of Islam and the Deoband template anointed by an orthodox and atavistic interpretation of Islamic dogma and ritual.
Akbar’s painstaking and innovative research clearly establishes the fact that partisans of all three models are, by and large, inclined to co-exist in peace and harmony with the West and cannot be stigmatized — as is currently fashionable in the West — for being hotbeds of radicalism. All three, however, have this strong sense that there’s little effort in the West to understand Islam and its followers, which isn’t the way to peace or bridge-building among universal faiths.
Akbar S. Ahmed’s Journey into Islam is, no doubt, a labor of love. Akbar has made a sterling contribution to the inescapable need for a rational, cool and un-phlegmatic dialogue between the denizens of the Islamic world and their Western detractors. His is a voice of reason and rationality. However, the question remains: is anyone listening? Is this moderate voice going to be heard or will it be drowned in the cacophony of jingoistic shibboleths baying for the blood of Muslims? Take your own pick for an answer.
For a punch line, however, it should be said that if the intellectual transformation of Akbar’s team of young and inquisitive researchers and observers is any guide, then one could say with some confidence that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

 


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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