Manhattan Madness and Muslims
By Dr Nazir Khaja
Los Angeles , CA
The recent New York City terrorist episode is yet another grim wake-up call for the Muslims. It should not be ignored or dismissed by the Muslims as a random act of a confused individual who happens to be a Muslim or a Pakistani and that majority of the Muslims have nothing to do with such acts of terrorism.
While the statement itself is accurate, yet more and more due to such acts by individuals who happen to be Muslims the perception of Islam by others is becoming for them a seeming reality. What seems more alarming is that in the more recent acts of terror, Muslims with higher levels of education and social interaction are implicated. This group includes those who are born in the West of émigré parents and also converts to Islam. The British last year arrested a group of young physicians who were planning terrorist action and the arrest of some of the converts who became radicalized and involved in the planning and carrying out such action serves to highlight the seriousness of the problem.
A January 2010 Gallup poll found that almost half of Americans hold an unfavorable view of Islam. About the same number of Americans harbor personal prejudice toward Muslims, according to the poll. These numbers become especially troubling when we consider that two-thirds of the Americans polled admit to knowing little to nothing about Islam. The image of American Muslims is in serious disrepair. And so is the image of Muslims and Islam all over the globe.
Introspection on the part of us Muslims and Muslim governments is largely missing and necessary in the continuing debate about Islam and Muslims that has become the focus of the global media and community.
Why are others distrustful of a religion and people they know very little about and what can Muslims do about the rising tide of Islamophobia? The call to make the world a better place is inherent in the core message of the Qur’an which is the foundation of Islamic belief and practice. But why have efforts to change the world by Muslims so often recently been failing or have gone tragically awry? And how might Muslims in the 21st century live in ways that have integrity with their traditions and are more truly transformative? What kind of history — or, perhaps better put, story or narrative — of Islam are we offering? Can we properly define Islam in isolation from explicit consideration of its encounters and intertwining with non-Muslim cultures?
Christian and Jewish cultures are highly successful because they have transitioned from the state of being "God-fearing" religions to being "God-loving" religions. Fear dominates the culture of most Muslim societies. Manipulative use of Qur’anic verses — teaching of Qur’an mainly from the perspective of fearing God — thus psychologically establishing a paradigm of negative authority, disallowing the more important aspects of God leading to positive involvement in humanity. Mullahs and Imams are tapping into fear in hopes of creating obedience and morality. Too often their sermons or khutbahs tell us, “Repent, repent, repent! The Day of Judgment can happen any moment! Allah is always watching!” Apart from these notions that prevent the Muslim masses from progressing an even worse message that is being pounded into the consciousness of the masses from the pulpit is that there is a global conspiracy against Islam and Muslims!
All too often political theologies worsen the very problems they are designed to solve. For the past two centuries the trend in the Muslim world has been that of a politics fueled by resentment and a sense of victimization, actuated by a strong will to power, and a propensity to demonize its opponents. Our historical experience to this day remains strongly authoritarian, patriarchal and pre-modern, legitimized by “exclusivist “rhetoric and thinking. That Muslim societies in general have radicalized over the last decades cannot be denied. Completing the confusion and disarray within Muslims is the issue of competing narratives and visions of Islam among Muslims which has created deep fractures and polarizations that have through out Islam’s history provided fertile ground for various forms of ideological extremism and violence against each other besides making them vulnerable to exploitation and attack from others.
Our religious institutions are in irreversible decline. The obsession with personal piety and “How-is-it-with-me?” spirituality that permeates most congregations is undiluted narcissism that creates for us a sense of feeling good and yet doing nothing. Our willingness to question our belief systems and personal self-image is hardly apparent as culture. Rather than giving the entire blame for our decay to outside factors which have so dominated the Muslims during the last two centuries an honest analysis of our culture and our capacity to influence it is needed. By remaining as silent spectators we are allowing the attacks from outside and confusion and turmoil from within to devastate our societies, create permanent fissures in our relations with other communities and with each other.
The unsustainable ideological path that we are treading presently is leading us nowhere and causing grave injury to the true spirit of the Qur’an’s message. The Qur’an’s most important feature is not only what it actually says but what Muslims say about it. The great truth which Christians have acknowledged since the Reformation — that a revelation can come from God and still be misunderstood by the one who receives it is apt for consideration by Muslims. Educated Muslims increasingly are recognizing that their faith needs to adapt. The challenge is to revitalize the Muslim masses by strengthening their confidence in their own ability to engage the Qur’an constructively.
What is really needed is a different paradigm of engagement within us and also with the rest of the world. A structural or social change within our societies must be achieved by internal discourse and negotiation which will allow the necessary change to take place in accordance with the history and culture.
Education, not indoctrination, is crucial. A total overhaul of the educational system and institutions is badly needed. In many Muslim countries because of failure of economic growth, education has suffered. This allows for easy exploitation of the youth in Muslim countries. It is through proper education of our endangered future generations that we can eradicate the menace of “mullarchy” that inculcates in the minds of our youth to blow themselves up in suicide missions and advocates violence in the name of our faith. Building a strong educational framework and institutions which incorporate the shared values with others and which uphold human dignity and mutual respect is the critical task. This challenge to the Muslims is as old as the message of the Qur’an — if only they would recognize.
Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) was a German philosopher of the late 19th century who challenged the foundations of Christianity and traditional morality. “The Last Man,” Nietzsche feared, would engage in the worst kinds of provincialism, believing he had nothing to learn from history. “The Last Man” would wallow and revel in his ignorance and quest for personal fulfillment. He would be satisfied with everything that he had done and become, and would seek to become nothing more. He would be intellectually and morally stagnant, incapable of growth, and become part of an easily manipulated herd. “The Last Man” would mistake cynicism for knowledge — though he did not have the Muslims in mind, we should think about this.
(The author is chairman of Islamic Information Service, US. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)