The Fallacy of Islamic Reform

May 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dr. Macksood A. Aftab

In recent times many individuals are advocating for an Islamic reform along the lines of the reforms which occurred in Christian Europe and brought Christianity out of the dark ages and into the modern one.   The advocates of such reform appear unaware of Islamic intellectual and cultural history.  Their assertion lies on the mistaken assumption that like medieval Christianity, medieval Islam must also have been similarly backward and barbaric.    However, the exact opposite is true in the case of Islam.

Medieval Islam gave rise to a beautiful civilization filled with culture, tolerance and diversity.   It nourished a whole array of scientists and sciences in the fields of philosophy, astronomy, medicine, history and others.   As an example of the culture of learning the main library in Cordoba (Islamic Spain) contained between 400,000 and 600,000 books, and was one of 70 libraries in the city.

Art, architecture and poetry flourished in medieval Islam.  Some of the most beautiful world landmarks such as the Alhamra, the Taj Mahal, and the Blue Mosque are from this era.   Bernard Lewis states,  “The civilization of Islam was by far the most advanced and the most creative in the world. Muslims led the world in science.”   Fischer adds, “ The brilliance of Perso-Turko-Islamic civilization provided architectural, painting and music forms to a world stretching from Andalusia to India to Central Asia.”

Islam during this time embodied a liberal worldview which embodied religious tolerance not only towards non-muslim minorities but also amongst the various schools of thought within Islam.

Contrast the progressive city of Venice with the Islamic capital of Istanbul.    Goffman narrates the experience of a Muslim merchant who visits Venice in 1567 CE and notices that Muslim were not allowed to build mosques and were even denied water for ablution.   Whereas, “In his beloved city of Istanbul, the large and thriving communities of Christians and Jews fraternized with Muslims on the streets and in the work places of the city.”   Classical Islamic civilization celebrated and preserved religious, ethnic, and linguistic diversity amongst its population.

Women enjoyed privileges in society and status unthinkable in Europe.  Ruth Roded has documented that that the proportion of female lecturers in many classical Islamic colleges was higher than in modern Western universities.  She writes,   ‘If U.S. and European historians feel a need to reconstruct women’s history because women are invisible in the traditional sources, Islamic scholars are faced with a plethora of source material that has only begun to be studied. [ . . . ] In reading the biographies of thousands of Muslim women scholars, one is amazed at the evidence that contradicts the view of Muslim women as marginal, secluded, and restricted.’ 

Reform movements did take place in Islam in the 19th and 20th century.   However, unlike in the case of Europe when reform brought it out of the dark ages into enlightenment.   This reform took Islam from enlightenment into the dark ages.     These movements form the basis for the ideology of today’s Islamists, extremists and “puritans.”

Professor Fadl summarizes , “Puritans render the humanistic legacy of the Islamic civilization irrelevant as they ignore the accomplishments of past generations of Muslims in fields such as philosophy, the arts, architecture, poetry and music, moral and ethical theory, and even romanticism and love.” 

These reform movements revolted against traditional and progressive Islamic civilization and were largely reactionary to Western colonialism, ironically adopting western organizational structures at the expense of traditional Islamic institutions.  “Indeed, today’s Islamist militants reject the heritage of traditions in their endeavor to politicize Islam. Ironically, they contribute to the process of detraditionalization of society.” 

Therefore, the traditional Muslims of today are wary of a call towards Islamic reform.   This call is a result of the imposition of a western worldview on Islamic history.   Rather, the traditional Muslims are calling for a Revival of Islam.    A restoration of what were a great religion, and a great civilization begun in Madina by the Prophet (s) of Islam and which flourished for the following millennium.  Not for reform which had derailed the success story of Islam.

Dr. Macksood A. Aftab is Clinical Instructer at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine.  He is also a candidate for Masters in History of Science at Harvard University’s Extension School.  He is a Neuroradiologist having completed his fellowship training at the Harvard Medical School.  He is also editor of the Journal of Islamic Philosophy.

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War & Water in South Asia

May 13, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Los Angeles—April 10th—Ashok C. Shukla, an independent scholar, who has written and edited several books on South Asian security issues that are largely available in India, but, unfortunately, too often have to be imported from there into North America.  He has been commissioned by an editor to compose a chapter on energy security in the environs for as yet unnamed publisher.

Most of the presentation was on the problematic future transport of oil and gas across Pakistan into India.  Yet, the crucial issue of water came up early.  With today’s political situation, fresh water is problematical there, too — competitive to say the least. The Ganges-Brahmaputra basin provides the fresh water or part of it for all but two of the area’s nations.  This probably supplies a billion people with their drinkable supply of water.  The competition between India and Pakistan is a volatile one, and most likely will not terminate itself to the satisfaction of all parties anytime soon.  At the very worse it could become a trigger for thermo-nuclear war between the two military giants within Southern Asia that could destroy hundreds of millions of people along with its ancient civilization!

(Also, not as pressing, towards the east, there have been unsubstantiated accusations that India has been skimming off part of Bangladesh’s aquifer.)

As has been intimated, Dr. Shukla’s chapter will examine the energy insecurity of the remarkably expanding economy of India.  (Since this is the Muslim Observer, although Bharat (India’s) population is only 12% Islamic [about the same percentage as Afro-Americans in the United States], it has the second highest Islamic national numbers in the world.  In Pakistan, 98% of the country is Muslim; Afghanistan, who potentially could play a role in the transportation of oil and gas to the Subcontinent, is circa 99%.  Bangladesh is an Islamic State Constitutionally along with substantial non-Muslim minorities, though; and most of the new raw energy-rich former Soviet Republics are (Socialist) secularized Islamic States currently rediscovering their Islamic roots.  (Your essayist wishes to point to the veracity of the Islamic political issues of the discussion which were not considered by Mr. Shukla.)

Both India and Pakistan are important to the interests of Washington because of the economic rise of New Delhi and the strategic military significance of Rawalpindi.  Also, within, South Asia, there are overbearing ecological issues impacting the entire globe.  India desperately, requires propulsion sources for their spectacularly expanding industries which resides in raw form in Central Asia and Iran, but Islamabad (and to a lesser extent Afghanistan) holds the key transit routes for the necessary pipelines.  The bad feeling between Indo-Pakistan means that in any crisis the Pakistanis have the capability to turn off the valves bringing India’s burgeoning economy to a halt.  Further, the United States is against India buying Iranian gas which would, also, transverse Pakistan.  (This goes back to our bad relations with the Persians which probably will turn out to be temporary anyway.) The United States is pressing for the pipelines to go through Turkestan.  Nevertheless, added to American opposition, New Delhi does not accept Pakistan’s terms to permit a pipeline from Tehran.) 

Whatever, SAARC (the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation) will not involve itself in political matters between India and Pakistan by the very nature of its charter (it is only an economic organization), and, thus, will not intervene in bi-lateral matters.  (For this reason, it lacks relevance as a prospective influential territorial negotiator on dangerous political issues over the vastness of the geographical extent of the Indic sphere. 

Ashok C. Shukla ended his proposed chapter with the statement that South Asia totally lacks energy security.

(Your reporter pointed to the fact that Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world, may be sitting on a sea of gas.  Although a Muslim country it is friendly to India [as is Iran and the Central Asian Republics].  One of the reasons that the gas fields have not been developed is that the technology to liquefy the gaseous energy has not been perfected yet in large enough quantities to ship it to the West and China on ships.  It would make sense, though, to send it to India through pipes, and that would solve the energy security issue for New Delhi, and, further, it would help with the ecological problem since the Republic of India depends on coal for its industrial expansion, and natural gas is much, much cleaner burning).

Dr. Shukla rejected this due to Bangladesh’s nationalistic sensibilities (which your writer finds it hard to believe, for the East Bengals badly require foreign exchange, and their gas could make them as rich as some of the Middle East oil giants! ) 

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A Muslim’s Murder: Double Standards, Crude Generalizations

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Why we must work harder to bridge the gulf between the culture of fear and the culture of humiliation

By Sheema Khan

The stabbing death of Marwa al-Sherbini in a German courtroom will have ramifications in the months to come. Already, there is palpable anger in Egypt, where she was buried this week. That anger will most likely spread to other parts of the Middle East and South Asia and amongst Europe’s Muslim minorities.

The Egyptian blogosphere is filled with outrage – outrage at the vicious murder of a pregnant woman in a court of law and, most notably, at the lack of attention given to this hate crime by political institutions and European media. Many note the double standard: The ghastly murder of Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam in 2004 was used as a pretext to cast suspicion on Dutch Muslims, whereas Marwa’s murder in Dresden last week is the work of a “lone wolf,” an immigrant from Russia (and thus not “really” German).

The muted reaction to the killing of a woman, in the heart of Europe, for wearing her hijab, also galls. No need to imagine the outrage if a woman is killed for not wearing a hijab – just look to the visceral reaction at the killing of Mississauga teenager Aqsa Parvez in 2007.

And while German authorities investigate whether Marwa’s murder was a hate crime, they might also want to focus on the reaction of court security. As Marwa was being stabbed, her husband tried to intervene. A court officer, apparently assuming the man with the Middle Eastern features to be the attacker, shot Marwa’s husband. He is now in critical condition.

Many do not see Marwa’s fate in isolation. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, in its 2004 annual report, said “Islamophobia continues to manifest itself in different guises. Muslim communities are the target of negative attitudes, and sometimes, violence and harassment. They suffer multiple forms of discrimination, including sometimes from certain public institutions.” The London-based Runnymede Charity, in its 2004 report Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, found that Muslims were seen by Europeans as the “other” and as lacking in values held by Western cultures, that Islam was violent, aggressive and terroristic, and that anti-Muslim hostility was natural or normal.

So, no surprise that European Muslims are increasingly seen as “outsiders,” with a monolithic, rigid culture that’s antithetical to that of Europe. Amidst sagging popularity and a recession, French President Nicolas Sarkozy redirected attention to the burka, saying it’s not welcome in his country. Even Muslims who don’t support the burka felt uncomfortable with Mr. Sarkozy’s spotlight on their community.

And so the double standards abound. As do the crude generalizations. When the perpetrator happens to be a Muslim, reports are sensationalistic, and Muslims, along with their faith, are cast in a negative light. In the Dresden case, the mirror reaction is happening in Egypt: All Germans are somehow complicit in Marwa’s fate. In the wake of horrific violence, the primal instinct is to blame all, to cast suspicion on those we don’t know.

Yet, in the wake of such episodes, we must work even harder to bridge the gulf between what Dominique Moisi calls the culture of fear and the culture of humiliation. Otherwise, the perpetrators of hate will achieve their goal of driving people apart. As Mariane Pearl, the widow of Daniel Pearl, wrote: “They try to kill everything in you – initiative, hope, confidence, dialogue. The only way to oppose them is by demonstrating the strength they think they have taken from you. That strength is to keep on living, to keep on valuing life.”

Let’s remember that the enemy is xenophobia, which can metastasize like cancer unless society is on guard against the pernicious tendency to view others as less human. We have seen the ugly spectre of racism at Keswick High School and in Courtenay, B.C. We have our own painful history of wrongs committed against ethnic groups and indigenous communities. Yet, the better part of the human spirit tries to overcome these dark episodes with the light of justice and restitution.

Marwa’s murder cannot be in vain. She took on her perpetrator in a court of law after he called her a terrorist. Some would say she lost. It is up to us to carry on the larger quest of fighting racism and building bridges, so her son – and all children – can grow up without fear and prejudice.

sheema.khan@globeandmail.com

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