Monday, October 23, 2006

Real Islam: Open Letter, Closed Press

I have had many people ask me: If Islam is a "religion of peace," why aren't there more moderate Muslims making statements to counteract the extremists?

And, it is a very good question. In fact, it has a very good answer:

They Are... we just don't hear about it.

Recently, a group of 38 Muslim scholars, clerics, and government officials sent a letter to Pope Benedict XVI concerning his controversial remarks on Islam. Immediatly after the Pope's remarks, the world press delighted to cover riots and protests across the Muslim World as they happened. Now, when Muslim authorities release a moderate and articulate assertion that Islam is for peace... did it get any coverage? Did we get any Alerts on CNN or Fox or MSNBC? Actually, no. Al-Jazeera covered it and UPI put out a wire report. The Christian Science Monitor was the only paper I can find to publish any real discussion of this letter. That's how I found out about it (and everybody I've talked to since then has said: "Really?")

In contrast, if Bin Laden or Al-Zarqawi's replacement hopped on TV and screamed: "Death to the Infidels", how much coverage would that get?

The following comes from a Press Release on Islamica Magazine's website:

Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI by 38 Leading Muslim Scholars and Leaders.

In an unprecedented move, an open letter signed by 38 leading Muslim religious scholars and leaders around the world was sent to Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 12, 2006. The letter, which is the outcome of a joint effort, was signed by top religious authorities such as Shaykh Ali Jumu‘ah (the Grand Mufti of Egypt), Shakyh Abdullah bin Bayyah (former Vice President of Mauritania, and leading religious scholar), and Shaykh Sa‘id Ramadan Al-Buti (from Syria), in addition to the Grand Muftis of Russia, Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, Slovenia, Istanbul, Uzbekistan, and Oman, as well as leading figures from the Shi‘a community such as Ayatollah Muhammad Ali Taskhiri of Iran. The letter was also signed by HRH Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal of Jordan and by Muslim scholars in the West such as Shaykh Hamza Yusuf from California, Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and Professor Tim Winter of the University of Cambridge.

All the eight schools of thought and jurisprudence in Islam are represented by the signatories, including a woman scholar. In this respect the letter is unique in the history of interfaith relations.

For those of you who aren't up on the "Who's Who of Muslim Scholars"... that is a REALLY impressive list of people. In fact, I don't think you could put together a more authoritative group of people to speak for the Muslim majority. The release continues:

The letter was sent, in a spirit of goodwill, to respond to some of the remarks made by the Pope during his lecture at the University of Regensburg on Sept. 12, 2006. The letter tackles the main substantive issues raised in his treatment of a debate between the medieval Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an “educated Persian”, including reason and faith; forced conversion; “jihad” vs. “holy war”; and the relationship between Christianity and Islam. They engage the Pope on an intellectual level concerning these crucial topics—which go well beyond the controversial quotation of the emperor—pointing out what they see as mistakes and oversimplifications in the Pope’s own remarks about Islamic belief and practice.

The Muslim signatories appreciate the Pope's personal expression of sorrow at the Muslim reaction and his assurance that the words of the Byzantine emperor he quoted did not reflect his personal opinion. By following the Quranic precept of debating “in the fairest way”, they hope to reach out so as to increase mutual understanding, reestablish trust, calm the situation for the sake of peace, and preserve Muslim dignity.

Christianity and Islam make up more than half of humankind in an increasingly interconnected world, the letter states, and it is imperative that both sides share responsibility for peace and move the debate towards a frank and sincere dialogue of hearts and minds which furthers mutual understanding and respect between the two religious traditions. Indeed, the scholars point out, both religions teach what Christianity calls “the two greatest commandments”. The commandment that “the Lord our God is one Lord” and that we shall love Him with all we are is enshrined in the first testimony of faith in Islam, “There is no god but God.” The second commandment “to love thy neighbor as thyself” is also found in the words of the Prophet, “None of you believes until he desires for his neighbor (in another version, his brother) what he desires for himself.” The signatories also point out the positive contacts the Vatican has had with the Islamic world in the past, with a hope that they will continue and even grow in the future.

The letter speaks of the prevailing views of things like "Jihad" (which is NOT a "holy war") and the relationship between Christians and Muslims. In fact, I think just about everybody should read the letter itself.

The full text of the letter can be found here in PDF form. I strongly recommend you read it. You will learn a lot about Islam.

I am very frustrated to know that this letter never hit the press. It was largely ignored. I guess it wasn't sensational enough. Nobody is screaming for our destruction. Nobody is calling us infidels. This is a group of distinguished men and women who assert that Islam and Christianity can get along.

What more important message could we be hearing these days?

I know this post is long-winded. But, I hope you will send it on to your friends. There should be an E-mail button below. More people need to understand about what I have long known to be real Islam.

That is all.


1 comment:

Nectar said...

Horatio, I think the letter in question is open to other interpretations. I’d like to offer an alternate interpretation to yours.

1. The letter states, “We would like to point out that “holy war” is a term that does not exist in Islamic languages. Jihad, it must be emphasized, means struggle, and specifically struggle in the way of God. This struggle may take many forms, including the use of force. Though a jihad may be sacred in the sense of being directed towards a sacred ideal, it is not necessarily a ‘war.’”

Okay, they say that the term “holy war” does not exist in Islamic languages. “Jihad” does exist. “Jihad” means struggle in the way of God, and while it may take many forms, it may take the form of the use of force. In other words, “Jihad” may mean war. And since “jihad” may be sacred because it is directed toward a sacred ideal, it therefore may indeed mean “holy war,” though it does not always mean that. To claim that “jihad” does NOT mean “holy war” is disingenuous, because that IS one of its many meanings, though perhaps not it’s ONLY meaning.

2. Many Muslims have called for the assassination of the pope because he insulted the name of the Prophet. While the tone of this letter is civil and polite, nothing in the letter actually condemns those who call for the pope’s assassination. Yes, they condemn the murder of an innocent nun and any other similar acts of wanton individual violence; but they don’t say anything about the morality of deliberately killing someone they believe is not innocent. The pope could legitimately be on the Muslim hit list. Just like Salmud Rushdie.

3. In one place the letter affirms that “there is no compulsion in religion,” and in another place there is no “forced conversion.” To support these claims they show scriptures indicating that conversion should be voluntary. One of these scriptures is, “Whoso slays a soul not to retaliate for a soul slain, nor for corruption done in the land, it shall be as if he had slain mankind altogether” (al-Ma’idah 5:32). They believe that you cannot force a person to truly believe, but that does not mean that they cannot wage a jihad, and kill all those who have done corruption in the land, meaning all those who do not voluntarily convert to Islam. It is well known that those who have once professed to be Muslim, but convert to another religion, will be killed to purge the corruption done in the land if they return to any one of a number of Muslim countries. It is my understanding that persons who have always belonged to other faiths are permitted to live in Muslim countries as an act of charity, and not because non-Muslims have any right to live. Proselyting, however, is strictly forbidden. So much for no compulsion in religion, and no forced conversion.

4. The letter expresses a desire for peaceful and friendly relationships based upon mutual respect and justice. Sounds good. But exactly what does this mean to the Muslims? Apparently, according to the letter, Muslims have always had the right to wage war on their neighbors and conquer them, claiming that “the Islamic conquests were political in nature.” One can always find “political” reasons. If those they wish to make war against are inclined to capitulate, sue for peace, and become subject to the Muslims, “do thou incline to it.” That would be peaceful and friendly. They believe in being merciful, but “[God’s] Mercy encompasses everything” (al-A‘raf 7:156). What that means all depends on how you interpret it. Spilling innocent blood goes against mercy and compassion, but Muslims reserve the right to determine what innocent blood is, and what it is not. Muslims believe that theirs is the only true religion, and the only religion which deserves to exist. They only tolerate other religions up to a certain point. I think when they say that they wish to live together in peace, mutual acceptance, and respect, they mean on the terms dictated by their Prophet, where there is no respect or acceptance of Christianity, except when Christianity teaches exactly what Muslim’s believe.