Partisan media and scholars keep the West and Muslims apart

THERE are a large number of non-Muslims in the West who are keen to know more about Islam, especially after 9/11. Never before the copies of the Holy Quran were published and distributed in the USA in such large numbers as evidenced in the past 3 years.

By Riaz A Siddiqui

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Published: Fri 11 Jun 2004, 11:36 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:29 AM

The powerful US media, with the blessings of Israeli lobby, is trying to attempt to map out a contemporary intellectual landscape of Islamic studies by categorising and compartmenting the Muslim scholarships into Traditionalists, Radicals and Modernists; each trying to jettison the baggage of one another.

This is causing confusion in the minds of those who are serious about understanding Islam and Muslims. Vested interests of the media are simply trying to exploit the situation to perpetuate the divide between Muslims and Christians, especially when the passions on both sides are running high.

The terms Radicals and Fundamentalists attributed to Muslims are a legacy of the Western media campaign against Iran's Islamic revolution. Obviously media's finding emerged partly from a lack of understanding of Islam among non-Muslims and partly from the failure of the Muslims to explain their faith in its right perspective. Many of the negative images of Islam being painted are not based on facts or reason.

But as Johnson said "prejudice not being founded on reason cannot be removed by arguments".

As a result, the issues that characterise the debate about Islam today are non-issues like a ban on bank interests, ban on family planning and status of women etc. Such things are blown out of proportion to distinguish Muslims from the West. Because of the essential nature of the world media and looking for negative features in a story, the essence of Islam is not allowed to come to the fore. A scholarly and objective treatise highlighting Islam's true message is ignored by the media. It is always the bad news that makes news. Through the media and because of the notice they attracted, the Modernists' theme is played up prominently by media, which generates a general belief that religion as a force, nostrum or guide is no more valid or relevant in our age. Islam is a very simple and uncomplicated faith. Holy Quran deals with four broad based subjects:

1. Rescript or edict on permissible and prohibited avenues.

2. The directive or firm verses of the Holy Quran are those which deal with the matters of "faith" basic tenets, good and evil and other matters which are harmful to our personal lives and society as a whole.

3. There are allegorical verses dealing with the authority of God, matters related to the Day of Judgment and life after death. These are the matters connected simply with faith. Any mental exertion on those will lead us to nowhere.

4. Part of the Holy Quran deals with events and incidents involving former prophets and their peoples. These events from the lives of prophets hold lesson for us and all times to come.

The believers ought to follow which is firm and unambiguous and should not delve into what is allegorical. However, the key point for availing the mercy of Allah is the declaration of faith i.e. there is no God except Allah and no one else is worth worshiping and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is His messenger.

In a Muslim society, the beliefs and ideas of individuals, their devotional acts and religious observance, the laws and social system are all based on submission to God alone. The Shahada or declaration of faith serves as a plinth on which five pillars of Islam stand. The other derivatives of it include belief in angels, Holy Books, God's Messengers and life hereafter. That's all.

The categories Traditionalist, Radical and Modernist have no bearing on the charter of faith. The Quran, as we noted earlier is at the core of Islamic belief and no Muslim, however liberal would suggest its reinterpretation. It is Islam that guides Muslims to live in an interconnected global community. The arguments for Muslims to address a universal audience surely come from within the Quran. Neither the Western orientalists nor the so-called modernist Muslims can claim to be the exponent of the dialogue or innovation (ijtihad).

Sir Thomas Arnold, after much painstaking research, collected facts and figures for his monumental work The preaching of Islam wherein he proved that Islam was spread not "by the exploits of that mythical personage - the Muslim warriors with a sword in one hand and the Quran in the other" but by the dynamism of the teachings of the Quran and the character of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Besides Arnold, Islam had other Western admirers including Napoleon and Shaw, Goethe contemplating Islam and remarked "If this is Islam, then we all live in Islam". Therefore the efforts of contemporary Western media will never bear fruits to create a wedge between Muslims and Christians and divide Muslims by categorising them. No doubt Muslims do have problems in a wider context.

For MusIims it is the struggle to define and adhere to their Islamic way of life against a biased media. Muslims today are concerned about secular drifts of their societies and its impact on faith and values. There is indeed an Islamic revolution-taking place in many part of the Muslim world. However most significant pervasive revolution is not that of bombs and hostages but of clinics, and schools. It is dominated by social activists, teachers, doctors, lawyers and preachers which are not being talked about even in the Muslim media. Not only the present day media but also the West as a whole approach and interpret Islam in negative light. It is time for the West, if it is serious in bridging the gulf with the Muslims, to understand Islam objectively and sympathetically.

Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH) last Haj sermon is still valid and accepted universally as the first charter of the human rights. The Muslims, for their part, must not forget that their collective and individual behaviour, laws and system are a model for the entire world. They are here to show the way to others. Therefore, conduct of the Muslims should be exemplary in every respect.

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