The Tenth General Conference :Islam and The 21st Century
Islam's Relationship With Other Religions
Islam's Relationship With Other Religions From The
Perspective Of Modern Globalization:
An American Perspective
Dr. Fisal Abd El Rauf
In this paper, we wish to present a Muslim American
perspective on the following:
What can Islamic globalization mean from an American
What Qur'anic verses support this claim?
What does creative emergence mean?
What means do Muslims have to convey this understanding?
What are the challenges and obstacles facing the American
Muslim community, and by extensior.., the world Muslim community, in
achieving globalization of Islamic values?
Globalization is a concomitant of modern technology, which has
made the world today a much smaller place. I can fly today from New
York to Singapore in less time than my grandfather could go from his
village near Samannud in the Nile delta to Aswan in south Egypt. I can
wire money directly into my friend's bank account in Kuala Lumpur just
by calling my bank on the phone and confirming this information by fax
without leaving my home, because of a worldwide banking system and
network. I can advertise my individual thoughts and sell products to the
whole world by means of a web-site on the internet. All this is made
possible by a global satellite communications system. Democratization in
the media context merely means that anyone who can afford a computer
can make his thoughts available to the whole world. It is no longer the
domain of those who can afford large sums of money to publish a
newspaper or magazine.
You may well ask, "What has all of this got to do with a conference
in Cairo about Islam and the 21st century?" Simply stated because Muslims
must articulate their religious and spiritual understandings in a way that
matches the new global paradigms ushered in by the 21st century. We are
living in a time when the best ideas win, the weaker ones die. Rapid
expansion of technology is making it impossible for any nation to live
isolated from the rest of the world, and is simultaneously forcing each
nation to deal with ideas, philosophies and methodologies coming from the
rest of the world. This coercion is forming a crunching in all spheres
political, economic, philosophical, religious and spiritual. It is impossible,
for example, for any nation in the world to decide not to have a banking
system. But once you have a banking system, it is very difficult to avoid the
worldwide market valuations on capital, which to many is equivalent to
usury, riba, and which is Islamically prohibited. How then do we
Some see this coercion as coming from the more politically
powerful nations, those with powerful military forces and economies. But
it is in the nature of all reality that no change occurs without coercion. In
Physics, we call this Newton's First Law, which states that a body stays in
a state of rest or of uniform motion unless acted upon by a force. Should
we then be surprised if forces act upon us in our lives? Who lives without
being subject to various degrees of coercion, whether it is from one's
mother-in-law, one's husband or wife, one's boss or superiors? Obviously,
not all coercion is good, but it is important to re member that no real
growth or evolution occurs without coercion. The best coercion is logical
or moral, when we are forced to give up some of our wrong ideas by the
mere force of logical thinking, or by an inner demonstration of what is in
our best interest. This is how humanity evolves.
Modem technology has so pervasively blanketed the world that
no army can shield its nation from its effects. The armies of the Soviet
Union and China could not insulate their citizens from the new world
paradigms. Nor could President Suharto use his military to upwardly
coerce the exchange rate of Indonesia's currency and the valuation of its
stock market. No nation can ignore the rules of the global marketplace,
which gives you increasingly less time and space to be parochial. If your
ideas are workable and appreciated, you are re warded; if not, you are
penalized. What this means is that the battlefield of the 21st century will
increasingly be the arena where in ideas are exchanged, subject to the
crossfire of global criticism. You have to win the hearts and minds of
people. And you do this best when you understand yourself best,
Understand your values well, and can use the most modem and
powerful tools to communicate yourself. Know how to use the global
communications network, learn how to utilize the internet, in addition
to the classic media tools of radio and newspapers and magazines. And
remember that the primary geographical domain of this arena is the
United States of America, Western Europe and those nations that have
chosen to participate in this influential global paradigm. But these are
the tools. In order to win, we must no less focus on content, we must
have a winning philosophy that appeals to human hearts and minds,
that appeals to human nature and does not violate it one that answers
the eternal human needs and aspirations.
Do we have this? I assert we do.
What can religious globalization mean from an American
From an Islamic viewpoint, globalization is a concomitant of the
principle of tawhid projected against our lifestyles. Starting with
Adam's time, humanity dispersed and got increasingly variegated. From
now onward, humanity is finding itself reversing this trend, pressured
to live together under one increasingly unified value system. We see this
not only in our political and economic systems, but in our educational
systems, our musical forms, and even in our foods. For example, while
every nation speaks of democracy and aspires to strengthen its balance
of payments, we have Ph. D. programs in al-Azhar University, Japanese
wearing suits and ties, and Arab musicians like Muhammad Abdul
Wahhab introducing the electric guitar into Arabic music. But this
exchange is not only going from West to Fast. The reverse is also
happening: Americans are fond of eating pita bread with falafel and
hummus, and the English love to eat spicy curries and biryani.
But this tawhid current is also taking place in the arena of
spirituality and religious philosophy. Westerners are exploring Eastern
religions. If there is any meaning to the term Islamic globalization, it
must devolve around the successful answer to the following question;
Can the world Muslim community define its understanding of
Islam, and express this understanding so that this Islamic worldview
becomes a Ka'bah around which all the worldviews and philosophies
perform their tawaf submitted to it? (as an over-arching understanding
of a singular creed that all adhere to?)
The metaphor that describes the successful answer to this
challenge is well depicted by the imagery of hajj: 3 million people from
all over the world, doing tawaf around Allah's House. Submitted to one
God, practicing one Sunnah, praying together behind on imam and not
arguing about whether they are Sunni or Shii, Shafi'i or Hanbali, but
recognizing that within these differences there is an over-arching
understanding of the one creed that they adhere to. Personally, I believe
that Islam was established by Allah for our times, in tended to be a
global faith but this requires us to reconfigure our understanding of our
faith so that it blends well with the new paradigms. But we have to
extend this metaphor to find a place in the world for all religions.
What Qur'anic verses support this claim?
He it is Who has sent His Messenger with the guidance and the
religion of Truth that He may make it prevail over all religions. And
Allah is enough as a Witness. Our faith is structured to prevail over all
religions. Allah witnesses that. Do we too witness it? Do we understand
how it is so?
Muslims are required to believe, as stated in the very beginning
of Surat al Baqarah, to believe in "what was sent down upon you
(Muhammad) and what was sent down before you." We believe that
Muhammad as seal of the Prophets (khatam an-nabiyyin) embodied
within himself the signature of all prior Prophets and Messengers. He
therefore contained within himself the spirituality of Jesus, the Law-
giving nature of Moses, the dream-interpreting ability of Joseph, and so
forth. The Qur'an similarly embodies all prior scriptures. The Qur'an,
and the spiritual personality of Muhammad, compared to prior
revelations, are therefore believed Muslims to be the manifestation of
the dynamic process of creative emergence within the religious domain.
This is the most appealing interpretation of the Qur'anic verse
li-yuzhirahu ala'ddini kallih. Clearly, true religion (din il-haq) which we
identify with Islam is something that Allah will make prevail over all
religion. And whether you believe it or not, it is enough that the Creator
of the Universe declares Himself as sufficient witness over this.
What does creative emergence mean?
Permit me to take two minutes to share with you some
observations on the major shift occurring in the operating spiritual
religious paradigm in the USA. Currently in America, the paradigm is
shifting from an atheistic agnostic one to one where, from the latest
discoveries in the fields of cosmology, astrophysics as well as
transpersonal psychology, there is greater evidence for the existence of
God. Science is now leading to the inevitable conclusion that there is a
Creator of the universe. (Flynn, God the Evidence).
For example, astrophysicists have found that if the slightest
variation had occurred in any one of the various physical constants of
the universe, life would not have occurred. There is increasing scientific
evidence that the cosmos was brought into being with us in mind.
Brandon Carter, an astrophysicist from Cambridge University, coined
the term the "anthropic principle" to de scribe this purpose weaved into
the cosmic intent that designed the constants just so. When I first read
this, the hadith lawlak ma khalaqna l-aflak flashed in my mind.
And in an important book from the point of view of
consciousness and philosophy, the American thinker Ken Wilber has
developed a theory that seeks to encompass the current state of human
knowledge within a consistent frame work. In this work, he observes a
universal principle called creative emergence, defined as that self-
transcending process that coerces individual units into a higher form of
being. (Brief History of Everything, p.24) (Permit me to explain this).
let us take an atom, for example. An atom is an individual thing.
We have oxygen atoms and hydrogen atoms. Two hydrogen atoms
combine with one oxygen atom form a more evolved entity called a
molecule, in this case of smoothing qualitatively different from either
hydrogen or oxygen, something we know as water. Molecules in turn
combine to form more evolved complex entities. Atoms do not require
molecules to exist, whereas molecules require atoms to exist. Remove
atoms, and all molecules and higher entities cease to exist, but remove
all molecules, and atoms still exist. A molecule includes atoms, but has
creatively emerged out of the state of "atomness" to give us the nature
of moleculeness," something qualitatively different. But although water
is as different from oxygen as oxygen is different from hydrogen, yet
water is some thing more evolved, for it contains both oxygen and
hydrogen; it has taken both oxygen and hydrogen and evolved them
into a higher state of being.
I therefore claim that if we liken all prior Scriptures and
Prophets to atoms, then the Qur'an and Muhammad are like molecules.
Doesn't the Qur'an include past revelations and Muhammad contain
past Prophetic signatures in the same fashion that a molecule includes
atoms as part of the evolutionary process? Islam, defined as the sunnah
of Muhammad, is not just a hodgepodge mixture of all religious: it has
taken religion to a higher level of being, and this is what differentiates
Islam from other faiths; it is a more evolved religion.
The next question is how do we make our case to the world?
What means do Muslims have to convey this
There are two ways in which spiritual understanding is
conveyed, each of which was used by the Qur'an and the Prophet;
The first method is the obvious one. You can only appeal to the
minds of people by developing a very well structured philosophy built
upon scientific truths.
The Prophet taught this way. The Qur'anic ideas, the intellectual
and moral example of the Prophet, were such that the mind could hot
but admit to its truths. The way we convey this in America is by being
intellectually honest and morally upright citizens.
Scientifically, the Qur'an is fully consistent with modern
scientific discoveries. We do not believe that the earth rests on a lion
which in turn rests on an elephant, which in turn rests on a turtle.
Socially, our behavior, our protection of family values, our valuing of
human life by appropriately penalizing criminals, are all ways in which
we demonstrate to the non-Muslim American how Sacred Law as
depicted in the Qur'an and Hadith accrues to the best of human
advantage for whoever judges not by what Allah has sent down, those
are the transgressors.
Politically, we speak in the language of the American
Constitution and Bill of Rights that admits of one nation under God"
We depict the era of the end of the Orthodox Caliphs as introducing
into Muslim political consciousness the notion of separation of Church
and State while yet being a nation under God, and that the open debate
between the Sunni and Shi'i worldviews is at one level the on-going
debate on the merits of this issue. And that inspite of isolated instances,
these two worldviews can and do exist harmoniously within the Islamic
Ummah. We thereby show how Islamic political thought has fore-
shadowed and embraced an important theme in Western political
We can go on, but all of this comes under the purview of the
intellectual approach. The second approach, and to many in America
the more appealing one, is the direct experience of Divine power as
evidenced within the heart and soul of the human being. Every
American wants to experience God, wants to know that if there is a God
who created and fashioned this world, is it reasonable to suppose that
this God speaks to us? And does He only communicate with prophets,
or can He make Himself evident to each one of us ordinary mortals?
Can I really hear God in the Qur'an? And can you show me how your
religion and its practice make God evident to me? If you can, I'll buy
into your faith. This is the American instinct. It is not based on blind
adherence to the faith of one's fathers, but adherence to proof that is as
scientific at the individual level as it is as the collective level. At this
level, this American is a Muslim in the sense that he is abiding by the
Qur'anic recommendation to be responsible for his own spiritual
destiny: (quote the Qur'anic verses on not blindly following the religion
of one's fathers.)
Our most effective tool in this regard in America is the
instrument of dhikr, commonly known as the Sufi path. Americans are
fond of Sufism, as the following story demonstrates: Two months ago I
was invited to speak to a group of adult men and women studying
various religions. The chairwoman requested I speak about the Islamic
religion, answer some questions and then have the group perform
"some Islamic service," meaning giving them a taste of the Islamic
worship so that they get a glimpse of Islam "from the inside." The
program lasted two and half hours, the first two hours devoted to a
twenty minute presentation on the Islamic aqidah, followed by
questions. The questions included the usual ones on why they don't see
women attending the mosques and what jihad means in today's world.
For these first two hours, the feeling in the hall was one of a secret
feeling that Christianity or Buddhism were more enlightened religions,
expressing of higher ideals of charity, love and forgive ness than Islam.
When time came for the last half hour, the only service I could
invite them to was to perform a fifteen minute dhikr together. Upon
completion, the atmosphere shifted completely; you could feel it lift.
Several of them sought to describe their feelings. One lady saw a very
beautiful shimmering light, another felt a strong heat in her abdominal
area, a third felt a tingling in her chest, and on. Their questions
changed; now they wanted to understand the significance of the feelings
they underwent during the dhikr and the meaning of their dreams; a
Christian lady asked me what her dream of seeing Jesus alive meant.
And instead of regarding me as the ambassador of an alien unproven
religion, they now saw me in a totally different light, as the ambassador
of something powerfully transformative, an authentic spiritual
transmission. The half hour ended and still they stayed on, because the
discussion now touched them; it answered the perennial questions that
all seekers thirst to have addressed. Having tasted God's power and
love, some of them approached me and asked it they could attend our
dhikr sessions. A few days later the chairwoman wrote me a lovely card
saying that she slept so soundly that night, without needing to take the
medication for her leg pain, and enquired if she could come sometime
and join us our "chanting of God's names."
At this stage the heart has submitted, It has tasted the reality of
Remember Me and I shall remember you. For when Allah
remembers us He does not just call, the sound of our names out; our
"names" with Allah are our reality. Our reality is "called" And we
respond by becoming drawn towards the Divine Presence.
And this is how we invite we do not require people to accept the
creed of Islam, nor insist that they do their prayers, in order to enter
our dhikr circle. We just ask them to join us in chanting Allah's Names.
When they submit to that, and find that they thereby get to taste the
sweetness of faith (halawat al iman), their hearts submit to what they
internally recognize as a more evolved faith. The atom of their faith, in
time, evolves, and the molecule of Islam and love of the Prophet
Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him, creatively emerge out of
The difference between these two methods is enormous. In the
first method you put ideas into another's mind or consciousness,
whereas in the second method you alter the person's state of mind and
consciousness to wards a state of wholeness. Once made whole, it is
easier for the individual to see the wisdom that comes from such a
heightened state of God awareness and consciousness.
What are the challenges and obstacles facing the American
Muslim community, and by extension, the world Muslim community, in
achieving global allocation of Islamic values? Our first challenge is
countering the false impressions foisted upon us by the media. But the
biggest challenges come from within ourselves. Our community needs to
be more open and welcoming to non-Muslims, or to Muslims who are
not that knowledgeable about their faith but who sincerely desire to
If we can purify ourselves so that we become clear transmitters
of God's message, God will inspire us with the means to globalize our
faith. This means we must stop hiding Islam's universality with our
parochial thinking. Islam is neither an Arab nor a Pakistani religion, it
is din-illah: God's religion. Islam is beyond ethnic culture. The Prophet
declared that an Arab is no better than a non-Arab except by virtue of
his behavior. We have to embrace all of humanity as equals and judge
people by their goodness, by God's criteria huk mu'llah.
I will conclude by relating my most poignant experience
regarding this last February I was invited to Texas to invite some
Americans to the experience of dhikr, and later that evening attended a
book signing for my book Islam, A Search for Meaning. A very nice
man who had attended the dhikr session raised his hand and said; "I
have no problem accepting the idea of one God, I have no problem
accepting the Prophet Muhammad as the last Prophet and messenger as
you have described, I have no problem accepting the prayers, fasting,
charity and pilgrimage. But I still have a problem with Islam."
It was because he visited a mosque in America, and to make a
long story short, was made to feel najts. Even Muslims who are trying to
improve their understanding of their faith encounter these types of
difficulties. An Egyptian professor came to me recently at one of the
mosques frequently lecture in and asked to speak to me privately about
a personal matter, I was surprised when, in a low voice, he expressed his
desire to learn the proper tajwid at be Qur'an. Knowing that they had a
qualified teacher in the mosque, I suggested he attend those classes. He
said that he had, but the teacher made fun of the students when they
make a mistake, and he could not continue to learn in such an