The Ninth General Conference:Islam And The West Past - Present - Future
Reinforcing the Dialogue between Islam and The West By: Meraj Khalid
Reinforcing the Dialogue between Islam and the West
By: Merja Khaled Rector, International Islamic University, Islamabad, Pakistan
In his 1993 Address, at the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies, the Prince of Wales succinctly remarked"... I believe whole-heartedly that the links between these two Worlds matter more today than ever before, because the degree of misunderstanding between the Islamic and western worlds remains dangerously high, and because the need for the two to live and work together in our increasingly interdependent world has never been greater" (P 9-10). The misgivings referred here are various. Perhaps on the top of the list is the threat of the so-called extremism, terrorism and fundamentalism in the Islamic world.
Islamic legal and social teachings, in this respect are often projected as harsh, primitive and barbaric. Islamic revivalist movements are interpreted as anti--democratic forces. Islamic approach toward family and women is explained as discriminatory, unjust and authoritarian.
Western Media, to say the least, appears to enjoy dissemination of disinformation about Islam and the Muslims. This defamation is often given the name of "objectivity", and any one who wants to be fair to Islam is easily labeled sympathetic toward "fundamentalists". Fully realizing that many other governments, interest groups, NGOs, universities, institutes, etc. are active in similar activities and that useful dialogues between our two regions are carried out in many quarters, Sweden wishes to make our contribution to our common goal.
The Euro-Islam Project is - after two major international conferences in Stockholm 1995 and in Jordan 1996- for the coming years aiming at stimulating our EU and Mediterranean partners to embarque on a strategy of supporting peaceful co-existence through cultural dialogues and exchanges between our regions. The project also tries to encourage new, specialized academic dialogue conferences on relevant political, cultural and religious issues, bilateral research projects and cultural exchange programmes.
1. In 1994, Sweden, with a rapidly growing Muslim immigrant population of some 300,000 (0ut of a total of 9 million), began to realize the need Sweden for increased knowledge of Islam, that the situation for Muslim immigrants in Sweden must be improved and that growing racism and xenophobia must be effectively countered by improved education and information.
2. On the international scene, it was also more and more understood in Sweden that the growing atmosphere of confrontation between the West and the Muslim world ought to be addressed with active measures in the field of European policies towards our Muslim neighboring countries.
3. "Project Euro-Islam" was therefore created in 1994, using academic conferences as a method, in order to address those two issues. First, one major conference was held in Stockholm in June, 1995 and a second in Mafraq, Jordan, in June 1996. Participants in these conferences were leading intellectuals from both regions, professors, scholars, writers, religious and cultural experts as well as a few political leaders and heads of relevant organizations, universities and religious institutions. These participates have later formed presence of an overtly Euro-centric approach in the mind of the west, reflected in its economic colonialism, cultural imperialism and educational networking, used in the name of development. The facts of life are that if a business is to be established in the developing world or a letter of credit or an economic transaction is to be made, there appears no choice but to route it through the centers of capitalist world in London, New York or Tokyo. If a student wants basic education his G.C.E. “A” level exam is to be endorsed by Oxford or London University. And whether he is in Nigeria, in Bangladesh or Pakistan he has to master the text books written for students in England. Consequently he ends up knowing more about the history and streets of the city of London than his own town in his homeland. There is nothing wrong in knowing about streets of London. Islam actually wants a Muslim to know much more about London, Paris, New York and Tokyo. While many other religions of the world try to blockade the imagination of their followers, Islam desires an open and critical mind for its followers. The point here is a total breaking away from one's own culture, history, and values, when education make people alien to their own tradition, in the name of globalization and development. This group of the Muslims looks toward the west critically. Perhaps we can call them "critics" of the west. Some of the Islamic revivalist movements subscribe to this approach.
A fourth group of the Muslims looks towards the west with a reinforced civilizational stand. While they feel proud of their culture, religions, and social heritage, nevertheless they want to interact with others. They think, they have a message, a mission, a purpose and objective which can be shred with others. They believe in a dialogue and not a monologue. They interpret west's cultural, political, and economic hegemony as "a civilizational monologue." Subsuming the economically less developed nations as under- developed, in all other areas by the west, in their view, is an interpolation of pre-judged views by the west. This western reductionist approach is questioned by them. While they welcome any objective critique of Islam from the west they do not feel happy on a stereotype rather dogmatic view of Islam as projected in the western media and scholarship.
A meaningful dialogue can only take place when others are allowed to speak for themselves. All pre-judgments about a people need to be removed before a dialogue starts.
Let it be said at once that it will be factually incorrect to think that an inter civilizational dialogue has yet to start and we have to initiate it. Islam came over fifteen centuries ago with a call to have a dialogue in clear, open, and specific words. Calling upon the people of the Book it said: "Say, O! People of the Scripture come to common terms between us and you that we shall worship none but Allah and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him and that the non of us shall take others for lords beside Allah" (3:64). This initiative was taken by the Qur’an at a time when the west regarded non-Christian world as less than human.
We had along dialogue with the west even in our near past under the cover of colonialism. With the Napoleon’s Invasion of Egypt in 1798 and with the decline of the Ottoman rule a large part of the Muslim world was colonized by the British, French, Dutch and Italians. This political and economic subjugation did not stop the ongoing dialogue though the language and context of this is dialogue took the shape of liberation struggle for over a century.
With the political liberation of the Muslim world, and the historic event of establishment of an ideological State of Pakistan in 1947, a new discourse started between Islam and the West. A logical consequence of political liberty was realization of self-determination, cultural, economic, and social freedom of the Muslims from the West. A redefinition of nationhood, sustainability and independence was the need of the hour. A new dialogue within the newly emerged Muslim States and between the Muslim States and the West was to take place. Regretfully, this new discourse in some Muslim States could not make a clean and clear take off. The neo-colonialist rulers of most of the new established Muslim States were apparently confused about their national objectives. They cold not dissociate themselves from their colonial past either. The neo colonialist mind looked on every of Muslim existence from the perspective of the former colonialist. Yet a dialogue at the level of people, thinkers, and scholars continued.
Afghani, Iqbal and Mawdudi played a historic role in development of this dialogue between Islam and the West. Their approach was scholarly, objective and comprehensive. They visualized a reconstruction of the Muslim Ummah on the ethical and moral foundation of Islam. However, they did not mind to benefit and learn from the west in area of its excellence. They re-emphasized the Prophetic wisdom in seeking knowledge even if one had to go to China.
This new dialogue was ideological, historical, and civilizational. One was persuaded to identify the core values of a civilization and culture and share in common concerns at a civilization level. That Muslims are not always on a receiving end, they too can contribute to the welfare of others was their point of departure.
The present dialogue in my view is to be continual, equitable and meaningful. It has to be between two civilization and people, on one to one basis, and not a dialogue between the superior and the inferior, between the haves and have nots, those who claim to be economically super power and those who beg for economic aid. It cannot take place between people who regard themselves global policeman, and others who always need help from the militarily superior nations, even for local and regional, disputes. A dialogue with the psychology of a dominant, ruing, and imposing culture, economy and political power which takes others as "small" people is no dialogue.
The new dialogue, we need, at the threshold of the Twenty First Century, is to take into consideration certain basic ethical principles. That no white has superiority over a black and all human beings are children of one parent, as declared by the Benefactor (P.B.U.H) of humanity, fifteen centuries ago in his human rights declaration during the last hajj. This declaration contains basic ethical principles for our new discourse. Ethnic superiority, with its new forms of particularism, like Zionism and Nazism, must be denounced before we develop a dignified dialogue among the leaders of humanity.
The new discourse has to take into consideration first and foremost the human right of a people to live by their own values. Globalization does not allow the imperialists of media network to intrude in privacy of people and impose a demoralized obscene and morally corrupt culture on others. If Muslims in their own homelands or in the west subscribe to the value of modesty, simplicity and piety they should not be forced to follow unethical customs and culture of others in the name of globalism. Islam when it declared Allah's dhimah for the non-Muslims in an Islamic State, allowed development of a culturally pluralistic moral society. Needless to say nudity and vulgarity is universally anti social and anti ethical whether one lives in the east or in the west and cannot be condoned in the name of so called liberty. The new discourse has to address itself to a global phenomenon namely realization of an educated, healthy, and responsible humanity in the 21st century. This is only possible when Islam and the west share in exchange of views, development of strategies and plan for the future of our coming generations. We cannot build a future with hate, violence, and terrorism as its foundation.
The western mind shall have to strip itself of the deep rooted biases and prejudices about Islam and the Muslims, earlier the better. The Muslims shall have to reorient themselves and critically examine their assumptions about the west too. The agenda for this new discourse has to begin with a Jihad to educate and make our own people and others socially responsible. In this noble cause Muslim statesmen, scholars, community leaders, businessmen, educationists as well as Muslim women shall have to play an active and constructive role. With mutual effort and trust in Allah we can enter the new age with promise, hope, confidence and desire to build and unite humanity on universal ethical principles of justice, liberty, freedom, security and dignity.