No Cause for Clash
Joint action on common social concerns can bring
about Islam and Christianity closer
Islam and the West:
Common Cause or Clash
Published by Edmund A Walsh School of Foreign Service
Washington D.C., 20057
Price: Not mentioned
Reviewed by Maqbool Ahmed Siraj
IT was perhaps the first time in the history of US that Muslim votes were recognized as a factor in the Presidential elections. Islam’s visibility has been growing in the Western world and being complimented in different ways. France and Germany have recognized Islam as the second major religion. Symbolic of the growing Muslim weight, the US Post has issued an ‘Eid Mubarak’ postage stamp. For two years in a row the White House has been organizing Iftar parties. Islamic chaplains have been appointed for US Army and the Navy. US Secretary of the State Madeliene Albright has taken pains to explain that the US does not have any hostility towards Islam per se. Islamic Centres and mosques have sprung up in several European capitals including Rome near the papal seat, Vatican City.
Despite all these favourable signals from the West, Islam and Christianity, two major faiths, continue to be viewed as rivals. There have been few attempts to identify the common grounds and initiate joint action in areas where both share a common perception or concern. What has gone under the name of interfaith dialogues has merely explored the areas of differences such as divinity of Christ, Son of God theory, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension of Christ, celibacy, monasticism, capital punishment etc. There is competition for winning new adherents between the two faiths, which also becomes a source of conflict.
But besides these, there have been a few political factors such as creation of the Jewish state of Israel that have bedevilled the Muslim-Christian ties. Events such as Iranian revolution, hostage taking, hijacking of Western planes, 1973 Oil embargo, Iraqi occupation of Kuwait and Saddam’s threat of holy war against the West etc., though all of them traceable to Israel’s creation in the Middle East, created fearful images of Islam. Samuel Huntington intellectualized the threat. Since then ‘Clash of Civilization’ has embellished the imagery of fear and the new paradigm has entered the vocabulary of world politics. It is these condition that have generated the term such as ‘Islamophobia’ and ‘Islamic terrorism’.
Dr. Ralph Braibanti, a long time scholar at Duke University and consultant and adviser for various UN bodies in Muslim countries has come out with this Occasional Paper for Center for Muslim Christian Understanding : History and International Affairs at Georgetown University at Washington D.C. established in 1993 with specific purpose of promoting an understanding between the two faiths. According to Braibanti, the ground was paved for the building of current ambience by the 1964 encyclical letter by Paul VI which said : “We do well to admire these people of the Moslem religion for all that is good and true in their worship of God.” The UN Conference on Population and Development at Cairo and UN Conference on Women at Beijing in 1995 advanced the concordance on problems of ethical nature such as divorce, teenage pregnancies, drugs, crimes, child and spousal abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancies, break up of nuclear families and two parent families. 22 Muslim states and Vatican moved in tandem to defeat abortion provision. They all agreed on action being consistent with the nation’s cultural and religious conviction showing remarkable agreement on treating the family as a “union sanctified by marriage” and built upon “a bedrock of conjugal unity” and that there should be no effort to impose adultery, abortion, sex education etc. on individuals and society which have their own social ethos. Sacredness of life, protection of environment etc further enlarge the area of cooperation.
The absence of a moral authority among Muslims such as the Pope, the absence of a society scrupulously practising the lofty Islamic ideals and the tendency to focus on theological differences rather than on social and ethical concerns are listed as factors hindering the progress of a dialogue. Braibanti builds up a strong case for cause based joint action on the social problems afflicting the entire human society. The Muslim minorities in the West could be active agents of diffusion of Muslim social values and moral principles there. Muslims however would need to clarify Islam’s position on terrorism which is invoked under the name of Jihad. Tribal warfare or drug trafficking in Afghanistan, refugees problem and mass poverty in certain Muslim countries and heavy dependence on Christian West for technotronic (technology and electronic) capabilities further clouds Muslims’ ability to participate in the dialogue on equal terms.
Dr. Braibanti lists several initiatives made by the Muslim world towards a dialogue and would like elucidation of Muslim position on social and cultural issues as well as on terrorism. He urges issuance of bipartite or tripartite declaration of values of faith by Muslims, Christians and the Jews. The Center for Jewish and Christian Values set up in 1995 in Washington DC is already doing it with regards to those two faiths.
Gist of the Quran vis-a-vis Tarawih Prayers by Islamic Foundation Trust, Chennai (formerly Madras) fulfills a genuine need by offering a gist of the holy Quran recited during Ramadan night in Taraweeh prayers. Since the believers listen to the Quran during 27 nights, there has been a longstanding need to provide a cursory glance on the content of the portion recited each night. That such a book existed in Urdu (this is a translation of Moulana Muhiuddin Ayyubi’s Khulasaye Taraweeh) may in itself be a discovery for several readers. Translation by Prof. U. Mohammad Iqbal is simple and fluent. Each night’s portion has been summarized in about three pages. Since Ramadan has an integral relationship with the revelation of the Quran, the Gist will serve as a handy help for the believers to refresh the meanings before attending the Taraweeh prayers. The book is sure to be a reader’s delight for its elegant production. It is available at IFT, 78 Perambur High Road, Chennai-600012 email:
The Fragrance of the East edited by Shariq Alavi is being brought out by the Nadwatul Ulama, Lucknow. The English quarterly seems to be devoted to research articles, though the issue (July-September 2000) does not say anything by way of mission statement. The issue carries a melange of news items, papers presented at international seminars and general articles. Raja Mohammad Zafrul Huq’s article “Mass Media and Globalisation” is quite incisive. Several other articles highlight late Maulana Ali Miyan’s contributions to Islamic literature. Poorly edited, the magazine lacks originality and direction. Department of Publicity, Nadwatul-Ulema, Post box 93, Lucknow- 226 007.