Manhattan madness and Muslims
May 15, 2010 21:26

The recent New York City terrorist episode is yet another grim wake up call for 
the Muslims. It should not be ignored or dismissed by the Muslims as a random 
act of a confused individual who happens to be a Muslim or a Pakistani and that 
majority of the Muslims have nothing to do with such acts of terrorism. While 
the statement itself is accurate, yet more and more due to such acts by 
individuals who happen to be Muslims the perception of Islam by others is 
becoming for them a seeming reality. What seems more alarming is that in the 
more recent acts of terror, Muslims with higher levels of education and social 
interaction are implicated. This group includes those who are born in the West 
of émigré parents and also converts to Islam. The British last year arrested a 
group of young physicians who were planning terrorist action and the arrest of 
some of the converts who became radicalized and involved in the planning and 
carrying out such action serves to highlight the seriousness of the problem.

A January 2010 Gallup poll found that almost half of Americans hold an 
unfavorable view of Islam. About the same number of Americans harbor personal 
prejudice toward Muslims, according to the poll. These numbers become 
especially troubling when we consider that two-thirds of the Americans polled 
admit to knowing little to nothing about Islam. The image of American Muslims 
is in serious disrepair. And so is the image of Muslims and Islam all over the 

Introspection on the part of us Muslims and Muslim governments is largely 
missing and necessary in the continuing debate about Islam and Muslims that has 
become the focus of the global media and community.

Why are others distrustful of a religion and people they know very little about 
and what can Muslims do about the rising tide of Islamophobia? The call to make 
the world a better place is inherent in the core message of the Qur'an which is 
the foundation of Islamic belief and practice. But why have efforts to change 
the world by Muslims so often recently been failing or have gone tragically 
awry? And how might Muslims in the 21st century live in ways that have 
integrity with their traditions and are more truly transformative? What kind of 
history - or, perhaps better put, story or narrative - of Islam are we 
offering? Can we properly define Islam in isolation from explicit consideration 
of its encounters and intertwining with non-Muslim cultures?

Christian and Jewish cultures are highly successful because they have 
transitioned from the state of being "God-fearing" religions to being 
"God-loving" religions. Fear dominates the culture of most Muslim societies. 
Manipulative use of Qur'anic verses - teaching of Qur'an mainly from the 
perspective of fearing God - thus psychologically establishing a paradigm of 
negative authority, disallowing the more important aspects of God leading to 
positive involvement in humanity. Mullahs and Imams are tapping into fear in 
hopes of creating obedience and morality. Too often their sermons or khutbahs 
tell us, "Repent, repent, repent! The Day of Judgment can happen any moment! 
Allah is always watching!" Apart from these notions that prevent the Muslim 
masses from progressing an even worse message that is being pounded into the 
consciousness of the masses from the pulpit is that there is a global 
conspiracy against Islam and Muslims.

All too often political theologies worsen the very problems they are designed 
to solve. For the past two centuries the trend in the Muslim world has been 
that of a politics fueled by resentment and a sense of victimization, actuated 
by a strong will to power, and a propensity to demonize its opponents. Our 
historical experience to this day remains strongly authoritarian, patriarchal 
and pre-modern, legitimized by "exclusivist  "rhetoric and thinking. That 
Muslim societies in general have radicalized over the last decades cannot be 
denied. Completing the confusion and disarray within Muslims is the issue of 
competing narratives and visions of Islam among Muslims which has created deep 
fractures and polarizations that have through out Islam's history provided 
fertile ground for various forms of ideological extremism and violence against 
each other besides making them vulnerable to exploitation and attack from 

Our religious institutions are in irreversible decline. The obsession with 
personal piety and "How-is-it-with-me?" spirituality that permeates most 
congregations is undiluted narcissism that creates for us a sense of feeling 
good and yet doing nothing. Our willingness to question our belief systems and 
personal self-image is hardly apparent as culture. Rather than giving the 
entire blame for our decay to outside factors which have so dominated the 
Muslims during the last two centuries an honest analysis of our culture and our 
capacity to influence it is needed. By remaining as silent spectators we are 
allowing the attacks from outside and confusion and turmoil from within to 
devastate our societies, create permanent fissures in our relations with other 
communities and with each other. The unsustainable ideological path that we are 
treading presently is leading us nowhere and causing grave injury to the true 
spirit of the Qur'an's message. The Qur'an's most important feature is not only 
what it actually says but what Muslims say about it. The great truth which 
Christians have acknowledged since the Reformation - that a revelation can come 
from God and still be misunderstood by the one who receives it is apt for 
consideration by Muslims. Educated Muslims increasingly are recognizing that 
their faith needs to adapt. The challenge is to revitalize the Muslim masses by 
strengthening their confidence in their own ability to engage the Qur'an 

What is really needed is a different paradigm of engagement within us and also 
with the rest of the world. A structural or social change within our societies 
must be achieved by internal discourse and negotiation which will allow the 
necessary change to take place in accordance with the history and culture 
Education not indoctrination is crucial. A total overhaul of the educational 
system and institutions is badly needed. In many Muslim countries because of 
failure of economic growth, education has suffered. This allows for easy 
exploitation of the youth in Muslim countries. It is through proper education 
of our endangered future generations that we can eradicate the menace of 
"mullarchy" that inculcates in the minds of our youth to blow themselves up in 
suicide missions and advocates violence in the name of our faith. Building a 
strong educational framework and institutions which incorporate the shared 
values with others and which upholds human dignity and mutual respect is the 
critical task. This challenge to the Muslims is as old as the message of the 
Qur'an - if only they would recognize.

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was a German philosopher of the late 19th 
century who challenged the foundations of Christianity and traditional 
morality. "The Last Man," Nietzsche feared, would engage in the worst kinds of 
provincialism, believing he had nothing to learn from history. "The Last Man" 
would wallow and revel in his ignorance and quest for personal fulfillment. He 
would be satisfied with everything that he had done and become, and would seek 
to become nothing more. He would be intellectually and morally stagnant, 
incapable of growth, and become part of an easily manipulated herd. "The Last 
Man" would mistake cynicism for knowledge - though he did not have the Muslims 
in mind, we should think about this.

The author is chairman of Islamic Information Service, US. He can be contacted 

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