Answering the critical questions that face Islam today
Suggestions by Kabir Helminski
Co-Director of The Threshold Society, Shaikh of the Mevlevi Order
The Remedy for Islamophobia
Muslims, both in the West and outside it, seem to have little comprehension of the kind of fears that non-Muslims have about Islam; they have very little understanding of the urgent questions that Western people are asking about Islam. It is time for Muslims, especially in the West, to clarify the values and beliefs they stand for in certain critical areas.
This clarification should be based primarily on the Qur’an, as well as on those hadiths that strictly concur with the Qur’an. This clarification will be more effective if it is brief and to the point, perhaps a page or two for each of the major questions.. Ideally, it would have the names of a significant number of Islamic scholars and authorities. It could be made available as a small pamphlet, a magazine length article, and as a web-document.
What is Islam’s relationship to other faiths? (Does Islam tolerate other religions when it comes to power? Is there a basis for religious pluralism under Islamic orthodoxy?)
Does Islam recognize freedom of conscience, thought, expression, and dissent? (What are the limits on freedom of religion? Why do some propose the death penalty in the case of a Muslim changing his religion?)
Does Islam condone the use of force in achieving political goals?
What is meant by the term “kafir” (usually translated as “infidel” or “unbeliever”)? (Does the Qur’an ever condone the killing of kafirs?)
What is the Quranic teaching on the position of women? (Are they to be under the domination of men? Do they have less rights than men?)
Does Islam have an agenda to dominate the world? (Can Islam coexist with secular democracy?)
What is the place of altruism in Islam? (What are some examples of those principles that oppose the commercialism of contemporary consumer society?)
I believe that all these questions can be answered in a way that would allow the minds and hearts of the non-Muslim world to find a positive relationship with Islam. But I have not yet seen a clear and relatively brief presentation covering issues such as these. Some Muslims have failed to present Islam in its humane and universal dimension and have often presented it as a form-heavy, legalistic, and intolerant system.
Muslims have also not taken a clear stand against the distortions of Islam and the injustices done in the name of Islam. We must demonstrate that we can heal the body of the ummah of the diseases of intolerance, gender oppression, and terrorism; we must demonstrate that Islam favors an open, tolerant society within the framework of the universal moral values expressed in the Qur’an.
Furthermore, Islam might offer its point of view on some of the human crises we face today:
How can Islam shed light on the ecological crisis?
The Qur’an offers a radical critique of those human tendencies that have led to today’s ecological crisis. We need to express a clear rationale for Islamic environmentalism?
How can Islam shed light on the power of unrestrained capital?
From the beginning Islam has offered a clear critique of the misuse of capital. The Qur’an points the way to a just economic order, and yet today, most people who know anything about the Islamic economics think it is an anachronistic and impractical system.
What would be an Islamic perspective on the weapons industry that is consuming the world’s talent and resources?
Under the Islam of the Qur’an it would not even be conceivable to kill indiscriminately or to kill with fire. Why do we not hear more of an Islamic peace movement and Islamic non-violent strategies. Islam has come to be associated with the justification of the killing of innocent civilians. Islam therefore forbids all means of modern warfare. therefore the foremost jihad of today must be the jihad against modern warfare. Muslims must unite with the forces of peace and justice in other societies and reach out across all boundaries to those sincere human hearts that are ready to recognize that all of humanity is one.
I am convinced that the answers to these questions would begin to shift perceptions about Islam and help it to become a vital force for social transformation. Muslims must put their knowledge and beliefs into the service of humanity, joining other groups that are working for the same goals. In other words they would begin to demonstrate that Islam serves humanity, not just the apparent interests of those who are nominally Muslims.
Islam has yet to take its place as the “middle” or “optimal” community enjoining all that is good. Islam must raise the banner of Mercy, of Rahmah, for all to see.
1. Ahadith, and or judgments by legal experts that add something not explicitly found in the Qur’an should be bracketed for the purposes of this most essential clarification of Islamic values. An example of such a case would be one in which a legal ruling was stricter or more limiting than what is found in the Qur’an.