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Monday, October 27, 2008

Interview : Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf (6)

The 20th century was a century in which the Muslim world experienced the hands of the West in the perception of the Muslim world -- a dismantling of some of its important constructs. The most significant of that was the dismantling of the Ottoman caliph. Because for the first time in the collective consciousness of Muslims, there is no caliph anywhere. And it was replaced-- especially in major population centers of the Muslim world, those that were important at the turn at the beginning of the twentieth century: Turkey, Egypt, Iran -- the traditional forms of rulership were replaced by militantly secular regimes. Not only secular regimes, but militantly secular regimes, which did not even support traditional values which were cherished by the people. In Turkey, for instance, Ataturk himself forbade the calling of the prayer in the Arabic language. They changed the script of Ottoman Turkish from Arabic script to the Roman script.
So the Muslim world felt that there was a deliberate attempt to create a split in that bond which Muslims had. ... So what happened created a split between Arabs and Turks ... and refigured the map and created new identities of people.
People [had] thought of themselves as part of a group. You had the family, the clan, the tribe and extended notion of a tribe, a people, a nation. So for example the Uzbekis were split geographically. So you have some Uzbekis in Uzbekistan, some in what we call Afghanistan.
The Pashtun people were split: some in Pakistan, some in Afghanistan. The Hazaris were split between Iran and Afghanistan. We tell these people, this segment of Uzbekis, Pashtuns and Hazaris, now think of yourself as a completely new identification based upon geography, which people did not have before. And this seeded conflict. ...
We did the same thing in Iraq, and the Kurds lost out. They are split between Iraq and Turkey. So the West planted the seed for some grave problems in the Muslim world. But at the same time, they robbed the Muslim world in the minds of the Muslims, from a sense of identity that was based upon people, and also a sense of pluralism that existed within the Muslim dialectic. So within, let's say, the Ottoman caliphate, they had a principle of different peoples.
So they had the notion that the sultan had political power over these different people. But these peoples had their different cultural norms, different religions. They had their different religious leaders, as long as political homage was paid to the sultan, and they didn't act in a way which was treasonous politically. They had their own court system, dealing with matters of religious affairs and so forth.
All was part of this of this grouping of people. So we had a method of pluralism which worked, which was successful. And there were instances of intermarriage between the people and so forth, but people lived harmoniously. It created what Samuel Huntington calls "torn societies."... Samuel Huntington describes a torn society as "a society whose leadership, those who hold the reins of the power, identify with a different set of cultural norms than the people on whom they govern."

And what would be the key implications that came of this fracturing, tearing apart, in the way Islam has been lived?

I think the major thing is that Muslims have been taught to think in certain ideas that are peculiarly Western -- the idea of nationalism, the idea of nation states. And in their attempt to fulfill their natural urge to perfect themselves as Muslims individually and collectively, they therefore try to create some peculiar hybrids.
Like the notion of an Islamic state, for instance. Several generations of Muslims now have been educated in ways that their mindset and ways of thinking, if not their language even, is very much Westernized. So they think in terms of Western ideas and concepts, even if they speak their own native languages.
So the urge therefore to develop an Islamic nation-state -- a concept which some people may regard as being an oxymoron, because the nation-state is not something which developed out of the Islamic tradition ... that the Islamic philosophical tradition was based upon identification of grouping of peoples, who had governed themselves according to living in certain ways and structured in a slightly different way. ...

There seems to be a growing conservatism, or conservative interpretation of Islam taking hold. Is that something you have seen, or agree with?
I think that in the 20th century there are certain waves that occurred. There was, at one point in time, a feeling -- in fact, when you go back to the first part of the twentieth century, there were some well-known voices who grew out of Islamic tradition but who were exposed to the West ... who felt the need to restate what it means to be a Muslim in the 20th century. They found many aspects of Western society to be highly admirable, and wanted to bring it to their own countries.
In fact, in the 1920s the Wafd party was founded in Egypt to introduce democracy into Egypt. And the Wafd party had on its platform Egyptians -- not only Egyptian Muslims but Egyptian Jews and Egyptian ... Christians from the Coptic Church on the platform.
So there was an attempt to meld the best of the of the East with the best of the West. These movements ... were interrupted by events of World War II and the rise of militant dictatorial regimes, which completely changed the sociological complexion, the political complexion of much of the Muslim world. During that period of time, I would say 1950s and 1960s, there was a time when these regimes had the upper hand. And they felt that the way to fast-forward as societies, in terms of the industrial development, was to emulate the West in all of its aspects.
Their policies didn't succeed. And this resulted in a reaction to much of these policies, because this newfangled way of doing things didn't work. Let's go back and revisit our traditions, and let's find comfort in those traditions. ...

Could you just explain to us the key things that Islam, Christianity and Judaism have in common -- what they share?

They share geography. They share Jerusalem, which is important to all. We share a common ancestor, Abraham, who was really the founder and the patriarch of all of us. And I think if we can revert back to the Abrahamic foundation, that is [where] we will find our common ground. Our languages are very similar -- Arabic and Hebrew and Aramaic ... . The ideas are very similar; and the fundamental impulse of belief in God, that God is the creator, that we are obliged to act in a way that is ethical and just and right. These are certainly among the important aspects of kinship between these three faith traditions. And I would even go further and say -- apart perhaps from some differences in the notion of God -- but as far as the idea of the common good, the idea of social justice -- [that] is shared with all faith traditions.
Source : Frontline : Muslims

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