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The Qur’ān Holds the Answer
Akbar S. Ahmed


Once again, Islam is controversially in the news. Once again, western hostages have been taken – and lost their lives – in a Muslim land. Once again, certain self-appointed Muslim spokesmen have made inflammatory and incorrect statements on the British television and on the radio – such as Islam practises military training in mosques – which has caused outrage amongst the British. Once again, the British media indulges in Islam-bashing, pointing out the above facts, and the debate about the nature of Islam starts all over again.

The ingredients in the Yemen drama point to the complexity of looking at Islam today. The tribesmen who took the hostages, the bungled operation of the Yemeni authorities which resulted in the deaths, the British Muslims who have now been charged – all point to the complication of the case. And there are dozens of Yemen-like cases waiting to happen in our world today. It could be Bradford or Bombay next.

This is because there is a great anger amongst Muslims. This anger is rooted in several immediate causes: firstly, the widespread feeling that Muslim lives are more worthless than non-Muslim ones and that the west has double standards. Muslims will reel off a list of names where they are subjected to terrible persecution –  Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia and now Kosovo. They will point to President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair as being indifferent to the killings of Muslims and yet prepared to bomb Iraq and further add to the miseries of the ordinary Iraqi there. They will point to the indifference of the governments involved and to the United Nations resolutions that could provide some succour to the Muslims in trouble.

There is also a Muslim anger directed towards their own leaders. Throughout the Muslim world, Muslims look at their leadership and point to its corruption, mismanagement and lack of vision. They point out that leadership in Islam needs to be of the highest standard because the leader is the model in a society. They point out the fact that Washington and London – Clinton and Blair again – very often support third-rate leadership so that they can sell them weapons or obtain some strategic advantage.

Thirdly, British Muslims have notably failed to make a mark as a community. Their youth is largely unemployed and relatively uneducated. There are serious social problems. The racist prejudices against them do not help matters. The youth is growing increasingly alienated in an alien environment and ready to explode at the slightest provocation. This is why many look for a sense of identity and pride by following the more belligerent leaders that have emerged in the last decade.

To make his point an angry young man will obtain a weapon and take a hostage – and the most effective hostage is a western one because that is calculated to make the evening news. The nuance that British Muslim hostages are not quite as worthy – or newsworthy – as white ones has further angered Muslims.

To make matters worse, the great features of Islam – its sense of compassion and tolerance, its sense of balance, its love of knowledge, are missing in the society because of the turbulence of its politics. Its leaders and scholars need to emphasis these features. It is well to recall that knowledge or ‘ilm is the most prized virtue in Islam – indeed ‘ilm is the second most used word in the Qur’ān after God.

We need to keep before us the fact that there are over a billion Muslims in the world today with at least 20-25 million living in the West and that there are over 50 Muslim nations. This means that Islam will continue to be a major factor in world affairs and unless the West is able to understand its compulsions and its features, ‘Islamic’ problems will continue to baffle and anger it.

There are two distinct school of thought in the West when contemplating Islam. One suggests a straight-forward confrontation – indeed well-known professors at the best-known western universities are talking of ‘the clash of civilisations’. The other school of thought suggests discussion, dialogue and understanding. I believe that only the second, if it prevails, will ease the tensions and go some way in resolving the problems that face Muslims both abroad and here in Britain.


(Courtesy “The News”, Lahore)


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