Reflections from East Asia

In East Asia, 'Arab Islam' and moderate Islam are clashing. In India, orthodox thinking is flourishing--and that's a good thing.

BY: Akbar Ahmed


Continued from page 2



The number one role model for Muslims

Amman, Jordan, March 7, 2006


Muslims' Role Model
Everywhere we go, we ask Muslims questions about who their role models are, from contemporary life and the past.  From contemporary life, the answers vary. For example, here in Jordan they may say, “The king is our role model.” In Syria they may say, “The president of Syria is our role model.”


But from the past, every Muslim--whether he’s a mufti, a sheikh, or a secular Muslim--will say that their number one inspirational person is the Prophet of Islam. And I would say that answer was almost 100 percent. Now what does this mean for American policymakers?

It means that if you want to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world, which is what America is trying to do--and spending a lot of money trying to do--and you disrespect that person, then Muslims will not be happy. (So consider this when you wonder at the veracity of anger Muslims have for the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.)

Whatever logic is argued (about the freedom to spoof the Prophet), a lot of Muslims simply will be mad. These are conclusions that hopefully will benefit those people who want to know what to do about dealing with Muslims. Of course the U.S. had no involvement with this controversy, but it still is a good lesson to remember when we want to understand Muslims and what they hold important.


Giving the Friday Sermon in Damascus

Amman, Jordan, March 7, 2006


Friday's Sermon in Damascus
In Damascus, I was asked to speak at the Mosque Zahra. One of the very prominent religious scholars of Damascus asked me to give a khutba (Friday sermon) to more than 5,000 people.


So before I give the khutba, I must consider that there’s a lot of anti-American feeling. You can’t conceal that. So, bearing that in mind, I say, “America is just like Islam. You can’t consider it a monolith. Just like if Americans are looking at Islam like a monolith--that’s not correct. Americans consist of very, very different kinds of communities and people.”


Then I gave the examples of Bishop John Chane of the National Cathedral in Washington and Senior Rabbi Bruce Lustig of Washington Hebrew Congregation--these are two great friends of mine. Together, we are involved in having a dialogue. These two wonderful gentlemen have truly reached out to the Muslim community. I gave the example of Professor Judea Pearl, the father of Danny Pearl, and the dialogue we’re having. I said these are extraordinary Americans who are reaching out, just when you think the whole of America is on the warpath against Islam.


Yes, policies can change; foreign policies must alter. But these are warm, wonderful people, and we need to understand that there are people who are prepared to have a dialogue and build friendship a across these gaps.


And I must say, speaking of the dialogue works every time. Remember, we are wedged in right now in the Middle East, where on one side we’ve got the Palestinian ongoing crisis as they lock horns with Israel. People feel very strongly about that. On the other side you’ve got Iraq in a complete mess, and people feel very strongly about that. So in that context, to simply be able to talk about dialogue and to refer to Bishop John Chane and Rabbi Lustig and Judea Pearl is a huge, huge leap of imagination.


Anti-Americanism and Mistrust

Amman, Jordan, March 7, 2006


Americans have no idea how strong the anti-American sentiment is in the Arab world. For example, no one believes here that the mosques in Iraq were blown up by Muslims. Because they say no Muslim would blow up another Muslim’s mosque, whether Shi’a or Sunni--and certainly not a mosque which has stood for a 1,000 years and which housed the remains of a descendent of the Prophet. Even when all the ferocious conquerors came to that part of the world, that mosque was never damaged. And suddenly it has been blown up. There’s a lot of anger, a lot of resentment


And then take the example of our trip to Turkey. Turkey has been one of the strongest allies of the United States of America, a regular strong supporter. But the anti-Americanism in Turkey is like a runaway train. It is so sharp that the only place we felt uncomfortable was in Turkey. Here in Jordan, and other stops we’ve had in Arab countries have been much better. Anti-Americanism is very strong in the Arab-Muslim world as well, but still they are willing to listen to us and I felt a sense of hope. In Turkey it was different.

Right now the number one film in Turkey is “The Valley of the Wolves Iraq.”  The film is about a Turkish Rambo who’s on the rampage and takes on the American soldiers in Iraq. The soldiers are shown as evil villains. That’s the kind of backdrop that we are trying to understand for our project.



The Antidote for Anti-Americanism
But Muslims are responding to us. Hope is not lost. In Jordan I was invited to give a talk at the Royal Institute of Interfaith Affairs, and 200 of the elite turned up. When I talked of Bishop Chane and Jean Case of the Case Foundation and Judea Pearl and their support for me, one of them got up and said, “Why are you praising Judea Pearl? He lost a son, but what about the hundreds of thousands of Muslims who have died?”


To them I replied by asking Frankie and Hailey to stand up and show themselves. I said, “This is your answer. This is the face of America I would like you to see. It’s a positive, friendly, intelligent face. These youngsters are here of their on volition to reach out and understand you better. The message they want to bring back home is of better understanding, and of respect for the Muslim world. Because above all, I’m sensing that there is a sense of loss of honor, loss of respect, loss of dignity for Muslims, that America is not giving them that.


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