Who Defines Islam?

The struggle for the soul of Muslim youth

Continued from page 1

Those stakes include the outcomes of the "Islamic revival," a range of movements spurred initially by the encounter with Western colonization. across the entire Muslim world of 55 states, stretching from Indonesia to Morocco. To many Americans, Islamic revival evokes the image of angry clerics railing against the West and calling for Islamic states and the imposition of Islamic law. That is a significant part of the story.

But since the 19th century, it has also included major reform movements seeking a "rapprochement between Islamic values and Western values," says Ibrahim Abu-Rabi, co-director of the Center for the Study of Islam at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut. "These movements are still there in a very powerful way."

Former President Abdulrahman Wahid of Indonesia, for example, though an ineffective president, for decades was the renowned leader of a Muslim educational movement that supports pluralism and democracy.

"Islamic reformers can be advocates of women's rights and family planning, or they can be bearded mullahs calling for women to put on scarves and stay home," says Tamara Sonn, of William & Mary College in Williamsburg, Va., a specialist in contemporary Islam. "There is this huge range of approaches."


These movements, arising from differing interpretations of Islam, are vying for influence and credibility, particularly among the young. But their struggles are having to be fought out under the grip of unpopular dictatorships or foreign occupation, and under dire economic straits, she adds.

A majority of the population in many countries is under 25, and often frustrated, jobless, and unable to show their anger against their own governments. In some cases, they see the US propping up regimes; and in others, they see a US indifferent to their sufferings - as among the Palestinian, Afghani, and Iraqi peoples.

Dr. Sonn says, "It's never been more clear how little the American government and people understand the suffering that is going on in the Muslim world."

"If you are a young man and you've been involved in the Palestinian or Afghanistan situation," Ahmed says, "your emotions are high, and you'll want action. That's what the sometimes-illiterate religious leaders offer."

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