Friday, September 12, 2008

Who speaks for Islam: Part I

I found this series of interesting articles, published by Gulfnews, on The Emirates Economist's blog and thought they are worth sharing and republishing for reference as the Gulfnews isn't known for archiving it articles. I have highlighted some aspects of the article that I thought stood out in blue.

Original Link

09/11/2008 10:50 PM | By John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed

In this five-part series, carried every Friday during Ramadan, Gulf News publishes excerpts from the fascinating conclusions of the largest ever opinion survey of the world's Muslims, carried out by Gallup. Who speaks for Islam by John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed was published by Gallup Press.

What do the world's one billion Muslims really think? What does the silent majority of Muslims want for their lives, and in their politics? Why are the aspirations of the vast majority of Muslims in direct contrast to most of the world's impressions of Muslims?

Islam's silenced majority

New book makes a case for democratising the debate about 9/11 and its after-effects.

What many saw as an ongoing conflict between the United States and parts of the Muslim world intensified dramatically after the horrific events of 9/11. Violence has grown exponentially as Muslims and non-Muslims alike continue to be victims of global terrorism. Terrorist attacks have occurred from Morocco to Indonesia and from Madrid to London, and wars in Afghanis-tan and Iraq rage on. War and terrorism have claimed hundreds of thousands of lives since 9/11, the vast majority of victims being civilians.

As we cope with savage actions in a world that seems ever more dangerous and out of control, we are inundated with analysis from terrorism experts and pundits who blame the religion of Islam for global terrorism. At the same time, terrorist groups such as Al Qaida beam messages throughout the world that demonise the West as the enemy of Islam and hold it responsible for all the ills of the Muslim world.

Amid the rhetoric of hate and growing violence, manifest in both anti-Americanism in the Muslim world and in Islamophobia in the West, discrimination against, or hostility toward, Islam or Muslims has massively increased. In the aftermath of 9/11, President George W. Bush emphasised that America was waging a war against terrorism, not against Islam. However, the continued acts of a terrorist minority, statements by preachers of hate (Muslim and Christian alike), anti-Muslim and anti-West talk show hosts, and political commentators have inflamed emotions and distorted views.

Negative perceptions

The religion of Islam and the mainstream Muslim majority have been conflated with the beliefs and actions of an extremist minority. For example, a 2006 USA Today/Gallup poll found that substantial minorities of Americans admit to harbouring at least some prejudice against Muslims and favouring heightened security measures for Muslims as a way to help prevent terrorism. The same poll found 44 per cent of Americans saying that Muslims are too extreme in their religious beliefs.

Nearly one-quarter of Americans, 22 per cent, say they would not want a Muslim as a neighbour; less than half believe US Muslims are loyal to the United States.

Are the negative perceptions and growing violence on all sides only a prelude to an inevitable all-out war between the West and 1.3 billion Muslims? The vital missing piece among the many voices weighing in on this question is the actual views of everyday Muslims. With all that is at stake for the West and Muslim societies - indeed for the world's future - it is time to democratise the debate.

Who Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think is about this silenced majority. This book is the product of a mammoth, multi-year Gallup research study. Between 2001 and 2007, Gallup conducted tens of thousands of face-to-face interviews with residents of more than 35 nations that are predominantly Muslim or have substantial Muslim populations. The sample represents residents young and old, educated and illiterate, female and male, and from urban and rural settings. With the random sampling method that Gallup used, results are statistically valid within a plus or minus 3-point margin of error. In totality, a sample representing more than 90 per cent of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims was surveyed, making this the most comprehensive study of contemporary Muslims ever done.

Surprising conclusions

The study revealed far more than what could possibly be covered in one book. The most significant, and at times, surprising conclusions have been listed below.

Here are just some of those counter-intuitive discoveries:

- Who speaks for the West?: Muslims around the world do not see the West as monolithic. They criticise or celebrate countries based on their politics, not based on their culture or religion.

- Dream jobs: When asked to describe their dreams for the future, Muslims don't mention fighting in a jihad, but rather getting a better job.

- Radical rejection: Muslims and Americans are equally likely to reject attacks on civilians as morally unjustified.

- Religious moderates: Those who condone acts of terrorism are a minority and are no more likely to be religious than the rest of the population.

- Admiration of the West: What Muslims around the world say they most admire about the West is its technology and its democracy — the same two top responses given by Americans when asked the same question.

- Critique of the West: What Muslims around the world say they least admire about the West is its perceived moral decay and breakdown of traditional values — the same responses given by Americans when posed the same question.

- Gender justice: Muslim women want equal rights and religion in their societies.

- R.E.S.P.E.C.T.: Muslims around the world say that the one thing the West can do to improve relations with their societies is to moderate their views toward Muslims and respect Islam.

- Clerics and constitutions: The majority of those surveyed want religious leaders to have no direct role in crafting a constitution, yet favour religious law as a source of legislation.


Global view: Does one size fit all?

While many people commonly speak of Islam and Muslims in broad, all-encompassing terms, there are many interpretations of Islam and many different Muslims.

Muslims come from diverse nationalities, ethnic and tribal groups, and cultures; speak many languages; and practice distinct customs. The majority of the world's Muslims live in Asia and Africa, not the Arab world. Only about one in five of the world's Muslims are Arabs.

The largest Muslim communities are in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Nigeria rather than Saudi Arabia, Egypt, or Iran. And millions of Muslims live in Europe, the United States, and Canada, where they represent the second and third largest religion (second largest in Europe and Canada and third largest in the United States).

Because of globalisation and emigration, today the major cities where Muslims live are not only exotic-sounding places such as Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad, Makkah, Islamabad, and Kuala Lumpur, but also London, Paris, Marseilles, Brussels, New York, Detroit, and Los Angeles.

Religiously, culturally, economically, and politically, there are multiple images and realities of Islam and of Muslims.

Religiously, Muslims are Sunni (85%), who are the majority in most Muslim countries, or Shia (15%) who are a majority in Iran.

Further adding to the diversity, Shia Islam later split into three main divisions: the Zaydis, the Ismailis, whose leader today is the Harvard-educated Aga Khan; and the Ithna Ashari, who are majorities in Iran and Iraq.

Different theologies

Like other religions, Islam also has different, and sometimes contending, theologies, law schools, and Sufi (mystic) orders. Finally, Muslims, whether Sunni or Shia, can be observant or non-observant, conservative, fundamentalist, reformist, secular, mainstream, or religious extremist.

The world's 1.3 billion Muslims live in some 57 countries with substantial or majority Muslim populations in Europe, North America, and across the world.

Major Muslim communities today are not only in Dakar, Khartoum, Cairo, Damascus, Riyadh, Tehran, Islamabad, and Kuala Lumpur, but also in London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, New York, and Washington, D.C. Muslims speak not only Arabic, but also Persian, Turkish, Urdu, Swahili, Bahasa Indonesia, and Chinese, as well as English, French, German, Danish and Spanish.

Muslim women's dress, educational and professional opportunities, and participation in society vary significantly too.

Women in some Muslim societies cannot drive cars and are sexually segregated, but women in many other parts of the Muslim world drive cars, ride motorcycles, and even fly planes.

Some Muslim women are required by law to fully cover themselves in public, while others are prohibited from displaying the Muslim headscarf.

A growing number of Muslim women are choosing to cover their heads, while others do not.

Women majority

In the United Arab Emirates and Iran, women make up the majority of university students.

In other parts of the world, women lag behind men in even basic literacy.

Women serve in government in parliaments and cabinets and have headed governments in Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia, while in other Muslim countries, women are struggling for the right to vote and run for office.

Muslim women may wear a sari, pantsuit, blue jeans, dress, or skirt, just as Muslim men may wear long flowing robes, blue jeans, pullover sweaters, or three-piece business suits and may be bearded or clean-shaven.

Perhaps the most striking examples of diversity in the Muslim world are in economic and political development.

Economically, the oil-rich and rapidly developing Gulf states such as Qatar, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia are worlds apart from poor, struggling, underdeveloped countries such as Mali and Yemen.

And politically, Islamic governments in Iran, Sudan and the Taliban's Afghanistan stand in sharp contrast with the more secular-oriented governments of Egypt, Syria, Turkey and Indonesia.

In Turkey, Algeria, Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait, Yemen, Pakistan, and Malaysia, Islamic activists have emerged as an "alternative elite" in mainstream society. Members or former members of Islamic organisations have been elected to parliaments and served in cabinets and as prime ministers and presidents of countries such as Turkey, Kuwait, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Sudan, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Islamic associations

Islamic associations provide social services and inexpensive and efficient educational, legal, and medical services in the slums and many lower middle-class neighbourhoods of Cairo, Algiers, Beirut, Mindanao, the West Bank, and Gaza.

All the while, and in stark contrast, some militant groups have terrorised Muslim societies in the name of Islam; attacked New York's World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. in the US and set off bombs in Madrid, Spain and London in the UK.

They reflect a radicalism that threatens the Muslim and Western worlds.

The vast diversity of Islam and of mainstream moderate Muslims has been overshadowed and obscured by a deadly minority of political (or ideological) extremists.

In a monolithic "us" and "them" world, Islam - not just Muslims who are radical - is seen as a threat, and those who believe in an impending clash of civilisations are not only the Bin Ladens of the world, but also many of us.


One God and many prophets: Basic beliefs

Islam means "a strong commitment to God" and shares the same Arabic root as the word for peace, or salaam. Jesus' mother, Mary, is mentioned by name more times in the Quran than in the New Testament.

Because faith is central to the lives of so many Muslims around the world, a basic understanding of Islam is necessary to fully grasp much of what is to follow. This section, which discusses the basic tenets of Islam, will be particularly useful to readers who are less familiar, or not familiar at all, with Islam.

Islam means "a strong commitment to God" and shares the same Arabic root as the word for peace, or salaam.

Some Muslim theologians define Islam as attaining peace through commitment to God's will.


This general definition is significant because Muslims regard anyone who meets these criteria at any time in history to have been a "Muslim". And therefore, the first Muslim was not the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), but Adam, the first man and prophet of God. Islam asserts that all nations were sent prophets and apostles (Quran 35:24) who all taught the same basic message of belief in one unique God, and in this regard, all the prophets are believed to have been "Muslims."

"We believe in God and what has been revealed to us; in what was revealed to Abraham and Esmail, to Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and in what was given to Moses and Jesus and the prophets from their Lord. We do not make a distinction between any of them [the prophets]. For we submit to God." (Quran 3:84).

Like Jesus and Moses, the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) (AD570-632) was born and taught his message in the Middle East, where Islam quickly spread.

Muslims worship the God of Abraham as do Christians and Jews.

Rather than a new religion, Muslims believe Islam is a continuation of the Abrahamic tradition. Thus, just as it is widely acknowledged that the current meaning of Judeo-Christian tradition was forged during World War II, today there is growing recognition of the existence of a Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, embracing all the children of Abraham.

Muslims recognise the biblical prophets and God's revelation to Moses (Torah) and Jesus (Gospels).

Indeed, Mousa (Moses), Eisa (Jesus), and Maryam (Mary) are common Muslim names.

Jews, Christians and Muslims trace their biblical lineage to Abraham. Muslims learn many of the same Old and New Testament stories and figures that Jews and Christians study (Adam and Eve, Noah's Ark, the Ten Commandments, David and Solomon, Mary and Jesus), sometimes with differing interpretations.

For example, in the Quran, Adam and Eve disobey God and eat the apple together, and this disobedience does not impose "original sin" on future generations.

Also, Jesus' mother, Mary, is mentioned by name more times in the Quran than in the New Testament. The Quran describes Mary's virgin birth of Jesus, who is venerated as one of the great prophets in Islam but not considered divine. According to the Quran, diversity in belief, cultures, and traditions is part of God's intended creation and a sign of his wisdom:

"If God had so willed, He could surely have made you all one single community: but [He willed it otherwise] in order to test you by means of what He has given you. Race one another then in doing good works!" (Quran 5:48).

"Among His signs is the creation of the Heavens and the Earth, and the diversity of your languages and colours. Surely there are signs for those who reflect." (Quran 30:22).

Egalitarian ideals

"O humankind, We have created you male and female, and made you nations and tribes for you to get to know one another. Indeed, the noblest of you in the sight of God is the one who is most deeply conscious of Him. Behold, God is all-knowing, all-aware." (Quran 49:13).

Though no society is free from racial prejudice, Muslims take great pride in what they regard as Islam's egalitarian ideals.

For example, a Moroccan World Poll respondent says what he admires most about the Muslim world is Islam's message of racial equality. "I have a high regard for Islam's values and teachings and the non-racial attitudes of Muslim people." The Quran emphasises the unity of believers around a shared faith, regardless of ethnicity or tribe.

What are the core Muslim beliefs that unite this diverse, worldwide population? As Christians look to Jesus and the New Testament and Jews to Moses and the Torah, Muslims regard the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and the Quran, God's messenger and message, as the final, perfect, and complete revelation.

And, because of the remarkable success of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and the early Muslim community in spreading Islam and its rule, Sunni Muslims look to an ideal portrait of "the first generation" of Muslims (called the companions of the Prophet) as their model - a common reference point by which to measure, judge, and reform society.

Key Points

- The many languages, customs, and ethnicities of the Muslim world illustrate its vast diversity. There are 57 countries around the world that are majority Muslim or have significant Muslim minorities — Arabs make up only roughly 20% of the global Muslim population.

- Faith and family are core values in Muslims' lives, and Muslims regard them as their societies' greatest assets.

- Muslims, like Christians and Jews, believe in the God of Ebrahim and recognise biblical prophets such as Ebrahim, Moses, and Jesus.

- Jihad has many meanings. It is a "struggle for God", which includes a struggle of the soul as well as the sword. The Islamic war ethic prohibits attacking civilians.