February 16, 2004

Is the recent image of Islam based on false notions?

The Charlotte Observer has published a review on the book "FOLLOWING MUHAMMAD: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World" written by Carl W. Ernst. There is a widespread belief that the greatest security threat to the United States is a possible confrontation between the West and Islam.

Ernst believes that almost all Americans lack a clear understanding of the religion that claims more than a billion adherents. He writes that many Americans are bound to a false notion of Islam as a backward, women-oppressing, fanatical, and fundamentalist religion that is responsible for the Middle East-based terrorism with which US is at war.

He claims, "the subject of Islam has become so controversial that some people cannot confront it." In this context, Ernst insists that the US citizens should come to terms with the great variety of Islam as it is practiced across the world.

Arabs represent only about 18 percent of the total Muslim population. More than half of all Muslims live in Pakistan, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, and nearby areas. These peoples, their customs, their culture, their dress, their laws, and the Islam they practice vary from region to region.

He discovers one spot-on reason for the current disdainful state of the middle-east based Islamic countries:

between 1980 and 1999 the nine leading Arab economies registered 370 patents (in the U.S.) for new inventions. Patents are a good measure of a society's education quality, entrepreneurship, rule of law and innovation. During that same 20-year period, South Korea alone registered 16,328 patents for inventions. You don't run into a lot of South Koreans who want to be martyrs.

Quite true, the rise of fundamentalism which had hit distant places like Philippine & Africa stemed from these Arab countries. Because of the affluent oil money, people were not keen on education and self development. The absence of literature & cultural development (quite contrary to their old tradition) has made a vacuum in the understandings and depth of knowledge of the people in these region (with some exception). A certain kind of Islamic nationalism began to grow during this period because of the backwardness of mind. Now they are trying to spread this to all Islamic countries in the world. E.g. Islamic parties had no place in Bangladesh politics till the early eighties before the Ershad govt. rehabilitated them. But with those middle eastern money these parties spread like a virus in this country specially in the nineties.

The review says "Following Muhammad" is an important contribution to an informed understanding of Islam and its place in the modern world. It should be the required reading for those, who are trying to make sense of the challenges of the post 9-11 world.

Everybody should remember that the majority muslim nations are running their own version of war against the threat of fundamentalism and Islami nationalists in their country. People should not neglect this and make all muslim their enemy. Remember, only fundamentalists make religion important then anything else in life.


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