The EU

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Do We Know Islam?

From time to time the question of the Long War seems to involve the role of Islam.  In the United States we tend to see a monolithic view of Islam.  An ongoing on-line discussion of the gathering this last Friday of Muslims on the Mall in Washington, DC, elicited this response from one group member. I think that the writer raises some good questions for the rest of us to ponder.

The fact is, that unless we ban the Muslim faith in our nation (a move I would oppose, as would the US Supreme Court, I would expect), we will find ourselves rubbing up against Muslims in our everyday life.  Learning about our Muslim neighbors will be useful to us and good for our Democracy.

So, on to one of the on-line discussants:
The Deobandi school of Islam—which represents over 100 million South Asians, and which is the well of doctrine from which the Taliban draws its more extreme views—formally renounced terrorism in the summer of 2008, after long and intensive discussions with a whole range of experts and religious figures.

Did anyone know?  Does anyone care?  How well do we—despite our obvious interests in this issue—know what is going on in the Islamic faith?  Exactly what signs are we looking for from a faith tradition with a substantially different approach to hierarchy and leadership than our own?

Isn't this move by the Deobandi school evidence of a fundamental commitment to combat terrorism, and an example of exactly what we want to see?  So why isn't this something we constantly note as evidence that things are changing for the better?

To put this in contrast, probably quite a few of us have some position on the crisis in the Episcopalian and Anglican churches surrounding sexuality and the ministry.  These bodies probably represent a significant element of Protestantism and, in fact, Christianity as a whole.

So if we're aware of this Christian issue, but not aware of an enormous school of Islamic thought that has taken a position that strongly supports our own in the war on terror, what exactly does that tell us about our familiarity with current political thought in the Ummah?  This is an n of 1, but it suggests to me that there's probably a hell of a lot I don't know about what is going on elsewhere.  To make it an n of 2, we might want to look at the efforts of Saudi clergy (not known for their ecumenical slant) to deprogram Al Qaeda foot soldiers and commanders, using Islam as the basis for condemning past activities.  There may be other rich veins to mine—I do not know, but presumably there are experts out there who are much more familiar with the workings of the Islamic tradition, the various schools, and the relationships between clergy, state, and people.
Just food for thought.

Regards  —  Cliff

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