Bush’s apology and Muslim Americans
By Akhtar Mahmud Faruqui, Editor, Pakistan Link
In the present wrenching environment blighting the West-Muslims relations, it was heart-warming to see President Bush furnish fresh proof of characteristic American candor at the White House Rose Garden on May 6. Standing beside King Abdullah II of Jordan, he uttered the magic words with unfeigned regret: “I told him I was sorry for the humiliation suffered by the Iraqi prisoners, and the humiliation suffered by their families. I told him I was equally sorry that people who have been seeing those pictures didn’t understand the true nature and heart of America. I assured him, Americans like me, didn’t appreciate what we saw, that it made us sick to our stomachs.”
Many Muslims who understand the ‘true nature and heart of America’ would readily concede the veracity of the President’s claim. Despite serious misgivings about US foreign policy vis-à-vis Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan, and the WMD search in Iraq, Muslims do not regard the US as a country to despise though they identify the US media as the unquestionable villain in presenting Muslims in an unfavorable light. And besides the media, there are quite a few individuals who disparage Islam with unfailing zest. Remember Bill O’Reilly who equated the Holy Qur’an with Mein Kempf, Reverend Jerry Vines who described Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as a “demon-possessed paedophile,” and Reverend Jerry Falwell who called Islam “a very wicked and evil religion?” Such misleading vitriol has certainly led quite a few Americans astray and has a lot to explain for the ghastly acts of prison abuse committed in the Abu Gharaib prison and Afghanistan. The President’s apology and description of prison abuse as an act of a few rather than the attitudinal pattern of the many in the US Army is indeed reassuring. One hopes that in due course of time Washington would speak with the same degree of candor and fair-mindedness about other issues plaguing the world scene -Kashmir, Palestine, and Chechnya. Religions should not be a divisive force to blur one’s vision and sense of objectivity.
And in making this claim one is reminded of one of the inspirational edicts of Thomas Jefferson. “We have solved, by fair experiment, the great and interesting question whether freedom of religion is compatible with order in government and obedience to the laws. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the comfort which results from leaving every one to profess freely and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason and the serious convictions of his own inquiries.” Current hard times, one hopes, would gradually pass away. The ‘winter of despair’ should make way for a ‘spring of hope.’
This optimism is well founded. “The most astounding and gratifying revelation of my Islamic sojourn is the emergence of overwhelming evidence that a close kinship exists between Christianity and Islam, especially in primary literature,” claims Paul Findley, Congressman for 22 years in his book “Silent No More.” The entrancing country called the US has embraced men of all colors - white, black, yellow and brown - and creeds - Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and atheists. And there appears no logical reason why people belonging to the three Abrahamic faiths and having so much in common should unnecessarily be at loggerheads.
Which brings us to the oft-debated question: Are Islam and the West on a collision course? Professor Ralph Braibanti, an eminent scholar on the faculty of Duke University since 1953, makes the incisive point in his illuminating essay ‘Islam and the West: Common Cause or Clash?’ An excerpt: “The ecumenical decree of Vatican Council II, Nostra Aetate (In Our Times) 1965 was a stunning repudiation of an attitude towards Islam regnant for more than half a millennium. It erased in a few poetically elegant sentences the imagery in Dante’s characterization of Mohammed as seminator di scandalo e di scima. Its newly sensitive appraisal of Islam eclipsed the somewhat less felicitous but more potentially powerful final sentence of paragraph 3: ‘On behalf of all mankind, let them [Muslims and Christians] make common cause of safeguarding and fostering social justice, moral values, peace and freedom [et pro omnibus hominibus justiciam socialem, bona moralia necnon pacem et libertatem communiter tueuntur et promoveant]’
“This is clearly an exhortation to act. The errors of the past were acknowledged, animosities were to be forgotten, and points of agreement between the two religions were portrayed without animus or condescension,” writes the erudite professor.
Nostra Aetate unequivocally spelled out the religious affinity between Muslims and Christians: “Upon the Muslims, too, the Church looks with esteem [respicit]. They adore [adorant] one God, living and enduring, merciful and all-powerful, Maker of Heaven and earth and Speaker to men. They strive to submit wholeheartedly even to His inscrutable decrees, just as did Abraham, with whom the Islamic faith is pleased to associate itself. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere [venerantur] him as prophet. They also honor [honorant] Mary, his virgin mother; at times they call on her, too, with devotion. In addition they await the day of judgment when God will give each man his due after raising him up… Although in the course of the centuries many quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Muslims, this most sacred Synod urges all to forget the past and to strive sincerely for mutual understanding. On behalf of all mankind, let them make common cause of safeguarding and fostering social justice, moral values, peace and freedom.”
Viewed in this context, the visit of Pope John Paul to the Ommayad Mosque in Damascus on May 6, 2001, was an event of singular importance. The Pontiff said it was time to open a new chapter in relations with the Muslims. “For all the times that Muslims and Christians have offended one another, we need to seek forgiveness from the Almighty and to offer each other forgiveness…Better understanding will surely lead to a new way of presenting our two religions, not in opposition as has happened too often in the past, but in partnership for the good of the human family,” he rightly said.
The partnership or the ‘way forward’, as well-known scholar Prof Akbar Ahmed calls, is achievable by way of initiating a dialogue between the two civilizations - the West and the Muslim world. Conciliation, not confrontation, would yield tangible results. The West should be seized of the fact that it too is obliged to build ‘bridges of understanding’ with the Muslim world. It must evolve a long-term strategy to interact with the Ummah, a strategy that should not be driven by interests of the corporate world or the multinationals, trading empires in their own right.
“The West needs to respond to the Muslim world firstly by listening to what Muslims are saying and secondly by trying to understand Islam. With some patience and understanding the general desire to assist the Muslim world will take shape…The West must send serious signals to the ordinary Muslim people - via the media, through seminars, conferences, meetings - that it does not consider Islam to be the enemy, however much it may disagree with certain aspects of Muslim behavior,” says Dr Ahmed.
George Sarton’s monumental work delineating the history of sciences testifies to the rich contribution of Muslims to various disciplines. Not surprisingly, many Western historians concede ungrudgingly that the roots of the Western Civilization lie in the Islamic Civilization.
What is more, in the United States today the seven million Muslims inhabiting the country have made their mark in various fields. Compared to an average American, Muslim Americans are better educated: 58 percent Muslims are college graduates. They have an yearly income of $ 50,000 and have made successful inroads in four fields: religion (there are more than 2,000 Islamic centers and mosques in the US), education, ethnic media and public advocacy.
According to Paul Findley (Silent No More), Muslims have remarkable attainments in higher education. Ba-Yunus summarizes an unpublished study showing that employed Muslims in the twenty-to-forty age group averaged three years of college - two years more than the national average. The middle and upper brackets with a maiden of $ 39,700 strikingly high for a group that includes many recent immigrants.
US Muslims are prominent in engineering, business administration, medicine, finance, accounting, electronics, science and education, as well as retail establishments. Egyptian-born Ahmed Zewail, 53, a professor at the California Institute of Technology in Los Angeles, received the 1999 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his development of a high speed camera that can monitor chemical reactions at one quadrillionth of a second and record the motion of atoms... Chief executive officers of major industries who are Muslims include Safi Qureshey of AST Computers, Ray Irani of Occidental Petroleum, and Farooq Kathwari of Ethen Allen Furniture Company. Among Muslim notables are six professors and internationally acclaimed political scientists.
Prior to September 11, Muslim Americans were on the march. They must recapture their momentum with renewed zest. There is a cryptic message for them in an observation of George Washington: “True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation”.
Pakistan Link - May 28, 2004