Thursday, June 23, 2005

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So how is moderate Islam doing?

Two years ago, then-Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohammed gave a controversial talk at the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The gist of it was, "We Muslims must embrace modernization -- so we can crush the Jews."

Two years later, current Malaysian PM Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is preaching the first, less offensive part of that message. The New York Times' Wayne Arnold explains:

In the Malaysian capital, the government is using the 30th meeting of the OIC's Islamic Development Bank to push an agenda that would give the organization a more direct role in economic integration and development.

"It is economic strength which can give the OIC greater clout and secure for itself a more influential voice in international affairs," Abdullah told delegates to a two-day OIC trade forum.

Among Malaysia's proposals are the creation of an $11 billion infrastructure fund, a master plan for developing financial services in the Muslim world and the creation of a pan-Islamic trading bloc. If approved, Malaysia's initiatives could mark an important juncture in the life of the OIC, whose members, ranging from oil-rich Qatar to war-devastated Sierra Leone, have little in common but religious faith.

In some ways, Malaysia appears to want the OIC to make the same transition that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations made a generation ago, shifting from an organization based on shared diplomatic interests into an agent for promoting development through trade and investment....

Abdullah has the kind of credentials to sell such a progressive message in the Islamic world, analysts and observers say. His father and grandfather were religious leaders, and Abdullah holds a degree in Islamic studies. Just as important, analysts say, Abdullah wants to sell a more pro-development version of Islam in the West.

"He's very strong about communicating Islam to the West in a way that is understood, because it is really being misunderstood at the moment," said Jumaatun Azmi, managing director of Kasehdia, which publishes The Halal Journal, a trade publication for companies selling products that adhere to Islamic strictures.

Whether Abdullah is a Nixon going to China or a Mahathir in sheep's clothing is a question I will leave to the comments.... once they've digested those inelegant metaphors.

posted by Dan on 06.23.05 at 05:41 AM


While Abdulla is far more polished than Mahathir, his other views & statements, made in Malaysia, show that he is no different.

posted by: NYgirl on 06.23.05 at 05:41 AM [permalink]

A lot of Mahathir's posturing was for local consumption -- typical behavior for leaders of smaller counties: When you're in trouble at home, bash the USA. (Our State Department should work actively to discourage this, but that's OT.) And, since their independence from Britain in 1957, Malaysia has had a tradition of hanging on to their PMs a little too long. Mahathir was no exception.

Maybe the USA is interested in the issue of "moderate Islam," but as Tip O'Neill said, "All politics is local." If Abdullah is taking a more moderate line, it's because he thinks a more moderate line will sell at home. The Malay (Muslim) moderates are city dwellers; and Kuala Lumpur is becoming a more sophisticated urban area, and more populous, each year. This has to be a primary motivator for the new PM.

posted by: Scott Ferguson on 06.23.05 at 05:41 AM [permalink]

As long as the focus of Islamic countries is the defense of Islam, Arab governments will exercise disproportionate influence in the Muslim world.

Anything that tends to focus the attention of these governments on other issues -- trade, economic development, the public health issues alluded to in Dan's last post, regional geopolitics -- will tend also to reduce the relevance of the keepers of the holy places, and should be welcomed even if it comes with a certain amount of distasteful baggage. To progress in these areas the United States can often make substantial contributions, while the Arab states have little to contribute at all.

We are always being accused of trying to "divide Muslims." We have every reason to try to do exactly that.

posted by: Zathras on 06.23.05 at 05:41 AM [permalink]


And they are always accused of trying to divide the Christians. Which they do. Carry on Bulgeoning. We let us go forth, for the millionth time and crush the heretics who wrongly claim the legacy of Abraham.

posted by: exclab on 06.23.05 at 05:41 AM [permalink]

Wonder what the Muslims will be up to once they crush the Jews? They've always had a jolly old time beating on each other when they weren't thinking about the Jews. Somehow they just seem to be about crushing someone else, which just doesn't jive with the "Islam is peace" idea.

posted by: Ernie Oporto on 06.23.05 at 05:41 AM [permalink]

You could say the same about christianity. Now there's a faith that has a long history of crushing other people.

Incidentally, the islamic-jewish conflict is a relatively modern development.

posted by: peter on 06.23.05 at 05:41 AM [permalink]

Nice blog :)

posted by: Joy on 06.23.05 at 05:41 AM [permalink]

In a related matter, Dan, how come no post on Iran ???

For our take on the matter, please check out:

"What’s the Matter with Khorasan? Iranians as Manipulated as Americans"

It's at:


posted by: Grok Your on 06.23.05 at 05:41 AM [permalink]

It is rather sad to see Islam painted with such a broad paint brush. I have lived in Saudi Arabia and in Indonesia and have traveled in Bahrain and Egypt. I can tell you that NO TWO Islamic nations are alike. Indonesia and Malaysia are vastly different in their Islamic interpretations then Saudi Arabia for the most part. There has been a very strong push by Saudi followers of Ibn Tammiyah and Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, to suppress and delegitimize Sufism (the more intellectual, mystical sect of Islam)using highly simplistic emotion based interpretations of the Qu'ran that are lacking of any historical context and which blatantly ignore many hadiths (sayings and histories of their Prophet Mohammed)as well as secular historical documents such as peace treaties between the early Muslims and Christians such as the one that survives in St. Catherines Monastery at Mount Sinai, Egypt. That church today is still regarded as sacred ground by Muslims and has not been touched in the wars between Israel and Egypt over the decades due to the protected status Mohammed placed upon it and the Christians of that region. The terms of the treaty are in fact quite tolerant and non-oppressive towards Christians. That is just one example.

However, trying to encourage fighting between Islamic sects is not what we should be doing but rather simply fighting against Islamic extremists by supporting the Sufi sects that have a long history of practicing and encouraging peace and tolerance with non-Muslims and in general, practicing a much more authentic “Sunnah”. Through out Islamic history, Sufi’s have generally been the missionaries of the religion and very successful at it.

Their are some western academics who have claimed that Islam represents a vast conspiracy of global domination. As someone who has lived amongst Muslims I find that view extremely ignorant as the average devout Muslim does not care or think about global domination but rather in simply being a good Muslim by practicing the pillars of Islam, taking care of his/her family, and just trying to be a productive member of his/her community and a good citizen of their country.

However, there are indeed fanatics that do preach rhetoric of global domination and "crushing the Jews" but they are few and far between. But before going on, I must ask, did the ex-Malaysian PM Mahathir ever use the words "crush the Jews"? I do remember him making some rather stupid comments about Jews ruling the world and the need to fight against that, but I don't remember him calling for economic or military Jihad against them.
Nevertheless, fanatics can not be ignored. The question is how do you combat fanatics? Military action just seems to add fuel to their causes and new recruits to their organizations. Short of ethnic cleansing and genocide, I see military oppression as being a very short-term manner of dealing with Islamic extremists.

I have found that the most effective way to stop fanatics is to use their own religion against them. Most of their arguements are founded upon extremely poor Islamic theology and are very easy to counter. They follow a warped sense of "Sunnah" (following the example of the Prophet Mohammed) based on literal interpretation rather then instead following the traditional teachings of Sunnah that take into account that their prophet was special and that not all that he did was meant for others to also do.

Furthermore fanatics often grossly misinterpret classical Arabic of that time period in which meanings changed. An example is the word for friend. There is verse in the Qu'ran stating for Muslims not to take Jews and Christians as friends. But in fact the word for friends is more authentically translated as "teachers". This can be proven academically by using other Arabic texts from that time period in which the word is used as "teacher" according to its context (according to Islamic scholar David Dakake).

This is just one tiny example of ways to combat Islamic extremism. However it requires very in depth study of Islamic theology and Islamic history from a wide variety of sources as well as an awareness of the complex "science of the Hadiths" (system of Hadith verification) as well as the complex politics between the Sunni and Shi'a split and where their hadiths are different and why. However fortunately the Shi'a have their own form of unofficial Suffism. But also they have their own forms of fundamentalist and "NEW" brands of Islam based upon modern interpretations of their Ayatollahs that can be very dangerous and deceiving.
So is Islam always a perfectly harmless religioun of peace and harmony? No. It is not a totally pacifist religion and never has been. But it also is not anti-war and does not overtly call for world domination unless you take an extremist interpretation of verses out of context of adjacent verses in the Qu'ran and ignore hadiths and Islamic history.

I highly recommend to those of you interested in this topic to first read Serge Trifkovic's book "Sword of the Prophet". It is a damning critique of Islam and is one of the few critiques that actually involves at least a little bit of actual scholarly research. Then however read "Islam, Fundamentalism, and the Betryal of Tradition" edited by Joseph E. B. Lumbard. This is a compiliation of writings by Western Muslim scholars who are Muslim themselves and all of whom are highly educated in Islamic theology and history, as well as in secular fields of academia. In this book, they take apart bit by bit, the ideologies and interpretations of Islamic militants like Al-Qaeda as well as the arguments put forth by western critics like Trifkovic.

I think most will find that the last book offers much more in depth analysis and much more valid arguements to the accusations and fundamentalist interpretations that Trifkovic uses in his book.
For certain Lumbard's book is VASTLY better then the crap put out by Robert Spencer (who sadly is regarded as a so called “Islamic and Middle East Expert”. His ranting is all over the internet and is based on EXTREMELY poor research and serious bias. The only reason it is popular is because it justifies the beliefs of Christian and Jewish fundamentalists and is very easy to read without much serious thinking.
At least to Trifkovic's credit, his book makes some fairly decent efforts to back up his allegations *sometimes*. Even Trifkovic makes some poor assumptions that he should have known better then to have made and he does show quite a bit of bias as well.

At any rate, I highly recommend Lumbard's and Trifkovic's book as well as doing your own research into Islam and even more importantly, getting to know Muslims in your own communities. It’s as simple as stopping by your local mosque and just talking to people there. After awhile, you'll probably end up getting invited to someone's house for a Qu'ran study just as you would get invited to a bible study by hanging around a Baptist church for example as both religions are eager to convert people.
As long as you don’t sit there and attack their religion and just listen to them and hang out with them, usually you’ll get a pretty good idea of what they’re like. But also be aware of fundamentalists in the mosques as well. There are many of them in American mosques as mosques here are filled with Wahabi/Salefi literature due to the millions of dollars Saudi Arabia puts into supporting their brand of Islamic fundamentalism all over the world. I recommend hanging out with Turkish Muslims if you can find any. Most of them are more Sufi oriented, however even they are not the be all and end all of Islamic interpretation. But the Turkish brand of Sufism (such as the teachings of Fethullah Gulen and Said Nursi) is a good and easy way to get into studying Islam before getting into more controversial areas of Islam and Shariat Law. Hanging out with a bunch of fundamentalist Saudis or Salafi Kuwaitis is probably not the best idea for example. Its like saying that the best way of learning Christian theology is by hanging out with a bunch of conservative Southern Baptists. It will teach you about their brand of Christianity for certain, but it will not allow you to make any broad conclusions about Christianity or Christians in general. If so, they would be very misinformed conclusions.

Finally, in conclusion… this whole area of fighting fundamentalism is I believe sorely lack in our War On Terror. If our government was to create a department designed to create Islamic based counter-propaganda to the massive amounts of Al-Qaeda propaganda on the internet, we would probably have MUCH more success in fighting terrorism. If there is one good thing about an Islamic religious fundamentalist, it is that if you can show them that their beliefs GO AGAINST their own religion conclusively and put them in danger of being a hypocrite, they generally WILL change their beliefs. Yemeni judge Hammoud Al-Hitar has reportedly been successful in reforming and releasing over 180 terrorists not directly linked to any violent crimes. To date, none have been re-arrested. Here is a link to a good article about him:

There are many more articles about him as well on the internet.

posted by: Miles Teg on 06.23.05 at 05:41 AM [permalink]

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