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Struggling for the soul of Islam

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    Struggling for the soul of Islam

    I'll say I enjoyed reading this. Very thought provoking, yet not exactly accurate.

    By H.D.S. Greenway, 3/1/2002

    NOW-NOTHINGS, such as Pat Robertson, have been saying that Islam is a dangerous and violent religion that cannot coexist with others, and many Americans have been asking:

    Where are the voices within Islam who argue to the contrary?

    Two such voices were heard last month at the World Economic Forum in New York. Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohammed of Malaysia, often a strong critic of the West and its values, rose to the podium to say: ''Islam is a religion of peace and moderation. If it does not appear to be so today, it is not because of the teachings of Islam,'' but because of wrong interpretations.

    Religious authorities and scholars - the ''ulamas'' of old - were not the ''political ulamas'' of today who ''misinterpret and distort Islam in order to legitimize their political creed. A favorite one is that only ulamas may rule a country, democracy notwithstanding,'' he said.

    ''Today's Muslims are generally backward in most fields of learning. They are also not knowledgeable in Islam,'' the prime minister continued. ''Every time an attempt is made to bring Muslim nations to the development levels of non-Muslim countries, Muslim groups would emerge demanding a `return to Islam.' These groups are usually violent and often declare `holy war' against Muslim governments trying to develop the country. And because Muslim countries are backward, instead of helping themselves as enjoined by the Koran, they tend to depend solely on divine help, led by the deviant ulamas.

    ''If today Islam is perceived to be a religion of backward, violent, and irrational people, it is not because of Islam itself as a faith and a way of life. It is because Muslims have deviated from the fundamentals of Islam, have abused the teachings in order to justify their personal greed and ambitions.''

    Mahathir couldn't resist a dig at ''this grossly materialistic age'' represented by the West, but he said that true fundamental Islam could balance spiritual values and economic development at the same time.

    From the other side of the Muslim world, King Abdullah of Jordan rose to the podium to say that the attacks of Sept. 11 had encouraged a ''much needed debate in the Muslim world.''

    ''That anyone dared to exploit our religion to sanction the killing of innocents provoked the real voice of Islam to be heard,'' he said. ''That voice is clear. Islam can never sanction the killing of innocent civilians.

    ''Islamic civil society is built on the concept of public right and responsibility,'' the king said. ''Participation in the political system is guaranteed. ... As such, Islamic principles are fully constant with democratic rights and political freedom. This is the only Islam that we know and the only Islam that is.

    ''For 14 centuries,'' the king said, '' Muslims have interacted positively with other cultures. They have realized that this interaction does not represent a threat to their principles and fundamental beliefs. On behalf of millions, I reject terrorism and extremism. ... They do not in any way represent Islam or relate to it.''

    Some have described the war on terrorism as a ''clash of civilizations.'' But it is more properly a civil war within Islam itself - a civil war to decide whether Abdullah's and Mahathir's vision of an Islam in harmony with political freedoms, moderation, and modernization will prevail.

    Extremists may lash out at the United States and the West as the great secular seducer, wooing Muslims away from their narrow interpretation of God's will.

    But the main struggle is not with the West. It is for the soul of Islam, as King Abdullah and Prime Minister Mahathir well know.