Islam at the Crossroads: Understanding Its Beliefs, History, and Conflicts

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An extremely brief overview of the growth, politics, culture, and current issues of Islam that relies heavily on such right-wing sources of information as Freedom House, Bernard Lewis, and Daniel Pipes. However, attempting to cover such an extremely broad topic in so few pages has left little room for the worst of their biases to come to the fore, and some effort has been made to point out that all Muslims are not Osama Bin Laden supporters. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., ...
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Overview

An extremely brief overview of the growth, politics, culture, and current issues of Islam that relies heavily on such right-wing sources of information as Freedom House, Bernard Lewis, and Daniel Pipes. However, attempting to cover such an extremely broad topic in so few pages has left little room for the worst of their biases to come to the fore, and some effort has been made to point out that all Muslims are not Osama Bin Laden supporters. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
An extremely brief overview of the growth, politics, culture, and current issues of Islam that relies heavily on such right-wing sources of information as Freedom House, Bernard Lewis, and Daniel Pipes. However, attempting to cover such an extremely broad topic in so few pages has left little room for the worst of their biases to come to the fore, and some effort has been made to point out that all Muslims are not Osama Bin Laden supporters. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801064166
  • Publisher: Baker Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/28/2002
  • Pages: 128
  • Product dimensions: 5.52 (w) x 8.54 (h) x 0.35 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Islam at the Crossroads

Understanding Its Beliefs, History, and Conflicts
By Paul Marshall Roberta Green and Lela Gilbert

BAKER BOOKS

Copyright © 2002 Paul Marshall, Roberta Green, and Lela Gilbert
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0801064163


Introduction

A mid sleepy vineyards and olive trees in southeastern Greece are the ruins of a city called Mystras. Along the terraced hillsides of this once-glorious site are the remains of its monasteries and churches. In 1449 the very last emperor of the ancient Christian empire of Byzantium was crowned here. By the time of his coronation, the empire had suffered enough defeats at the hands of the Muslims to know that its days were numbered. The remains of frescoes depicting Jesus, his mother, the apostles, and the saints on the churches' walls reveal images of the end of the world. Those who painstakingly created these images had little to look forward to but the fall of the Christian empire and, beyond that, the glorious return of Jesus Christ. In one haunting image, Christ's empty throne mutely awaits his coming.

After centuries of battles, Constantinople, the crown of the Christian Byzantine Empire, finally fell to the Turks in 1453. Seven years later, Islam's warriors invaded Mystras. The ruined churches still stand, scarred by the violence of that attack. In the narthex of the Church of St. Demetrius, the faces and especially the eyesof the saints and apostles are mutilated. Believing that power was in these icons, the conquerors rode their horses into the church and with their swords and spears gouged out the eyes and destroyed the faces of the Christian saints.

In another part of the world, a magnificent Hindu temple in Ayodhya, India, dating from the eleventh century, was demolished in 1528 during one of the Islamic invasions of India; it was replaced by the Babri Mosque. The sacred and historic Hindu temple, with its intricate carvings and fine moldings, was torn to the ground. The military campaign destroyed innumerable ancient Hindu temples, which were replaced with mosques.

More recently, the supreme Taliban leader Mullah Omar issued an edict demanding the destruction of two non-Muslim "graven images" of the Buddha in Afghanistan. The Buddhas, dating from as early as the third century A.D., were blown to bits by explosives and antiaircraft weapons.

After the events of September 11, 2001, commentators and anchors searched for words. More than one used the phrase "attack on America's icons." The targets' symbolism was explored and explained. The World Trade Center was an icon of American economic power. The Pentagon and the USS Cole were icons of American military power. The White House, which was spared, and the two American Embassies in Africa, destroyed earlier, were icons of American political power.

The icons of the ages continue to be destroyed in the name of Islam. For many, this is the dominant image of Islam. There are no simple answers to the questions this pattern raises. The vast religion of Islam numbers 1.2 billion followers, and it is as complex as it is vast (see maps on pp. 17-18). Its people are, largely, peaceable, moral, and devout. The puzzle of Islam cannot be solved through comparisons with Christianity or any other faith.

As Tilman Nagel wrote in The History of Islamic Theology, "The religious pedagogues' zeal in finding and inventing as many similarities between the world religions in order to reduce tensions by way of a superficial harmony ... attests to an ... ignorance of all foreign religions, to an intolerable lack of seriousness. It is more important and helpful to recognize-and accept-the different nature of the other faith."

Worlds Apart

Particularly when it comes to Islam, history matters. The Spanish philosopher George Santayana put it in strong words: "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Americans have learned in recent years, and particularly after September 11, 2001, that there is a whole world-past, present, and future-that we have not bothered to understand. In years gone by, that world didn't seem to affect our daily lives. We were protected by two oceans and by our economic and military strength. What we have now realized is that we are part of the whole world whether we understand it or not. Our task now is to learn all we can so that we act out of knowledge, not ignorance.

In his videotaped statements and interviews, Osama bin Laden has called Americans "crusaders" and himself a "caliph." In doing so, he used words loaded with meaning for many Muslims, especially those who follow his teachings. We need to know what those words mean to him and to his listeners.

Americans are told that Muslims are a peaceable people, but scenes of death and devastation also tell of war and terror. Throughout a long history, Muslims and Westerners have clashed. As Samuel Huntington, chairman of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, writes in his The Clash of Civilizations: "Some Westerners ... have argued that the West does not have problems with Islam but only with violent Islamist extremists. Fourteen hundred years of history demonstrate otherwise. The relations between Islam and Christianity, both Orthodox and Western, have often been stormy. Each has been the other's Other. The twentieth-century conflict between liberal democracy and Marxist-Leninism is only a fleeting and superficial historical phenomenon compared to the continuing and deeply conflictual relation between Islam and Christianity."

Often the media is conspicuously uninformed and misinformed about the nature of religion in general, and of Islam in particular. For example, U.S. News & World Report headlined its cover story on the crusades (April 8, 2002) with the words "During the Crusades, East and West first met-on the battlefield," in apparent stark ignorance of the fact that the East and West (meaning Muslims and Christians) had already met on battlefields in France, Italy, Spain, and many other countries after the Arabs had invaded them. Reporters and commentators are generally at a loss to explain what motivates Osama bin Laden and those like him. Instead, pundits offer the public platitudes about Islam, and we end up knowing less after reading the paper or watching the television than we did before.

In this book, we want to introduce you in a simple way to the religion of Islam, to its basic beliefs and practices, and to the history that illuminates so much of what is happening around us today. In these pages we explore the conflicts and flash points of the world that has crashed so violently into ours. Though certainly the tragic events of September 11 motivate us, we write in the hope that our words will go further and bring us into much closer touch with Muslims and their rich (and, to many in the West, often perplexing) world.

Islam at the Crossroads also explores the worldview of a religion that does not separate church and state or sacred from secular. We hope to reveal how extreme versions of some of those beliefs have created an international network of violent groups, including (but not limited to) al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden's operational network. Clearly there are vast differences between militant Islam and the peaceful majority of the word's 1. 2 billion Muslim people. We intend to explain their common beliefs as well as their differences.

While radical Islam is growing, it does not represent the majority of Muslims. Nevertheless, radical Islam gains attention because of its violence and because it is organized and vocal. Generally, moderate Muslims are both fragmented and silent. They often keep their opinions to themselves, sometimes out of reluctance to criticize fellow Muslims, sometimes because they fear for their lives. However, apart from the hundreds of millions of ordinary Muslims who simply wish to live out their lives in peace, there are networks of scholars, teachers, and judges, in the West and throughout the Islamic world, who teach an Islam that supports democracy and freedom. The future direction of Islam, and therefore of much of the world, depends upon their willingness and ability to develop, speak, and teach what they believe-and upon our willingness to support them.

We (the authors) believe that a battle for the hearts of Muslims is being fought on a global scale today, not only in Afghanistan and the nations of the Middle East, but in Indonesia, the Philippines, Central Asia, Africa, and now in Western Europe and North America. Extreme Islamists have targeted Jews, Christians, and moderate Muslims, who continue to suffer persecution at the hands of militant regimes. Failing to understand the Islamic world is failing to understand the twenty-first century.

A few notes on words. There are several ways to render Arabic words in English. Since this book is intended for a general reader, we use forms readers are most likely to find in the media. Similarly, when we refer to historical places, we do not use the names then current, such as Bactria or Andalusia, as we assume many readers will not be familiar with them. Instead, we use the names of present countries in those areas, knowing, of course, that countries such as Pakistan, Iraq, or Greece did not exist then. To make our work accessible, we have not used footnotes and have acknowledged our sources in the body of the text. Moreover, we have included a bibliography of our sources at the end of the book.

A book as slim as this, covering more than a billion people and fourteen hundred years of history, must generalize, and, even apart from generalizing, we have paid scant attention to Islam's art, literature, architecture, science, philosophy, and medicine, which are some of its greatest achievements.

Finally, much of the current American interest in Islam stems from the attacks on September 11, 2001, and is focused particularly on radical Islam. Consequently, we have devoted extra attention to the nature and roots of extremism. In doing so, we use the terms radical Islam, extremist Islam, and Islamists interchangeably to describe the practitioners of violence and their supporters. As you will see in the pages that follow, many moderate Muslims throughout the world suffer at the hands of radicals.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Islam at the Crossroads by Paul Marshall Roberta Green and Lela Gilbert Copyright © 2002 by Paul Marshall, Roberta Green, and Lela Gilbert
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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