What's Right with Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West

What's Right with Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West

by Feisal Abdul Rauf

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An American imam offers answers for today's toughest questions about Islam, and a vision for a  reconciliation between Islam and the West.

One of the pressing questions of our time is what went wrong in the relationship between Muslims and the West. Continuing global violence in the name of Islam reflects the deepest fears by certain Muslim factions of

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An American imam offers answers for today's toughest questions about Islam, and a vision for a  reconciliation between Islam and the West.

One of the pressing questions of our time is what went wrong in the relationship between Muslims and the West. Continuing global violence in the name of Islam reflects the deepest fears by certain Muslim factions of Western political, cultural, and economic encroachment. The solution to the current antagonism requires finding common ground upon which to build mutual respect and understanding. Who better to offer such an analysis than an American imam, someone with a foot in each world and the tools to examine the common roots of both Western and Muslim cultures; someone to explain to the non-Islamic West not just what went wrong with Islam, but what's right with Islam.

Focused on finding solutions, not on determining fault, this is ultimately a hopeful, inspiring book. What's Right with Islam systematically lays out the reasons for the current dissonance between these cultures and offers a foundation and plan for improved relations. Wide-ranging in scope, What's Right with Islam elaborates in satisfying detail a vision for a Muslim world that can eventually embrace its own distinctive forms of democracy and capitalism, aspiring to a new Cordoba - a time when Jews, Christians, Muslims, and all other faith traditions will live together in peace and prosperity.



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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Rauf, a Manhattan imam whose mosque is only 12 blocks from the World Trade Center site, argues that what keeps the Islamic world and America apart, and what fuels Islamic terrorism, is economics, politics, Muslim defensiveness everything but religion. In fact, Rauf believes that America best represents Islam's true values. His major theme is the existence of an "Abrahamic ethic" which undergirds all the monotheistic religions and extols equality and justice. If Muslims, especially American Muslims, harness this Abrahamic ethic, Rauf promises Islam will once again contribute to the universal striving for a better society. In countering Bernard Lewis's What Went Wrong?, Rauf raises numerous valid points: the U.S. overthrow of democratic Islamic regimes in Iran and Indonesia; U.S. creation and sponsorship of Afghan mujahideen to fight the Soviet Union; the anti-Muslim bias of American media (a point echoed by Karen Armstrong in the foreword); the massive, debilitating effect colonization had on most of the Islamic world; and the "drawing [of] lines" in the Middle East and South Asia by European powers after WWI and WWII, dooming countries with wildly diverse populations to perpetual unrest. However, Rauf presents these points sporadically and less eloquently than some previous commentators. The book's strengths include a concise history of Islam as well as brief but valuable insights into the American Muslim community. The few references to his own personal story also resonate: "Like many immigrants from Muslim lands, I discovered my Islam in America." (May) Forecast: National advertising, a radio tour, and a foreword by Karen Armstrong will help push this title. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this important counterweight to anti-Islamic polemics, Abdul Rauf (Islam: A Sacred Law) presents Islam as a faith of moderation and tolerance. He sees the common foundation of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in the Abrahamic ethic of love for God (the vertical dimension) and love for one's fellows (the horizontal dimension). He reviews what is right with Islam, drawing on the Prophet Muhammad's examples and teachings, and Islam's consonance with what is right with America, such as a plural society, liberty, and economic principles. Economic inequity and power-seeking, rather than religion, he asserts, cause terrorism and other "religious" conflicts, and the world community should fight terrorism at those roots. He also calls for action from the United States (to support the rule of law and democracy in Islamic countries), U.S. Muslims (to articulate moderation to other Muslims), U.S. Jews (to affect peace in the Holy Land), the media (to cover Islam fairly), the business community (to develop relationships), and religions (to recognize the divine image in one another). The author's inclusive Sufi views do not represent his more doctrinaire coreligionists but may reflect the faith of the many moderate Muslims. Highly recommended.-William P. Collins, Library of Congress Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Christian Science Monitor
“An invigorating glimpse into the heart and mind of a wise Muslim seeking the higher ground.”
Karen Armstrong
“This book shows that the only possible way forward is by the assiduous cultivation of mutual respect.”
Professor Dr. Hans Kung
“An excellent work of bridge building!”
Lord Carey of Clifton
“Wise and well-written, this important book is a ‘MUST’ for any thinking person who cares about our world.”
Gunnar Stålsett - Bishop of Oslo
“At long last, a book that helps “us Westerners” to see Muslims as they wish to see themselves.”
Shashi Tharoor
“A searching, thoughtful and reasoned alternative to the shrill doomsayers who proclaim a ‘clash of civilizations.’”
Prof. Seyyed Hossein Nasr
“The publication of this book is a timely event, providing objective, serious responses to challenges that Islam faces today.”
Religion Dispatches Magazine
“What’s Right with Islam... reveals a man dedicated to fitting the Muslim square peg into an American round hole - an at times awkward task that Rauf often carries out quite effectively.”

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What's Right with Islam

A New Vision for Muslims and the West
By Rauf, Feisal Abdul


ISBN: 0060582723

Chapter One

Common Roots

Many of the earliest civilizations believed in a plurality of gods. From the ruins and temples of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt in the Middle East and Greece and Rome in Europe to India and China in the Far East, the majority of early civilizations worshiped a pantheon of gods, with each god ruling over a sector of the universe and all of them ruled by a greater God. Representing their gods in the forms of statues, early people practiced idolatry, worshiping the gods' physical representations.


In such societies, the pharaoh, emperor, caesar, or king was generally regarded as divine, a son of God, and the priestly class (like the Brahmins in India) a privileged one that supported his function as semidivine. Worldly society reflected the structure of the divine court, the pharaoh or king with his consort ruling over society just as the Great God had a consort and children who were gods, ruling over the many lesser gods. As the son of God, the king was God's representative on earth.

Together with such beliefs about the God-human relationship came a belief in the structure of human society. People were born into classes or castes reflecting the structure of the divine court, showing life "on earth, as it is in heaven." In society were found the royal and noble classes, the priestly class, the warrior class, the merchant and farming classes, and all those who did the most menial and undesirable work. Social mobility was not typically the norm; one was born, worked, married, and died within the boundaries of one's class. One's status in life, profession, and choice of spouse were predetermined by the family and class one was born into -- by the social structure -- and one's destiny was deemed in some societies as karmic.

In many of these societies, rejecting the state religion was not a simple matter of exercising freedom of human conscience (something we in America take for granted today). It was typically regarded as treason against the state, an act punishable by death, not to mention a violation of the institutional social structure on which society was built. Literally, one had no place in society, for such a person would be like an ant rejecting the structure of its colony, unprotected by its institutions. The possible freedom one had to exercise such inner convictions and to be true to oneself was to opt out of society and live as a hermit in a cave. Pre-Islamic Arabs called such people, driven by their conscience and desiring to live by its standards, hanif.

Such powerful social constraints may sound strange to the contemporary American reader, but a mere fifty years ago in America, "unless one was either a Protestant, or a Catholic, or a Jew, one was a 'nothing'; to be a 'something,' to have a name, one [had to] identify oneself to oneself, and be identified by others, as belonging to one or another of the three great religious communities in which the American people were divided."

To be independent and step out of sociological norms and deeply embedded thought patterns is very hard for people to do. And if it was hard for us in America, a country where we prize individual freedom, you can imagine how hard it must have been a few thousand years ago in the earliest known ancient Middle Eastern civilizations that straddled the area between Egypt and Persia.

In that region, and in such a society characterized by a polytheistic religious, political, and sociological climate, a hanif man called Abraham was born in a town in Mesopotamia, the area now called Iraq. He found the idea of polytheism unacceptable. Biblical and Islamic narratives inform us that Abraham's father was a sculptor of such idols. We can well imagine the young boy Abraham seeing his father fabricating such statues from the raw material of wood or stone and perhaps occasionally cursing when the material cracked. The reality of the Chinese proverb "He who carves the Buddha never worships him" must have been apparent to Abraham, who probably observed, in the way children see through their parents' absurdities, the creature creating the Creator.

The Quran quotes Abraham as debating with his contemporaries: "Do you worship that which you yourselves sculpt -- while God has created you and your actions?" (37:95–96). After going on a spiritual search, and after rejecting the sun, the moon, and the stars as objects of worship (objects his community worshiped), Abraham realized that there could be only one creator of the universe -- one God (Quran 6:75–91 describes Abraham's search for God). Today Muslims, Christians, and Jews regard Abraham as their patriarch, the founder of a sustained monotheistic society subscribing to the belief that there is only one God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe.

The monotheism that Abraham taught was not only theologically radical, in that it decried the plurality of gods as false, it was also socially radical. The idea that God is one implied two significant things about humankind.

First, it implied that all humans are equal, simply because we are born of one man and one woman. "O humankind," God asserts in the Quran, "surely we have created you from one male [Adam] and one female [Eve] and made you into tribes and clans [just] so that you may get to know each other. The noblest of you with God are the most devout of you" (Quran 49:13). This meant that all of humankind is a family-- brothers and sisters, equal before God, differentiated only by the nobility of our actions, not by our birth. Showing preference for one human over another on the basis of accidents of birth, like skin color, class structure, tribal or family belonging, or gender, is unjust and therefore has no place in a proper human worldview. Although it grossly violates reason and ethics, showing preference on the basis of these categories is the very way people traditionally judged others and structured their societies.


Excerpted from What's Right with Islam by Rauf, Feisal Abdul Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Feisal Abdul Rauf is the imam of Masjid al-Farah in New York City. Shortly after the attacks of September 11, he appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including BBC World, ABC News, CBS Evening News, CNN, and 60 Minutes. Born in Kuwait to a long line of imams, Abdul Rauf was educated in England, Egypt, and Malaysia. He is also a graduate of Columbia University in the United States. In 1997, Imam Abdul Rauf founded the ASMA Society, a not-for-profit educational and cultural organization dedicated to building bridges between the American public and American Muslims, and cofounded the Cordoba Initiative, a multi-faith effort to help heal the relationship between the Muslim world and America. A trustee of the Islamic Center of New York, he is on the board of One Voice, a group whose initiative is to bring about peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and was recently appointed as a member of the Council of 100 Leaders to the World Economic Forum on West-Islamic World Dialogue. Abdul Rauf is the author of two previous books, Islam: A Search for Meaning and Islam: A Sacred Law, What Every Muslim Should Know About the Shari'ah.

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