A Friendly Suggestion to Muslims Today (TDTCTW 5)

In reflecting on the previous two blogs, I would like to offer a word of counsel and encouragement to Muslim thinkers today, but before I do I want to make it clear that I am not blaming Islam for all the world’s troubles. While Islam has failed to solve the problems of the Middle East, Christianity has fared just as poorly at influencing the West in the direction of peace, humility, and compassion. I offer the following comments in the desire to be helpful.

I suggest that the thoughts and actions of people like Mohammed Atta and Osama bin Laden ultimately pose a greater threat to Islam than to the West. They seem to have believed that the true faith is shown by material power and wealth that resemble the power and wealth of Allah. In other words, the fruit of true Islam would be world dominance and material wealth. But Islam has not produced this kind of result in today’s world. Bin Laden and others have blamed the weakness, the oppression, and the poverty in Islamic countries on the West. But it seems more likely that the weakness of the Islamic world reflects a failure to adjust to the rapid changes over the last couple of centuries.

To claim material wealth and power as the outcome of true faith is to draw an immediate contrast with the West, which exhibits the very military might and economic abundance that ought to be associated with Allah’s cause. No wonder Atta and bin Laden were frustrated with both the Middle East and the West! The “infidel” has reaped the very things that should be signs of Allah’s favor. So the extremist Islam of Atta and bin Laden focuses not on producing better people but on seeking to destroy the tokens of the West’s ascendancy. But such an Islam can win only by destroying others, not by building them up. Such an Islam can only increase the violence and misery in the world.

But there is another option. The second approach is to say: “Islam becomes the best channel to God when it focuses on faith, not on wealth and power. While Muslims may suffer defeat and poverty in this world, they are the ultimate winners because they have the maturity to ignore the allures of power and wealth. While Islam may appear to be a loser in the eyes of the West, it is actually a winner, it is winning human hearts to God by humility, mercy and compassion.”

An Islam that has the strength to renounce power and wealth would also abandon war as a way of achieving spiritual goals. It would free itself to become a spiritual community that would be attractive to all the nations of the world. Such a course might even shame the so-called “Christian” West into taking the humility and compassion of Jesus more seriously!

If this vision for Islam is the best course of action, the jihadists’ focus on the West and its wealth and power could prove a lethal sidetrack for the faith. Instead of focusing on the spiritual task, people become consumed with destroying the West’s power and wealth. Muslim thinkers would do well to reject the al Qaeda doctrine by renouncing wealth and power as emblems of righteousness. In this way of thinking Muslims should leave the West alone and not covet its riches, but get on with the business of spirituality. If power and wealth is a deception, then the Western way of life will eventually collapse on its own.

I believe that Islam, therefore, can make a major contribution to the world in the wake of September 11 by seizing the path of humility, openness and spiritual growth. People are hungry for just such a faith. Perhaps the following sura could point the way: “Summon thou [people] to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and with kindly warning: dispute with them in the kindest manner: thy Lord best knoweth those who stray from his way, and He best knoweth those who have yielded to his guidance. If ye make reprisals, then make them to the same extent that ye were injured: but if ye can endure patiently, best will it be for the patiently enduring. Endure then with patience. But thy patient endurance must be sought in none but God. . .” (16:125-127)

The best response to September 11 is a faith that categorically rejects violence in the name of religion. Religious violence improves nothing, it only makes the world a more miserable and a more dangerous place. Extreme forms of religious fundamentalism do more than kill, they divide those who remain and impoverish them, both materially and spiritually.

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