The West, Mediterranean Islam and The Search for a New Beginning



These are not propitious times to attempt to comment objectively on Islam.[1] In the West, Islam has come to be widely identified with terrorism and frequently is assumed to constitute a surrogate, perhaps in tandem with Confucian China, for the late USSR as a geostrategic threat to the United States. In the Muslim world, a small minority of extremists disfigure the third and perhaps most tolerant of the three monotheistic revelations by invoking putative religious sanctions for actions that are neither more nor less than baldly criminal. Terrorism by individuals who call themselves Muslims constitutes first and foremost a direct attack on the tolerance, compassion and mercy that historically have characterized Islam both as creed and practice.[2]

Indeed, one might argue that an important source of the Western rediscovery during the Renaissance of the dignity and rights of man was through an Arab Muslim, as uncovered and promulgated by the Italian humanist Pico della Mirandola in his “Oration on the Dignity of Man.” Pico stated: “I have read in the records of the Arabians, reverend Fathers, that Abdala the Saracen, when questioned as to what on this stage of the world … could be seen most worthy of wonder replied, `There is nothing to be seen more wonderful than man.'” Speculation as to the identity of this Abdala has ranged from a blood relative of the Prophet to the Abbasid-era humanist Ibn Qutaiba, author of The Creation of Man. Pico had planned his “Oration” as the introductory speech at a public disputation he had hoped to have in Rome on a set of 900 theses he had published. This speech was never delivered because Pope Innocent VIII suspended the proposed disputation and appointed a commission to examine the orthodoxy of Pico’s theses. Some were condemned as heretical, possibly because they were considered “syncretist,” or tending to find a common body of truth that unites the three Abrahamic belief systems.[3]

Unfortunately, the hard reality now is that in both the West and the Muslim world religions and civilizations have become increasingly reified. Little effort is being given anywhere to acquiring understanding of supposedly homogeneous and inimical “Others.” [4] I submit that unless Christians and Muslims begin to hear each other when they whisper prayers to their common God, they indeed are likely to meet on obscure battlefields around the world.[5] Surely, any war of civilizations or religions is not one that either side will win. As a new century impends, I suggest that Christians and Muslims alike need to attempt a new beginning.[6]

It may be especially important for Westerners to understand that the Quran specifically forbids any imposition of Islam on non-Muslims by force. The Quran endorses free will, as represented by the freedom it accords each individual to choose whether to believe or not to believe. On the subject of religious tolerance, the Quran is categorical: “There shall be no compulsion,” it states, “in matters of faith” (2:256). “The truth is from your Lord,” the Quran states, “so let him who pleases believe; and let him who pleases disbelieve” (18:29). The Quran states elsewhere: “Say: O Mankind! Indeed there has come to you the truth from your Lord. Whosoever, therefore, chooses to follow the Right Path, follows it but for his own good, and whosoever chooses to go astray, goes astray but to his own hurt” (10:108). To the degree to which Muslims or self-proclaimed Islamic regimes have in fact violated such injunctions prescribing tolerance and religious pluralism, they have grossly transgressed against the most fundamental tenets of Islam itself.[7]

In this essay, I propose (1) to suggest new paradigms for Westerners and Christians to employ in thinking about Islam, (2) to note key aspects of Muslim belief and practice, and (3) to demonstrate how the Islamic concept of Jihad should and should not be understood. I shall place emphasis on commonalities between Christianity and Islam and suggest how Western and Muslim conservatives may assist the Abrahamic traditions to move into the new century as companions rather than as enemies.

Muslims understand their faith as pure and unadulterated Abrahamic monotheism, purged of the textual deformations and theological misunderstandings which they believe have compromised Judaism and Christianity. For some years after he began his mission in 610 A.D., Muhammad had no idea that he would in fact establish a new and separate Abrahamic monotheism. Rather, he understood his charge to be only the same as that given to the many prophets who he emphasized had come before him. His mission, Muhammad believed, was simply that very ancient, semitic one of calling upon a fallen humankind to repent of sin and discover the love and mercy of what in Arabic is al-Lah, the one and only God.[8]

Revelations to Muhammad included important portions of both the Jewish and Christian scriptures, which were duly incorporated into the Quran. Only in early 624 did Muhammad instruct that the direction of prayer be turned away from Jerusalem, toward which all Muslims had previously prayed, in favor of the Arabian commercial capital of Mecca. By this dramatic gesture of replacing Jerusalem with Mecca as the direction of prayer, Muhammad denominated Islam as a monotheism separate and distinct from the two prior Abrahamic revelations to which it owes so much.

I would suggest that the civilization of the contemporary West might more accurately be designated as “Abrahamic” than as “Judeo-Christian.” The latter term excludes Islam from the values that Jews and Christians are presumed to share. In that sense, Judeo-Christian is not only inaccurate but may in fact contribute to the polarization between the West and a stereotypical, alien Muslim enemy. Rarely understood in the West (and today occasionally denied in the Islamic world) is the fact that Islam shares with Judaism and Christianity a long common history and many of the same religious beliefs and cultural orientations. In the words of Imam Muhammad Abd al-Raouf Muslims believe in the “Christian Gospel, the Christian Prophet [Jesus Christ], his twelve Apostles, his mother’s purity, and his miraculous birth …. Above all, we share a belief in … our common God.”[9] Most bluntly put, without Judaism and Christianity having preceded it, Islam as revealed and practiced would simply be inconceivable.

In passing, one might note that “Judeo-Christian” is a category invented and widely disseminated only during the past four decades. As late as the 1950s, the operative term for describing the heritage of the West was “Graeco-Roman.” Precisely how and why “Judeo-Christian” came to replace “Graeco-Roman” is a story awaiting an author.[10] With some 6 million Muslims now in the United States, as against 5.6 million Jews, and major immigrant Muslim communities in Western Europe, the time may be ripe to rethink how most accurately to describe civilizations and categorize the monotheistic faiths. What is most important to keep clearly in mind is that, especially today, Islam is fully in and of the West, just as the West has become in and of Islam.

One should remember that Islam was revealed and first adopted within exactly the same semitic ethos and general geographic location as were Judaism and Christianity. Like them, Islam was born not far from the Mediterranean and, like the prior Abrahamic revelations, has been profoundly shaped over 1400 years by its interactions with the other monotheistic faiths which ring that sea. Islam should be understood religiously, and Arab Islam culturally, as part of the same Mediterranean civilization that has also profoundly shaped Judaism and Christianity.[11] The “West” (despite current headlines) does not stop at the Bosporous,[12] but in fact at the Indus.

It is worthy of note that both China and India consider the West to constitute one civilizational block derived from three constituent parts: Byzantium, Europe and the world of Mediterranean Islam. For the very different civilizations located to its east, Western civilization is most emphatically not made up only of Europe and North America but consists also of both Arab Christianity and the Arab Muslim world. The distinguished historian and economist Leonard Liggio has amplified this point:

When Islam arose, it adopted (especially in Syria) the Hellenistic culture which Byzantium and Europe were rejecting. Islam carried logic, philosophy and science beyond the Hellenistic legacy. Eventually Islam passed on the classical intellectual tradition to Europe.... Europe built on the shoulders of the Islamic part of that tradition. Similarly, Islam built on the capitalism and commerce of Hellenistic tradition and for centuries was far ahead of Byzantium and Europe. Later, Islam was burdened by the domination of Ottoman rule. In a sense, Islam became like Byzantium - one large empire rather than the European continuity of the Islamic tradition of many different political centers ....[13]

Liggio’s fundamental point is that the Abrahamic faiths have each been shaped by and may be considered the successors to Hellenistic civilization, and that the cultures shaped by Judaism, Christianity and Arab Islam must each be regarded as part of that larger civilization that I have metaphorically suggested has its frontier on the Indus rather than on the Bosporous. At the same time, note should be taken of the fact that less than one in five of the world’s more than one billion Muslims are Arabs. The vast majority of Muslims are concentrated in south and southeast Asia. There are more Muslims in Malaysia (185 million) than in all of the Arab world. Certainly, Muslims in India, China, Malaysia and Indonesia have participated historically in cultures radically different from those that ring the Mediterranean and extend into northern Europe and North America.

Nevertheless, when individuals such as Samuel P. Huntington speak of an impending “clash of civilizations” pitting Islam against the West, it is not the vast majority of the world’s Muslims located in south Asia that they primarily have in mind. Their concern centers on the minority of Arab Muslims who, with their Christian Arab brothers, inhabit the southern and eastern Mediterranean basin. Why 250 million Arab Muslims, living in weak and largely undemocratic states frequently suffering from bankrupt economies and collapsing infrastructures, should be in a position to mount any civilizational conflict with anyone Huntington himself never makes clear.[14] In his book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Professor Huntington repeated in modified form his hypothesis first advanced in Foreign Affairs in 1993 [15] predicting a clash between Islamic and Confucian civilizations on the one hand and the West on the other.[16] But what is perhaps most interesting, and apparently not widely understood, is that in 1997 Huntington repudiated his earlier identification of Islam and China as the new enemies of America: “[T]he United States lacks any single country or threat against which it can convincingly counterpose itself,” Huntington wrote two years ago. “Islamic fundamentalism is too diffuse and too remote geographically.[17] He added that it may have been the very absence of any foreign threat, Muslim or otherwise, that created the psychological space for American extremists to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City.[18] Unfortunately, Professor Huntington was closing the barn door after the horses had been stolen. The perceptions of a substantial portion of the American establishment seem to be based on his inaccurate 1993 prognistications of a menacing Islamic “Other.”[19]

What is Islam?

In Arabic, the verbal noun “Islam” means “submission,” in the broadest and most profound sense. A “Muslim” is one who submits to the One who created him and to whom he knows he must return. The name “Muhammad” means “he who is highly praised.” The Western term commonly used in the early decades of this century to denominate Islam, “Muhammadanism,” is radically misleading; it may imply either that Muhammad simply invented what soon became a world religion without benefit of any divine revelation, or that Muslims believe that Muhammad was divine in a fashion similar to the Christian understanding of the nature of Christ. The proper word to use in reference to the faith of those who call themselves Muslims is “Islam.”

A brief summary of the five pillars of Muslim belief will serve to suggest how profoundly Christianity shaped the nature of the Quranic revelation. These pillars are (1) the belief that “There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his Prophet”; (2) prayer (performed either individually or communally) five times daily, beginning with the first hint of morning light; (3) total abstinence from food and physical pleasures during daylight hours of the holy month of Ramadan; (4) annual payment of the religious tax (zakat), generally understood to be equivalent to 2.5 percent of one’s net worth; and (5) making the pilgrimage to Mecca (hajj) at least once in a believer’s lifetime. On these five fundamental pillars of Islam all Muslims everywhere agree and hold that without subscribing to and observance of these principles one cannot consider oneself to be a Muslim.

Much of what characterizes Islamic culture and shapes the lives of individual Muslims is the attempt to emulate the practices of the Prophet Muhammad as reported in the six medieval Sunni collections of hadith, or what the Prophet is supposed to have said and done when confronted by the most varied human situations. Shia Muslims have their own collections of hadith but the principle is the same. For all Muslims, the attempt to imitate the sunna, or words and deeds of the Prophet, is the foundation of a life of virtue that is pleasing to almighty God.

Commonalities with Christianity

Christianity and Islam share a vast reservoir of faith. For example, the specific vehicle for the revelation to Muhammad of what Muslims believe to be the literal word of God was the Archangel Gabriel. In the Hadith, Gabriel is spoken of as “the greatest spirit,” the same spirit who once appeared to Moses. He is the messenger through whom God spoke to all of His prophets from Abraham to Jesus Christ. The Virgin Mary is also a major figure in the Quran, the God-touched mother of one of the greatest prophets, who Himself is a subject of substantial Quranic reference.

Jesus, the Quran states, is “worthy of regard in this world and the hereafter, and is one of those drawn nigh to God” (3:44). In reference to the mission of Jesus, the Quran quotes Jesus as saying, “I said to them naught save what as Thou did command me: Serve God, my Lord and your Lord; and I was a witness of them as long as I was among them, but when Thou didst cause me to die, Thou was the watcher over them, and Thou art witness of all things” (5: 116,117). And concerning the crucifixion of Jesus, the Quran states: “O Jesus! I will cause thee to die and exalt thee in My presence and clear thee of those who disbelieve and make those who follow thee above those who disbelieve to the Day of Resurrection” (3:54). Muslims believe that the Christ depicted in the Quran was the last and greatest in the long line of prophets who preceded Muhammad and whose work Muhammad completed as the final “seal” of all the prophets that God has sent to mankind.

All of this may be suggestive of new ways in which Christians and Jews in the West might begin to think about Islam, but it fails to penetrate the spiritual nature of Islamic religiosity. For such spiritual insight, one can perhaps most usefully turn to the excellent book by Professor Peter Kreeft of Boston College, Ecumenical Jihad (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996). Kreeft offers an imaginary dialogue between himself in the role of a contemporary non-Muslim and misinformed Westerner and the Prophet Muhammad. The exchange suggests that at least some Western Christians are beginning to gain access to the spiritual core of Islam. [20]

The dialogue begins when a departing Buddha, with whom Kreeft had just completed a discussion, says, “This [next] man will teach you more about religion than Confucius or [I]…. He will teach you the heart and soul of all true religion.” Kreeft confesses to being “shocked” by this, since the man who now appeared before him was clearly Muhammad. “So I asked [Muhammad],” Kreeft writes, “What is the heart and soul of all true religion?” And the answer “came from [him] in a single word: `Islam – surrender – and the peace that comes from surrender, the peace that the world cannot give, that comes only from total surrender to the will of God. This is the heart and soul of all true religion…. The only true first step is adoration, the bent knee and the bent spirit, surrender, Islam.'”

Muhammad goes on to utter a warning:

You [Westerners] are not winning your world, you are not winning your jihad, your spiritual warfare; your world is sliding down the road to Hell. Why? Why have you lost a century to the devil? [It is] because you prattle about yourselves and your freedoms and your rights and your self-fulfillment rather than forgetting yourself and adoring and obeying the Lord ... the child you must become again if you are to enter His Kingdom. The saying is His, not mine. I am only His prophet. He is the One than whom there is no other. La ilaha ill-Allah.

And Muhammad then fell to his knees, Kreeft writes, “and bowed his back and prayed.”

Kreeft continues:

The comfortably condescending cultural chauvinism with which I had always unconsciously viewed those holy Arabic words and that holy Arabic deed seemed to have suddenly died in me.... I wondered ... whether my world could ever be saved in any other way.... I suspected then that the explosive growth of Islam in our time might be due to a simpler cause than any sociologist had yet discovered: that God blesses obedience and faithfulness, especially when surrounded by unfaithful and disobedient cultures.

Meanwhile, Muhammad had more to say:

The religion I taught my people was the simplest one in the world. There are times that call for complexity, and there are times that call for simplicity. Today is a time when `simplistic' is the favorite sneer word of a decadent, arrogant, corrupt, and aggressively anti-God establishment. So what time do you think it is today?

Kreeft: “I had nothing to say, so Muhammad answered his own question.

Muhammad: “It is time for a jihad, a holy war, a spiritual war…. [I]t is time to wake up to the fact that, whether you like it or not, you are in the middle of one.”

Kreeft: “But we are commanded to love our enemies, not to make war.”

Muhammad: “We love our human enemies, we war against our spirit enemies.”

Kreeft: “Aren’t Muslims famous for confusing the two and fighting literal holy wars?”

Muhammad: “Some. About three percent of Muslims in the world believe that jihad means physical war, killing infidels. But the Quran makes it quite clear that this war is first within oneself and against one’s own sins and infidelities.”

Kreeft: “But your people, the Arabs, are world-famous for violence.”

Muhammad: “Unlike your people in Northern Ireland, I suppose.”

Kreeft: “But your whole history is full of–“

Muhammad: “Crusades and inquisitions and forced conversions and anti-Semitism and religious wars?”

Kreeft: “I quickly realized that my `argument’ was going nowhere except to blow up in my face.” Thereupon Muhammad continued more gently:

Let me try to explain. Islam and jihad are intrinsically connected. For Islam means not only `submission' but also `peace,' the peace that the world cannot give, the peace that only God can give when we submit to Him. And this submission requires the inner jihad, a war on our war against God. So we get the paradoxical result that peace (Islam) is attained only through war (jihad). And this peace also leads to war, because the submission that is this peace requires us to obey God's will, and God's will for us is to become spiritual warriors against evil.[21]

Especially in recent decades, no term has perhaps been more misunderstood by Muslims and non-Muslims alike than the word jihad. Among both Muslim extremists on the one hand and the general public in the West on the other, jihad has come to be associated with military conflict, the use of force and compulsion and intolerance generally. All conceptions of jihad that place primary emphasis on violence are radically anti-Quranic and now constitute major impediments to any new beginning in Muslim-Western relations.[22]

In the West, far too many commentators expostulate about Islam who have no knowledge of Arabic. In fact, it is a useful exercise to analyze the various meanings of jihad as offered in the two best Arabic-English dictionaries available, Hans Wehr’s A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic and William Edward Lane’s An Arabic-English Lexicon (both published in Beirut by Librairie du Liban, 1980). The Arabic root of the word jihad means variously to try, to endeavor, to strive, to exert effort and to put oneself out. In the four classes of verbs in which the root appears, only one (verb-class three) incorporates any notion whatsoever of military activity. Even here, warfare is only a tertiary meaning. Both Wehr and Lane agree that the principal meaning of the class-three verb is to “endeavor” or to “strive” in primarily moral or spiritual ways.

Jihad has been historically understood by Muslims as of two different sorts, one far more important than the other. The “greater” jihad is the eternal struggle of each individual human soul against temptation and the wiles of Satan. The “lesser” jihad, now much emphasized but downplayed in Islamic history, is the conduct of defensive war to protect the Islamic community. On the permissibility of defensive war only, the Quran is explicit: “And fight in the way of God against those who fight against you,” the Quran states, “and be not aggressive; for surely God loves not the aggressors” (2:19). Fighting, the Quran explains, is permitted by Muslims only against people “who broke their oaths and aimed at the expulsion of the Prophet and attacked you first” (9:13). When defensive religious war is unavoidable, the Quran makes clear that no advantage should be taken of the situation to amass booty. “Let those fight in the way of God,” it observes, “who sell this world’s life for the Hereafter” (4:74). Above all, the Quran emphasizes that peace is much to be preferred to military conflict: “If [one’s enemies] incline to peace, incline thou also to it and trust in God…. And if they intend to deceive thee-then surely God is sufficient for thee” (8:61, 62). In fact, the Quranic understanding of jihad has much in common with the Christian notion of “just war.”[23]

If it is difficult to discuss Islam objectively today, it may be more difficult yet to persuade many that the contemporary Islamic revival, so glibly represented by such of the Western media as constituting Medieval fanaticism and political extremism, is in fact something radically different. At least in the Arab world, “Islamic fundamentalism” is now primarily a politically moderate phenomenon that is supportive of traditional values and morality, endorses limited and responsive government, and emphasizes the importance to economic development of private property and entrepreneurship.[24] The Islamic revival has been considerably more successful than were the secular Arab nationalists in bringing women out of the home and into both politics and civil society. In common with American conservatives, the vast majority of individuals and groups involved in the contemporary Islamic revival articulate an agenda that accords priority to the “permanent things,” to the “wisdom of the ancestors,” and to cultural orientations profoundly inimical to the secularist radicalism that Kreeft deplores. To date, only the Vatican among major Western institutions has recognized this truth. I refer to Pope John Paul II’s recent cooperation with major Muslim countries (Libya and Iran being two) at both the Cairo Conference on Population and the Beijing Conference on Women.

Much of the return to an activist religious faith by Muslims worldwide should be understood by American conservatives to be good news. The Islamic revival has largely purged Muslim countries (with the notable exceptions of Syria and Iraq) of the socialist nationalism once symbolized by Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt. Islamic movements have everywhere taken the initiative in reactivating that civil society, or “Third Sector,” which Nasserist statism had done so much to destroy. Today, Islamist Arab intellectuals are spearheading discussion about limiting the power of the state and achieving an appropriate equilibrium between liberty an community. Everywhere, Islamist intellectuals are articulating notions of culture, tradition and society strikingly congruent with the world view of the late Russell Kirk and Robert Nisbet and the scholarship of the distinguished American student of Third World societies, Grace Goodell of The Johns Hopkins University. The reassertion of conservatism in the Islamic world should be understood by American conservatives to constitute an opportunity to recruit new allies among moderate Islamists in order more effectively to confront the radical secularism of late modernity that is now so prevalent everywhere.[25]

To this end, a unique international association was established in 1997 consisting of distinguished Christian and Muslim scholars of conservative or traditionalist inclination committed to a common investigation of the permanent things. The association, the Circle of Tradition and Progress, recently held its second international symposium in London.[26] The objective of the research, conferences and publications which the Circle projects is to reintegrate Mediterranean and Arab Islam within that Western world of which it long constituted an important part. The Circle’s goal is to accomplish this within the parameters of cultural conservatism, democratic governance and individual liberty.

The organization’s founding statement specifically cites Edmund Burke, Eric Voegelin, Russell Kirk and Gerhart Niemeyer as providing much of its inspiration. The following excerpt may give a more substantive notion of what the Circle is about:

Implicit in the modernist project derived substantially from the European Enlightenment is an arrogant and naive insistence that human fulfillment can be achieved solely on materialistic bases, and a belief in the absolute autonomy of human reason and in man's presumed ability to transcend his moral and cultural systems in isolation from any belief in transcendence. The Circle [proposes to focus] on the preservation of religious and traditional values and [to work for] progress in the Muslim world, the West, and elsewhere. Among much else, the Circle [will seek to encourage] a societal holism [which] will incorporate accountable and democratic govemment, basic individual liberty and human rights, and an economic system that is both free and humane. What [the Circle] proposes is to reestablish an equilibrium between the spiritual and the material, and reclaim for our time what have been called the "permanent things." Most broadly, the intention of the Circle is to foster intellectual activities designed to rectify the modern rupture between economics and ethics, reason and religion, and man and God. Above all, [the Circle] hope[s] to encourage greater understanding between religions and to contribute to reconciliation of peoples and to international cooperation.[27]

On the threshold of a new century, it seems especially appropriate that all of the children of Abraham endeavor to reject religious, cultural or geostrategic polarization. Rather, it now seems imperative for each of the monotheistic faiths to seek to create the conditions for undertaking common campaigns to address the problems that currently confront them all. On this score as on so much else, Imam Abd al-Raouf offers good counsel. “We earnestly urge [our friends in the West],” he writes, “to go back to God, to turn their face to Him …. What was morally right for Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad must be the same for us whether we live in America, Europe, Asia or Africa. We all should remember that we are brothers, members of the [same] human family. [Therefore] let us live together in peace ….” [28]

The activities of the Circle of Tradition and Progress are merely one (conservative) attempt to foster realization of exactly those objectives.


* Dr. Sullivan is an associate in the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Studies at the University of Michigan. This article is adapted from a paper read at the 1999 annual meeting of the Philadelphia Society and published in the Middle East Policy Journal, Vol. VII, October 1999, pp. 38-49.

[1] For their counsel or comments on aspects of this paper, I am grateful to Leonard J. Hochberg, Robert L. Houbeck, Jr., Leonard P. Liggio and Stephen J. Tonsor.

[2] For one judicious recent essay on terrorism, see Bernard Lewis, “License to Kill: Usama bin Ladin’s Declaration of Jihad,” Foreign Affairs, November/December 1998. Lewis observes that “At no point do the basic texts of Islam enjoin terrorism and murder. At no point do they even consider the random slaughter of uninvolved bystanders.” Lewis also takes note of Islam’s generally excellent record of tolerance toward non-Muslim religious communities, especially when contrasted with medieval Christianity, where “evictions of Jews and … Muslims [by Christians] were normal and frequent” (p.19). It is unfortunate that this dispassionate essay was accorded so lurid a title.

[3] See Ernst Cassirer, Paul Oskar Kristeller and John Herman Randall, Jr., eds., Renaissance Philosophy of Man: Selections in Translation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1956), p. 223.

[4] For example, Conor Cruise O’Brien writes that Muslim society “looks profoundly repulsive…. It looks repulsive because it is repulsive…. Arab society is sick…. A Westerner who claims to admire Muslim society, while still adhering to Western values, is either a hypocrite or an ignoramus or a bit of both.” (The Times [London], May 11, 1989).

[5] For one particularly misinformed opinion of Islam, see the special section on “Islam and the West” in Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, February 1999, pp. 10-23. It contains essays by Thomas Fleming, editor of the magazine, and James George Jatras (described as a “policy analyst” in the U.S. Senate), Harold O.J. Brown, and Srdja Trifkovic. For many years, Chronicles and its editor have been staunch partisans of Serbia and defenders of the Serbian military campaign against Muslims in the Balkans.

[6] For a summary of the stereotypes and the legacy of policy blunders that impede the United States from encouraging such a new beginning, see Augustus Richard Norton, “Rethinking United States Policy Toward the Muslim World,” Current History, February 1999, pp. 51-58.

[7] It may be useful to recall an observation by the Muslim Imam Muhammad Abd al-Raouf. Just as in Christianity, where “injustice, corruption and bloodletting have been committed in the name of a faith that teaches love, tenderness and sympathy,” so in Islam, Abd al-Raouf noted, “one must make a distinction between the ideal and the reality, and between Muslims in the ideal and Muslims as they actually behave …. There is and has almost always been a gap between Islam and the Muslims.” (A Muslim’s Reflections on Democratic Capitalism [Washington: American Enterprise Institute, 1984], p. 21).

[8] Ibn Ishaq, Sira 153, in Alfred Guillaume (trans. and ed.), The Life of Muhammad (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1955), p. 107.

[9] Op. cit., p. 69.

[10] See David Gress, From Plato to Nato: The Idea of the West and its Opponents (New York: Free Press, 1998). Gress’s discomfort with the category of Graeco-Roman is due to the fact that he associates the putative ideals of classical Greece (which the Roman Empire helped to disseminate) with the “radical” (Voltaire) rather than “skeptical” (Montesquieu, David Hume) Enlightenment and with twentieth-century American liberalism. In particular, Gress identifies the formation of the West more with Christian ethics and Germanic ideas of limited power than with such “abstract” notions as democracy and tolerance, whose source he identifies as a traditional but flawed Grand Narrative located in classical Greece. Gress maintains that since the Enlightenment the West has erred because it has used the myth of ancient Greece as a “replacement for Christianity” (p. 60). Gress follows Samuel P. Huntington in treating Islam as an alien and potentially enemy Other (pp. 527-534). For an insightful critique of Gress, see Morton A. Kaplan, “What is the West?” The World and I, Vol. 13, No. 12, December 1998, pp. 14-15. Kaplan points out that classical Greek science was derived from North Africa and the Middle East and that Christianity is hardly a Western invention. Kaplan implicitly argues for retention of the category “Graeco-Roman” as a proper designation of the essence of the West. Kaplan maintains that today the most dangerous enemies of the West are not outside it but “within its very bowels” in the form of irrationalism, relativism and the collapse of faith.

[11] For one seminal explication of the commonalities of that civilization, see Charles Braudel, La Mediterranée a l’époque de Phillipe II (Paris: Librairie Armand Colin, 1949). An English translation was published by the University of California Press in 1995.

[12] For a recent analysis of how problematic the traditional notion is of a peninsular European continent and culture terminating neatly at the Bosporous, see J.G.A. Pocock, “What Do We Mean By Europe?” The Wilson Quarterly, Winter 1997.

[13] Liggio to Sullivan, electronic mail, November 1, 1998.

[14] For one insightful critique of Huntington which emphasizes that nationalities and ethnicities, not civilizations, will prove the major strategic and military contenders in the future, see John Gray, “Global Utopias and Clashing Civilizations: Misunderstanding the Present,” International Affairs, January 1998.

[15] See “The Clash of Civilizations?” Foreign Affairs, Summer 1993.

[16] Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996). One major error in Huntington’s book is that he uses the terms “Islam” and “Muslims” in both a descriptive and a causative sense, with no apparent effort to separate the two or make any delineation between one and the other. When using these words in the causative sense, Huntington allocates to “Muslims” or “Islam” the responsibility for producing war and acts of violence. This denotation of agency does not hold water. Violence, terrorism or aggressive warfare have nothing to do with Islam as a religion or social system, or with the practice of their faith by individual Muslims. The very evidence that Huntington himself presents suggests that the turbulence in Middle Eastern and South Asian societies relates directly to rapid demographic increase, feeble or negative economic growth, and a variety of real or imagined societal blockages that have radicalized some of the recent immigrants to the large cities in the region who are convinced that they have no future.

[17] See Huntington, “The Erosion of American National Interests,” Foreign Affairs, September/October 1997, p.32.

[18] Loc. cit., p. 3 1.

[19] For a more balanced discussion of this entire subject and a gentle explanation of why many Muslims today are critical of the West, see Kurshid Ahmad, “Islam and the West: Confrontation or Cooperation?” The Muslim World, January-April 1995.

[20] Kreeft’s observations illustrate well Karen Armstrong’s argument that “for the first time, people all over the world are beginning to find inspiration in more than one religion…. The barriers of geographical distance, hostility and fear, which once kept the religions in separate, watertight compartments, are beginning to fall…. This is a hopeful development” (see Armstrong, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet [San Francisco: Harper, 1992], pp. 9-10). Armstrong’s book is by far the best study available for anyone new to the subject.

[21] Pp. 98-102. For an echo of what Kreeft has to say by a prominent Muslim, see Kurshid Ahmad, “The Nature of Islamic Resurgence,” in John L. Esposito, ed., Voices of Resurgent Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983). Ahmad states: “Had Western culture been based on Christianity, on morality, on faith … contact and conflict [between the West and the Muslim world] would have been different. But this [has not been] the case [with the West]. The choice is between the Divine Principle and a secular materialist culture…. In fact those human beings who are concerned over the spiritual and moral crisis of our times should heave a sigh of relief over Islamic resurgence, and not be put off or scared by it” (p. 228).

[22] For the best scholarly study of jihad available in English, see Rudolph Peters, Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam (Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers, 1966).

[23] For one excellent recent study of the idea of just war in Christianity and Islam, see James Turner Johnson, The Holy War Idea in Western and Islamic Traditions (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997).

[24] The Quran emphatically endorses the individual’s right to hold private property, as long as all property owners understand that their “ownership” is in fact a trusteeship held from God, to which all things ultimately belong. The Quran and Hadith also prescribe free trade and oppose price fixing. According to Islamic law, entrepreneurship is obligatory, both to satisfy immediate economic needs and to create capital. Indeed, to accumulate capital is considered to be of greater value than engaging in “extra” acts of worship. On this last point, see especially Abd al-Hayy al-Kattani, Kitab Nizam al-Hukuma al-Nabawiyya, also known as Al-Taratib al-Idariyya [The System of Prophetic Government] (Beirut, A.H. 1347), Vol. 2, especially pp. 3 and 24.

[25] Concerning the possibility of forming an international ecumenical alliance to combat radical secularism, some recent comments by Allan Carlson, president of the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society, are suggestive. In a speech entitled “The Family of Faith Today: Shaping the Global Future” which he delivered in the Philippines on March 27-28, 1999, Mr. Carlson reported: “During the 1997 United Nations Habitat conference in Nairobi, [a] … coalition of conservative Christians and Orthodox Muslims took form, much to the consternation of the conference leaders. As a report by NGO Family Voice, a group affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, related: “The interest of [Muslim] nations [in our work] was often quite pointed. For example, during an informal `hallway’ discussion…. the Iranian Ambassador noted … that `your group is different from the others’ and inquired whether our position on the family was merely `political posturing’ or was `based on a deeper spiritual foundation.’ [The Ambassador] suggested that his people would benefit immensely from meeting with Americans who believed in the importance of both the family and spirituality.”

[26] Christian members of the Circle’s Steering Committee include David Burrell, Charles Butterworth, Louis Cantori, John Esposito, Leonard Liggio and Antony T. Sullivan. Muslim members are predominantly Egyptian and include such eminent Arab intellectuals as Kamal Abu al Magd, Muhammad Amara, Tariq al Bishri, Fahmi Huweidi and Yusuf al Qaradawi.

[27] See the MESA Newsletter, August 1997, p. 11.

[28] Abd al-Raouf, op. cit., p. 67.


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