At times, positive things come out of negative events. No one knows for sure where the world is heading after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington and after the present bombing of Afghanistan. One thing, however, we are beginning to be sure about: the truth – truths, rather – about Islam are beginning to emerge.
For a long time, Islam has been a victim – a victim of misunderstanding, distortion and misrepresentation, at two levels: external and internal.
Externally, the relationship between the Islamic world and Europe and the rest of the Western world has been largely unhealthy. Negative, reductive and at times sinister images and ideas about Islam have existed for centuries in Europe and the Western world. Such ideas and images have been promoted both intentionally and unintentionally (as a result, among other things, of the rivalry that existed between East and West) by politicians, army generals, travellers, intellectuals, writers, businessmen, historians, media people, scholars and private individuals.
The Islamic world has been associated, among other things, with violence, ignorance, extremism, emotionalism, foolish romanticism, hatred of the West, etc.
Internally, some people and groups from within the Islamic world itself have harmed the image of Islam through their un-Islamic ideas and practices. Some have, for decades, been using (and therefore abusing) Islam for political agendas of sorts. Some have allowed their social, regionalist, nationalist, racial, gender and personal whims, prejudices and complexes to colour (and negatively so) their discourse and behaviour, deliberately or unwittingly, promoting un-Islamic ideas about Islam itself.
Since the late seventies, in particular, there have emerged “Muslims” in many Arab countries who carry the torch of Islam or espouse the cause of Islam but whose notion of Islam, ideas and practices are extreme, harsh and alien to the region and the religion. While millions in the various Arab and Muslim countries have initially responded with eagerness and enthusiasm and have showed immense support for these individuals and groups, associating their emergence and spread with the (expected) emergence and renaissance of Islam, large portions of these millions have been slowly but constantly disappointed, disillusioned and dismayed by the ideas and practices of these individuals and groups.
Before and after the Sept. 11 events, Islam has suffered (and continues to do so) at the two levels just cited, the anti-Islamic and the un-Islamic. Negative images, ideas, stereotypes and practices do not disappear overnight.
Nevertheless, the speeches, statements, communiqués, fatwas that have come out after Sept. 11 dissociating Islam from terror are certainly positive. The statements made in the US and Europe, as well as those made in various individual Arab and Islamic countries, underscoring Islam’s respect of human life, peacefulness, rejection of violence, espousal of love among nations, etc., are significant indeed. At the time when there are evil forces outside and inside working to blemish and harm the image of Islam, it is important for the forces of good in the West and in the East to assert the positive image of and truths about Islam.
Islam is a religion of love, of science, of scholarship, of cooperation; of respect of race, colour, gender; a religion of fairness and equality; a religion of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. Islam is a blessing not only for Muslims but for the whole mankind.
It pains one immensely to see it distorted, manipulated and abused. But it pleases one greatly to see the anti-Islamic and the un-Islamic notions dispelled, refuted and rejected, and to see the truth (truths) about Islam begin to emerge.
Mr. Ahmad Y. Majdoubeh contributed above article to the Jordan Times.