Recently on the Euronews television channel I watched a report on human rights in Saudi Arabia, focusing on the struggle of women to drive. There was dramatic, clandestine footage of burka-enshrouded women at the wheel of 4X4s, incurring the curiosity, and occasional wrath, of other drivers and bystanders.
This both angered and saddened me. The driving issue is pounced upon by television news because it is so dramatic. Where else in the world is it a criminal and societal offence for women to drive, for heaven’s sake? And where else in the world do the women look so bizarre, like extras from a science fiction movie?
So while these occasional reports are ostensibly about human rights, I think they have the opposite effect of bolstering people’s prejudices about Muslims in general, and Islam in particular.
Ben Daniel writes in The Search for Truth About Islam: A Christian Pastor Separates Fact from Fiction:
“If you want an example of what it looks like when a society is built upon the precepts of Islam, don’t use the Taliban in Afghanistan as your example or even the Wahhabite regime in Saudi Arabia. Instead, look to Cordoba and to the Muslim societies of Southern Spain during the Middle Ages. There you will find an example of what Islamic society is meant to look like.”
At the beginning of the chapter about Cordoba, he quotes some lines from Lawrence of Arabia: “Do you know, Lieutenant, in the Arab city of Cordoba there were two miles of public lighting in the streets when London was a village? … I long for the vanished gardens of Cordoba.”
The ruler of modern Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed, has stated in his book My Vision that it is his ultimate aim for the emirate to achieve the cultural, social, economic and political ascendancy of this long-vanished city.
In 2009, The New York Times published an article about the plan of a group of “well-financed, moderate” Muslims to construct an Islamic community centre at the site of an abandoned Burlington coat factory in Lower Manhattan, a few blocks from the World Trade Center site to be named Cordoba House…
The project was given the go-ahead by the New York City Planning Commission, which resulted in an extraordinarily vitriolic and sustained attack by right-wing blogger Pamela Geller. Former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, also jumped on the bandwagon, decrying that “Cordoba House is a deliberately insulting term” that referred to “the capital of Muslim conquerors.”
The name was eventually changed to Park 51, its street address. How sad that history itself is perverted in the name of bigotry. Daniel writes:
“Advances in hygiene, agriculture and mathematics notwithstanding, the crowning cultural achievement of Cordoba (and indeed of Muslim Spain) may have been the gathering unto Cordoba of a remarkable collection of books. Although a well-stocked library in Northern Europe around 1000BC may at best have had 400 books, the libraries in Cordoba had hundreds of thousands of volumes…”
Why the deliberate and provocative misrepresentation of history in the US? Why are people as divisive as Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer allowed to shape the anti-Islamic public debate, sowing constant dissent and outrage?
Daniel asks Dr Hatem Bazian, who has a PhD in Philosophy and Islamic Studies from UC Berkeley, for a message to the Christian readers of his book:
“Remember, we are the ‘strangers’ that you are asked to take care of, and we look at you as the strangers we need to care for. We’re all travelling in this world, and we need to find ways for us to sit down and talk and know one another.”
Daniel notes towards the beginning of his book that “there are significant analogues between the American fear of communism during the McCarthy era and the American fear of Islam at the beginning of the twenty-first century.” He points to the widely-held belief in the US that Barack Obama “is a Muslim because he has Muslim relatives and a Muslim-sounding name.”
With Islam perceived as a threat to Western civilisation, the obvious corollary is that Obama himself is a threat to the US. What is particularly disturbing about this twisted logic is that, even if Obama were Muslim, why would it make an iota of difference to the status quo, given the entrenched freedoms and protections guaranteed by the US Constitution?
How many people in the US know that Allah is always referenced by Muslims as “the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful”, thereby reflecting the tolerance and compassion of this great religion? How many people know the real meaning of such concepts as ‘sharia’ and ‘jihad’? How many people know what the Five Pillars of Islam are? How many people know the difference between the various Islamic sects, such as the ultra-conservative Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia?
How many people will read The Search for Truth About Islam by Ben Daniel, I wonder? Daniel has done a commendable job of explaining Islam, without proselytising. Reading this will not subvert you to the ‘Islamic cause’, or secretly indoctrinate you. What I really liked is how Daniel approaches his subject with dispassion and empathy, interviewing people from all walks of life, from people on the street to academics, as well as visiting academic institutions, places of worship, homes and communities and sites of historical interest.
A lot of what is written here should be practical commonsense, like notions of tolerance and civic responsibility. I think we rely too much, in this day and age of instant and ‘viral’ communication, for hatemongers like Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer to sow fear of the unknown, leading moderate citizens to betray the dictates of their values and their conscience.
On the one hand, it is an indictment of modern Christianity that we need such a book to tell us not to persecute people based on differences of religion and culture. My Christian friends tell me that all non-believers (Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, paganists, Wiccans, the list goes on and on) will burn in hell one day because they have not accepted the One True God and been saved by His eternal sacrifice. On the other hand, Daniel’s book is a reflection of the grace that is emblematic of Christianity at its most inspired and visionary. It is up to us to ensure we reflect this grace by embodying the values and standards that Christianity imparts to us.