Thursday, May 14, 2009


by, Dr. Fred Kellogg

One area which divides Muslims today is that of the rights and responsibilities of women. The Qur'an defined the roles of women quite precisely for the seventh century. But how should the precepts of the Qur'an be applied to the twenty-first century? Questions of marriage and divorce, inheritance, and dress codes for women are hot issues in the Middle East. The revolutionary spirit among some Muslims today leads them to abandon the compromises made by their parents and ancestors, in an attempt to return to the basic beliefs and practices of Islam.
The term which best expresses the "back-to-basics" approach that is present today in both Islam and Christianity is fundamentalism. In the early 1900's a series of pamphlets describing "the fundamentals" of Christianity gave its name to such movements. Shi`ite Muslims today, especially Iranians, are seeking to bring their Sunni brothers and sisters away from their closeness to Western culture. They want to reestablish the oneness of the Islamic community and its dedication to the ideals of the Prophet. The powerful "corrupting" influence of Western culture is seen by fundamentalist Muslims as a clear and present danger, which demands extreme measures. Shi`ites are also taking on leadership roles in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein; it will be interesting to see how the Iraqi political structure develops in the years ahead. Saddam Hussein governed with a predominantly secularist approach, but with the support of the Sunni minority. Now Shi`ites, who comprise about 60% of the Iraqi population, have a strong voice in the future of Iraq. With its ancient and rich cultural heritage, Iraq represents an area of the Middle East which I hope will one day be at peace.
Fundamentalist Muslims are especially active in areas such as Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, and Afghanistan. The Iranian Revolution of the 1970's showed that the evils of modernism could be banished from an entire nation, and Shi`ite principles could become the law of the land. Success brought with it the desire to establish other Islamic theocracies on the Iranian model. Lebanon attracted the attention of Shi`ite revolutionaries when the coalition of Muslims and Christians that had governed the nation since World War II fell apart. The Lebanese civil war, which lasted many years, shattered leadership in Lebanon into many warring factions. Since Israel pulled its soldiers out of Lebanon several years ago, and Syria pulled the last of its soldiers out of Lebanon in 2005, perhaps eventually some of the groups can begin to work together again. Afghanistan's fundamentalism had enthusiastic adherents determined to rid their nation of Soviet control, but the Taliban produced one of the most strict codes of life in the whole Islamic world until it was removed from power. Palestine, Egypt, Pakistan, and other Islamic countries have also experienced significant fundamentalist activity in recent years.
If you are interested in the place of Islam in America today, let me recommend two books. You should begin with the powerful book written under the direction of Alex Haley (who produced the TV series, "Roots"): The Autobiography of Malcolm X (New York: Grove, 1966). It includes the story of how the pilgrimage to Mecca really changed Malcolm X's whole life. It also tells about the mysterious W. D. Fard and the beginnings of the "Black Muslims" (later called the Nation of Islam) under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad. Then go to Jane I. Smith, Islam in America (New York: Columbia UP, 2000). This book will bring you up to date on Islamic groups and leaders in America today. It also has very sensitive treatments of how American Muslims seek to preserve their religious and ethical values in a society that is predominantly Christian and Jewish.
What does the future hold for Islam? History gives us a picture of constant change in the nations and cultures that are part of the umma. The one thing which is certain is that the picture will continue to be volatile rather than stable. In spite of centuries of tension and turmoil, the Middle East still attracts us. As the origin of three great Western religions, it certainly has a rich potential. We may hope that some of that potential will one day be directed toward enabling human beings to live together in harmony! One word points to the dream of peace which people of the Middle East have longed for, throughout many centuries. That word sounds almost the same in both Semitic languages: salaam in Arabic, and shalom in Hebrew. Salaam or shalom is the peace which allows a person to enjoy a full life of happiness and fulfillment -- in a family, a community, a nation.

1 comment:

  1. wooooooooow, good posting

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