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Islamic and Western Values - Part 1

Updated on November 5, 2015

West-Islamic Dialogue: Religion and Values

Bernard Lewis: The leading historian on Islam

Western Perception of Islam

Even before the unfortunate event of 9/11 - it was not a hidden fact that there existed a mutual antipathy between West and Islam. In fact the hostilities and conflicts between the two have re-surged over and again in different times in the history of the world. Early forces of Muslims faced a tough opposition in form of a Byzantine Empire; which was ultimately destroyed in 1453, after the conquest of Constantinople.

Muslim armies in their formative phase successfully conquered Middle East and North Africa, which were a part of Roman Empire – an empire whose ruler embraced Christianity in 333 A.D and as a consequence whole empire became Christian. However, during sixteenth seventeenth and eighteenth century - Islamic Empires became weaker and lost control of the areas that they previously held. Resultants vacuum which emerging after weakening of Islamic influence was filled up by growing in strength - European Empires.

Eventually, whole of the Muslim world was colonized by one European power or the other - in a way a favor was returned from Europeans of early Muslim conquests of Christian areas, and of five hundred years Ottoman rule over Balkans. The subsequent decolonization was obviously a bloody process, and Muslim world was able to achieve self rule but mutual acrimony did not diminish between these two civilizations. Which are so proud to be different from one another, the attacks on World Trade Center and Pentagon marked the beginning of new era, which is certainly a continuation of the bitter history of past. However, current conflict between the two has an influence over whole world, not just over Peoples belonging to these two civilizations. Furthermore, the age of globalization has paved for change of dynamics of conflict. Soon after the attacks of 9/11, some experts suggested that Western world, to some extent has awaken from slumber to ever present threat of an ancient rival - which is Islam.

The objective of this article is not to shed a light over, if there is a conflict between West and Islam or what are possible chances of cooperation? In fact, an effort is undertaken to elucidate as to what makes these great civilizations so different and what are those underlying values that make them different from one another and are often the point of conflict between two over the course of centuries?

Some in West, such as people like Pat Robertson, chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) assert out of insufficient study on Islam: that it is not a religion but an ideology. Thus, it would take some effort to defeat this ideology which masquerades as religion. West should become conscious of the differences between two civilizations and of threat that barbarous Islam poses to the modern, western liberal order. And in the end, it’s about the values that these two civilizations dearly propound and adhere to. Age of globalization has changed a lot; it’s not just about the knowledge of Islam that’s dispensed on the Internet, which has grown to be a factor in determining the relationship between peoples of two entities. However, Western people get to know Muslims personally due to increasing immigration of Muslims to various parts of Western lands. Thus, having looked at Islam and Muslim culture closely; Westerners are asking, perhaps most relevant question of the present day: Is Islam compatible with the modern, liberal values?

People in West are already beginning to suspect the motives and intentions of the Muslim Diaspora due to its isolationist tendencies. Westerners tend to think of Muslim societies as backward looking, obscurantist and inhumanely governed, oppressed and held back by religion, when compared with their own enlightened societies advocating freedom and liberty. However, they should always keep in mind that Islam is not just a religion in the sense that any other religion is believed to be, neither is it a political movement. It is a way of life, which has built a civilization to encompass every activity of its adherents. As for aspects that are believed to be degenerating – may just have been part of Western societies until fairly recently. While, today Islamic societies may not be lagging behind Western societies, technologically and socially as much as some people believe them to be.

From the Muslim point of view, the question is what path must be followed in order to attain highest quality of life as Western values do not have answers for every problem. Therefore Islamic values need to be considered seriously.

Mores and Values Have Changed

There are laws in the West (some of which still are part of books) against premarital sex, but they are rarely enforced. Today sex consented is a common practice and parents approve of this as a physical necessity, and it is now completely accepted social norm within Western societies. By the same token, acts of homosexuality between males were forbidden in U.K until 1960s, but they were not outlawed between females in following decades. It is important to remind oneself of just how recently during times of contemporary history are such acts legalized, of which most westerners may not be aware of.

In contemporary times, majority of Westerners would assert that laws against homosexuality are a violation of basic human rights. They are likely to react in revulsion when individuals involved in homosexuality are dealt with severe consequence in Muslim countries. However, gay marriage is declared legal by US Supreme Court in its historic judgment, just recently. Sam sex is now legal across whole of America after 5-4 ruling in Obergefell vs. Hodges case. Supreme Court has determined the right to marriage between male partners; hence equality is protected under the U.S constitution in a decision hailed as ‘victory of love’.

Moreover, Islamic countries are criticized by the imposition of capital punishment. Pakistan currently has implemented death penalty, given its peculiar security situation, in America capital punishments are on the rise as well. Human right organizations term it as a violation of human rights citing that no human should be devoid of his/her life, whatever the severity of the crime may be. Thus, to them life imprisonment is way forward as a recourse. But some of the advocates of death penalty within Muslim World justify its implementation as the best way to purge society of the heinous crimes committed by those individuals.

Hijab Is A Choice

Women Rights

Muslim World has been criticized for ages over the alleged mistreatment of the women, and it is true that this is the serious problem within their societies that needs to be sorted out. Furthermore, it is true that many Muslims would like to see a credible change in this regard. Most often, it the spirit of law that is ignored and the letter of the law is followed at the expense of what law really entails as far as what sort of 'role of woman' has been defined in a Muslim society.

In this way laws and Islamic rulings on sexual modesty most often pave the way for extreme segregation between both males and females, especially in public sphere, which proves marginalizing for women. But it should not be downplayed that interpretation of the law is mostly done by clergy which is male dominated. Serious analysis of the rights granted to women by Islam should be undertaken: modern readers may not be known that Islam was the first religion to bless woman with property rights. In contrast, just recently in 1870s was British woman permitted to hold property independent of his husband. Daughters within Western world could inherit property of their parents if there are sons within a family.

Furthermore, it is imperative to know what role has society defined for woman, besides laws. U.S never had a female President, while ironically two of the most populous Muslim countries had three female Prime ministers. Benazir Bhutto ruled Pakistan twice during the late 80s and 90s, while Hasina Wajid and Khalid Zia headed the governments in Bangladesh consecutively. Female empowerment has been on the rise in Muslim countries, though liberating them might take some more time.

Life Among Believers

Many people in West contend Islam as religion that holds Muslims back from potential progress that is up for the grab; as a result Muslims have missed on an epoch of prosperity in human history. Debate on secularism is an ongoing process amid Muslim societies as to if those should be secular at all, and if not to what an extent should the religion have a role in public sphere? Just recently such a discussion has subsided given the new wave of Islamization within Muslim societies. West, in contrast long ago divorced religion from public and political sphere, unlike Muslim societies; their societies are product of a secular model.

Therefore, the discussion is about the cultural differences that have been existing between two world civilizations, especially in the application of ‘secularism’ and the separation of ‘church and state’. Thus, from a Muslim perspective it would be corollary to ask to what an extent theocracy can be democratized?

Islam does have a role in the constitutions of the Muslim countries, it is another discussion altogether if those injunctions are put into practice, and if so, to what extents are they practiced? Westerners would like to claim they are being practiced and that Muslims have been following tenets of Islam religiously. However, Muslims would declare that, it is true that Islamic provisions have been made part of various constitutions but they are hardly practiced. Moreover, it is a accepted theme that Muslim countries have a general tendency to be theocratic, therefore, the central question is: Can the theocracies be democratized? It can be done, if you read British history: Henry VIII established the Church of England in 1531. Afterwards English democracy was made stronger by making theocracy weaker.

Furthermore, many of the democratic changes in Western world took place in late nineteenth and early twentieth century upon the extension of the right of vote to women and inclusion of new social classes. Much maligned theocracy of Iran is as old as three decades and already one may observe the softening of theocracy and beginning of liberalizing process.

Sheikh Ahmed Deedat - The Islamic Scholar


The Concept of the Sacred

The issue of censorship is also divisive between the West and Islam; take for instance the unfortunate episode of Salman Rushdie. Who wrote a satirical book ‘Satanic Verses’ bringing yet another point of controversy between two opposing world views. The book was immediately banned throughout Muslim World; this saga eventually uncovered some of the surprising realities of the Western hypocrisy. As closer scrutiny of this episode revealed that West may censor if demanded by Peoples other Muslims.

In book, Rushdie alleges that Quran as the handiwork of the author who claims to have been communicated by the higher being and said of things that are not proper to mention here. Overnight, Rushdie became darling of West and it became totally insensitive to the religious feelings of the wider Muslim world and maintained that an artist may go where ever his imagination led him. British law had regarded Lady Chatterley’s lover as distasteful for having the audacity to depict an extra marital affair between a member of gentry and a worker of the estate. Furthermore, many of the gay writers are treated with prejudice. Also, I do believe that Muslims acted in a emotional rash and completely forgot to read the book and missed out on what actually the book says.

In a public speech, Sheikh Ahmed Deedat exposed “how Rushdie fooled the West”. He said Muslims are worked up emotionally, and not many actually read the book. The actual news was convened through hearsay, and He went on to say that Rushdie had also made fun of the British Queen. But Westerners completely ignored that out of deeply rooted aversion towards Islam and Muslims. On page 461, of ‘Satanic verses’, the book says that “nigger eats white man’s shit” and on 529 it says that “ shit is bad...” in one place he calls Maggie the torture (Margaret Thatcher) and goes on further to call her.”...Maggie the bitch...”. Then on page 80 of the book, he says to all the British people “....sister fucking British.....” and on page no 169, he even cohabits with the queen. Despite racism, moral corruption he gets away from Western criticism of any kind. Censor ship is as much a fact of life in Western countries as is in the Muslim countries. In latter, one of the method is to do it violently if state is unrelenting, but in former; it is done by a state and if need be Western societies peacefully.


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