On Sept 11th 2001, the world changed. The terror
produced by that onslaught on a civilization has put a
world faith in the dock and has opened up a serious
breach between the West and the Middle East. The
urgent question facing the human family is to find
solutions that will enable us to live at peace and to
deal with the roots of terrorism.
In my view there surely cannot be a more relevant book
than “Islam Under Siege” written by one of the most
distinguished Muslim scholars today. Prof. Akbar Ahmed
comes with impeccable credentials. A noted scholar in
the field of anthropology, he has also served as the
High Commissioner of Pakistan to the United Kingdom.
It was in that capacity that I first met him when I
was Archbishop of Canterbury. I remember being
impressed by his keen awareness and appreciation of
different cultures and by his urgent recognition that
Islam and the West face urgent questions that can only
be resolved together.
In this small but highly significant book Prof Ahmed’s
well-argued thesis is that the soul of Islam faces an
unparalleled challenge as fundamentalists,
masquerading as faithful Muslims, seek to transform a
peaceful and good faith into a religion of terror.
Although a faithful Muslim, the writer is candid in
his reflections about Islam and its capacity to reform
itself. He introduces this great faith to Western
readers and traces the contribution it has made to
Western thought. But he makes no bones concerning the
struggle that is going on in Islam between the vast
majority of peaceful, good Muslims who simply wish to
live their lives and their faith alongside those who
think and act differently, and the tiny minority of
Muslims, such as the Taliban and other extremists,
whose fanaticism is indeed a rejection of true Islam.
In this connection Prof. Ahmed introduces the
fascinating concept of living in a “post-honor” world.
If I have understood him correctly, “honor” is an
Islamic concept that underlies one’s estimate and
appreciation of another. Interestingly, the idea has a
background in medieval Christianity too, and may
suggest that basic to all human living is a genuine
kindness, tolerance and faithfulness that allows
diversity and variety of expression. If this
approximates to Prof. Ahmed’s thought, all mature
Christians as well as Muslims, can identify with his
vision of a world that allows us all to live together
in peace and harmony.
However in this splendid and well-written work there
is a twofold challenge. Islam is challenged to wake up
to a world in which it must change and adapt and enter
into a deeper dialogue with other great faiths. He
doesn’t pull his punches as he comments that it must
rebuild an idea of Islam which includes justice,
tolerance and the quest for knowledge.
He has some
gentle but nevertheless candid things to say of the
West. It has to start listening not only to Islam but
to other parts of the world where searching questions
are going on about consumerism, community and
globalization. The West may be the engine of change
throughout the world but it will only be an effective
tool if its starts to enter into a dialogue with those
who think differently. It too has a major
responsibility for establishing world peace.
In truth, I cannot think of a more timely book that
“Islam under Siege”. As we face all the perils and
opportunities of a New Year, Prof. Akbar Ahmed offers
us a clear vision that has the potential to unite us
in common action and purpose.
Dr. George Carey was the Archbishop of Canterbury and
President of the Anglican Communion from 1991- 2002.
He is now Lord Carey of Clifton and continues to take
an active role in inter-faith matters and development