Saving Islam from the evangelists
of terror

By George Carey
Tuesday, December 30, 2003

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 concerns.

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