Muslim scholars write the pope – and everyone else
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"Even though the [Muslim] religion is traditionally resistant to creating hierarchies, it has to come up with a mechanism of making the opinions of mainstream orthodoxy known," he says. "Finally the Muslim world is waking up to the fact that it needs to improve its public relations skills."Skip to next paragraph
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He points to a lack of reporting in the West of the widespread condemnation of 9/11 by Muslim scholars. He also recalls a letter calling for tolerance by largely the same group of scholars in the wake of the Danish cartoon controversy earlier this year. That letter was released at a press conference but received little notice. "Journalists actually admitted it was very hard to understand,'' says Mr. Winter.
That was because, he says, it was overly scholastic. "The problem that the Muslim leadership has is that it's basically made up of medieval men that generally have the right views when it comes to terrorism or political violence, but they have no media skills. When asked a question, they look grave, invoke the name of God and then address it in a rather complicated and beautiful way the mass media can't cope with.... This statement seems to be much more on the ball."
Nakhooda says he hopes the letter to the pope is the latest in a series of initiatives, and points to a compilation of fatwas released in Jordan Tuesday that was signed by 500 scholars who seek to affirm "true Islam forbids wanton terrorism and aggression," as the document's forward, signed by Jordan's King Abdullah, puts it.
"The argument has been over the years that the churches and the governments can't find a single [Muslim] body to speak to. We don't have a papacy, one unified church, so it's hard to speak to a single voice that is a representation of the [Islamic] community," says Nakhooda.
"The document [Tuesday] has 500 signatures from across the Muslim world, condemning the killing of innocent lives and" the tactics of Al Qaeda, he says. "We're trying to reclaim the moral high ground for Islam; we hope that eventually this will be seen accurately as reflective of the majority tendency in Islam."
The following are excerpts from a letter written by 38 Muslim scholars to Pope Benedict XVI on his comments about Islam that sparked widespread condemnation. The full letter is online at Islamica Magazine.
"While we applaud your efforts to oppose the dominance of positivism and materialism in human life, we must point out some errors in the way you mentioned Islam....
"You mention that 'according to the experts' the verse which begins, There is no compulsion in religion (al-Baqarah 2:256) is from the early period when the Prophet 'was still powerless and under threat,' but this is incorrect. In fact this verse is acknowledged to belong to the period of Quranic revelation corresponding to the political and military ascendance of the young Muslim community. There is no compulsion in religion was not a command to Muslims to remain steadfast in the face of the desire of their oppressors to force them to renounce their faith, but was a reminder to Muslims themselves, once they had attained power, that they could not force another's heart to believe....
"We would like to point out that 'holy war' is a term that does not exist in Islamic languages. Jihad, it must be emphasized, means struggle, and specifically struggle in the way of God. This struggle may take many forms, including the use of force. Though a jihad may be sacred in the sense of being directed towards a sacred ideal, it is not necessarily a 'war'. .
"God says in the Holy Qur'an: Let not hatred of any people seduce you into being unjust. Be just, that is nearer to piety (al-Ma'idah 5:8). In this context we must state that the murder on September 17th of an innocent Catholic nun in Somalia – and any other similar acts of wanton individual violence... is completely un-Islamic, and we totally condemn such acts.
"The notion that Muslims are commanded to spread their faith 'by the sword' ... does not hold up to scrutiny.... Islamic teaching did not prescribe that the conquered populations be forced or coerced into converting....
"Christians and Muslims reportedly make up over a third and over a fifth of humanity respectively....Upon this sincere and frank dialogue we hope to continue to build peaceful and friendly relationships based upon mutual respect, justice, and what is common in essence in our shared Abrahamic tradition, particularly 'the two greatest commandments' in Mark 12: 29-31."