I HAVE friends in many Islamic countries. When they pray - five times a day - all of them kneel down, wherever they are, and turn their faces toward Mecca. For Muslims all over the world - not just in Iraq and Iran, but in India and Pakistan as well - Mecca is their Holy of Holies, the cradle of Islam and the living center of their faith. Few of the Western commentators that I have followed on television and in newspapers during the tragic developments in the Middle East seem to have realized that those events are of vital importance to the vast world of Islam, not just the Arab countries. Islam is a passionate religion, and for its devoted followers there is much more in this fierce confrontation between America and Iraq than protecting their oil supplies.
It may not take many months before the repercussions are felt from Saudi Arabia to Indonesia. I can attest from my personal knowledge of many dear Muslim friends - highly educated and cultured - that economic and political measures are likely to be overshadowed gradually by religious passions and fervor throughout the Islamic world.
I am well aware that President Saddam Hussein has a million battle-trained troops whom the American forces can overwhelm with their immense superiority in the air. May I add here, as a man who walked with Mahatma Gandhi, that the human spirit, nourished by religious faith, can defy chemical warfare or Stealth bombers, as was proved by Mahatma Gandhi and his Muslim counterpart in India, Badshah Khan, when they defied the might of the greatest empire the world has ever seen.
Nearly 40 years ago I wrote a letter of gentle protest to the US ambassador in India when President Eisenhower's administration began the policy of supplying arms to Pakistan. In the opinion of many like this writer, this policy has played its part in preventing India and Pakistan, which have so much in common, from living together in peace and friendship.
For 10 years, points out a New York Times columnist, Iraq developed a vast army, chemical weapons, nuclear ambitions and a long record of brutality, with Washington courting President Saddam Hussein as a countermight to Iran's revolutionary fervor. When will modern nations learn that their enemy's enemy need not be their friend?
As a representative of the third world who has a large number of friends in America, I appeal to the good people of this great country not to sell or give destructive weapons to the nations of the third world in the name of ``balance of power'' or ``sphere of influence.''
To quote from Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech in accepting the Nobel Prize, ``one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant good, but a means by which we arrive at that good. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.''
May I suggest that the representatives of the Islamic world come together, not in the name of politics or economics, but in the name of Allah the Merciful, to settle these explosive issues through the practice of yakeen (faith), mohabat (love), and amal (patient work), which, according to Badshah Khan, are the three essentials for resolving conflicts in accordance with the teachings of Islam.
They can render a great service to the cause of world peace, and bring the glory of Islam to the knowledge of the West.