By Karen Armstrong
22 January 2012
Ever since the Crusades, when Christians from western Europe were fighting holy wars against Muslims in the near east, western people have often perceived Islam as a violent and intolerant faith – even though when this prejudice took root Islam had a better record of tolerance than Christianity.
Recent terrorist atrocities have seemed to confirm this received idea. But if we want a peaceful world, we urgently need a more balanced view. We cannot hope to win the "battle for hearts and minds" unless we know what is actually in them. Nor can we expect Muslims to be impressed by our liberal values if they see us succumbing unquestioningly to a medieval prejudice born in a time of extreme Christian belligerence.
Like Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Christians, Sikhs and secularists, some Muslims have undoubtedly been violent and intolerant, but the new exhibition at the British Museum – Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam – is a timely reminder that this is not the whole story.
The hajj is one of the five essential practices of Islam; when they make the pilgrimage to Mecca, Muslims ritually act out the central principles of their faith. Equating religion with "belief" is a modern western aberration. Like swimming or driving, religious knowledge is practically acquired. You learn only by doing. The ancient rituals of the hajj, which Arabs performed for centuries before Islam, have helped pilgrims to form habits of heart and mind that – pace the western stereotype – are non-violent and inclusive.
In the holy city of Mecca, violence of any kind was forbidden. From the moment they left home, pilgrims were not permitted to carry weapons, to swat an insect or speak an angry word, a discipline that introduced them to a new way of living. At a climactic moment of his prophetic career, Muhammad drew on this tradition. Fleeing persecution in Mecca in 622, he and the Muslim community (the umma) had migrated to Medina, 250 miles to the north. Mecca was determined to destroy the umma and a bitter conflict ensued. But eventually Muhammad broke the deadly cycle of warfare with an audacious non-violent initiative.
In March 628, to general astonishment, he announced that he was going to make the hajj.
This meant that he had to ride unarmed into enemy territory, yet 1,000 Muslims accompanied him. The pilgrim party narrowly escaped being massacred by the Meccan cavalry, and eventually entered the sacred territory of Mecca where they simply sat down beside their camels and refused to move. Knowing that they would lose all credibility if they slaughtered pilgrims on this holy ground, the Meccans negotiated a truce and Muhammad accepted humiliating conditions that filled the Muslims with dismay. But the Qur'an proclaimed that this apparent defeat was a "clear triumph" because, like Jews and Christians, the Muslims had acted in a spirit of peace, self-restraint and forbearance. Two years later, hostilities ceased and the Meccans voluntarily opened their gates to the prophet.
Clearly the Qur'an did not despise Jews and Christians; this affinity with "the people of the book" was also central to the Muslim cult of Mecca. The Arabs firmly believed that they, too, were children of Abraham, because they were the descendants of his eldest son Ishmael – a regional view shared by the Bible. It was said that Abraham and Ishmael had rebuilt the Ka'bah, the sacred shrine of Mecca, when it had fallen into disrepair, had dedicated it to their God, and then performed the rites of the hajj. Many Arabs thought that Allah, their high God, was the God worshipped by the people of the book, and Christian Arabs used to make the hajj pilgrimage to the Ka'bah alongside the pagans.
The Arabs had no conception of an exclusive religious tradition, so they were deeply shocked when they discovered that most Jews and Christians refused to consider them as part of the Abrahamic family. The Qur'an still urged Muslims to respect the people of the book and revere their prophets, but decreed that instead of facing Jerusalem when they prayed, as hitherto, they should turn towards the Ka'bah built by Abraham.
Like Abraham, who had not belonged to a closed-off cult, they would take no pride in an established institution and, as Abraham had done, focus on the worship of God alone. Hence the Muslim hajj is all about the Abrahamic family – not Muhammad himself. Pilgrims re-enact the story of Hagar and Ishmael, symbolically returning to the era that preceded religious chauvinism.
Alas, all traditions lose their primal purity and we all fail our founders. But the British Museum's beautiful presentation of the hajj can help us understand how the vast majority of the world's Muslims understand their faith. Socrates, founder of the western rational tradition, insisted that the exercise of reason required us constantly and stringently to question received ideas and entrenched certainties. The new exhibition can indeed become a journey to the heart of Islam and also, perhaps, to a more authentic and respectful western rational identity.
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Prejudices about Islam will be shaken by this show
SUCCESSFUL NAATIA MUSHAERA ON 2.21.14
45 PICTURES AT: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mikeghouse/sets/72157641382648224/
August 19, 2013| Dallas, Texas
Text/Talk: (214) 325-1916
Mirza A Beg
PLANNED MUSLIMS RESPONSE TO QUR'AN BURNING BY PASTOR JONES ON 9/11/13 IN MULBERRY, FLORIDA
We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.
Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”
God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.
We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration (www.UnitydayUSA.com) held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.
Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.
As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.
We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.
We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.
We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.
Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.
Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.
We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.
The people in Dallas are making an effort to understand and clean their own hearts first, when we are free from bias, it would be easy to share that with others. Islam teaches us in so many ways to "respect the otherness of others" and it is time we find simple practical ways of doing it.