President Barack Obama issued a special Ramadan message to the Muslim world. The president emphasized the importance of what the United States and the Muslim world hold in “common.” This is a great approach and concept to bridge the gap between civilizations ONLY if the areas of difference are not destructive. For example, emphasizing common values between the free world and the Nazi regime, such as the building of a strong economy, would not have bridged the gap between the two systems unless the latter had denounced its barbaric and anti-Semitic values.
The same principle applies to the current friction between the West and Muslim worlds. The problems that currently exist are not because of the “common values” but rather because of the difference in their values that pose a threat to human civilization. Those who criticized Islam after Sept. 11 did not do so because Islam promotes charity, fasting, and praying. The criticism was mainly about specific violent teachings in mainstream Islamic theology and the deafening silence of the Muslim world and its religious scholars against such teachings. These values that totally contradict the principles of freedom and liberty of mankind include: Declaring wars on non-Muslims to spread Islam Killing Muslims who convert to other faiths (Redda Law) Stoning women until death for having extramarital sexual relations Permitting the beating of women to discipline them Allowing polygamy, pedophilia, slavery, and gay killing
The West did not criticize Buddhism as it did Islam because the areas of difference between the West and Buddhism are not destructive. The areas of difference between faiths regarding perception of the creator, percentage of charity, type of prayers, and fasting do not pose a threat to others. On the contrary, the above-mentioned areas of difference with the Muslim world pose a major threat to the security and the freedom of the free world.
Emphasizing the common values between religions without addressing the areas of destructive differences will not solve the problem or bridge the gap between the West and Islam. This is simply because the common values are not the cause of the problem.
Bridging the gap between the West and the Muslim world will not occur until the Muslim world and its scholars admit that these values (see points above) are unacceptable, and find other ways to understand the religious text that do not justify such crimes in the name of religion.
The Muslim world has the responsibility to reciprocate the president’s invitation to improve relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world. The Muslim world can play positive role in building bridges with the West by: Sending greetings from leading Islamic scholars and organizations to Christians at Christmas and to Jews at Hanukkah. Denouncing Redda Law, thereby allowing Muslims to convert to other faiths without any punishment, just as non-Muslims can freely convert to Islam in the West without any punishment. Suspend the traditional teaching that Muslims must wage wars on non-Muslims to offer them one of three options: convert to Islam, pay jizia (humiliating tax paid by non-Muslims to Muslims), or be killed. Publish new theologically-based books of Islamic jurisprudence that stand against beating women, slavery, killing apostates, and other violent edicts of Shariah. Stop dehumanizing Jews in mainstream Islamic teaching.
As long as the Muslim world insists on teaching violent principles as mentioned earlier, the gap between it and the West will only increase, and the efforts to bridge the gap of civilizations will be inefficient.
Once the Muslim world puts an end to the destructive points, the voices that emphasize the “common values” will be able to succeed in their great mission to make our world better.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid is the author of "Inside Jihad." He was a former associate of Dr. al-Zawahiri (second in command of al-Qaida) and currently he is a reformer of Islam. To know more about Hamid please visit www.tawfikhamid.com. Hamid's writings in this blog represent only his thoughts and not the views of the institute where he works.
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