The Mighty Zed
Seriously Eastcoast

The intellectual face of Islam
pushes extremists off stage

Too often, Islam gets a bad rap, as extremists grab media attention, blocking from public view the rational, intellectual side of Islam.

On February 21, 2009, I had the privilege to witness the other side of Islam, at the Scholar in Residence program at Or Hadash, a Reconstructionist congregation in the suburbs of the City Between Two Rivers.

The speakers were Rumee Ahmed and Ayesha Chaudhry, professors at Colgate University. The pair are totally modern, totally American second generation immigrants. Their parents came from Pakistan. Ahmed was born in the Washington, D.C. area. Chaundhry was born in Toronto, and is here on a green card.

They tackled hard parts of the Qu'ran, interpreting, tempering and rationalizing passages written as absolutes, one of which could justify abuse of women.

I left the event with three pearls of understanding:

1. Tribalism. Violence, extremism and honor killings, are the result of tribal behavior rather than religion. Much of the Islamic world is rural, where tribal affinities prevail over government and religion. When the people converted to Islam, the religion was imposed on the existing trial customs, cultures and lifestyles. Hence the Islam of Tanzania is different from the Islam of India and the Islam of Indonesia.

2. Colonialism. The great universities of classic Islamic philosophy and law were destroyed by colonialism. The Islamic clergy has declined in quality and prestige. The best and the brightest Muslims aspire to other careers. Though colonialism in the Islamic world officially ended in the two decades after after World War II, there is great resentment against the West Colonialism has left a scar in the individual and collective self-esteem among Muslims.

3. Integration. There has been little terrorism in the U.S. Muslim community, due to the high degree of integration in American life. Islamic immigrants are generally well educated and socially mobile. They have good incomes. African-American Muslims have been in this country for generations. In Europe, by contrast, Muslim immigrants are enghettoed. There is little social mobility, with children continuing in the same low paying occupations as their parents. European Muslims resent colonialism. France, Britain and Holland were colonial powers in the Muslim world.

The Scholar in Residence program was sponsored by Joan and Ben Dickstein who have spent their lives pursuing human rights, social justice and interfaith dialogue.

I salute Or Hadash for helping me appreciate the diversity in Islam and lowering walls within the greater American community

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