Author: Feisal Abdul Rauf; Karen Armstrong (foreword)
Publisher: Harper SanFrancisco (May 11, 2004)
Pages: 314 Binding: Hardcover
Description from the publisher:
One of the most pressing questions of our time is what went wrong in the relationship between Muslims and the West. Continuing global violence in the name of Islam reflects the deepest fears by certain Muslim factions of Western political, cultural, and economic encroachment. The solution requires finding common ground upon which to build mutual respect and understanding. Who better to offer such an analysis than an American Imam, someone with a foot in each world and the tools to examine the common roots of both Western and Muslim cultures; someone to explain to the non-Islamic West not just what went wrong with Islam, but What's Right with Islam.
American Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's mosque was only twelve blocks from the World Trade Center when it was attacked on September 11. In the aftermath, finding a common ground between his country and his religion became a personal quest. He began by looking back to a time before such divisions, back to our common ancestor, Abraham. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all claim Abraham as their patriarch, and the ethic this forebear imparted is an ethic still shared by all three traditions. Imam Rauf skillfully traces the evolution of these foundational beliefs through the golden age of Islam in medieval Cordoba and Baghdad, as well as the development of democratic and capitalist principles in the West.
In stark contrast to thinkers such as Samuel P. Huntington and Bernard Lewis, who suggest the crisis is in Islam itself, Imam Rauf argues that what went wrong is the relationship between the Muslim world and the West. He offers a basis for rebuilding that relationship by arguing that Islamic principles actually support the fundamental values of a pluralistic, free society, uncovering the promise of a Muslim form of democratic capitalism within the Qur'an, the stories and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, and Islamic Law. Focused on finding solutions, not on determining fault, this is ultimately a hopeful and inspiring book.
Born to a long line of religious luminaries, Imam Rauf brings his extensive study of the sacred scriptures of Islam, along with his talent for storytelling and analysis, to bear on one of the most complex and critically important topics facing our world today. By tracing common philosophical roots and religious values, acknowledging the contributions of American democracy and Western capitalism, and by showing what Islamic culture can bring to a new reunion with the West, WHAT'S RIGHT WITH ISLAM systematically lays out the reasons for the current dissonance between these cultures and offers a foundation and plan for improved relations. Wide-ranging in scope, WHAT'S RIGHT WITH ISLAM elaborates in satisfying detail a vision for a Muslim world that can eventually embrace its own distinctive forms of democracy and capitalism, aspiring to a New Cordoba -- a time when Jews, Christians, Muslims, and all other faith traditions will live together in peace and prosperity.
Read a chapter excerpt --
Many of the earliest civilizations believed in a plurality of gods. From the ruins and temples of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt in the Middle East and Greece and Rome in Europe to India and China in the Far East, the majority of early civilizations worshiped a pantheon of gods, with each god ruling over a sector of the universe and all of them ruled by a greater God. Representing their gods in the forms of statues, early people practiced idolatry, worshiping the gods' physical representations.
HE WHO CARVES THE BUDDHA NEVER WORSHIPS HIM
In such societies, the pharaoh, emperor, caesar, or king was generally regarded as divine, a son of God, and the priestly class (like the Brahmins in India) a privileged one that supported his function as semidivine. Worldly society reflected the structure of the divine court, the pharaoh or king with his consort ruling over society just as the Great God had a consort and children who were gods, ruling over the many lesser gods. As the son of God, the king was God's representative on earth.
Together with such beliefs about the God-human relationship came a belief in the structure of human society. People were born into classes or castes reflecting the structure of the divine court, showing life "on earth, as it is in heaven." In society were found the royal and noble classes, the priestly class, the warrior class, the merchant and farming classes, and all those who did the most menial and undesirable work. Social mobility was not typically the norm; one was born, worked, married, and died within the boundaries of one's class. One's status in life, profession, and choice of spouse were predetermined by the family and class one was born into -- by the social structure -- and one's destiny was deemed in some societies as karmic.
In many of these societies, rejecting the state religion was not a simple matter of exercising freedom of human conscience (something we in America take for granted today). It was typically regarded as treason against the state, an act punishable by death, not to mention a violation of the institutional social structure on which society was built. Literally, one had no place in society, for such a person would be like an ant rejecting the structure of its colony, unprotected by its institutions. The possible freedom one had to exercise such inner convictions and to be true to oneself was to opt out of society and live as a hermit in a cave. Pre-Islamic Arabs called such people, driven by their conscience and desiring to live by its standards, hanif.
Such powerful social constraints may sound strange to the contemporary American reader, but a mere fifty years ago in America, "unless one was either a Protestant, or a Catholic, or a Jew, one was a 'nothing'; to be a 'something,' to have a name, one [had to] identify oneself to oneself, and be identified by others, as belonging to one or another of the three great religious communities in which the American people were divided."
To be independent and step out of sociological norms and deeply embedded thought patterns is very hard for people to do. And if it was hard for us in America, a country where we prize individual freedom, you can imagine how hard it must have been a few thousand years ago in the earliest known ancient Middle Eastern civilizations that straddled the area between Egypt and Persia.
In that region, and in such a society characterized by a polytheistic religious, political, and sociological climate, a hanif man called Abraham was born in a town in Mesopotamia, the area now called Iraq. He found the idea of polytheism unacceptable. Biblical and Islamic narratives inform us that Abraham's father was a sculptor of such idols. We can well imagine the young boy Abraham seeing his father fabricating such statues from the raw material of wood or stone and perhaps occasionally cursing when the material cracked. The reality of the Chinese proverb "He who carves the Buddha never worships him" must have been apparent to Abraham, who probably observed, in the way children see through their parents' absurdities, the creature creating the Creator.
The Quran quotes Abraham as debating with his contemporaries: "Do you worship that which you yourselves sculpt -- while God has created you and your actions?" (37:95–96). After going on a spiritual search, and after rejecting the sun, the moon, and the stars as objects of worship (objects his community worshiped), Abraham realized that there could be only one creator of the universe -- one God (Quran 6:75–91 describes Abraham's search for God). Today Muslims, Christians, and Jews regard Abraham as their patriarch, the founder of a sustained monotheistic society subscribing to the belief that there is only one God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe.
The monotheism that Abraham taught was not only theologically radical, in that it decried the plurality of gods as false, it was also socially radical. The idea that God is one implied two significant things about humankind.
First, it implied that all humans are equal, simply because we are born of one man and one woman. "O humankind," God asserts in the Quran, "surely we have created you from one male [Adam] and one female [Eve] and made you into tribes and clans [just] so that you may get to know each other. The noblest of you with God are the most devout of you" (Quran 49:13). This meant that all of humankind is a family -- brothers and sisters, equal before God, differentiated only by the nobility of our actions, not by our birth. Showing preference for one human over another on the basis of accidents of birth, like skin color, class structure, tribal or family belonging, or gender, is unjust and therefore has no place in a proper human worldview. Although it grossly violates reason and ethics, showing preference on the basis of these categories is the very way people traditionally judged others and structured their societies.
The foregoing is excerpted from What's Right with Islam by Feisal Abdul Rauf. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022
ISBN13: 9780060750626; ISBN: 0060750626; Imprint: HarperSanFrancisco; On Sale: 04/26/2005; Format: Trade PB; Trimsize: 5 5/16 x 8; Pages: 336; $14.95