Friday, 10 May 2013
Sultan of Oman professor article!!
His view fails to acknowledge the diversity among Muslims and to distinguish between the various streams of thought within Islam that have been present historically and today.
Wilders seems to base his argument on the assumption that violence is fundamental to the scripture of Islam, the Koran. In other words, it is inherent to Islam and Islamic tradition because of certain texts that exist in the Koran.
Although some texts of the Koran do refer to violence - just like some texts in the scriptures of other religions - these most often refer to 7th century contexts where the Koran was urging Muslims to stand up for their right to religious freedom or against oppression and persecution. Initially the young Muslim community had to defend itself against those who were doing their best to annihilate them. At the same time, the Koran contains many other texts that command Muslims not to use violence.
It is true that certain texts in the Koran, if read without any reference to their contexts in early 7th century Arabia, could be read in ways that promoted violence. Militant extremists among Muslims often misuse such texts to justify their perpetration of violence against their opponents, be they Muslim or not. Obviously, this is a major problem for Muslim scholars and religious leaders today. They must discredit and counter this kind of misuse of the Koran by militant extremists.
Most people are aware that scriptures are often ancient texts that were given to communities with little similarity to that of our own. This means scriptures are to be studied thoughtfully and in context. Scriptural texts are interpreted, reinterpreted and actualised in very different contexts through successive generations. Each generation adapts the teachings of the scripture to its own political, economic, social, cultural, intellectual, ethical and moral contexts. This contextualisation is what keeps age-old scriptures alive and relevant. The Koran is no different.
Christians also have adapted, and sometimes misused, biblical teachings over successive generations. Although Jesus Christ never supported the use of violence, in certain periods of Christian history the texts of scripture were used to justify extreme violence against fellow Christians and people of other faiths. Examples include the violence associated with Crusades, the Inquisition and heresy trials in Europe leading to unimaginable violence, all in the name of the scripture.
These episodes, however, must be understood in their proper historical context and we should not blame Christian scripture or Christianity for such misuse.
Scriptures emerge in specific times and contexts and often they address the problems that exist in those contexts and societies; but when societies and their values change, the interpretation of those texts changes, too.
In 7th century Arabia people thought it was a good idea to sell other human beings in slave markets. The Koran condoned that practice, albeit with some reforms. But in the 21st century, Muslims do not call for establishing slave markets just because slavery was condoned in the Koran. Such texts remain in the Koran but they are no longer directly relevant as far as Muslims' life today is concerned. That applies to a range of texts referring to violence.
In any case, whether there are texts that refer to slavery or violence, they all must be interpreted and reinterpreted as contexts change. This is what Christians, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists also do with their scriptures. Religions will simply become irrelevant if this interpretation does not occur.
Moreover, a text in a scripture does not force people to behave in a particular way. Often it is a person's social, political or economic contexts that force them to emphasise certain texts and to ignore others. In the case of Muslims, if a certain text in the Koran is forcing them to use violence or be violent, why aren't the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world going out bombing, destroying and killing? Why do we hear only about a few Muslims trying to perpetrate violence?
Even if only a tiny minority of Muslims around the world were actually driven by the so-called violent teachings of the Koran, this world would be a very dangerous place indeed. Traditional Islamic law (sharia), which really is an interpretation of the Muslim scripture, specifies that individual Muslims or groups of Muslims must not take up arms against a state, their community or against other fellow human beings: such use of violence often is considered a criminal act under sharia.
Most scholars of the Koran have concluded that the kind of practices modern-day Muslim militant extremists are engaged in, such as bombing, killing and destruction against civilians, are criminal acts, for which the most severe punishment is specified.
How different interpretations of the scriptures emerge and how people of a particular religious tradition adapt their scripture to changing circumstances are studied in religious studies programs around the world. These practices, by and large, are very similar across religious traditions. Interpretation always happens in a context. Just because there is a text in the scripture it does not mean that the followers of that religion automatically follow that text literally. It is the interpretation of texts in different settings, times, places and contexts that matters most.
Articles such as the one by Wilders reveal a profound lack of interest in understanding the richness of the religious tradition of Islam. Simplistic assertions about Islam and homogeneity of Muslims result only in the perpetuation of unfounded fear, hatred and discrimination towards the mainstream Muslim population that has little to do with violence, hatred and extremism.
Abdullah Saeed is Sultan of Oman professor of Arab and Islamic studies at the University of Melbourne.
Posted by Geoff Seidner at 4:36 pm