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Department of Political Science

P.S. 270 Politics and Society in the Middle East

Makkah Mosque Photo of the Mosque in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, during Pilgrimage
Madena Mosque Photo of the Mosque of the Prophet Muhammad in Madena, a night view
From the New York Times Bin Laden Stirs Struggle on Meaning of Jihad 


Series of five articles from the Christian Science Monitor

July 23-27, 1984

By David K. Willis

Basics of Islamic Beliefs Practice of Islam Politics of Islam Fundamentalist Islam Impact of Islam

The Basics of Islamic Belief

Simple Principles, Complex Rules

 When tall, genial Egyptian Sultan Abou-Ali was studying economics at Harvard University, he was asked to give talks on Islam to other classes. He dwelt on the 1400-year history of one of the world's three great monotheistic religions, which now includes about 800 million people. He referred to its contribution a thousand years ago to mathematics, algebra, trigonometry and physics.

"And when I would finish," he recalled recently, "the first or second question was always the same: 'How many wives do you have?'"


A veil still hangs across much of the Muslim world.

It is broken only by political crisis headlines from Iran to Lebanon, but it still hides Islam itself from Western eyes.

Ask the average North American or European about Islam (the word in Arabic means "submission" to the will of God), and the immediate answers will usually be negative - violence, polygamy, or cutting off the hands of thieves. Muslims are seen as "fanatical," bearded, and either putting up the price of oil or threatening the West's supply lines.

Ask about Islamic history and the answer will often be a pastiche of the Thousand and One Nights, Arab headdresses, Saudi oil sheikhs in shiny Cadillacs, and the decadent opulence of the late Ottoman Empire.

Ask for a description of a Muslim and what you'll get is an Arab or a Turk, even though the bulk of the world's Muslims today live in non-Arab, non-Turkish Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, and Soviet Central Asia. Ask for the names of five famous Muslims in history, and you might get two or three.

Yet the violent pace of events in the world of Islam is forcing the West to look more and more deeply behind the veil.

The events are part of a broad effort by most of the Afro-Asian-Arab third world to find and assert its own identity after two centuries of being dominated by the West and its superior science and technology.

The upheavals that fill the West's newspapers and television screens seem more disturbing, restless, militant:

*The Ayatollah Khomeini toppling the Shah of Iran in what remains, despite deeply divided views about the subsequent course of the revolution, one of the few times a Westernized, secular ruler of a Muslim state has been ousted by a mass popular movement rather than the more usual coup or assassination.

*The four-year-old war between Iran and Iraq, threatening the Gulf oil lanes, dividing the Muslim world, worrying the superpowers, and sending Iranian teenagers into battle wearing around their necks metal keys, with which they are told to "open the gates of paradise" after they are killed.

*the assassination of President Anwar Sadat of Egypt by a Muslim extremist in October 1981.

*An attack on the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad the same year.

*The 15 days of fighting in and around the holiest place in all Islam, the Grand Mosque, in Mecca in November 1979, when opponents tried to bring down the house of Saud.

*Arabs vs. Israel, including war in Lebanon, and intense Arab opposition to any country acknowledging Jerusalem (the third holiest spot in Islam, after Mecca and Medina) as the capital of Israel.


It can be argued that nationalism and economic self-interest play larger roles in all these events than Islam does. Yet Islam provides the framework, the basis, for Muslim behavior, just as Christianity remains a reference point of morality and ideals even for those Westerners who no longer go to church.

For Muslims engaged in politics, writes Britain's Edward Mortimer, an Islamic expert, Islam is important because it provides "the form and the vocabulary...and can greatly strengthen personal commitment."

Another British expert on Islam, Godfrey Jansen, says the Afro-Asian struggle against colonialism was in fact an Islamic struggle in Indonesia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somaliland, Libya, Algeria, Morocco, and west central Africa - and that Islam was one of several factors in Egypt and elsewhere.

"Muslim societies are more openly religious than Western ones," says Abdullah Schleifer, a New York Jew who converted to Islam and now teaches social science at the American University in Cairo.

"Although many don't pray at all, and the idea of a pan-Islam movement ended years ago, in their hearts Muslims do tend to see themselves as part of a worldwide Umma or community of believers.

"It is much the same as Christians in the Middle Ages in Europe saw themselves part of something called Christendom," Mr. Schleifer says.

Muslims such as Sultan Abou-Ali, now an economics professor in Cairo (and married to only one wife), deplore the West's ignorance about Islam and fear of it since the days of the crusades.

"You define your culture as Judeo-Christian, and you leave out Islam as an enemy," he says. "All of us lose as a result...."

To him and other Muslims, Islam is not to blame for the coups, dictators, poverty, illiteracy, and corruption across the Muslim world: "We Muslims," he says sadly, "simply don't practice our faith properly."

To blame the Koran for the Iran-Iraq war, Muslims say, is like blaming the Bible for "allowing" the civil war between Christians in Northern Ireland.

But Islam, like Christianity, is a faith used by many people to justify almost any action they care to take.

It also leaves room for traditional, tribal, and ethnic beliefs which predate it. In Indonesia, for instance, which has the largest Muslim-majority population in the world, Islam overlays a basis of mysticism, animism, and village social customs called adat. In Jakarta this correspondent spoke to Western-educated Javanese Muslims who retain faith in precious stones to ward off evil spirits.

Westerners (with the exception of American radio and television evangelists) generally keep religion private and tend to be uncomfortable with the open piety in places like Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Islam, to many Westerners, is a medieval, religious ideology lurking in the poorer two-thirds of the world.

Islam itself, however, makes no distinction between religious faith and the daily human business of politics, economics and social affairs.

Today, Muslims and Western experts alike are arguing whether a "revival" of Islam is under way, one that might conceivable topple more Westernized rulers - in the wake of the downfall of the Shah.

There seems to be a return to the forms of faith - beards, veils, Islamic (interest-free) finance - though whether this is devoutness or an assertion of national, cultural identity in the post-colonial era is hard for an outsider to tell. Presidents Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Jaafar Nimeiry of the Sudan, Suharto of Indonesia, and other rulers seem equally uncertain.

In Islam, as in other religions, the ideal and the practice clash. Westerners see the practice and condemn the ideal. Many Muslims deplore the practice and cling to their own concepts of the ideal.

Asian Muslims, in Indonesia, for instance, consider their own form of Sunni Islam to be "purer" than Islam in the Arab world, which they consider adulterated by oil wealth and materialism.


What are the basics of the Islamic belief?

To the Muslim, Allah (the word in Arabic means "The God") made man out of dust, in his human form, and gives him free will to choose between right and wrong. This human being will be judged by Allah on the last day. What the good man does on earth, the Muslim believes, will help him avoid hell and gain a place in heaven.

The Muslim sees much in Islam in common with Judaism and orthodox Christianity. To him, God began to reveal himself to mankind through Adam and continued through Moses, Abraham and Jesus. All are considered to have preached Islam. The Muslim believes that the Koran is God's final revelation. The word in Arabic means "recitation." The Koran was unfolded, Muslims say, to an Arab trader, father, and leader named Muhammad in Mecca and Medina, via the angel Gabriel, between A.D. 610-632.

Muhammad, who was illiterate, in turn recited to family and friends in Arabic. One basic text, the Koran, was fixed soon after his death in A.D. 632. It is accepted by every Muslim.

The Koran is a long book - 114 chapters (suras) and some 6000 verses. In all the Prophet used 99 names for Allah - wise, benevolent, merciful, and so on.

To the Muslim, Muhammad is not divine, but the Koran is a divine message. The Koran in Islam is not like the Bible in Christianity. To a Muslim it resembles the role that an orthodox Christian ascribes to the person of Jesus Christ.

To many a Westerner, "submission" means fatalism - "Allah will provide." To the devout Muslim, it means subduing the human ego to a constant consciousness of Allah in daily human life. A common phrase in Arabic is inshallah - "If God wills."

Like Christianity and Judaism, Islam acknowledges only one God. It agrees with Judaism and disagrees with orthodox Christianity in regarding Jesus as human, not divine, and in denying the existence of the Trinity and the record of the crucifixion.

Muslims call Jesus "the prophet of mercy." They don't believe God became a person or atoned for man's sins on the cross. (One widely held tradition is that the Pharisees and the Romans became "confused" and crucified Judas instead.)

Jesus is referred to as Isa ibn Mariam - Jesus born of Mary. The Koran records the virgin birth (and omits any mention of Joseph). It mentions that Jesus healed the lame and restored sight to the blind. Muhammad is not credited with any miracles (except in popular Muslim tradition). The Koran records neither the Ten Commandments nor the Beatitudes. Unlike Jesus, but like Moses and Abraham, Muhammad is seen as a temporal as well as a spiritual leader. He led troops into battle, expanded a city-state into a large domain, and adjudicated disputes.

In the third century of Islam (about the ninth century), scholars codified Muhammad's words as recorded by friends and family into six recognized collections of tradition, or Hadith.

The Hadith are not considered divine - indeed, Muslims scholars concede that they are of varying authenticity.

Some are attested to by three witnesses, some by only one. Together with accounts of his deeds, they form the Sunna, or "beaten path."

Hence the name Sunni for the vast majority of Muslims who accept them. The main Muslim minority is the Shia sect - 80 million to 90 million Muslims living mainly in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, the Gulf states, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Pakistan. Shias attribute more political authority to their imams (religious leaders) than Sunnis do, seeing them more in the Christian sense of priests.

Shias see their leaders as acting in line with true Islamic authority which they say has descended not through the first there imams to succeed Muhammad but through the fourth, Muhammad's son-in-law Ali, and through Ali's son Hussein. They count 12 genuine in all.

Hussein, facing greatly superior odds, was killed in battle in A.D. 680. Shias see him as the ultimate martyr and celebrate his death with intense emotion. They see contemporary imams holding power on earth until the 12th imam returns to earth at a time unknown.

Theologically, Sunni-Shia differences are small. For centuries the division lay dormant. But since 1502 Shias have come to be the majority in Persia (Iran), and the Ayatollah Khomeini is the latest in a long line of politically powerful imams there.


The Koran (accepted by both Sunni and Shia) does not record anything similar to the spiritual account of creation in the first chapter of Genesis. It starts with Allah creating Adam from dust and Eve from his rib. Both were said to have been free from sin.

Allah is recorded as having demanded that this angels bow down to them. One, Iblis (later called Shaitan or Satan) is said to have refused on the grounds that he was made of fire and Adam only of dust. Allah cast Iblis out but granted him the ability to tempt man, and power over all men for all time - unless they believe. It was Iblis, the Koran says, who persuaded Adam and Eve together to eat the apple from the tree of knowledge. To a Muslim, the devil is very real.

A Muslim sees his human life and belongings as gifts from Allah to be used in God's service and to help others. Suicide is strictly forbidden. So is cremation, since the body must be "given back to God" by being buried.

So Islam to a Muslim is both simple (one God, one final prophet) and complex (legalistic, with rules and interpretations for daily life).

It is closer to Judaism than to orthodox Christianity in a number of ways: Jesus not divine, no Trinity, legal scholarship, dietary laws.

It agrees with orthodox Christianity on the existence of an afterlife and a final judgement, but believes that Jesus was not resurrected but simply taken into heaven by God.

In Sunni Islam, an imam is simply a learned man who may lead prayers on Friday (the Muslim Sabbath). Imams make no intercession with Allah for man, though Shias believe they do.

"For we Sunni, it's direct dialing [to God]," says Pakistani official Shafaq Hashmi. "The Shia goes through the operator."

So Islam is conservative and traditional, putting family above all other human ties - but to many younger Muslims it is also a revolutionary alternative to Western and Eastern cultures. Islam is communal, ritual, and austere - though practiced with passion by Shias, and by many Sunnis who follow individual teachers in brotherhoods known as Sufi.

"Islam seeks to balance between the material and the spiritual, which are equally important to give humans equilibrium," says Egyptian Nabil Osman.

The five basic pillars of Islam, followed by almost all Muslims, are:

1. Oral declaration that there is one God and that Muhammad is his prophet.
2. Praying five times a day: at dawn, noon, late afternoon, sunset, and early evening.
3. Fasting during daylight for the 30 days of Ramadan.
4. Making a pilgrimage at least once during one's lifetime to Mecca and its focal point of the kaaba (a cube-shaped monument 50 feet high, thought to have been built by Abraham and Ishmael, now covered with black and gold hangings.
5. Paying zakat, an alms tax of 2.5 percent of savings each year to the poor.

Each pillar has inner meanings. Millions of Muslims know them (fasting is purification and obedience, while many say the real kaaba is the human heart). Millions more simply observe the outward forms.

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 The Practice of Islam

How differing cultural traditions color Muslim life around the world

A woman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, may not drive a car. She may not hold a job. She is not supposed to travel anywhere without a male member of her family.

She does not appear in public without an enveloping, floor-length black robe and a black veil pulled over her head (to comply with the Koran's injunction that women must be modest in public and avoid what one scholar calls "the lustful glances of men.")

And several times a day, every day, streets are patrolled by bearded men belonging to Committees for the Propagation of Virtue and the Suppression of Vice. They tap on shop fronts with canes, closing them down completely for ritual Islamic prayers

From facts like these Westerners assume that women in Islam generally are second class citizens , and that Islam is based on 7th century practices with little relevance to the modern world.

Add a sketchy knowledge of the Shariah punishments (Islamic law based on the Koran tradition, and jurisprudence which includes death for a married person proved to have committed adultery and the loss of a hand for theft). Throw in the Western belief that Muslim men have the automatic right to marry four women each, and distaste for Muslim customs is deepened.

The distaste reinforces the veil that prevents the West from fully understanding the way the Muslim world thinks, at a time when that world includes 70 countries and some 800 million people from Morocco to Indonesia, all searching with increasing restlessness for their own third world identities.

Yet the Koranic and Shariah picture is not nearly so simple as it might seem from a distance:

*Muslim women across the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia in Egypt walk freely and unveiled. They follow a more liberal interpretation of the Koran, which says that a woman may maintain a modest appearance by covering shoulders, arms, and legs. So do women eastward across the Persian Gulf in Pakistan, especially in cosmopolitan Karachi. There, evidence of change includes a woman instructing pilots for the national airline, and 400 neatly uniformed girls at just one government vocational school repairing television sets, designing apartment blocks, and rewiring electric motors.

*The Koran itself says nothing about the veil and portrays women as equal with men in the sight of Allah. But it does urge women to be modest and sees them in roles different from men's. Cultural and tribal customs seclude many women in the name of Islam, while other traditions do not. In Indonesia, for example, which is more than 90 percent Muslim, women are unveiled. (One area of West Sumatra is matriarchal.) The Islam that has emerged in Indonesia is of the moderate Shafi school, very different from the more conservative Islam in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

*Women in Pakistan are expected to offer their daily prayers at home and many smaller mosques don't provide places for women on Friday (the Muslim Sabbath). Women attend mosque in Egypt and in Indonesia, though they sit separately from men.

*Western-educated women in the Islamic world seem happy enough to be back in the Islamic world. Some they accept its rules as a small price to pay for leaving behind the emphasis on feminine allure in much of the West's advertising, dress, entertainment, and behavior. Others prefer the freedoms of the West.

"I choose to veil my hair and wear Islamic dress [covering shoulders, arms, and legs]," said Nadia, the daughter of an Islamic scholar in Cairo. "I don't feel restricted. If I want my own way, I can get it in discussion with my father and brother."

In an elegant pink Pakistani outfit in Islamabad, Oxford-educated Rehana Hyder said: "Things are changing in Pakistan. Women are certainly freer." She herself has a good job with the local United Nations office. One restriction: no dates with young men. "Our society wouldn't understand," she said.

*Neither the Koran nor the Shariah gives any automatic right to marry more than once, to amputate a thief's hand, or to kill an adulterer. At a time when wars meant that women outnumbered men in Mecca and Medina, the Koran said a man could marry up to four women - provided he treated each with equal fairness. In one view, the aim of the central Koranic verse on the subject is to protect orphans.

In some countries polygamy is banned by civil law unless the first wife gives permission. Muslim scholars point to another Koranic verse as virtually forbidding more than one wife because it says a man cannot be equal to all his wives, be he "ever so eager."

A man is still permitted by the Shariah to divorce by simple proclamation, but in Pakistan the local government council must be given the chance to reconcile the couple first. Some other countries have placed similar obstacles in a man's path: Tunisia has banned divorce by proclamation altogether. Women also have the right to seek divorce, though they must use special Shariah courts.

Devout Muslims also know that the Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said, of all actions permitted by Allah, divorce is the least acceptable. Family ties are not weak but extremely strong in Islam.

As for adultery and theft, such stringent proof is required that the death penalty, amputation, and flogging are now rare in many countries.

Neither Egypt nor Pakistan has seen such punishments in recent history, but they do take place in Saudi Arabia. (Saudi Princess Misha was shot for adultery in Jeddah in July 1977 and her lover beheaded.)

A confession (said to have been obtained in the case of the Saudi princess) or the eye-witness of four just believers is required if a married person is to be killed for adultery - "and four witnesses are impossible to find," says Gamal el-Din Mahmoud, senior Shariah judge in Cairo. "And anyone giving false evidence may be flogged."

For a hand to be amputated, two believers must testify, and the crime must fall outside eleven separate restrictions. These forbid amputation if the theft took place within a family, if the object is worth less than 17 grams of gold ($206 at today's prices), and if the owner failed to protect it properly. If it is shown that the thief stole from hunger, the authorities who failed to provide enough food are held responsible.

In Sudan, where President Jaafar Nimeiry is trying to enforce Islam throughout the country, a number of amputations have been ordered recently for theft and other crimes. In Indonesia such punishments are seen as symbolic and the legal system is based on the Napoleon Code.

Islamic practice, then, as distinct from Islamic principles, varies widely and is hedged about with restrictions.

The principles are endlessly interpreted in light of different national traditions and cultures. The Koran and the Shariah are quoted and requoted to support opposite points of view.

In Saudi Arabia, which uses a stricter interpretation of the law called Hanbali, king and taxi-driver alike are buried with simple headstones. Yet in Muslim Egypt, whose Pharaohs built the pyramids 47 centuries ago, families still vie to build elaborate mausoleums unsanctioned by Islam.

In Riyadh, a Saudi caught eating in public during daylight during the fasting month of Ramadan can be beaten. In Cairo, an Egyptian can eat or not, as he wishes.

The Koran specifically forbids the use of alcohol and pork but lays down no legal penalties. While devout Muslims obey, there are those who do not. The Koran forbids Muslims doing anything to harm their bodies, so Muslims must make up their own minds about the effects of smoking, which is not mentioned in the Koran.


Nonetheless, questions do persist about the Shariah as Westerners compare it to their own values of liberty, equality, democracy, and the rule of law.

The Western view of women in Islam, for instance, is reinforced by traditional conservatism in some poor, rural areas of Christian Europe - Spain, Italy, Greece, and Poland - that still seclude their women much as the European Middle Ages did.

Devout Muslims, however, reject "women's lib" and "equality" as Western concepts. They prefer what they see as Islam's solid guarantees of women's status based on equality, inheritance laws, and other legal rights. Most Muslim countries take a conservative view of women. They are to be modest, retiring, good mothers, and keepers of the home.

"I don't want to be equal with men," says quiet Kenyan mother Yasmin Muhammad, who lives with a seven-year-old daughter and five-year-old son in the Kibera district of Nairobi, a city with a substantial Muslim population. "A man is the head of the family," she said. "I have my rights - and I approve of family planning as well."

On the other hand, even sympathetic observers such as Godfrey Jansen, author of the book, "Militant Islam," say women definitely are subordinate.

"Islam is tolerant," according to a saying in Pakistan, "but Muslims are not."

Illiteracy rates are far higher among rural women than rural men in Egypt and in Pakistan. Some blame this on Islam, while others see it as a common pattern in the third world.

Saudi Arabia preaches strict public observance of seventh century rules, though critics say wealthy Saudi women change into chic Paris fashions when abroad, and that alcohol is available in many Saudi private homes.

Says noted Muslim scholar Muhammad Zaki Badawi in London, "The three great monotheistic religions [Christianity, Judaism, Islam] are religions of men. Christ comes as a man. Look at what St. Paul says in the New Testament" (a reference in part to I Corinthians 11:1-9).

Dr. Badawi went on at once, however, to defend Islam's position: "Before Muhammad, women had no rights in Arabia. They had few under the Greeks and Romans. Islam emancipated them. More than 1,000 years before British and American women were able to hold property, Islam gave women the right to work, to inherit, to own."

So the Muslim world is a paradox. More than 90 percent of Pakistani village women are illiterate: Yet as Sabina Hafeez, research director of the women's division of the Cabinet secretariat, works to change that, she points to a framed Koran verse on her office wall: "Women have the same rights over men as men have over women."

Two years ago Islamic scholars tried to prevent women in Pakistan sitting as judges or magistrates. They pointed to a verse in the Koran saying that in business, the witness of one man or two women was required because one woman might forget. But the federal Shariah court in Pakistan threw the case out. Chief Justice Aftab Hussein used the same Koran to refute all the arguments.

Yes, he said, one verse states that "men are in charge of women" - but only in the sense of providers and guardians. The chief justice had previously held that the evidence of one woman in court is sufficient to try a case.

Today, many Muslims are not only happy with what they see as the stability and sense of order in the Shariah but also they want their secular rulers to adopt the Shariah without any reservations. No Muslim country does this completely, though Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Libya come closest.

Pakistan has just reviewed its laws to align them with the Shariah and has introduced special hadood laws to punish adultery, drinking alcohol, theft, and false witness. The Pakistani state collects the annual zakat alms tax for the poor and is eliminating interest from domestic banking by October 1985. But it will still float interest-bearing government bonds abroad to raise money.

The Egyptian legal code, based on Napoleon law, breaks from the Shariah by allowing interest, trade in wine and port, lotteries, and commodity futures.

Sudan's President Nimeiry backs his Islamic legal code with martial law. Advisers such as Hassan al-Tourabi defend him, while others see his use of the Shariah as political expediency.

In an interview in Islamabad, Chief Justice Aftab Hussein said the Shariah had positive benefits over Western law: Children could not be disinherited by parents, for instance.

Among Sunni Muslims, a lone daughter must share her inheritance with nephews and other relatives. To minority Shias and their legal code (the Ja'afari) a lone daughter inherits the lot.

Inheritance laws are clear and understood. At dinner in one Islamabad home, a father described the law in his case without hesitation: Since he had two sons and one daughter, an estate of 40 parts would provide 16 parts for each son and 3 for the daughter.

Still, other contradictions occur. Pakistan's Council on Islamic ideology has just advised the government that artificial birth control is un-Islamic (and that all Muslim men should wear beards). In Indonesia, population 160 million, it is just the opposite: The government itself promotes one of the most successful family planning programs in the world. The proportion of couples between 15 and 44 using birth control on Java has reached 66 percent.

"We are proof that a Muslim country can make family planning work," says Dr. Haryono Suyono, chief coordinator of the program in Jakarta.

So, beneath all the movement and debate, what does it mean to individual Muslims to follow Islam?

Answers vary, of course, from country to country, city to village.

"Islam is something I belong to, something I was born with," says Malaysian student Nabiseh Ibrahim in Birmingham, England. "I identify myself first as a Muslim, then as a Malaysian," she says.

"Islam for me is a commitment and above all a conviction," says Egyptian diplomat Nabil Osman. "God for me is an invisible power I can't define except through material manifestations."

"The key," says Indonesian Cabinet minister Emil Salim in Jakarta, "is balancing the religious and material life - the life we live here is a preparation for the next, a way of gaining credit points for eternal life."

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The Politics of Islam

What kind of government does Islam permit - or demand?

The scenes have seldom, if ever, before been equaled in third-world history.

They were a phenomenon of such extraordinary impact that they still cause those who experienced them to shake their heads at the memory.

Day after day literally a million or more people packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the capital city of a large, strategic neighbor of the Soviet Union, putting to rout one of the most heavily armed, pro-U.S. rulers on earth with a reiterated roar that made the very streets pulsate:

"ALLAHU AKBAR" - "God is greatest."

Today, five years later, the Islamic revolution in Iran still sends alarm bells through the West and in the East, and divides and electrifies the Muslim world itself.

Quite apart from threats to oil supply lines in the Persian Gulf, and from whether the Kremlin can somewhat eventually gain at the West's expense, other basic questions persist:

What elements in Islamic, and especially in Iranian Muslim, thought helped bring about the revolution and sustain it far longer than its critics expected - even in the face of the long war with Iraq?

And might those elements spread to other Muslim countries, with incalculable effects if more mass revolts should break out against secular, Westernized rulers?

The answer to the second question depends, in part, on non-Islamic factors common to the third world: poverty, rapid population growth, mushrooming city slums, too few exports, too many imports, too many debts.

But it also has a great deal to do with a deep and important debate going on among Muslim scholars in a score of countries: What kind of government does Islam permit, or demand?

The debate was one of a number that arose in the wake of the Arab defeat by Israel in 1967. What happened in Iran galvanized it. Events that followed, including the war with Iraq, Muslim rebel resistance to Soviet troops in Afghanistan, chaos in Lebanon, and growing Saudi efforts to oppose Iran, have heated it still more.

The debate is not yet well known in the West.

Both West and East look at the Muslim world as it exists today and see a string of dictators and military rulers from Libya to Sudan to Syria to Pakistan to Indonesia.

More and more, however, those rulers are having to find ways of coping with Islam's appeal to the grassroots, while an increasing number of Muslim thinkers of various kinds - modernist and orthodox alike - stress that in their view, governments based on a lack of popular participation are in fact contrary to the Koran and the sayings and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.

Iran has intensified the dilemma of Westernized, secular rulers, military men, dictators, and kings around the world of Islam: Should they try to compromise with the force of Islam's appeal (Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan, Turkey, Malaysia) or should they pay it little more than lip service in public affairs (Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Syria, Iraq, Tunisia, Indonesia, Afghanistan, South Yemen). (The House of Saud is unique. It tries to ride two horses at once: rapid Westernization, but internal Islamic orthodoxy accompanied by a massive anti-Iran, pro-Sunni orthodox missionary effort throughout the Muslim world as well as in the United States and Europe.)

"We Muslims are strong in spirit but weak in government," a prominent Egyptian says in Cairo. Quickly he asks that his name be withheld because, he says, he still lacks full confidence in his own country's rule of law.


First - the role of Shia Muslim thought in the Iranian revolution:

Why was the revolution without a conventional strong man or political party? Why did it lack the support of either superpower?

Its timing lay in the Shah's own string of mistakes: his autocratic and Western ways, the brutality of his secret service, corruption, his use of oil wealth in ways that disillusioned rather than fulfilled.

But the bedrock, the form, the words of the revolution lay deep in the Islamic sect known as Shi'ism, as well as in its development inside Iran since the year 1502, when it became the official faith of the Persian state.

Most of the world's Muslims are Sunni - that is, they follow the Koran (said to be a divine revelation to the Prophet Muhammad) and the Hadith (his other sayings and traditions). The Hadith, together with accounts of his actions, forms the Sunna, or "beaten path."

A small minority - some 80 million in all - accept the Koran but differ somewhat in what they see as the Sunna. They consider that Muhammad's authority - temporal as well as spiritual - descends only through his son-in-law Ali, Ali's sons Hassan and Hussein, and a line of subsequent imams (leaders) numbering 12 in all.

The Shias derive their name from the Arabic words Shi'at Ali, or "followers of Ali,"

From their belief in him and his sons they acquire two crucial characteristics.

The first: their passion for martyrdom. The second: a politically active caste of religious leaders, whose current chief is said to speak with an authority derived from the divine.

The sense of martyrdom goes back to Hussein, who was killed in A.D. 680 at the head of a handful of men in battle with a vastly superior force from the Umayyad dynasty, Muslims say.

To the Shia, Hussein is the supreme martyr, who symbolizes man's struggle against tyranny: "Every day in his [a man's] life is a day of battle in which he must seek either triumph or martyrdom," according to noted Muslim scholar Hamid Algar, professor of Persian and Islamic studies at the University of California at Berkeley.

Says Professor Hassan Askari, an Indian Shia now teaching at the Center for the Study of Islam in Birmingham, England, "Shi'ism is all about protest against authority, passion, constant rebellion."

Hence so many Iranians, including teenagers, are apparently ready to die in the war against Iraq. Hence the Ayatollah Khomeini spent most of his exile in Iraq, at the tombs of Ali and Hussein located there, hence millions of Shias weep and wail in the streets each year in Iran, Iraq, the Gulf, eastern Saudi Arabia, India, and elsewhere to mourn Hussein's death.

Political authority for contemporary imams derives from a belief that the 12th and last "true" imam disappeared from human view in northern Syria in A.D. 874. He is said to be in "occultation" - hidden from view - until he returns to earth at an unknown time in the far distant future.

This is a vital point, Professor Algar has written.

Sunni Muslims also view Islam and politics as combined in individual experience, but see their own imams as outside secular rule. They recognize Muhammad's authority as having descended through the first three caliphs, or rulers, after his death, and only then through Ali, who was officially the fourth.

Thereafter, Sunnis see leadership as having passed into secular hands in dynasties based in Damascus and Baghdad. These dynasties expanded into North Africa, Spain, Turkey, Iran, and eastward to India. They were eventually conquered by Mongols and Turks. Centuries of decline and European domination followed. In 1924 the caliphate was abolished by Turkey's Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The Sunni tends to accept secular authority - but the Shia does not. The Shia, Professor Algar says, only the 12th imam has true political as well as ecclesiastical authority. In his absence the leading Shia figure on earth is his regent.

Secular rule must be illegitimate, Persian Shias say. Only an Islamic state based on the Shariah and ruled in effect by the senior ayatollah (the title means "sign of God"), will do until the 12th imam returns to earth. For hundreds of years in Persia, Shia imams stood apart from, and critical of, government.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini began attacking the Shah's Western ways in 1963. He opposed then, and still does, secular American influence (Satan No. 1") and the Soviet Union as well (Satan No. 2").

When the revolution reached a climax, he had another aspect of Shi'ism in Iran to fall back on: its network of workers at the grassroots and its sizable funds contributed by the faithful. Some 180,000 village mosque leaders, all trained in the religious center of Qom, rapidly spread messages from the Ayatollah tape recorded in Paris and telephoned to Iranian cities.

One other element: many university students were swayed by the late Ali Shariati, an Iranian with a Ph.D. in sociology from the Sorbonne in Paris who interpreted Islam as an ideology. He argued that Islam had the answers that Marxism and existentialism failed to provide.

Today pro-Khomeini figures such as the director of the Muslim Institute in Britain, Kalim Saddiqui, break with conventional criticism in the West and point out that Iran has held nine elections and referendums since 1979. The new Majlis, or national assembly, is taking shape.

Islamic law is followed. Banks are to be forced to abandon interest. The bulk of the people still support the revolution, Dr. Saddiqui says, despite Western estimates of an inflation rate well over 25%, considering middle class unhappiness, and the human and economic drain of the war with Iraq.

"I don't like the way the war is going or what the Revolutionary Guards have done," says one traditional Muslim scholar in Cairo, "but I have to say that Khomeini is devout, sincere, personally unostentatious...."

"Say what you like," says a Pakistani diplomat whose country is trying to stay neutral in the war. "What Iran did was historic: a mass movement instead of a coup, and it worked."

Charles A Kimball, director of the Middle East office of the National Council of Churches in New York, says, "One can have reservations about various elements of what's going on, but the majority of Iranians definitely desire to turn away from the West, and the East, and to show that there is an Islamic way in the 20th century....The revolution is painful and difficult in several ways, but it has vitality, and it's poorly understood in the West."

On the other side, the conservative sheikh of Al-Azhar (mosque and college) in Cairo, one of the most prominent Sunni Muslim leaders in the world, told the Monitor in an interview that Iran should have agreed to a cease-fire years ago. Modernist Islamic scholars agree. Ahmed Shalaby in Cairo was one of many who welcomed the revolution at first but who now see it "going further and further away from Muslims and from Islam."


Can the revolution be exported? Or is it merely a Persian, Shia phenomenon that can't even rouse the majority Shias in neighboring Iraq?

Javid an-Sari, general editor of the weekly Arabia magazine published in London, says the Ayatollah has failed to influence Shia communities in other countries such as Iraq (dominated by Saddam Hussein), Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf.

Iraq's Shias, actually in the majority, have been kept in check by Saddam Hussein, who has shot a number for alleged treason and has placated others by building new mosques and appealing to their Iraqi nationalism.

Sunni Saudi Arabia, historically opposed to Persian expansionism as well as being the site of the two holiest places in all of Islam (Mecca and Medina, where the Prophet Muhammad lived), fights the Ayatollah indirectly, through publications, missionaries, and funds abroad.

And yet in the longer term, Iran's impact can hardly be dismissed.

The Muslim world is in sharp and difficult transition from the colonial era to finding its own independent identity. The rule of law is largely absent. One-man rule is the norm, although many Muslims read the Koran as opposing violence or jihad (holy war) except in self defense.

Muslim countries have too little money, too many people, too few exports, too much hunger. They are much more aware of their own history than is the West - if an Islam that dominated much of the world for 1,000 years until conquered by Mongols, Turks, and Europeans.

The only colonial power still occupying territory is the Soviet Union in Central Asia. But resentment against the West is still strong. Islam looks increasingly attractive, not only as a personal alternative to Western secularism as well as Eastern atheism, but also as a national identity and culture.

The events in Iran have led to confident statements like this one made by Dr. Saddiqui:

"Talk to the bus drivers and the rickshaw pullers in the Muslim world, Shia and Sunni alike, and you'll find that they approve of what Khomeini has done in Iran....They feel that Westernized elitist rulers have to go, in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf, Jordan, Iraq, Morocco, Indonesia, Sudan, Turkey, Somalia, and elsewhere.

"Iran now defines itself in Islamic terms....Its frontiers are not physical but Islamic....National boundary lines are artificial....I don't know where the new revolutions will be, or when, but they are coming, some within the next 10 years."

Many in the West would scoff. While interest in the forms and principles of Islam appears to be reviving in a number of prominent Muslim countries, it currently stops far short of following the Ayatollah Khomeini to the barricades.

In the long term, however, it remains very much an open question whether Islam, brought by Iran so dramatically front and center in world thought, might indeed provide the form, the language, the intensity, and the commitment to harness crowded, poor, urbanized post-colonial Muslim third-world grievances into significant revolt.

"Not only Arab states are worried that the idea of mass, representative government might spread," says Charles Kimball in New York, "but many Latin Americans, too, look to Iran as an example of a popularly based revolt against a heavily armed ruler."

Muslims are today arguing vehemently whether Islam calls for one-man, one-vote democracy, other forms of participation, or socialism. Almost all emphatically reject communism because it is atheist. Most define Islam as socialistic rather socialist because it stresses an equitable division of wealth from rich to poor in accordance with Islamic law (Shariah).

Modernist Muslims see the Koran calling for Western-style human rights and the rule of law. Reformists see a unique kind of Islamic government built around a strong central leader advised by a learned council and bound by the Shariah. Radical fundamentalists turn to rejection and violence.

Thanks largely to Iran, the debate is not cooling, but heating up.

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Fundamentalist Islam

Muslims in Search of a Purer Islamic Ideal of Government

It is 110 degrees in the sun on the concrete campus of Qaid-i-Azam ("the great leader") university here as a small, slight, young-looking figure in traditional long white shirt over baggy trousers invites a visitor into a bare office.

In soft, meticulous English (he has a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) Ijaz Shafi Gilani proceeds to spell out blunt, Islamic fundamentalist opposition to the seven-year-old military government of President Zia ul-Haq of Pakistan.

Zia is ordering the official "Islamization" of Pakistan. But to Dr. Ijaz, a leading younger member of the Jamaat-i-Islami Party founded by one of the most influential thinkers in modern Islam, the late Mauiana Abdul al-Maududi, Zia is missing the essence of basic Islamic government.

"Zia has now banned student unions around Pakistan," Dr. Ijaz says above the hum of a ceiling fan. "He has forbidden news of political parties from all the newspapers. This is not Islamic. ...It could lead to the downfall of his regime. Until now we have not spoken out against him, but...."

On an upper floor of a drab concrete office building in central Cairo an elderly man of legendary reputation sits at a small corner desk, studying an Arabic newspaper.

This is Sheikh Omar Telmisani, the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Arab fundamentalist group founded by Hassan al-Banna in 1928. Officially banned in Egypt, it still claims much influence there, and in Syria, Jordan, Sudan, and the Gulf States.

The Sheikh lost much weight but won much prestige among opposition circles after being thrown into jail in September 1981 by the late Anwar Sadat (who was assassinated by an extremist a month later).

Recently he came under attack for allegedly betraying al-Banna's principles. For decades the Brotherhood opposed political parties and called for government based on the Islamic law (Shariah). In the campaign for the May 27 elections in Egypt, however, Telmisani allowed Brotherhood candidates to run as candidates of the secular, liberal Wafd Party.

He tries to explain: "We are still banned....We need to take part in Shura (consultation) in the governing of Egypt.... Running for the National Assembly is the only way...."


Both these fundamentalist groups are strands of restless, orthodox, Islamic thinking around the world.

They and other Muslims believe themselves to be on the leading edge of a general revival of interest in Islam - a widespread determination to turn away from both communist atheism and Western materialism to a purer Islamic ideal of government. So far Iran is the only country where fundamentalist thinkers have succeeded in overthrowing a secular, Westernized leader.

(The "fundamentalists" see themselves as closest to the "authentic" Islam of the Prophet Muhammad. This is a claim that is disputed by Muslims in Asia, who believe they are following the "true" Islam. Asians tend to refer to Iranians and other radical Muslims as "militant.")

The fundamentalist, however, are forcing some concessions from, and otherwise worrying, secular rulers in Pakistan, Egypt, the Gulf States, Sudan, Nigeria, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cameroon, and elsewhere. Few rulers of Muslim states today can afford to ignore the appeal of fundamental Islam.

Future successes of the groups are uncertain. But their determination and activities are especially significant and intensified in light of the example set by Iran.

To fundamentalists in general, the urgent need is to throw off the influences of the 200 years of colonial domination by Europe. They want to reinstate the kind of Islamic purity that they believe led to the original Islamic surge across the world.

Beginning just after the Prophet Muhammad died in A.D. 632, Islam spread quickly through Damascus and Baghdad to North Africa and Spain to the west, Turkey to the north, and India to the east.

This is a pre-colonial perspective of history which the Christian world has largely lost, many Muslims say. Neither American nor European schools teach much, if any, of it.

The West does remember conflict, such as the crusades in the Middle Ages, sent to recapture Jerusalem from the "infidels" in the year 1099.

Islamic fundamentalists point to the achievements of the Arab empire before then, and to the recapture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187. Centuries of decline set in after the Mongols sacked Baghdad in 1258, and the Ottoman Empire defeated the Mamuk Sultanate in 1517.


Groups such as the Jamaat in Pakistan and the Muslim Brotherhood in various countries start by regarding Allah as having the only legitimate sovereignty on earth.

Members differ on how much independent judgment Muslims should use in interpreting "God's will," but they follow the line of influential reformist thinkers Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905) and Rashid Rida (1865-1935) in stressing the need to base decisions and forms of government as closely as possible on the Koran itself, and on the sayings and the deeds of the Prophet Muhammad.

Both the Jamat and the Brotherhood oppose arbitrary rule. Islamic government to them must be democratic - not necessarily one-man, one-vote, but based at all times on the principles of Shura or consultation. Individual Muslims must be allowed to express their views in some way.

In general, the groups envision a central leader, an assembly to advise him, a separate judiciary to review laws and acts in light of the Shariah, and ministries to administer the laws.

Strict Islamic punishments for law breaking would be enforced, together with the stringent conditions (largely unknown in the West) laid down for their enforcement. Discotheques, alcohol, pork, interest on loans and bank deposits, lotteries - all would be banned.

Among issues unclear to outsiders is how Sunni Muslims would effect change if a ruler became unjust. The Sunni tradition avoids violent uprisings. In general it urges obedience to constituted secular authority.

One prominent thinker, who was born Leopold Weiss in Central Europe but converted to Islam under the name Muhammad Asad, has suggested that Muslims need not obey laws they regard as sinful, but that only an open vote by a majority can depose a leader. How this would work in practice has never been tested. Critics say it sounds too passive.

Another Western criticism is that minority non-Muslim groups may be discriminated against in an Islamic state.

Both Christians and Jews are specifically approved in the Koran, but in the past the Banai sect and in Iran and the Ahmediya sect in Pakistan have been singled out for harsh treatment.

One effort to counter this image comes from the right-of-center Islamic Council based in London. Its secretary-general, former Saudi diplomat Salem Azzam, said in an interview that any Islamic government must include one-man, one-vote representation, and a constitution that guarantees basic human rights and the rule of law.

"You can't be a Muslim if you build a mosque, then violate human rights," Mr. Azzam said. "Yes, the Iran-Iraq war, the fighting in the Sudan, the violence of Libyans abroad, are all bad for the image of Islam in the West. But Islam itself is innocent....We hope the Western media will look deeper into Islam, to see that is a civilization, a culture, and a religion. These it doesn't know. We all have the right to know what different religions stand for."

Muslims concede that no Islamic government based solely on the Koran and on the Prophet Muhammad as yet exists.

The Shia Muslim revolution in Iran has perhaps gone furthest toward it (and interestingly, Mr. Azzam defends it in part: "It wasn't a coup d'etat. Most Iranians still support it. Western media reports are biased against it and there's no freedom of the press in the Arab world either to report it objectively....Many of those killed since 1979 have been drug traffickers and criminals.")

In the majority Muslim world of the Sunnis, Saudi Arabia claims that its entire constitution is the Shariah itself, though its ruling royal house of Saud has no democratic basis.

By no means are groups such as the Jamaat and the Brotherhood the most extreme of the fundamentalists.

Smaller and more radical groups exist in Egypt, in Lebanon, in Kuwait, and elsewhere, with names like jihad, Takfir wal Hegira, ("Repentance and Flight"), and Hizbullah ("Party of God").

At the furthest edge of the restless Islamic thought are the individuals who turn to violence and assassination: Khaled Ahmed Shawki el-Istambouli, for instance, the former Egyptian Army lieutenant who led the successful attempt on the life of Anwar Sadat in October 1981.

Both fundamental and extremist groups are feeling a certain impetus from events in Iran, despite Tehran's long-drawn-out war with Iran and continued economic difficulties.

In the short term, Shia Iran's example has failed to fire immediate revolutionary efforts by Sunni Muslims in other countries. Yet many Muslims say its continued existence remains a powerful example over the long term.

Iran has tried its hand at exporting rebellion. It has sent Revolutionary Guards who work with Lebanese Shiites, including the Hizbullah and the Islamic Amal, whose troops plastered pictures of Ayatollah Khomeini on walls when they fought their way into east Beirut earlier this year. (The pro-Iranian Al Dawa group in Iraq was also linked in press reports to the bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in October 1983.)

The Ayatollah has also tried to infiltrate Shia religious communities in Pakistan and elsewhere, according to Muslim informants. Yet he appears to have had little success so far.

Shias abroad remain attached to their own institutions and countries. According to other Western reports, most Lebanese Shiites respect Khomeini in religious matters but have their own ideas about Lebanese politics - which revolve around using the multi-party system there to extract as much advantage for themselves as possible.

Iran's influence could be more worrisome to the nearby Gulf states, where Shiites live in considerable numbers.

Pro-Iran Shiites in Kuwait are taking part in a current Islamic effort to reform freewheeling Kuwaiti society (though bombings of U.S. and French embassies in Kuwait last December and of industrial sites, have been linked to pro-Iraqi Shia groups).


In a ground floor office at the American University in Cairo, a noted Arab scholar explains why fundamentalism could still burst into violence in Egypt and elsewhere, despite a current period of calm.

Speaking in calm, excellent English, black-bearded Saad Eddin Ibrahim says what he calls "militant Islam" is growing among young college students in Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere.

"These young people have four kinds of misgivings about society," Dr. Ibrahim says. "They see a lack of opportunity when they graduate. Egypt's cities are overcrowded. Good jobs are hard to find unless you are elite, speak English, and work for a foreign bank or a multinational corporation."

"They see the economic system as having failed: not enough development industries.

"They feel Egypt is dominated by the United States and humiliated by the existence of Israel. They see Western blue jeans and Coca-Cola subculture swamping them.

"These youngsters are young, sensitive, vulnerable, uprooted from their villages, looking for a sense of belonging. There are hundreds of thousands of them."

President Hosni Mubarak has so far eased tensions by working to integrate militants back into society. He has allowed young militants to debate Islamic scholars on Egyptian television and let them write articles for new Islamic publications.

Crucial, Dr. Ibrahim believes, is whether the militants see the May 27 Egyptian elections as having been fairly and freely held.

Another veteran observer of the Middle East in London commented: "All these points about Egyptian youth could be made with equal force about young people in Syria as well...."


One more element of orthodox Islamic thought is represented by the so-called Sufi brotherhoods, which resemble Roman Catholic orders.

Ranging from austere groups to others who chant and sway, they consist of Muslim believers each following an individual "holy man" or leader, praying with him regularly and performing extra prayers and other religious exercises.

Over 100 separate orders exist today, some of them 1,000 years old.

In the past these orders, many of which contain elements of mysticism, have appealed to Asians and Africans in particular and have helped spread Islam in north and sub-Saharan Africa as well as in Libya, Sudan, and elsewhere.

According to Western scholars, there is clear evidence that they are helping keep Islam alive in the Soviet Central Asian states of Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tadjikistan, Kirghizia, and Turkmenia.

The grand sheikh of Sufi orders in Egypt, Dr. Abu el Wafaa el Tafpazani, says 67 orders exist in Egypt alone, with 3 million members.

He describes the orders as the "moral philosophy" of Islam, separate from politics but serving as an underpinning for the Muslim faith.

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 The Impact of Islam

The Financial Challenge, Islam's Growth - and Its Future

Apart from Iran, it is in crowded, hot, dusty, Muslim Pakistan that Islam seems to be asserting itself most in public these days. In Karachi's biggest commercial bank, for instance, there are not posters extolling the latest interest rates on checking or savings accounts. Instead there is a string of cloth signs, brightly painted in Urdu script, proclaiming rather different messages:

"Whoever earns honestly, he is the friend of Allah [God]," says one, quoting the Prophet Muhammad in yellow letters on a purple background above the heads of busy tellers.

"He has no religion who fails to fulfill his promises," warns pink script on a blue background as a man deposits a pile of rupee notes beneath.

"Do justice to others," flutters a line from the Koran.

And at the counters, all bank interest is rapidly being phased out to comply with Islamic law. Pakistan is the first Muslim country to ban interest by law.

Its effort is being echoed in a dozen countries as part of a rising campaign to express Islam in banking and finance as well as in faith, social affairs, government, and politics.

In turn, the campaigns are one element in what Muslims are convinced is a general revival of interest in Islam as a counter to, and protest against, the secularism of the West and the atheism of the East.

This final article in the Monitor's series on Islam looks not only at the financial challenge, but also at wider issues, still to be fully answered.:

How much is Islam itself actually growing in the world?

How much should its developing sense of identity be seen as a threat to the West?

Where does Islam go from here?

How compatible is it with the modern, Western world?


The heart of the financial challenge, still only about 10 years old, is not in the signs above the bank counters but in the methods used to avoid the conventional Western system of interest rates.

Most Muslim scholars interpret the Koran as banning fixed interest (though not other forms of return and profit). Interest is held to be an unfair and exploitative use of money, which Islam sees not as a commodity in itself but as God-given wealth to be used to help those in need and to invest to make economies grow in accordance with Islamic law.

"The modern system of economies, based on Adam Smith, grew as religious faith declined," maintains a Muslim economist in London. "It substitutes materiality and accumulation for faith. Interest rates themselves increase inflation and help redistribute money from the less well off, who deposit in banks, to those in business...."

So institutions such as the Habib Bank in Pakistan resemble Western investment and equity banks and finance houses. They take depositors' money into profit and loss (PLS) accounts, invest it, and share out profits every three, six, or twelve months. They rely on most individual investments turning a profit to offset those that lose.

Rates of return are not fixed in advance. Until last year they were generally above conventional ones. Habib Bank in Karachi today has been paying 8.5 percent a year, against 8 percent on interest accounts. Term accounts range from 11.5 percent for six months to 15.25 percent for five years.

Money is also loaned to businessmen in various ways, adding up to forms of partnership which divide profits or losses at the end of the day.

About 30 such institutions have sprung up in Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt, Sudan, Kuwait, Bahrain, the Gulf States, Indonesia, and elsewhere, controlling assets of more than $9 billion.

Holding companies operate in Saudi Arabia, Geneva, and Luxembourg. The UBAF Arab American Bank is based in New York. No Islamic bank has yet won a license in the City of London, where the bank of England recognizes only banks that base their operations on interest.

The biggest network - presided over by Prince Faisal of Saudi Arabia - is the Dar al-Maal al-Islami Trust, which claimed net assets in 1983 of $286 million.

Like the broader revival of interest in Islam as a whole, however, the new system faces a number of obstacles.

Western bankers and World Bank officials have their doubts. "It's interest without being called interest," a businessman says.

"Arabs can experiment because they have a lot of oil money, but I prefer the guaranteed return of Western banks myself," says a successful Pakistani businessman in London. He is a Muslim.

Rates of return were pushed down by recession last year. The Faisal Bank in Egypt, which claims to be the biggest private bank in the Islamic world, with profits of more than $100 million in 1983, earned 11 percent in 1982. But it dropped below ordinary interest rates to 10.2 percent last year.

The Dar al-Maal earned a profit of $7 million in 1982 but lost $27 million last year and paid no dividend.

So far, only Pakistan has ordered its entire banking system to turn to interest-free banking (by October of next year). Iran has published but not yet fully carried out a new banking law that bans interest.

In Saudi Arabia, interest is forbidden officially, but Pakistani bankers say Riyadh does not want to scare off foreign investment and so interest-based transactions do take place. "Anyone challenging them in Islamic courts [under Islamic law] might win the case, but find himself without further finance," says a Muslim banker dryly.

Problems include finding enough trained staff in underdeveloped countries as well as the costs of closely monitoring investment and partnership deals. Business borrowers tend to inflate losses and understate profits.

Yet bank heads interviewed for this series were enthusiastic, even though they conceded that final results were still not in.

"I call it the 'divine banking system,'" says the president of the Habib Bank, Abdul Jabbar Khan, in Karachi. "It's interest-free, but certainly not return-free. We will retain interest-bearing accounts for foreign capital and loans."

Keeping these interest bearing accounts is an acknowledgement by Pakistan that Islamic banking is in fact out of step with the way the rest of the world does business. Islamic banks must also cope with inflation - and they do by imposing what seem to the West to be high "service charges" on their transactions.

"We Muslims will reach our goals whether the West helps us or not," comments the governor of the private Faisal Bank in Cairo, Mohammed Fouad el-Sarraf, in his office overlooking the Nile River. "No one has the right to tell us that we can be Muslims when we pray but that we have to deal with interest in our banks."

As for loans from the World Bank, "two 'windows' of the bank are also free from interest," argues Dr. Zia Uddin Ahmed, director-general of the new International Institute of Islamic Economies in Islamabad. "They are the International Finance Corporation [equity finance] and the International Development Agency, which works on a service charge...."

The West is largely uninformed about Islamic history and beliefs, but reads constant headlines about Iran, the Gulf war with Iraq, threats to oil supply lines, and turmoil in Lebanon and in North and West Africa.

The tendency is to see "Islam" as a monolithic, threatening, almost abstract force.

In fact, Western and Muslim scholars agree, Islam is many things: a religious faith that includes detailed rules for government, social life, economics, and even eating. It is a political culture offering an alternative focus, language, and commitment to both capitalism and communism; a sense of national identity for millions who don't pray or fast or give alms but who call themselves Muslims nonetheless.

Contrary to Western belief, however, Islam does not seem to be spreading in the world, except among peoples already partly Muslim.

"There are some 800,000 Muslims living in Britain, between 5 and 6 million in Western Europe," says David Kerr, director of the Center for the Study of Islam in Birmingham, England.

"Yet most of these are immigrants from the Muslim world - Pakistan, India, Turkey, and so on," Dr. Kerr says.

"I myself personally know five or six Christian converts to Islam. They tend to praise what they see as a clear sense of moral guidance and were unhappy with the answers of their own clergy."

Jorgen Nielsen of the same center agrees: "Figures are very hard to pin down," he observes. "The Muslim world headlines prominent converts, like the pop singer Cat Stevens and the French intellectual Roger Garaudy."

In Denmark Muslims have claimed two conversions a week. Many of these were Danish women marrying Muslim men. Whether the conversions were to satisfy their in-laws or were genuine is not known.

Dr. Nielson estimates that the number of mosques in Britain alone (including those in ordinary houses), has risen to 450, but he says that the reasons are immigration, not conversion.

Charles le Gai Eaton, a former British diplomat, a convert to Islam, and a spokesman for the Islamic Center in London, estimates some 25 million Muslims live between the Atlantic and the Ural mountains. They include 3.5 million to 4 million in Yugoslavia (they have their own Islamic theology college in Sarajevo) and more in Albania, Bulgaria, Romania, the Caucasus, and Turkey.

"There's a steady trickle of converts, but not all that many," Mr. Eaton says.

The area where Islam has made new gains in the last 50 years is in sub-Sahara Africa, from Senegal and Nigeria in the west, to Uganda and Kenya in the east.

In the U.S., Muslims are estimated to number between 2 million and 3 million, mostly immigrants, and many of them in the Detroit area, according to the National Council of Churches. These figures include followers of the orthodox American Muslim Mission led by Imam Warith Dean Muhammad, son of Elijah Mohammed, and a small splinter group under Louis Farrakhan.

So the Islamic crescent lies across the globe in about the same place as it has for a century - stretching from Morocco in far western Africa across the top half of Africa, through Turkey and the Middle East, on through Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, and down through northwest China and India to Malaysia and Indonesia.

Within the Islamic world, however, most Muslims contacted for this series agreed that signs of an awakening, or a revival, do exist.

Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim of the American University in Cairo says the growth is not just among young militants, but in "establishment" Islam: "Religious broadcasting, and Islamic newspapers and books have at least tripled in the last decade," he explains. He also sees growth in Sufi orders and brotherhoods - "members gathering for annual feasts and celebrations have quadrupled in 15 years." Finally, he includes "folkloric" and points to a growing number of "grass-root gatherings called Zar in each village, a mix of religious and superstition in Egypt and East and North Africa...."


Arabs remain locked in conflict with Israel, but is there much dialogue between Islam and Christianity?

The initiative comes from the Christian side - the National Council of Churches in the U.S. and groups such as the Center for the Study of Islam in Britain.

Progress is limited. The Second Vatican Council agreed that God and Allah were identical, and made overtures. Discussions on ecumenism continue in Europe and the U.S., yet to a Muslim, his own faith is the ultimate revelation of God to mankind. If he is devout, he believes that Jews and Christians were offered the "true faith" and misunderstood it, making Muhammad's reciting of the Koran inevitable.

"Dialogue is well worthwhile," says Dr. Kerr of the Center for the Study of Islam. "Fear is always of the unknown."

"Christians and Muslims co-exist in Tanzania, for instance, and in India. In Britain, there's dialogue in individual communities, by Christian ministers who find more and more Muslims moving into their areas," Dr. Kerr says.

What happens now to Islam?

It confronts a Western world superior in science and technology, stronger economically, but largely secular in outlook and unattractive to many Muslims as a model of society.

Modern Muslim thinkers welcome scientific progress and the Western values of equality and the rule of law. More orthodox scholars stress the need to incorporate these within a strong ethical framework based on the Koran and the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad.

Thus the debate, the struggle, is between Westernizers and traditionalists.

"Yes, you in the West have the rule of law, and technology, but your society centers itself on man rather than on God," says Indonesian Cabinet minister Emil Salim in Jakarta. "You live for this life, you don't worry much anymore about what happens when you die."

Meanwhile, another struggle of ideas takes place: between the now-ruling Shia Muslims in Iran, with their passionate preaching of traditionalist protest and reform, and the Sunni Arabs of wealthy Saudi Arabia, who spend millions of dollars a year promulgating their own Islamic orthodoxy abroad.

Muslims in general think Christians are too unaware of Islam's achievements in the past: its contributions to mathematics, science, and medicine a thousand years ago, and its domination of much of the world until 200 years ago.

The West remembers mainly the medieval crusades against Islam, the decadence of the Ottoman Empire, and the Turkish effort at genocide against the Christian Armenians at the turn of this century. It sees Iran and its war with Iraq as a constant threat to one-sixth of the world's oil supplies.

Western critics of Islam also say parts of it are out of touch with the modern age.

The month of daylight fasting during Ramadan (June this year) costs the Muslim world an estimated 12 percent of its economic production, according to some estimates (and has been banned in Muslim Tunisia as a result).

The treatment of women is thought to be paternal and conservative. Interest-free banking is held to be incompatible with today, as are some of the punishments of Islamic law. Islamic government is seen as leading to one-man rule.

Muslims themselves remain deep in transition. Many areas - Nigeria, Sudan, the Middle East, Iran, Lebanon - are in turmoil. Traditional values clash with modern economics and third-world poverty, hunger and overcrowding.

To Dr. Muhammad Zaki Badawi, founder of the Muslim College in London, both Western and Islamic worlds need to define their identities in the face of modern technology and science.

Dr. Badawi sees three main experiments today to establish a separate Islamic way: in Iran, in Saudi Arabia, and in Libya, "where despite all the headlines, most of the people still support the Qaddafi government."

"For militant Islam today the real field of battle is the schoolroom," Godfrey Jansen, the British journalist and author has written. The struggle, he says, is to reclaim national history and tradition from decades of Western influence which either suppressed or diluted them.

"Islam has an identity crisis," observes Jivad an-Sari, general editor of the weekly Arabia news magazine in London. "Does it accept the West, as the Chinese and Japanese have done?" he asks. "Or does it have something different to contribute about religion, life, and death - a religious approach to the world?"

Dr. Badawi adds, "Should Islam absorb and assimilate the modern civilization, the result would be a civilization with power restrained by ethical values, and wealth justly distributed by religious law, and pleasure circumscribed by moral standards."

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The Holy Mosque in Makkah, including the Ka'aba has undergone several renovations in the recent past.  It, now, can accommodate 1,000,000 worshipers at a time.  The Ka'aba is the cubical structure in the center of the photo.

Makkah mosque.jpg (192827 bytes)

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One of the things Muslims do while on pilgrimage to Makkah, is to visit the Mosque of the Prophet Muhammad, in Madena.  This mosque has been renovated many times in the recent past.  It, now, can accommodate 1,000,000 worshippers at a time.

Madena Mpsque.jpg (104293 bytes)

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The faith that's becoming America's second-largest teaches both social justice and "family values."

Here's why you shouldn't be afraid of it.

The observation that Americans have a stereotyped image of Islam has almost become a stereotype itself Millions of non-Muslims in this country do know, or at least sense, that this major religion, which is also a major civilization and a very particular vision of how life should be lived, can't be summed up in the three images to which the media are addicted.- the Terrorist, the Veiled Woman, and the Demon Demagogue (Khaddafi, Saddam).

Yet what Islam is, what it teaches, who its believers are, and the places in the human spirit to which it calls remain all too mysterious to the average American. In the articles that follow, we try to make inroads into the mystery by looking at some of the faces and listening to some of 'the voices of Islam,, in the world at large and in our own country.

Karen Armstrong's account of the Prophet Muhammad, who gave the world the holy book called the Koran and thus founded Islam, reveals a very human man whose concern over social injustice blossomed, nearly against his will, into prophecy. The Pakistani scholar Akbar S. Ahmed surveys the burned-over landscape of Muslim- Western relations. He prescribes what he sees as the true spirit of Islam as medicine for the rootlessness and heartlessness that Western culture has spread around the world-while he calls for more faith, virtue, and tolerance among Muslims too. And business writer Pamela Ann Smith reports on the worldwide effort of Muslim finance ministers and bankers to create economic systems that steer a course between the spiritual emptiness of pure capitalism and the monetary medievalism of some Islamic fundamentalists.

But Americans don't have to travel around the world to find Muslims and Muslim concerns. Islam, the second-largest faith worldwide-with a billion adherents-is the third-largest in the United States, after Christianity and Judaism. Some researchers project that Islam will be number two here by early in the2ist century there are already more Muslims than Episcopalians in America. James Eli Shiffer introduces us to four believers- a Euro-American, a Saudi, and two African-Americans who live and attend mosques in North Carolina. And American convert Latifa Weinman defends her acceptance of the traditional Islamic teachings on marriage and the family, arguing that they liberate rather than confine women.

We hope your view of Islam becomes more complex as you listen to these voices-that you discover Muslims 'profound concern about social justice and other values, and try seeing even practices that seem questionable in the light of these devoutly held convictions. A faith that is professed by fundamentalist misogynists in Iran and Egypt, feminists in Morocco and England, taxi drivers and kings in Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya, office workers in Malaysia, nuclear scientists in Kazakhistan, martyrs in Bosnia-and more than sic million Americans-is as far beyond stereotyping as humanity itself.

-Jon Spayde

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Karen Armstrong

Muhammad and the angel

The Painful birth of a great faith

In about the year 610 an Arab merchant of the thriving city of Mecca who had never read the Bible and probably never heard of the Hebrew prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel had an experience that was uncannily similar to theirs. Every year

Muhammad ibn Abdallah, a member of the Meecan tribe of Quravsh, used to take his familv to Mount Hira just outside the city to make a spiritual retreat during the month of Ramadan. This was quite a common practice among the Arabs of the peninsula. Muhammad would spend the time praying to the High God of the Arabs and distributing food and alms to the poor who came to visit him during this sacred period.

He probably also spent much time in anxious thought. Only two generations earlier, the Quraysh had lived a harsh nomadic life in the Arabian steppes, like the other Bedouin tribes. Each day had required a -rim struggle for survival. During the last years of the sixth century, however, they had become extremely successful in trade and made Mecca the most important settlement in Arabia. They were now rich beyond their wildest dreams. Yet their drastically altered lifestyle meant that the old tribal values had given way to a rampant and ruthless capitalism. People felt obscurely disoriented and lost. Muhammad knew that the Quraysh were on a dangerous course and needed to find an ideology that would help them to adjust to their new conditions.

At this time, any political solution tended to be of a religious nature. Muhammad was aware that the Quraysh were making a new religion out of money. This was hardly surprising, because they must have felt that their new wealth had saved them from the perils of the nomadic life, cushioning them from the malnutrition and tribal violence that were endemic to the steppes of Arabia. They now had almost enough to eat and were making Mecca an interna tional center of trade and high finance. They felt that they had become the masters of their own fate, and some even seem to have believed that their wealth would give them a certain immortality.

But Muhammad believed that this new cult of self-sufficiency would mean the disintegration of the tribe. In the old nomadic days the tribe had had to come first and the individual second: Each one of its members knew that they all depended upon one another for survival. Consequently, they had a duty to take care of the poor and vulnerable people of their ethnic group. Now individualism had replaced the communal ideal and competition had become the norm. Individuals were starting to build personal fortunes and took no heed of the weaker Qurayshis. The clans, or smaller family groups of the tribe, fought one another for a share of the wealth of Mecca, and some of the least successful clans (like Muhammad's own clan of Hashim) felt that their very survival was in jeopardy. Muhammad was convinced that unless the Quraysh learned to put another transcendent value at the center of their lives and overcome their egotism and greed, his tribe would tear itself apart morally and politically.

In the rest of Arabia the situation was also bleak. For. centuries the Bedouin tribes of the regions of the Hijaz and Najd had lived in fierce competition with one another for the basic necessities of life. To help the people cultivate the communal spirit that was essential for survival, the Arabs had evolved an ideology called muruwah (manliness, courage, endurance) which fulfilled many of the functions of religion. In the conventional sense, the Arabs had little time for religion. There was a pagan pantheon of deities, including al-Lah, the High God, and the Arabs worshipped at their shrines (one of which was the great black stone called the Kaaba, in Mecca), but they had not developed a mythology that explained the relevance of these gods and holy places to the life of the spirit. They had no notion of an afterlife but believed instead that darh, which can be translated as "time" or "fate," was supreme-an attitude that was probably essential in a society where the mortality rate was so high.

On the 17th night of Ramadan, Muhammad was torn from sleep and felt himself enveloped by a devastating divine presence. Later he explained this ineffable experience in distinctively Arabian terms. He said that an angel had appeared to him and given him a curt command: "Recite!" (iqra!). Like the Hebrew prophets, who were often reluctant to utter the Word of God, Muhammad refused, protesting, "I am not a reciter!" He was no kahin, one of the ecstatic soothsayers of Arabia who claimed to recite inspired oracles. But, Muhammad said, the angel simply enveloped him in an overpowering embrace, so that he felt as if all the breath was being squeezed from his body. Just as he felt he could bear it no longer, the angel released him and again commanded, "Recite!" Again Muhammad re- fused and again the angel embraced him until he felt he had reached the limits of his endurance. Finally, at the end of a third terrifying embrace, Muhammad found the first words of a new scripture pouring from his mouth: "Recite in the name of thy Sustainer, who has created-created man out of a germ-cell! Recite-for thy Sustainer is the Most Bountifu1, One who has taught [man] the use of the pen-taught him what he did not know!"

The Word of God had been spoken for the first time in the Arabic language, and this scripture would ultimately be called the Qur'an (Koran): the Recitation.

Muhammad came to himself in terror and revulsion, horrified to think that he might have become a mere disreputable kahin whom people consulted if one of their camels went missing. A kahin was supposedly possessed by a jinni, one of the sprites who were thought to haunt the landscape and who could be capricious and lead people into error. This was the only form of inspiration that was familiar to Muhammad, and the thought that he might have become maj'nun, jinni- possessed, filled him with such despair that he no longer wished to live. He thoroughly despised the kahins, whose oracles were usually unintelligible mumbo jumbo. Now, rushing from the cave, he resolved to fling himself from the summit to his death. But on the Mountainside he had another vision of a being he later identified with the angel Gabriel.

This was no pretty, naturalistic angel, but an overwhelming, ubiquitous presence from which escape was impossible. Muhammad had had that overpowering apprehension of numinous reality that the Hebrew prophets had called kaddosh, holiness, the terrifying otherness of God. They too had felt near to death and at a physical and psychological extremity when they experienced it. But unlike Isaiah or Jeremiah, Muhammad had none of the consolations of an established tradition to support him. The terrifying experience seemed to have fallen upon him out of the blue and left him in a state of profound shock. In his anguish, he turned instinctively to his wife, Khadija.

Crawling on his hands and knees, trembling violently, Muhammad flung himself into her lap. "Cover me! cover me!" he cried, begging her to shield him from the divine presence. When the fear had abated some- what, Muhammad asked her whether he really had become majnun, and Khadija hastened to reassure him: "You are kind and considerate towards your kin. You help the poor and forlorn and bear their burdens. You are striving to restore the high moral qualities that your people have lost. You honor the guest and go to the assistance of those in distress. This cannot be, my dear!" God did not act in such an arbitrary way. Khadija suggested that they consult her cousin Waraqa ibn Nawfal, now a Christian and learned in the scriptures. Waraqa had no doubts at all: Muhammad had received a revelation from the God of Moses and the prophets. He had be- come the divine envoy to the Arabs. Eventually, after a period of several years, Muhammad was convinced that this was indeed the case and began to preach to the reverberations of Quraysh, bringing them a scripture in their own language.

Unlike the Torah, however, which according to the biblical account was revealed to Moses in one session on Mount Sinai, the Koran was revealed to Muhammad bit by bit, line by line and verse by verse over a period of 23 years. The revelations continued to be a painful experience. "Never once did I receive a revelation without feeling that my soul was being torn away from me," Muhammad said in later years. He had to listen to the divine words intently, struggling to make sense of a vision and significance that did not always come to him in a clear, verbal form. Sometimes, he said, the content of the divine message was clear: He seemed to see Gabriel and heard what he was saying. But at other times the revelation was distressingly inarticulate: "Sometimes it comes unto me like the reverberations of a bell, and that is the hardest upon me; the reverberations abate when I am aware of their message." The early biographers of the classical period. perhaps call the unconscious, rather as a poet describes the process of "listening" to a poem that is gradually surfacing from the hidden recesses of his or her mind.

When Muhammad began to preach in Mecca, he had only a modest conception of his role. He did not believe that he was founding a new universal religion but saw himself bringing the old religion of the one God to the Quraysh. Al-Lah had sent him to warn the Quraysh of the perils of their situation. His early message was not doom-laden, however. It was a joyful message of hope. Muhammad did not have to prove the existence of God to the Quraysh. They all believed implicitly in al-Lah, who was the creator of heaven and earth, and most believed him to be the God worshipped by the Jews and Christians. His existence was taken for granted.

The trouble was that the Quraysh were not thinking through the implications of this belief. God had created each one of them from a drop of semen, as the very first revelation to Muhammad had made clear; they depended upon God for their food-and sustenance, and yet they still regarded themselves as the center of the universe in an unrealistic presumption and self-sufficiency that took no account of their responsibilities as members of a decent Arab society.

Eventually Muhammad's religion would be known as Islam, the act of existential surrender that each convert was expected to make to al-Lah: A muslim was a man or woman who has surrendered his or her whole being to the Creator. In practical terms, Islam meant that Muslims had a duty to create a just, equitable society where the poor and vulnerable are treated decently. The early moral message of the Koran is simple: It is wrong to stockpile wealth and to build a private fortune, and- good to share the wealth of society fairly by giving a regular proportion of one's wealth to the poor. Alms-giving (zakat) accompanied by prayer (salat) represented two of the five essential "pillars" (rukn) or practices of Islam. Like the Hebrew prophets, Muhammad preached an ethic that we might call socialist as a consequence of his worship of the one God. There were no obligatory doctrines about God: Indeed, the Koran is highly suspicious of theological speculation, dismissing it as zanna, self-indulgent guesswork about things that nobody can possibly know or prove.

The Koran constantly stresses the need for intelligence in deciphering the "signs" or "messages" of God. Muslims are not to abdicate their reason but to look at the world attentively and with curiosity. It was this attitude that later enabled Muslims to build a fine tradition of natural science, which has never been seen as such a danger to religion as in Christianity. A study of the workings of the natural world showed that it had a transcendent dimension and source, A talk about only in signs and symbols: Even the stories of the prophets, the accounts of the Last Judgment, and the joys of paradise should not be interpreted literally but as parables of a higher, ineffable reality.

But the greatest sign of all was the Koran itself. By approaching the Koran in the right way, Muslims claim that they do experience a sense of transcendence, of an ultimate reality and power that lie behind the transient and fleeting phenomena of the mundane world. The early biographers of Muhammad constantly describe the wonder and shock felt by the Arabs when they heard the Koran for the first time. Many were converted on the spot, believing that God alone could account for the extraordinary beauty of the language. Frequently a convert would describe the experience as a divine invasion that tapped buried yearnings and released a flood of feelings.

During the first years of his mission, Muhammad attracted many converts from the younger generation, who were becoming disillusioned with the capitalistic ethos of Mecca, as well as from under- privileged and marginalized groups, which included women, slaves, and members of the weaker clans. At one point, the early sources tell us, it seemed as though the whole of Mecca would accept Muhammad's re- formed religion of al-Lah. At first, it seems, Muhammad did not emphasize the monotheistic content of his message, and people probably imagined that they could go on worshipping the traditional deities of Arabia alongside al-Lah, the High God, as they always had. The richer establishment, who were more than happy with the status quo, understandably held aloof, but there was no formal rupture with the leading Qurayshis until Muhammad forbade the Muslims to worship the pagan gods. When he condemned these ancient cults as idolatrous, he lost most of his followers overnight and Islam became a despised and persecuted minority.

Life became impossible for the Muslims in Mecca. The slaves and freedmen who had no tribal protection were persecuted so severely that some died under the treatment, and Muhammad's own clan of Hashim were boycotted in an attempt to starve them into sub- mission. The privation probably caused the death of his beloved wife, Khadija. Eventually Muhammad's own life would be in danger.

The pagan Arabs of the northern settlement of Yathrib had invited the Muslims to abandon their clan and to emigrate there. This was an absolutely unprecedented step for an Arab: The tribe had been the sacred value of Arabia and such a defection violated essential principles. Yathrib had been torn by apparently incur- able warfare among its various tribal groups, and many of the pagans were ready to accept Islam as a spiritual and political solution to the problems of the oasis. Accordingly, during the summer of 622, about 70 Muslims and their families set off for Yathrib, also known as Medina ("the City").

Muslims date their era not from the birth of Muhammad nor from the year of the first revelations- there was, after all, nothing new about these-but from the year of the hijra (the migration to Medina), when Muslims began to implement the divine plan in history by making Islam a political reality. Muhammad had not intended to become a political leader at the outset, but events that he could not have foreseen had pushed him toward an entirely new political solution for the Arabs

During the ten years between the hijra and his death in 632, Muhammad and his first Muslims were engaged in a desperate struggle for survival against his opponents in Medina and the Quraysh of Mecca, all of whom were ready to exterminate the community of believers. In the West, Muhammad has often been presented as a warlord, who imposed Islam on a reluctant world by force - of arms. The reality was quite different. Muhammad was fighting for his life, was evolving a theology of the just war in the Koran with which most Christians would agree, and never forced anybody to convert to his religion. Indeed, the Koran is clear that there is to be "no compulsion in religion." In the Koran war is held to be abhorrent; the only just war is a war of self-defense, although sometimes it is necessary to fight in order to preserve decent values, as Christians believed it necessary to fight against Hitler.

Muhammad had political gifts of a very high order. By the end of his life most of the Arabian tribes had joined the Muslims, even though, as Muhammad well knew, their Islam was for the most part either nominal or superficial. In 630 the city of Mecca opened its gates to Muhammad, who was able to take it without bloodshed. In 632, shortly before his death, he made what has been called the Farewell Pilgrimage to Mecca, in which he Islamized the old Arabian pagan rite of pilgrimage to the Kaaba and made this pilgrimage, which was so dear to the Arabs, a pillar of his religion.

Muhammad died unexpectedly after a short illness in June 632. After his death, some of the Bedouin tried to break away from the Muslim community, but the political unity of Arabia held firm. Eventually the recalcitrant tribes also accepted the religion of the one God. Muhammad's astonishing success had shown the Arabs that the paganism that had served them well for centuries no longer worked in the modem world.

From the book A History of God: The 4,000-Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam by Karen Armstrong. Copy- right 0 1993 by Karen Armstrong. Reprinted and excerpted with the permission of Alfred .A. Knopf Inc.

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Terror and Tolerance

Muslim Rage at the West is justified - but it's not Islamic


A political cartographer with a bold eye for simplification would divide the world map in the 1990s into two major categories: the civilizations that are exploding- reaching out, expanding, bubbling with scientific ideas' economic plans, political ambitions, cultural expression-and those that are imploding, collapsing in on themselves with economic, political, and social crises'that prevent any serious attempt at major initiatives. The former are exploding with optimism, with sights firmly fixed on the future; the latter are weighed down by their history, traditions, "certain- ties," their ethnic and religious hatreds.

Western, or globalizing, civilization-in essence the G-7 industrialized nations-is exploding. Much of the rest of the world is imploding.

Pious Muslims know that the problem with the G-7 globalizing civilization is the hole where the heart should be-the vacuum inside, the absence of a moral philosophy. What gives the West its dynamic energy is individualism, the desire to dominate, the sheer drive to acquire material items through a philosophy of consumerism at all costs, to hoard. Such frenetic energy keeps society moving.

Patience, pace, and equilibrium, by contrast, are emphasized in Islam. Haste is the devil's work, the Prophet warned. But the postmortem age is based on speed. In particular, the media thrive on and are intoxicated by speed, change, news. The unceasing noise, dazzling color, and restlessly shifting images of the MTV culture beckon and harass. Silence, withdrawal, and meditation-advocated by all the great religions- are simply not encouraged by the media.

The American mass media have achieved what American political might could not: world domination. Hollywood has succeeded where the Pentagon failed. The link between the two is established in the fact that films and defense equipment are the two largest export earners in the U.S. economy. J.R. Ewing has triumphed in a way that John Foster Dulles could not even have dreamed of. The world watches American reruns with hypnotic fascination: Across world people ask "Who shot J.R.?" and "Who killed Laura Palmer?" The American dream is seen as irresistible.

Muslim parents blanch at the modern Western media because of the universality, power, and pervasiveness of these subversive images; because of their malignity and hostility toward Islam.

The nonstop television images are of couples performing sex, men inflicting terrible pain. The video- cassettes that accompany pop songs produce ever more bizarre images, from Madonna masturbating to Michael Jackson's transmogrification into a panther. These intrusions corrode the innermost structure of balance and authority in that crucible of all civilization, the family, adding to the crumbling authority structures of the West that have been under attack now for the last two generations.

Many of the moral stands on which Islam never conceded, such as its steadfast opposition to the abuse of alcohol and drugs. are now widely accepted in the West. Many in the West are also now reevaluating divorce, the challenge to parental authority, the marginalization of old people, the regular relocation of :he home because of work. All devastate the family.

The legitimate question being raised by Muslims is the following: Why should they be dragged along the path of the West's social experimentation, which they know diverges from their own vision of society? Why should they disrupt their domestic situation for temporary values, however overpowering in their immediate and glamorous appeal?

Why is Islam-a religion advocating goodness. cleanliness, tolerance, learning, and piety-so misunderstood and reviled? Jihad has become a dirty word in the media, representing the physical threat of a barbaric civilization. Yet the concept is noble and powerful. It is the desire to improve oneself, to attempt betterment and to struggle for the good cause. It is Tennysonian in its scope: to strive, to seek and not to yield.

This misunderstanding between Islam and the West feeds the Muslim incapacity to respond coolly and meaningfully. Muslims being killed on the West Bank or in Kashmir, their mosques being threatened with demolition in Jerusalern or in Ayodhya, India, are seen throughout the Muslim world on television and cause instant dismay and anger.

Muslims throughout the world cite examples of gross injustice, particularly where they live as a minority in non-Muslim countries. (This group forms a large percentage of the total number of Muslims in the world today.)

Muslims themselves are not blameless. Muslim leaders of Muslim nations are failing to feed and clothe the poor. The greatest emphasis in Islamic teachings is given to the less privileged. This, alas, remains a neglected area, as leaders prefer to fulminate against their opponents.

Muslim leaders are also failing in another crucial area. Muslims who live in the West and complain about racism would do well to turn their gaze on their own societies. Pakistanis have been killing Pakistanis, on the basis of race, in the most brutal manner possible for years in Sind province; political messages are carved into the buttocks of ethnic opponents. Kurds have been gassed and bombed in Iraq, and attacked in Turkey, by fellow Muslims for decades.

Many Muslim leaders, heads of government, right across the Muslim world, have met a violent end. They have been shot (Anwar Sadat), hanged (Zulfikar Ali Bhutto of Pakistan), and blown up in the air (Zia ul-Haq, also of Pakistan). what Muslims have done to their leaders is more than matched by what the leaders did to their Muslim followers. Nightmare images are seared in the mind. State power—the army and police- has been responsible for the massacre of innocent country folk and even entire towns in Syria, in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), in Iraq, and in Iran.

Furthermore, much of the unprecedented wealth from oil revenues has been squandered on an unprecedented scale, in an unprecedented style. Call girls in London and casinos in the south of France. ranches in the United States and chalets in Switzerland diverted money that could have gone into health care, education, and closing the vast gaps between rich and poor. These antics provided legitimate ammunition for West- cm satirists; they became the caricature of a civilization. Ordinary Muslims have good cause to complain.

Also in need of pursuit is the notion of a just and stable state. Contemplating the prospects for the 21st century, some Middle East experts conclude that the lack of "a civil society" is the great bane of the Muslims. Repression and stagnation-in spite of a certain record of durability in some states-mark their societies. Lawyers and journalists are unable to work freely, and businessmen operate in economies that may be labeled socialist or capitalist but in either case are controlled by the state.

The main Muslim responses to the West appear to be chauvinism and withdrawal. This is both dangerous and doomed. The self-imposed isolation, the deliberate retreat, is not Islamic in spirit or content. Muslims who are isolated and self-centered imagine that passionate faith is exclusive to them. Yet a similar religious wave exists in Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Preferring to ignore this, Muslims will point out that the Western world is intimidated by them and fears their zeal. That Salman Rushdie was driven underground is cited as one proof of this. It seems that Muslim spokes- men are in danger of being intoxicated by their own verbosity.

The increasing stridency in their tone is thus linked to the larger Muslim sense of anger and powerlessness. They advocate confrontation and violence, an eye for an eye; this confirms Western stereotypes of Muslims. They argue that moderation has failed and that extremism will draw attention to their problems. Perhaps in the atmosphere of violence and blind hatred, of injustice and inequality, their position has a certain logic. They will force Muslim problems onto the agenda where more sober voices have failed, and because we live in an interconnected world, no country can isolate itself from - or immunize itself against - Muslim wrath. Nevertheless, violence and cruelty are not in the spirit of the Koran or the life of the Prophet.

The Muslim voices of learning and balance-in politics and among academics-are being drowned by those advocating violence and hatred. Two vital questions with wide-ranging implications arise: In the short term, has one of the world's greatest civilizations lost its ability to deal with problems except through violent force? In the long term, would Muslims replace the central Koranic concepts of adl and ahsan (balance and compassion), ilm (knowledge), and sabr (patience) with the bullet and the bomb?

Islam is a religion of equilibrium and tolerance, suggesting an encouraging breadth of vision, fulfillment of human destiny in the universe. Balance is essential to Islam, especially in society; and the crucial balance is between din (religion) and dunya (world); it is a balance of, not a separation between, the two. The Muslim lives in the now, in the real world, but within the frame of religion, with a mind to the afterlife. So, whether it is in business, the academy, or politics, the moral laws of Islam must not be forgotten. In the postmodern world, dunya is upsetting the balance, invading and appropriating din.

Yet the non-Muslim media, by their hammer- headed onslaught, have succeeded in portraying a negative image and may even succeed in changing Muslim character. Muslims, because of their gut response to the attack-both vehement and vitriolic-are failing to maintain the essential features of Islam. Muslim leaders have dug themselves into a hole in viewing the present upsurge simplistically as a confrontation with the West.

But Allah is everywhere. The universal nature of humanity is the main assumption in the Koran. God's purview and compassion take in everyone, "all creatures. " The world is not divided into an East and a West: "To Allah belong the East and West: Whithersoever Ye turn, there is Allah's countenance" (Surah 2:1 1 5). Again and again God points to the wonders of creation, the diversity of races and languages in the world. Such a God cannot be parochial or xenophobic. Neither can a religion that acknowledges the wisdom and piety of over 124,000 "prophets" in its folklore be isolationist or intolerant. With its references to the heavens above, the Koran encourages us to lift up our heads and look beyond our planet, to the stars.

The divine presence is all around; it can be glimpsed in the eyes of a mother beholding her infant, the rising of the sun, a bird in flight, the first flowers of spring. The wonders and mystery of creation cannot be the monopoly of any one people. The Sufi mystics of Islam, for example, see God everywhere, even among the godless, not only in the mosque. In their desire for knowledge, compassion, and cleanliness many non-Muslims possess ideal Muslim virtues. We note goodness and humanity in people like Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, and Vaclav Havel. Islam has always shown the capacity to emerge in unexpected understanding of Islam will therefore be critical in the coming years-and not only for Muslims.

Excerpted with permission from New Perspectives Quarterly (Summer 1993). Subscriptions: $501yr. (4 issues) from Center for the Study of democratic Institutions, 10951 W. Pico Blvd., Third Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90064. Back issues.- $12.50.from same address.

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PAMELA ANN SMITH * global finance

Where capitalism is
shaped by Islam

Muslims are striving to marry private
enterprise with social justice

One hundred and ten years ago obscure religious rebel named Muhammad Ahmad Abdullah declared war on the mighty British Empire. By 1885 the Mahdi, as he was known to his devout followers, had defeated the forces of General Charles Gordon and created an Islamic state in the Sudan. When General Herbert Kitchener finally routed the last Mahdist warriors and retook the territory in 1898, few could have foreseen that a century later the Muslim profession of faith-"There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet"-would once again become a fervent rallying cry for the imposition of Islamic rule from Casablanca to Karachi and from Khartoum to Kabul.

Today's resurgence of Islamic radicalism, however, is coinciding with the rise of another ideology across the Muslim world: the principles of free-market capitalism. Islam is prominent in 49 countries that stretch from Senegal on Africa's west coast to the Central Asian republics and on to Indonesia. Together they have 900 million people and (most notably in fabulously wealthy Brunei and the Persian Gulf states) some of the world's great pools of capital. Most of these countries are not, but hope to become, full-fledged participants in the new global economy.

But the teachings of the Koran and the strictures of shari'a, or Islamic law, are often perceived to conflict with many free-market practices, if not with the spirit of capitalism itself. Islam is not inconsistent with commerce: Muslims have been among the world's most venturesome traders for centuries, and even Muhammad, who was bom into a wealthy mercantile family, engaged in trade before receiving his first revelation at Mount Hira. But Islamic orthodoxy frowns on the pursuit of wealth for its own sake and on the materialist values that underpin consumerism. To the delight of socialists, Islam stresses the sharing of wealth among fellow Muslims and fairness in such matters as management-labor relations. And it poses considerable obstacles for modern finance and investment.

Speculation is taboo, for instance; the accent is on productive investment, especially for the benefit of community. "Proclaim eternal punishment for those who hoard up gold and silver and do not spend it in Allah's cause" is a Koranic verse often cited to discourage speculation and to prod the rich to aid the poor. Like Europe's theory of the just price in the Middle Ages, Islam prohibits price manipulation and monopolistic practices, and a ban on usury is often taken to mean that the charging and paying of interest is forbid- den-also remarkably similar to medieval Christianity.

The contradictions between Islam and free enterprise have touched off a fascinating struggle in many Muslim countries. True believers brook no compromise: Islamic teachings must prevail. Some free-market advocates are trying to reinterpret ancient Koranic doctrines to fit capitalist dogma. Others, sensitive to Islamic principles of social justice and generosity to the poor, are seeking a middle ground. The failure of government-managed experiments, such as Egypt's, to reduce poverty has given traditional socialism a bad odor, while lingering anti-imperialist resentments make many Muslims leery of Western values. The free-market model promoted by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank smacks too much of imperialism in a new guise. The Islamic world wants to find its own path. The result is likely to be new economic models peculiar to North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia.

How capitalism is reshaped by these pressures is not just a question for theologians. It will affect whether banks and corporations from other cultures will be able to do business in the Muslim world-and if so, how they will have to adapt. It will affect how much international capital will flow into Muslim economies.

The fervor of Islamic militancy has waxed and waned across the Muslim world for centuries. The current wave was inspired by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini, a radical cleric who in 1979 returned from exile after the overthrow of the shah and transformed the ancient land of Persia into an "Islamic republic" subject to shari'a. Later that same year, Islamic extremists in Saudi Arabia, convinced that a 27-year-old Riyadh student was the new Mahdi, seized the Grand Mosque of Mecca, Islam's holiest site. Their aim was to proclaim an Islamic state in the whole of the Arabian peninsula. Though the revolt was eventually quashed (as was a violent Shi'a uprising in the oil-rich Eastern Province), the ruling House of Saud, accused of corruption and of plundering the Islamic world's wealth, felt compelled to adopt a new "system of rule" based on Islamic principles.

Since then only one other country, Pakistan, has implemented shari'a, but radicals have nevertheless made themselves felt. Extremists of the Islamic Jihad movement assassinated Egypt's President Anwar Sadat in 198 1, and by 1987 the Muslim Brotherhood, though officially banned, had become Egypt's largest opposition party with 37 parliamentary seats.

In 1992 riots led by Islamic elements protesting free-market reforms erupted both in upper Egypt and in the Nile Delta. Islamic movements have made significant political gains in Jordan, Lebanon, Tunisia, and the Sudan, and religious doctrine plays a key role in opposition movements in Kuwait, Libya, Bahrain, and Iraq. In the same year, Algeria's radical Front Islamique du Salut (FIS) was banned, elections were, canceled, and military rule was imposed for fear that the FIS would win the elections and turn Algeria into an Islamic state.

Smart governments with large Muslim majorities have sought to bolster their legitimacy by a series of Islamic alliances through such groups as the Islamic Conference Organization and the Islamic Development Bank, both of which now have 44 member states. In many countries, liberals who favor democratic re- forms are seeking alliances with "moderate" radicals (those who favor the ballot box over bombs) in an effort to spur governments to introduce human rights legislation, expand press freedoms, recognize political parties, and permit popular election of representatives.

Liberal voices in Algeria, Jordan, and Lebanon also are urging a greater role for Islamic movements, and in Saudi Arabia liberal reformers and educated professionals who are Islamic moderates have teamed against ultraconservative Muslim clerics to press for a consultative assembly and limitations on the Mutawwa, the religious police.

Islam is such a potent force because the revelation of the Prophet is seen as immutable and the Koran serves as a guide to all spheres of life. Muslim societies have evolved no tradition of "rendering unto Caesar"-that is, keeping private religious beliefs separate from everyday business and politics. "There's no such thing as an economic policy in the Middle East," says George Joffe, a lecturer on Islamic and Arab affairs at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies. "The economy is based on the family. The idea of impersonal controllers regulating economic affairs is unknown. Islam is profoundly concerned with social justice. All policies are moral issues-and must be seen to be moral."

But would a pure Islamic order be closer to capitalism or to socialism? "Islam is a capitalist religion. it believes in free enterprise," maintains Yusef Abu Khadra of Investcorp, the Bahrain investment bank that purchased New York retailer Saks Fifth Avenue. But the religion of the Prophet is also imbued with a strong sense of social justice. "You can make money but you must give some of it to the poor," he explains. "Zakat the Islamic tithe] must be given to beneficiaries who are not relatives. Rich Muslims have an obligation to help other Muslims-across borders, across cultures, across languages."

Elie El Hadj, managing director of Riyadh's Arab National Bank, a partnership of Saudi investors and the Arab Bank of Amman, Jordan, agrees that Islam is capitalist: "Private property is respected and encouraged." In fact, he observes, "the tax system, of 2.5 percent on net worth but not income, forces you to use your capital. If you sit by and don't work your capital, in 40 years it will disappear. If you are an employee, you are not taxed on your earnings. The idea is that you should not rely on just living off your wealth. Investing capital implies taking risks and not just lending it for a fixed return."

"The first Islamic state, in Medina in the seventh century, was very close to what we now call capitalism," says Hazem el-Beblawi, chairman and chief executive of the Export Development Bank of Egypt. "Islam is based on private ownership, inheritance, and free con- tracts. The role of the government, or the imam, is to enforce the protection of ownership and of contracts." But public sector ownership was also known. "What we would consider public utilities-water. the rights to pasturage. and other things of general need-should not be owned privately. And though an owner owns his property, there are limits to his ownership-not to be detrimental to others. In other words, even in early Islam the concept of abuse of rights was known."

As for Islamic banking, "the idea is to marry capital with labor and to use capital to enhance the value of work and to create value added. rather than just depending on money for the sake of getting dividends without knowing how that money is deployed," says Yousef A. Al-Awadi, managing director of Al-Baraka Investment in London. "Profit, not interest. is encouraged. Capital should go into productive activities that will benefit the community, build new economic ventures. and help development. You must share the risk as well as th6 profit."

Central to the debate is the Koranic ban on riba, or usury. Most Islamic scholars and the clergy interpret riba to be a ban on all interest payments for deposits or loans-which effectively keeps Islamic financial institutions out of the international banking market. Controversy flared when Saudi Arabia's highest reH6ous authority ruled that Islam forbids purchasing shares in banks that pay or receive interest: but bank shares have done spectacularly well on the Saudi market.

Beneficiaries of the ruling include Al-Rajhi, Saudi Arabia's third-largest bank, which submits all its operations and products to the scrutiny of a committee of religious scholars. But not all Islamic banks are paragons of virtue. "Some may not use interest, but they lend against property and foreclose when things go bad." charges one banker. "That's also not allowed."

Banking hypocrisy has become an especially touchy issue since the BCCI scandal-in which the outlaw "Muslim" bank solicited deposits on grounds of religious loyalty-and the 1990-91 collapse of Islamic investment houses in Egypt. in which thousands of small depositors lost millions. One trick is to be Islamic ' with depositors and Western with borrowers-that is. to charge interest on loans but pay depositors nothing. But critics claim that it's un-Islamic to give depositors no returns.

As these debates continue in the Muslim world, many Westerners assume that the spread of Islam will work to the industrial world's disadvantage. In fact, like medieval Christianity, Islam has its moderates as well as its fanatics. The religious zealots' search for a new Mahdi gradually is becoming, a search for a third way, something uniquely Islamic between capitalism and socialism that will marry private enterprise with social justice and a sense of family and community. Watching that process will be fascinating.


Excerpted with permission from the international business magazine Global Finance (Oct. 1992). Subscriptions.- $120/vr. (12 issues) from Global Finance, 11 W. 19th St.. 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10011. Back- issues - $10 from same address.

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Dixie Islam

Praising Allah in Raleigh-Durham

From the top of a square brick building, an amplified voice sings the Islamic call to prayer, as it does five times each day. The voice echoes over a boarded-up shopping mall, over-grown vacant lots, bleak housing projects.

Inside, about 60 men and boys stand side by side. They face Makkah, or Mecca, as it is more commonly known in English, the holy city of Islam, now in Saudi Arabia. Behind and separated from the men by a wooden lattice screen, two dozen women and girls clad in green robes and white hijabs wrapped around their heads follow the Friday service.

A white-robed prayer leader, the imam, speaks in Arabic and English, urging the worshipers to submit to the laws of Allah and to follow the example of Muhammad, whom Muslims believe is the last in a series of prophets that includes Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. "The one who follows [Muhammad] will enter paradise," the imam intones. "The one who defies him does not want to enter paradise."

It's Friday night at the Jamaat lbad Ar-Rahman masjid, or mosque, on Fayetteville Street in Durham, North Carolina.

In recent years Muslims have become a presence in the Raleigh-Durham area, as they have throughout the United States, establishing communities and centers of worship. The Islamic faithful, immigrants as well as American-born converts, number in the thousands in the area, though accurate figures aren't available.

There are two masjids in Durham and one in Raleigh, and Muslims have established university student groups, private schools, and a network of other organizations and businesses. At Shaw University in Raleigh, a $1 million International Studies Center, paid for by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, also includes a mosque. The Ar-Razzaq masjid in Durham produces a weekly cable TV program, AI-Islam in Focus, to spread the word of Islam.

Except for the distinctive dress of many of the women, Muslims here are largely indistinguishable from other citizens. They are students, business people, computer programmers, city planners, mechanics. Yet the religion they embrace espouses ideas about worship, family, sex roles, and values that seem foreign and restrictive to many outsiders. Perhaps the best way to see Islam more clearly is to took at the lives of some of its practitioners.

Everything I do during the day, the Koran addresses that, " says Muhsinah Ali, a Durham cosmetologist. "The Koran contains you. It's a complete way of life."

Although Christians read the Bible, few use it as an instruction manual for their lives as Muslims use the Koran. The holy book gives specific instructions for prayer, business, diet, child raising, charitable works, and more.

For Ali, the Koran provides a structure yet does not restrict her individuality. "A lot of Americans think they give up something for Islam," she says. "Being a Muslim doesn't mean giving up your identity." Ali wraps a bright red scarf around her luxuriant hair rather than concealing it under a hijab.

Ali's beauty salon, Muhsinah's House of Weave, looks more like a cozy living room than a place of business. The only clue to her religion is an Arabic sign over the doorway into the salon.

Customers frequently tell Ali that they notice "something different" in her mannerisms, she says, and she is convinced the difference is Islam. The religion has cleared her view of the world and widened her vision.

"The biggest change was becoming knowledgeable about myself," she says. "In that way, I can understand others."

Beginning each day at 5 a.m., Ali makes her first set of prayers, which takes five to seven minutes; she repeats them at noon, 3, 5, and 8 p.m. She usually recites the same verse from the Koran, a praise of Allah, but sometimes recites additional prayers. "If I feel a little stress," she says, "I can add a prayer to help me with the situation I'm going through."

She studies her religion every day. Muslims make a goal of memorizing as much of the Koran as they can. "You learn from the day you're born to the day you die," Ali says. "You will never stop growing in Islam."

Ali is one of the Muslim community's increasing number of native-born converts-or "reverts." Like many Afri- can-Americans, Ali believes her ancestors were Muslims before they were enslaved and abducted to America. Raised in a family of 12 Methodist and Baptist brothers and sisters, Ali became a Muslim 20 years ago. She married a Muslim and has Muslim sons ages 16 and 25. African-Americans were the first people in this country to turn to Islam in large numbers. In the 1960s, Nation of Islam (NOI), founded by Elijah Muhammad and championed for a time by Malcolm X, combined aspects of Islam with mythology advocating the establishment of a separate African-American nation.

But after his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964, Malcolm embraced a more orthodox and generous Islam, and NOI as a whole, led by of Elijah Muhammad's son, W. Deen Mohammed, dropped its name and moved away from black separatism toward an Islamic religious practice similar to that in other countries. (Louis Farrakhan leads a splinter group that still maintains separatist beliefs.) "Main-4 stream" American Muslims, including Ali, race irrelevant to the practice of the religion. "I'm African-American, but I'm a Muslim first," she says.

Ali talks passionately about Islam and scoffs at the common misconception that Muslims have to make big sacrifices for their religion. "The only thing I don't eat is pork," she says, referring to dietary laws that prohibit eating the meat because it is "unclean." And she sees no conflict between her religious beliefs and carrying on her beauty business.

"We run our business according to the I way of life," she insists. "But it's a business for every- one. I serve everyone."

Nazeeh Abdul-Hakeem works during the day a planner in Durham. At night, he conducts the daily business of the Jamaat fbad Ar-Rahman masjid. As president of the organization, he coordinates the masjid's religious services, day care, full-time school (kindergarten through seventh grade), and fund- raising for Muslims in other countries. He also currently serves as imam, since the last one left and a replacement hasn't been found. The masjid has 70 official members but serves "hundreds of Muslims," he says.

A tall, imposing man with a white lace skullcap and a long squarish beard, Abdul-Hakeem does not mince words when he is talking about the dangers Muslims face in the United States. Drugs, alcohol, crime, promiscuity, and divorce all pose a grave threat to the family, the basic unit of Islamic society.

"Islam more than anything else has taught us the meaning of family," Abdul-Hakeem says. "The Prophet says one-half of religion is marriage." The Koran gives specific rules on all aspects of the Islamic family, he says, beginning with the courting process, which discourages marriage based on physical attraction. Traditionally, the prospective bride's father searches for a suitable husband, and then an intermediary represents the bride in the negotiation. A woman does, however, have the right to refuse the suitor.

Abdul-Hakeem came to Islam 13 years ago, in reaction to what he calls "shallowness and hollowness" in the lives of other African-Americans. After he converted, he divorced his wife and waited three years before seeking a Muslim wife. His present marriage was arranged in the traditional Islamic way.

Committed to the religion, Abdul-Hakeem wasn't nervous about marrying a woman he barely knew. "We could have phone conversations," he says, "and we met a few times with chaperones. We were 30-some years old, but we had chaperones. The purpose of this process was to help us focus on goals, to help us win the pleasure of Allah and enter paradise. There was no kissing and that kind of stuff."

Once they are married, Islamic spouses have distinct roles. "The Koran does give men authority over women," Abdul-Hakeem says. "There's no such thing as a stalemate in the household. Men are the leaders, the heads of the household. A woman cannot be a head of state or imam in Islam. The woman's primary role is homemaker. She can work as long as it doesn't upset the household. [His wife, Olaiya, works as a surgical nurse]. A woman's money is her own. My wife and I keep separate checking accounts. I don't know how much she has."

Among the husband's rights is a right to sexual intercourse, unless the wife is ill or otherwise physically unable. "This is to prevent temptation from other women," Abdul-Hakeem explains.

The Koran also allows a husband to use his physical authority, although the Hadith, the collected sayings of the prophet Muhammad, instructs husbands not to beat their wives with anything heavier- than a feather. Divorce is permitted but, as Abdul-Hakeem says, it is "hated by Allah."

Abdul-Hakeem and Olaiya will have children "insha'Allah," or "Allah willing," he says-the traditional Islamic response to such a question.

If indeed Allah is willing and the two have children, they will raise them in accordance with Islamic child-raising tenets. Abdul-Hakeem considers an Islamic education essential. "In public schools, [Muslim] families would lose their children. Some kids don't make it."

The three-year-old Than Ar-Rahman school is accredited by the state and currently enrolls about 40 students with as many as I 0 teachers. Classes are small; students wear uniforms and are segregated by gender in the classroom. Abdul-Hakeem says the school hopes to have separate classes for boys and girls someday in order to eliminate distractions.

Students learn Arabic and Islamic teachings, in addition to traditional subjects. "The main difference is that we stress discipline," Abdul-Hakeem says. "The children break for time to pray. The girls wear Islamic dress. We try to teach them etiquette."

For Abdul-Hakeem, this return to discipline is a reaction to a chaotic society. The structures dictated by the Koran for families, masjids, schools, businesses, and charities provide stability and continuity.

Sandra Harhash learned about Islam from her husband, a Palestinian who grew up in Kuwait, and she converted when they lived in Kuwait

from 1984 to 1990. She returned to the United States veiled in traditional Islamic attire and now lives in Raleigh and works for the North Carolina Department of Revenue.

At the Islamic Center in Raleigh, Harhash wears a hijab and gray garments that cover her body to her ankles, leaving only her face and hands exposed. Many of the young girls around Harhash wear hijabs.

"If [a woman] shows more than her face and her hands," Harhash explains, "it's an attraction for the men. [The hijab] keeps the men away from temptation.

"It was my choice to dress this way," Harhash says, then adds, "I dress like this because this is what God ordered me to do." She sees no contradiction there; when Harhash converted to Islam, she accepted the responsibilities of being a Muslim. "I wasn't ready to convert until we lived in Kuwait, where I found the answers to so many of my questions about Islam," she says.

Wearing a hijab comes so naturally now that Harhashfeels "almost naked without it," and she laughs when people ask if her clothes are hot in the summer. "I say, 'It's hotter in hell.' "

For the most part, Muslims blend unobtrusively into the community, but the women's headgear and chaste garments identify them as Muslims and provoke curiosity-or worse.

When Harhash talks about her faith, she usually speaks softly, smiling frequently. Her demeanor changes when she talks about Jocelyn Jones, a Muslim woman who was physically harassed and arrested by a deputy sheriff after he tried to remove her hijab as she entered a courtroom. The deputy was punished with a permanent injunction against his working in the courthouse, but the attack on Jones sent a wave of outrage through the local Muslim community. Eight days after the incident, Harhash led 30 women calling themselves the Muslim Women Committee of Raleigh in chanting and picketing in front of the courthouse. Harhash spoke through a megaphone to explain to passersby some basic tenets of Islam and the importance of freedom of religion.

She herself has felt the effects of discrimination: She was not hired for a day-care job because of her attire, she says, and K-mart was only willing to put her in the stockroom, away from the public. "They told me the scarf would get in the way," she says.

Her outspokenness dispels the stereotype of the passive, oppressed Muslim woman. The protest she organized seemed quintessentially American: The women stressed the violation of Jones' constitutional rights. "In this religion, women were liberated 1,400 years ago," she, says.

Harhash insists Islam is not repressive, and she seems comfortable explaining that the woman's role consists mainly of keeping house and taking care of her husband's needs. In return, the husband supports his wife and teaches her more about the Koran and Islamic traditions.

"I'm not going to say that he's the boss, but if he asks for some thing, she must get it. In reason, of course," she adds. "It's a reasonable religion. It really is."

The Islamic doctrine of da'wah, or mission, requires that Muslims teach others about the religion to attract new faithful. Hatim Mukhtar, a Saudi Arabian native, actively pursues da'wah while studying pharmacy administration at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Many Muslim immigrants arrived in the Raleigh-Durham area after 1965, when the United States relaxed its immigration laws and local companies began seeking foreign professionals. Mukhtar came here in 1991, four days after the Persian Gulf War began, to study as part of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's attempt to train its medical personnel.

With his medical center name tag, conservative tie, and button-down shirt, Mukhtar looks more like a middle manager than an emissary of Islam. But for two years, he has served as president of the campus Muslim Student Association (student groups are some of the most active Islamic organizations in North America). The group's aim is to maintain the Islamic community and to combat ignorance through lectures, social events, and religious services, he says. Members distribute literature about Islam from a table in front of the student union.

Mukhtar himself produces the newsletter, Al-Iman, which advertises lectures with titles such as "Malcolm X: The Muslim," "The Struggle Between Truth and Falsehood," and "Misconceptions About Women in Islam." Al-Iman publishes exact prayer timings determined by the Islamic lunar calendar, advertises worship services in the student union, provides news about Muslims around the world, and states the exact compass bearing of Mecca from Chapel Hill: 55 degrees 32 minutes east.

Much of the Islamic literature distributed by the Muslim students is paid for by Saudi Arabia, and some of the material seeks to convert Christians in particular. At the same time, the tracts emphasize Islam's tolerance toward all other religions and seek to dispel perceptions that Islam is oppressive, violent, or exotic.

Mukhtar blames misconceptions on American provinciality and the media.

"The American media is biased against Islam," Mukhtar says. "Most Americans get their perceptions from the media. What the media tells them, they believe. And what they know of Muslims is fundamentalism and jihad. "

Mukhtar is just one of the Muslim forces at work in North Carolina. There is a Muslim chaplain in the state's prisons; Durham's Ar-Razzaq masjid conducts interfaith meetings with the Christian and Jewish communities; speakers from all over the world come to Shaw University's International Studies Center to talk on Islamic and Middle East issues; and the weekly cable TV program speaks to the uninitiated and the faithful alike.

The future looks promising for Islam in America, in Mukhtar's opinion. For the first time Muslims are organizing themselves, beginning with the national American Muslim Council's effort to determine the actual size of the Islamic community in the United States, which it estimates at 6 million to 8 million people.

"I doubt this will be converted into an Islamic country," Mukhtar says. "But I think we should be more organized." A million Muslims registered to vote could influence elections, he points out.

The Friday sermon at Durham's Jamaat Ibad Ar- Rahman masjid ends and the worshipers move together, closing gaps between them. They bow at the waist, kneel, and bend over, prostrating themselves toward Mecca. For a moment the room is silent with prayer, and the group is unified in a ritual of humility and faith that transcends their earthly existence.

Outside the mosque, male and female worshipers come together around a temporary hot-dog stand. Children, liberated after the weekly ritual, shout and chase each other. A representative of Al Rayyan Auto Sales hands out flyers advertising zero-percent financing, designed to help Muslim car buyers avoid interest payments prohibited by the Koran. After a quick lunch and hurried good-byes, the Muslims drive back to their jobs and homes and schools.

The scene outside the mosque seems no different from that after a service at the local Baptist church or Jewish synagogue. Islam is just the latest addition to the spiritual mix.

Excerpted with permission from the North Carolina Independent (Jan. 6, 1993). Subscriptions.- $291yr. (51 Issues) from The Independent, Box 2690, Durham, NC 2 7715-2690. Back- issues.- $5 from same address.

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Peace and freedom for women

An American convert to Islam explains her choice


It puzzles me, an American Muslim woman, that non-Muslims rarely ask me about my religious beliefs and practices. Instead I am invariably asked something like this: "How could a modem American woman be a Muslim? Don't Muslims treat their women horribly?" Most Americans believe that Islam treats women as spiritual and intellectual second-class citizens and relegates them to a life behind a veil in a secluded harem, denied rights and education in a state of semi-slavery to their husbands.

It is difficult to counteract such stereotypes and to fully convey the many blessings Islam holds for women. Like having a baby, taking an acid trip, or riding a bicycle it is difficult to describe to someone who hasn't tried it. It is also important to distinguish between what Islam legislates and teaches about the position of women and how women are actually treated in various times and places.

A Muslim woman is first and foremost a Muslim. The beliefs and practices of Islam are the core of her life. Islam. or surrender to Allah, means following as perfectly as possible the din, the way of life outlined in the Koran and Hadith (traditional sayings of the Prophet). As I often explain it to children and to non-Muslims: "If you sincerely believed that God was telling you to doI something- for example, to cover your head-wouldn't you do it',"' For a Muslim. it's almost that simple. Islam means surrender. Surrender is surrender!

The Koran emphatically repeats that men and women are spiritually equal in the sight of Allah and that their religious duties are the same. Except for specific exemptions for menstruation and for 40 days after childbirth. a Muslim woman prays at least five times every day of her life. She fasts during the month of Ramadan unless she is sick, on a journey, pregnant, or nursing. Since she can own her own property (her husband cannot touch it without her consent), she must pay the obligatory zakat (the Islamic alms tax). She should make the pilgrimage to Mecca if she can.

Both men and women are encouraged to seek education and knowledge. They are both expected to hold to the moral virtues of purity, chastity, and modesty. For a woman this means being fully covered in public, except for face and hands, by clothes that do not reveal her figure. (Some also interpret this to mean that her face should be covered with a veil, but this is by no means a universally accepted interpretation or practice.) She may be less covered with her husband, .chil dren, and near family. it is unthinkable for a Muslim woman to display her body to men other than her husband in the way that Western women now take for granted as "natural" or fashionable.

The family and the raising of children occupy a central place in the moral and social legislation of Islam, and this is sometimes difficult for modern Westerners to understand and appreciate. It is from this concern for the stability and strength of the family that Islam creates different and complementary roles for men and women.

An example of this is inheritance rights, which are distinctly spelled out in the Koran. Before Islam, women had no right of inheritance. Under Islam, they receive half the share of men. Taken out of context this appears to be unfair, but men are clearly charged with the care and protection of women and children, and this often applies to an extended family. Having no such financial obligations, women are given the right to inherit, but they inherit less.

Marriage is an important part of Islam. Families often seek to arrange a marriage for their daughter with a suitable man, but the woman must consent to it. A Muslim marriage involves a contract between husband and wife, and the husband gives his wife a wedding gift (which is not a dowry or a bride price).

A wife is expected to obey her husband in all decisions, although he may well consult her; he is the head of the family and his is the final word. She is expected to care for and guard his home and property. She may keep her maiden name and may seek employment in any suitable field (although this is generally discouraged since the primary job of women is motherhood)

Most non-Muslims assume that since polygamy is permitted in Islam it must be common, but in fact it is rare. The conditions that make it allowable (being able to treat more than one wife, and up to four wives, absolutely equally) are difficult for most men to meet. It is socially necessary when war creates a surplus of widows and unmarried women or when a wife is unable to bear children and children are very much desired.

Similarly, although divorce is permitted and acknowledged to be sometimes necessary, it is discouraged and every effort is made to avoid it. Both men and women may initiate divorce, subject to waiting periods specified in the Koran. Men are expected to support wife and children during the waiting period, a period of separation. Wives who initiate divorce in many cases must give all or part of their marriage gift back as compensation. The men of the family support unmarried women, widows, and orphans.

This may sound like limitation and a loss of freedom to Westerners, yet most Muslim women perceive these standards as a great blessing; they create an environment of protection, honor, respect, and peace in which women may concentrate on bringing up their children. From this point of view, Western women appear to have the short end of the stick!

There is an inner freedom that can only be experienced when we freely accept limits and discard the illusion of a freedom that is merely slavery to our own whims, desires, and fantasies. This is the crux of women's position in Islam. Certain rights are given and certain limits are set-in the context of Allah's will. The benefit is not in the outward life, but in the possibility of the soul's evolution.

I know many American women who have lived as Muslims, some of them for many years. Most of them are highly educated, widely experienced, and came to Islam from a "liberated" past. I don't know of even one of them who would want to return to her former way of life. I believe that says a lot.

Excerpted with permission from Whole Earth Review (Winter 1985). Subscriptions. $27/yr. (4 issues) from Whole Earth Review, 27Gate Five Rd, Sausalito, CA 9496.5. Back issues:$7 from same address.

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From the New York Times
January 27, 2002

Bin Laden Stirs Struggle on Meaning of Jihad


A ZHAKHEL BALA, Pakistan, Jan. 20 Little in the manner of Ijaz Khan Hussein betrays the miseries he saw as a volunteer in the war in Afghanistan.

Mr. Khan, a college-trained pharmacist, joined the jihad, or holy war, like thousands of other Pakistanis who crossed over into Afghanistan.

He worked as a medical orderly near Kabul, shuttling to the front lines, picking up bodies and parts of bodies. Of 43 men who traveled with him to Afghanistan by truck in October, he says, 41 were killed.

Now with the Taliban and Al Qaeda routed, have Mr. Khan and other militants finished with holy war?

Mr. Khan, at least, said he had not.

"We went to the jihad filled with joy, and I would go again tomorrow," he said. "If Allah had chosen me to die, I would have been in paradise, eating honey and watermelons and grapes, and resting with beautiful virgins, just as it is promised in the Koran. Instead, my fate was to remain amid the unhappiness here on earth."

Jihad literally means striving. The Prophet Muhammad gave Muslims the task of striving in the path of God. Whether that striving is armed or a personal duty of conscience is a question causing consternation in the world's 1.2 billion Muslims, and that question goes to the heart of President Bush's war on terrorism.

In the Muslim world, it seems that Osama bin Laden is now a fractured idol, and many Muslim scholars criticize him. Yet he also remains appealing to others, almost as a political Robin Hood.

"Osama bin Laden is not a theologian, or a jihadist in the traditional sense of the term; he's a political activist," said one critic, Olivier Roy, a French scholar who has written several books about Afghanistan. "He has Islamized the traditional discourse of Western anti-imperialism. So a lot of Muslims support him, not because they see him as a true warrior for Islam, but because they hate America, and he's the only man in the Islamic world that they see fighting the Americans. He's like Carlos the Jackal converted to Islam."

In mosques and Islamic seminaries from Morocco to Indonesia, moderate Muslims have been scouring the Koran to demonstrate that a true vision of jihad can never be squared with Sept. 11, even while expressing how aggrieved Muslims may be with America over issues Mr. bin Laden has identified in his videotapes, like Israel's treatment of Palestinians, the presence of American troops in the Arabian peninsula and the United States' role in maintaining sanctions against Iraq.

"Don't make the mistake of thinking that Osama bin Laden is the true face of a billion Muslims, or the true voice of the Koran," said Dr. Safir Akhtar, a research scholar at the Islamic University in Islamabad, a Saudi-financed institution that has long been a magnet for young militants from around the Islamic world.

"He may have a special appeal through his religiosity," Dr. Akhtar said, "and his spartan way of life, and he has certainly drawn deeply from Muslims' deep sense of frustration, but people think of him more as an adventurer than as an Islamic leader, and they know from their own studies that his sense of jihad is deeply flawed."

Conversations with ordinary Muslims in Pakistan tend quickly to turn to their disillusionment with the inglorious figure Mr. bin Laden has cut since Sept. 11 as he counseled future jihadis that "this world is an illusion," valueless beside paradise, and posed for the videotapes with a Kalashnikov and a camouflage jacket, while avoiding the hazards of combat himself. Moreover, many of Islam's most militant theologians now rebuke Mr. bin Laden, who suggested in the videotapes that he cast himself in the mold of Saladin, who recaptured Jerusalem from the Crusaders in the 12th century.

From Cairo, Beirut and Tehran, and a dozen other centers of fervent Islamic belief, pioneers of Mr. bin Laden's kind of jihad violent, anti- Western, above all anti-American and anti-Israeli have called him a coward and an enemy of Islam.

No example is starker than that of Sheik Muhammad Hussain Fadlallah, spiritual leader of Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based Party of God, for 25 years a scourge of Israel and the United States with its suicide bombings and other terror attacks in Lebanon and Israel. After a 1983 truck bombing of a United States Marine barracks near the Beirut airport killed 241 servicemen, American officials accused Sheik Fadlallah of having ordered the attack, an allegation he returned when he blamed the Central Intelligence Agency for a 1985 car bombing outside his Beirut home that killed 75 people.

But Sheik Fadlallah, now 66, has been relentless in his condemnation of the attacks in America.

He preaches that they were "not compatible with Shariah law," the Koranic legal code, nor with the Islamic concept of jihad, and that the perpetrators were not martyrs as Mr. bin Laden has claimed, but "merely suicides," because they killed innocent civilians, and in a distant land, America. In an interview with a Beirut newspaper, Al Safir, Sheik Fadlallah again accused Mr. bin Laden of having ignored Koranic texts.

"There is no concept of jihad as aggressive combat," he said, quoting verses of the Koran that Islamic theologians have argued over for centuries. In misreading these texts, he said, Mr. bin Laden had relied on "personal psychological needs," including a "tribal urge for revenge."

An Egyptian-born theologian, Sheik Yusuf Abdullah al-Qaradawi, with a history of anti-American militancy even longer than Sheik Fadlallah's, expresses a similar view. From his base in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, the 75-year-old sheik has issued Islamic fatwas, or decrees, on issues like the need for Muslims to boycott McDonald's restaurants, and on husbands' right to beat their wives as long as they do not draw blood.

But on the Sept. 11 attacks, he has used language similar to that of Mr. Bush and other American politicians.

"Islam, the religion of tolerance, holds the human soul in high esteem, and considers the attack on innocent human beings a grave sin," said. "Even in times of war, Muslims are not allowed to kill anybody save the one who is engaged in face-to-face confrontation with them.

"Killing hundreds of helpless civilians," he added, "is a heinous crime in Islam."

To many Western scholars, Mr. bin Laden stands out not for the liturgical context, but for drawing on the wellspring of anti-Western sentiment in the Muslim world.

Another French scholar, Gilles Kepel, said Mr. bin Laden drew his views from a deadly mixture of the fundamentalist, aggressive form of Islam known as Salafism that he knew as a student in Saudi Arabia and the heady, but misleading, experience he had when he arrived in Afghanistan in the 1980's to join the last stages of the jihad against Soviet occupation troops.

"By 1989, the jihadists thought that they had destroyed the Soviet Union, and that militant Islam was a force that could prevail against any enemy, forgetting that what really drove the Russians out of Afghanistan was the Stinger antiaircraft missiles given to them by the United States, which neutralized Soviet air power," Dr. Kepel said. "This led them to believe that they could triumph everywhere."

That has not been the case. The Taliban ruled Afghanistan for just five years. Islamic militancy has been violently suppressed in Egypt and Algeria, has crested as an influence in Sudan, and has achieved little in Chechnya and Kashmir.

In Pakistan, clerics who saw the country as following in the Taliban's rise have instead witnessed the nation's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, starting a broad-based crackdown on Islamic militancy.

Yet there are legions of young men who seethe with resentment at America and its power, and long after Mr. bin Laden and Al Qaeda have faded into history, they seem likely to form a ready pool of recruits for messianic leaders.

In Pakistan, that is evident in any one of the hundreds of Islamic schools and seminaries that flourished around Peshawar, the frontier city, in the wake of the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan. Although they are under notice now from General Musharraf that they will no longer be allowed to operate as thinly disguised recruiting camps for holy war, their courtyards still teem with angry young men who say they will one day find a way to strike back at America for all it has done in Afghanistan, and for America's "crimes" against Muslims.

At one such institution, the Markaz-e-Islami seminary near Peshawar, a visitor stopped recently to read a painted signboard inscribed with 140 names of Pakistanis who have died as "holy warriors" in Afghanistan and Kashmir since 1993.

A bearded young man named Nurullah, introducing himself as a student, pointed to a fresh board nearby that has been prepared for the names of the latest martyrs, men who died fighting with the Taliban after Sept. 11, and said, "Jihad will continue until doomsday, or until America is defeated, either way."

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