Friday, June 01, 2007

Something Positive in the Islamic World that I can Shout About!

Thanks to everyone who participated and is continuing to participate in the discussion in my last blog about the situation of Christians in Iraq and what the Interfaith networks in Australia can do about it.

I want to include a rather more positive note here towards our Muslim co-citizens, picking up the note I ended my last blog on.

In today's edition of The Age there is an article by Hanifa Deen with reference to Hirsi Ali. She writes:
The only interpretation of Islam that Hirsi Ali can imagine is dogmatic and fundamentalist. She excludes any possibility of a reforming Islam. Muslim modernists argue that reform will come from Muslims living in the West who can enter a dialogue with the secular state and liberal Christians [one could include orthodox Christians who are committed to respecting every human beings God-given dignity and freedom of conscience - DS]. Today, in a similar manner, a Muslim majority country such as Turkey is interacting with the European Union it seeks to join.
(On the latter point, you might be interested to read John L. Allen Jnr. "'Yellow light' from the Vatican on Turkey in the EU".)

I share that point of view entirely. If Christians want to make a contribution to future world peace, I believe that rather than setting our faces resolutely against the Muslim world, it will be better to encourage the type of Islam that Hanifa is writing about--the type that is open to engagement with the scholarship, science, philosophy, history and politics of western culture. There are many Muslims in the world working for just this goal--and yes, many of them are in Turkey and in Indonesia.

With reference to Indonesia, I highly recommend a very interesting podcast from Melbourne University's "Close Up" program "Islam and Sharia in Today's Indonesia". I missed out on going to hear this program in person (I went to hear John Bell instead, who was speaking at the same time). In this program, Professor Tim Lindsey looks at attempts in Indonesia to introduce Sharia law, especially in respect to the so-called "Pornography Laws". He investigates its implications for what is both the largest democracy in Southeast Asia and the largest Muslim country in the world. He also looks at current Australia-Indonesia relations.

But what fascinated me were his comments towards the end of the program where he said that the democratic liberal opposition to the new Sharia-style laws and the move to more fundamentalistic Islamicist government was coming from (wait for it) MUSLIMS! As he pointed out, Indonesia is overwhelmingly Muslim, and yet they continue to put democratic, secular style governments and laws in place. He believes that Australian Islamo-phobia prevents us from seeing that there are strong movements for modernism within Islam itself. It is worth listening to the whole lecture.

I am also listening to Fethullah Gülen's "Essentials of the Islamic Faith". There is much that I find perplexing about this book, its style and its philosophical approach, but this much he made clear in Chapter 3: Islam is not a fatalistic religion. It believes in and upholds human free will. Given that, we cannot say that Islam is fated or destined to take a certain path in history (except, as they would say and we would agree, in the foreknowledge of God). The human beings involved in the development of this religion and its interaction with the other world faiths and cultures have free will to chose which direction they will travel. Since no man is an island, we non-Muslims surely bear some responsibility to walk alongside them on this journey.

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