Muslim-West communications vital to overcoming crises, scholars say

Sarah El Sirgany
4 Min Read

Mubarak to address the nation on challenges facing the Islamic world

CAIRO: Economic and political crises and the shaky relationship between Islam and the West are among the main challenges facing the region, Islamic scholars have told The Daily Star Egypt.

Incidents like Pope Benedict XVI’s allusion to a medieval criticism of Islam and the Danish cartoon crisis early last year have highlighted the impaired lines of communication between Muslim countries and the West.

They have also revealed the existence of mutual anger and misunderstanding.

“In the West, there is complete and scandalous ignorance of Islam, says Islamic scholar Gamal El-Banna.

His comments came ahead of President Hosni Mubarak’s speech tonight, which will highlight the challenges facing the Islamic nation as a whole, whether internally or externally, as he marks the celebrations of Laylet El-Qadr – the night it is believed God revealed the Quran to the Prophet Mohamed.

El-Banna believes ignorance of Islam is not limited to the West and stresses that there is also a misunderstanding of Islam among Muslims and local communities.

“Islam intersects with international human rights doctrines on freedom of conviction . But who understands this? he told The Daily Star Egypt.

This intolerance or the unwillingness to find middle grounds affects inter-religious dialogue. “Muslims don’t understand the language of logic that the West speaks, El-Banna, who is known for his controversial interpretations of Islam, added.

Sheikh Saber Taalab, former head of the Islamic Research Center, believes the Muslim world must look inward before it chooses to target its anger at the West.

“We have to see what we as Muslims have done to ourselves, he says.

Disunity among Muslim countries and the minimal level of cooperation are among the reasons why Muslim societies are facing hurdles in their socio-economic development.

“The level of trade between Muslim countries is less than expected.

“We are a market for consumption of technology, not manufacturers, explains Talaab. He notes the importance of developing education systems in order to graduate citizens able to serve their country. “Currently, we are graduating illiterates.

“Building factories [and schools] is more important than building mosques, he adds.

Diaa Rashwan, expert in Islamic studies at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, agrees on the significance of internal challenges with a focus on democracy and development. “Generally speaking, we need more political openness, more transparency and more seriousness in dealing with issues of concern.

He, however, doesn’t think there is “standard recipe that would answer the different challenges for all countries. There is even no “fixed description or map of the challenges facing the Muslim world.

Rashwan told The Daily Star Egypt that each country in the region is facing a similar set of challenges but in varying degrees. Comparisons between countries like Iraq and Morocco are unrealistic, for example.

But in spite of the differences in internal problems, Rashwan thinks all Muslim countries are facing one challenge, which he describes as “the biggest. The perception that Muslims are a threat to the West and that Muslim countries are the source of terrorism is having its effect on politics, he says. The difference in international reaction to the Korean and Iranian nuclear programs is one example, he adds. “There is something related to religion about this case, he says.

Rashwan suggests enhancing the role of Islamic regional and international organizations.

“They should have a more effective role internationally. But this won’t happen overnight.

“These are theoretical dreams, he adds.

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