The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were a turning point for the world,
one that completely altered its political and strategic balances. Some
political commentators even say that Sept. 11, 2001 marked the real
beginning of the twenty-first century. Looking back at the century just
passed, the most important elements of opinion and belief shaping it
were ideologies and the relations between these ideologies. Similarly,
civilizations, beliefs and the relationship between these two will work
to shape the twenty-first century.
There are claims from some quarters that relations between civilizations
and beliefs will be fundamentally characterized by "clashes."
However, quite to the contrary, it is our hope that these relations
will be based upon peace and friendship. The Qur'an will serve as the
guide for us, Muslims, in this realm. In the Qur'an, God tells us that
the differences between people should be a reason for them to seek to
know one another better:
Mankind! We created you from a male and female,
and made you into peoples and tribes so that you might come to know
each other. The noblest among you in God's sight is the one who best
performs his duty. God is All-Knowing, All-Aware. (Qur'an, 49: 13)
In another verse, God specifically calls upon Muslims to treat the People
of the Book, i.e., Jews and Christians, well:
Only argue with the People of the Book in the
kindest way-except in the case of those of them who do wrong-saying,
"We believe in what has been sent down to us and what was sent
down to you. Our God and your God are one and we submit to Him."
(Qur'an, 29: 46)
Thus, Muslims should collectively work to establish a system that
brings societies different from one another into relationships of mutual
tolerance and peace. Certainly it is one of the main duties of a Muslim
to invite people of other faiths to join Islam, but at the same time
they must treat such people well and justly whether they answer their
call or not. Muslims' constant goal should be the welfare of all humanity,
for as God said, "You are the best nation
ever to be produced before mankind" (Qur'an, 3: 110).
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, however, a dire problem emerged.
Certain circles that claim to speak on behalf of Islam, but clearly
lack the understanding of the essence of it, work to wreak suffering
on humanity rather than striving for its benefit. In attacking and killing
innocent people, they committed the vilest sin forbidden by Islam-in
other words, they brought chaos to the world. Their violent methods
and aggressive messages seething with anger are wholly at odds with
Islam. And at the same time, these circles are putting the world's one-billion-plus
Muslims into a very difficult spot.
The Qur'an speaks about such people who misinterpret religion and commit
terrorism in the name of faith (3: 7; 27: 48-49). God warned Muslims
to steer clear of the forces that are obdurate in "disbelief and
hypocrisy," and against people who fail to perceive the noble morality
lying at the core of religion and so employ violence due to their hardened
natures (9: 47; 49: 14). In the history of Islam, such groups as the
Hashashins and Kharijites used terrorism in the name of religion and
sowed disorder in the world due to their own ignorance.
Clearly, this is a truly pressing matter crying out for a solution.
Islam should be cleansed of such wicked tendencies, and extremism and
superstitions should be wiped away. Muslims must instead be educated
about true Islamic morality based on the Qur'an, and in the words of
the theologian Imam al-Ghazali, the Islamic world should be "revitalized."
Problems in the US Policy
Westerners, and especially the United States, the target of the Sept.
11 attacks, have come to recognize this issue, at least in part. Therefore
the US administration has begun an attempt to "reorganize the
Islamic world" over the next 10-15 years. However, its strategy
has two serious shortcomings:
1. The United States should not employ military
The US operation in Afghanistan ushered in an era of military interventions
which so far shows little sign of letting up. To take one example, consider
the impending war against Iraq. Some observers predict that after it
deals with Iraq, the US will proceed to still more military operations
against other countries in the Middle East. Such a path, however, will
not help the US to reach its goals, and will moreover claim the lives
of many innocents. Military methods will inevitably be interpreted as
a "war against Islam," which will in turn only add further
fuel to the fires of tension and conflict.
If the United States truly wants to wage a "war against terrorism"
it should do so in the realm of ideas and opinion. Terrorism is not
a tangible enemy, rather it is a method used by people guided by mistaken
ideas. One cannot fight against a method, one can only fight against
a force that uses this method. If this force is an opinion, then it
should be defeated on the field of opinion. The ideology and psychology
that lead to terrorism must be done away with. In their place, people
should instead should be taught the real religion based upon the Qur'an,
instead of mistaken religious interpretations that result in terrorism.
2. The United States should not try to impose
a solution from "the outside."
The reasoning laid out above shows that it is not right for the United
States to try to solve the problem from "the outside." The
problem lies in misinterpretations and distortions of Islam at the hands
of certain people, therefore the solution should come from the world
of Islam. Muslims could work to promote a proper understanding of Islam
and at the same time fight misinterpretations of it. The United States
should support a solution originating from within the Islamic world.
Were the United States to support such an approach, this would be better
for the US, better for the world's Islamic community and indeed better
for the entire world. Those who claim the opposite should reconsider
their stances, realizing in the process that such views are leading
the world into a bloodbath. The US administration must be careful not
to give credit to the erroneous suggestions of some forces with various
ulterior motives. These forces are some ideologues and strategists who
want fervently to see a bloody war erupt between the West and the Islamic
world, and moreover are trying to portray US anti-terrorist policies
as part of a "war against Islam." The US government, and in
particular President George W. Bush, has made sensible statements rejecting
such "the-West-versus-Islam" interpretations, and these efforts
have yielded some good results. However, it is also necessary that the
policies of the US government fully reflect a more enlightened viewpoint
in the eyes of international public opinion.
How Should An Islamic Union Be?
So then, the war against terrorism should be carried out in the realm
of opinions and ideas, and its solution should originate from within
the world of Islam. But how will this come about?
Before answering this question, we must point out one fact: The
current divided nature of the Islamic world. Today many different
religious interpretations, views and models exist in the world of Islam.
However, the Islamic world currently lacks a central authority to separate
out doctrines which contradict the faith, a service which would guide
all Muslims. The world's Roman Catholics can look to the Vatican, and
Orthodox Christians have the patriarchs, but there is currently no central
authority in the Islamic world.
However, there is no division and uncontrolled structure in the essence
of Islam itself; on the contrary, there is unity. After the death of
the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him), the Islamic world was guided
by the Caliphate, and this authority became the guide for all Muslims
in religious matters.
Today, it is still possible to set up an authority to act as a guide
to all Muslims. In the Qur'an, Allah orders all Muslims to obey "those
in command among them." (Qur'an, 4: 59). Now, the methods used
to select "those in command" can be altered according to the
requirements of the age (such asappointment or popular vote). Thus is
possible to establish an Islamic Union and a central Islamic authority,
based on democratic principles and the supremacy of law, which should
do a number of things:
This union should do a number of things:
1. It should address the entire Islamic world, and have a
firm foundation in basic Islamic values and principles. It should
not be the representative of a particular sect or school of Islam.
2. It should support human rights, and free enterprise. The
economic, cultural and scientific development of the Islamic world should
be its aim.
3. It should establish peaceful, harmonious relations with
other nations and civilizations. This Union should work together with
the United Nations and the international community to control weapons
of mass destruction, fight terrorism and international crime, and protect
4. The rights of minorities living in Muslim countriessuch
as Jews and Christiansshould be protected, and they should
be made to feel both safe and respected. Inter-faith dialogue and
cooperation should be given priority.
5. Just and peaceful solutions should be proposed to solve
conflicts between Muslim and non-Muslim communities, such as the ones
in Palestine, Kashmir and the Philippines. These solutions should involve
both benefits and concessions for both sides. Such solutions should
protect the rights of Muslims and furthermore prevent the escalation
of conflicts to the point of intractability at the hands of radical
Bringing such fair, rational leadership to the Islamic world would be
good for both its 1.2 billion Muslims who face so many problems today
and for the world at large. The world needs such a Union. Muslims, since
the time of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh), have led the way forward for
humanity in science, philosophy, art, culture and civilization, and
the masterpieces they created benefitted humanity. While Europe was
still living in the Middle Age, Muslims were teaching science, medicine,
art, rational thinking, hygiene and many other virtues to the world.
Today, just as in the past, a guiding principle based on Qur'anic morality
is needed to restart this Islamic revival stemming from the light and
wisdom of the Qur'an.
Finally, we must emphasize that this solution should be realized
urgently, because the possibility of "a conflict of civilizations"
between the Islamic world and the West is growing with each passing
day. The possibility of a war in Iraq is close at hand, and if the current
situation doesn't change, other wars will surely follow. Such conflicts
will claim the lives of many innocent people. Prejudices and misunderstandings
against Muslims and Islam are a persistent problem, and this is also
causing difficulties for Muslims living in Western countries. Westerners
themselves are living in a state of anxiety due to their fears of terrorism,
not feeling safe even in their own homelands. We need a solution that
would make these problems a thing of the past.
Truly, the founding of an Islamic Union is such a solution, one that
would bring to all these problems a remedy both permanent and peaceful.