10 Ways to Bridge West-Muslim Divide
Zeeshan Rahat Kureshi
Although there have been times of turbulence between Muslims and the West, it would be fair to say that the two communities, over the period of several hundred years, have enjoyed cordial relations as well. The wars and crusades that took place from 1095 to 1291 and in the 15th century dominate most discussions related to historical relations between the two. However, it is interesting to note that the crusades, although predominantly targeted Muslims, were also waged against Greek Orthodox Christians.
We can go on and on about hostilities between the two communities, but my point of discussion here is to explore how this divide can be bridged. Before I jump to the 10 ways, that I have come up with, to reduce bilateral tensions between them, I would like to discuss how they interacted and learned from each other by reviewing the lives of some of their best and most popular citizens.
The contributions of both, Muslims and their counterparts in the West, left a deep impact on people everywhere, regardless of color, creed or religion. These interactions and contributions can be viewed through the achievements of some of the great members of their communities who left so much for the posterity to learn. Let’s take a look at the lives of three Muslim and three Western personalities and see how their contributions also affected people who did not share their geography or religion. I will be quoting examples from the “golden Islamic era” for Muslim contributions and will use more recent examples for those of Western civilization.
Avicenna (Ibn Sina in Arabic), born in present day Uzbekistan, was a great Muslim philosopher, astronomer, chemist, geologist and teacher who wrote the “Book of Healing”. Avicenna’s other book, “The Canon of Healing” was studied by German physician and founder of homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann, and by a Bavarian Priest, Father Sebastian Kneipp, also known as the founder of naturopathy. Avicenna refuted Aristotle’s argument that stars receive their light from the sun and declared that they are self-luminous, thus building the basis for further research.
Ibn Battuta, born in Morocco, was a great Islamic scholar and traveler who roamed the entire Muslim world and beyond including the Byzantine Empire over a period of thirty years. His adventures are chronicled in the Rihla, which literally means “The Journey”. When he arrived in Constantinople, Ibn Battuta met the emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos and visited the great church of Hagia Sophia.
Ibn Khaldun, born in Tunisia, was a great Muslim historiographer and historian, whose work “Muqaddimah” was discovered and appreciated by the 19th Century European scholarship. He wrote in Muqaddimah “businesses owned by responsible and organized merchants shall eventually surpass those owned by wealthy rulers”. This seems to be still true.
On the other hand, a number of Western personalities have interacted with and intrigued the Muslims. Mother Teresa, a devoted Christian nun of Albanian origin, sacrificed her life for humanity and lived in India for over 45 years. She guided the Missionaries of Charity to help the poor, including Muslims, and is respected throughout the Islamic world for her dedication.
Born in Poland, Pope John Paul (II) became the first Catholic pope to pray in an Islamic mosque when he entered the Umayyad mosque in Damascus, Syria. This mosque used to be a Christian church during the Byzantine empire. He oversaw the publication of Catechism of the Catholic Church that made special provision for Muslims stating “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day”.
Princess Diana is respected through out the Muslim world for her grace, courage and charity work. She developed serious interest in terminal illnesses such as AIDS, Leprosy and Cancer. She worked or provided patronage to a number of causes, such as illnesses, landmines and prisoners’ families. Diana paid a visit to a cancer hospital in Pakistan and touched the hearts of millions in that country.
If we have been a source of inspiration and knowledge for each other, there is reason to believe that the great divide between the West and the Muslim world can be bridged, if not totally eliminated. I have lived in the West and in the Islamic world and seen how perceptions can be deceptive due to lack of communication. I propose 10 ways to bring the communities closer:
- Stop Killing the Innocents
Peace cannot be achieved unless there is an end to the ruthless killing of innocents. Whether a jew family is slaughtered in West Bank settlements or a child is shot dead in Gaza, deep respect must be shown to the civilians. The term “collateral damage” to justify mass murder is totally unacceptable. Moderates all over the world should raise their voices against the manslaughter of innocents belonging to both sides of the divide.
- Stop Hiding the Truth
Whether journalists are deliberately killed in Iraq, American Rachel Corey is bulldozed by the Israeli army or Muslim militants kill Daniel Pearl in cold blood – let the general public know the true facts. Truth has a way of find its way. Let the people face it and decide themselves. If governments and media stop hiding the truth, sites like WikiLeaks will seize to exist.
- Stop Imposing Your Beliefs on Others
We must understand that people are different from one another and they are meant to be like that. Not everyone has the same beliefs, tastes and priorities. An individual’s brought up, surroundings, company and available opportunities play a major role in grooming his or her personality. The West should understand that their way of life will never be acceptable to all the Muslims, who in turn need to know that not all westerners will ever agree to their beliefs. We must learn to accept and celebrate diversity.
- Stop Creating Stereotypes
We love to create stereotypes. Sweeping statements like “all Muslims are terrorists” or “all jews are evil” only add fuel to the fire. People must understand that generalizations are not always true and that there are good and bad people in every religion, community and neighborhood. Every Muslim is not Osama Bin Laden and every Westerner is not Slobodan Milosevic.
- Stop Believing Everything that the Media Says
Mainstream media has been perceived as a partner of the people that keeps them aware of happenings around the world. More recently it is becoming clearer that many of the media outlets have their own agendas to promote. They have, time and again, successfully carved public opinion in favor of policies that somehow suit them. The recent Murdoch scandal is a good example of that. I have found media in both parts of the world to be biased and greedy. It is important to stop believing in everything that the media says.
- Stop Supporting Illegitimate Governments
The West must stop supporting governments that suit their own goals. Although support for democracy is trumpeted by the Western governments and media, still in their eyes, Hosni Mubarak was a “good dictator” because he served the American interests while the government of Hamas was deemed to be a “terrorist democratic authority”. There are huge conflicts, inconsistencies and discrepancies in the policies that are being followed. With the same token, people in the Muslim world should not tolerate illegitimate governments or individuals to rule them. The Arab Spring has brought some hope in this regard.
- Build Trust
The requisite for initiating a dialogue is trust. Without trust there can be no peace between warring parties or communities at loggerheads. Matching actions with deeds is important. More often, governments are to blame for developing mistrust. Official representatives say one thing and do something else which adds to the delicacy of the situation. One major reason for going to war in Iraq was shown to be the presence of credible intelligence that the country had weapons of mass destruction. It has become quite obvious now that the US public was misled into believing something that was not true. On the other hand, in Libya, the government representatives assured the Western world that civilians would not being killed in the civil war, but their government kept doing the opposite in Misrata.
- Increase People to People Contact
Individuals do not always have the same goals as governments do in promoting relationships. The mere urge to know more about different cultures, make friends in foreign lands and explore new worlds prompts people from different countries to travel and meet. We must have more cultural, business and academic exchanges. Let the people in Europan countries the US to have first-hand knowledge of how people in the “uncivilized” Muslim world actually think and live their lives. Similarly, let Muslims, who generally think of the westerners as “morally corrupt”, correct their stereotypes by actually having an insight into the lives of European and American citizens.
- Have Compassion
People like Mother Teresa and Princess Diana were able to make a special place in the hearts of millions, irrespective of their religious and racial backgrounds, because they had compassion. We can start to come close to each other by, not only helping the poor and needy in our own communities, but assisting those who are far away from home and desperately need our help. The assistance must not have ulterior motives and strings attached but should purely be based on mercy and humanity.
- Forgive and Move On
The reason why Mr. Mandela, along with his associates, was able to bring peace in South Africa after the fall of Apartheid was his extraordinary capacity to forgive. If we keep living in the past, we will never be able to build a more peaceful world for our future generations. While the culprits should be brought to justice through legal means, general public should not take revenge by taking things into their own hands.
Zeeshan Rahat Kureshi is the Chief Editor of the online magazine, www.CelebrityDialogue.com. He is a member of the Wired Journalists and a contributing author to the book, “Lessons Learned from Recession” (http://t.co/4Q1WuiV). His articles have appeared in Asia Times Online and the Palestine Telegraph. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org