View Printable Version :: Email to a Friend
Islam and the West—A Dialogue
Book Review
Dr. Abdur Rauf


Editors: Imamu’l-Din Ahmad and Ahmad Yousaf (eds.),
Title: Islam and the West—A Dialogue
Publishers: United Association for Studies and Research and American Muslim Foundation, 1998
Pages: 250


Islam and Christianity are the two most important religions of the world. While Christianity has the largest number of adherents, Islam, as a religion is more dynamic. The role of religion is so great that it is even influencing modern scientific and technological advancements. For example, some modern thinkers are advocating the use of religious slogans and symbols to curb environmental hazards, because other methods have failed to address the problem properly.

The role of religion increased in the 20th century as several movements sprang up in the Muslim world stressing on the role of religion in politics. The occurrence of the phenomenon of Islamic movements in the Muslim world was quite astonishing for the West as they were accustomed to secularism. And due to secularism and democracy, they sought the advancement, of not only the West but of the entire world community. The difference of perceptions among the Western and Muslim intelligentsia and political actors led to controversies between them. These controversies on many occasions led to open conflict and antagonism between the West and Muslims. The appearance of the hypothesis of ‘The clash of Civilizations’ further deteriorated the existing relations between the West and the Muslim World. The grim future has been sensed by both the Western and Muslim intellectuals and thus from both the sides, there is a growing feeling for the need to exchange views in order to lessen apprehension and improve understanding.

The present volume, ‘Islam and the West -- A Dialogue’, is a serious effort on the part of ‘United Association for Studies and Research’ and ‘American Muslim Foundation’ for initiating roundtable discussions between the West and the Muslims and presenting it in a book form. The format of all these discussions was in the form of presentation by the speakers -- all of whom are Non-Muslim American intellectuals ranging from conservative to liberal, from diplomats to policy makers, from the academic community to the intelligence community and media. Each presentation was followed by a frank discussion, comprising the speaker and the Muslim participants, who had different backgrounds ranging from Islamic think tanks in America to the Islamic activists, including one parliamentarian of the Islamic Salvation Front Algeria that emerged as the winner of the elections in 1993, but was debarred from assuming power by the military junta.

Certain themes are emerging from these discussions including the relationship of politics and religion; the positive and negative aspects of the enlightenment; the degree to which Western and Islamic values may actually be universal values; the multifarious definitions of democracy by the West and Muslims and where they conflict with each other; the fact that conflicts within the West and the Muslim world may be more important than the conflicts between the West and the East; the problem posed by the politicians in their systematic tendency to sacrifice the long-term best interests of their people and country for short term expediency; the suggestion that the real conflict in the future may be not between the Western and Islamic cultures but between the secular culture and the religious culture.

The underlying aim of the book is that the West should understand the Islamic movement and the Muslims should give a thoughtful consideration to the West. Participants of the roundtable, both Muslims and Non-Muslim Americans, expressed themselves openly ranging from criticism of the American policies regarding the Islamic movements by the American Non-Muslims and to reservations of the Muslim participants about the activities of the Islamic movements.

Dr Graham Fuller in his talk stated that there is a kind of near obsession today about Islamic political movements after the Iranian Revolution in 1979 (p. 27). The West, particularly the USA, ‘heard something disgusting from the Non-West which they could not imagine in an age when they are superior in force, wealth, power of media and the power of international television and the enormous impacts of their culture including food, clothing, arts, films and amusements’.

Robert G. Newman rejected the thesis that Islamism is now representing a new ‘World Enemy’ (p. 39). On the question of American policy towards Algeria, the speaker pointed it out that the US cannot ignore the interest of one of its allies France, because they need to work with France in other parts of the world such as Bosnia (p. 43). However, the speaker also expressed: ‘If fear leads us into the position that we must prevent Islamists from coming to power by any means, then we are fundamentally perverting our own ideals. The cost of such policy is too great’ (p. 53).

Dr Stephen C. Pelletiere forwarding his theory that what the West has widely perceived about the Islamic movements as a radical movement actually began as a movement of reform (p. 67). He than narrated in detail the examples of Algeria, Egypt and Palestine. With the exception of the Hizbullāh (Lebanon) all of the Islamic movements eschewed violence in the beginning. He suggested that the West should not ignore the fact that religious fundamentalism is in reality a conservative reaction to over a half century of misrule by secular regimes (p. 85). However, the ineffective leadership of these movements failed to overthrow the regimes under assault (p. 88).

Dr Charles Butterworth took the slogans of French Revolution – ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity’ and then discussed it in the context of the Muslim World. He questioned the Western emphasis on liberty and their so much criticism on Islam for not being liberal. He asked them whether that meant not being ‘secular’? The speaker calmed his Westerner friends that in an Islamic Republic, with respect to liberty—there would be liberty from poverty and liberty from the oppression of passions. With regard to equality, there would be equality before God, without destroying a traditional sense of hierarchies—based on natural phenomena such as gender, age and intelligence. However, regarding fraternity, the speaker expressed his apprehension that it will be exclusively for the Muslims.

Dr Michael Collins Dunn in his talk discarded the impression that the phenomenon of Islamic revivalism is a united global movement or a monolithic structure (p. 116). As countries differ from each other, the same is the case with these movements which differ from one another in precise goals, in tactics and their own view of their role in the existing system. There is also a diversification of leadership in these movements ranging from the traditional Ulema to the educated persons. The nature of their support is also varying from one group to another. The speaker very rightly opined that the maxim, ‘Islam is the Solution’ is no doubt powerful but it is not in itself a blueprint for running a state apparatus (p. 121).

Joyce Davis confessed the fact that there are prejudices against Islam and the Muslims in the American society (p. 154). And this is because of the stereotypes in the minds of the people which she indicated are not easy to remove (p. 153). She further emphasized that there are some shared values and beliefs among the religions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. No doubt, the West should support plurality and democracy but it should expand its definition of democracy. In the Middle East, it is a fact that Islam has become the primary and most potent language of political protest against the oppressive dictatorships and military regimes (p. 158).

Dr Antony T. Sullivan talked extensively on the American society and divided it into three categories: Neo-conservatives, the Paleo-conservatives and Classical liberals. The last two are capable of entering into a dialogue on the question of Islam and its role in the modern world. The economic system of laissez-faire is common in both the communities and Muslims can present the case on market economy and private ownership as enumerated in the Qur’ān, Hadīth and propounded by different modern Muslim theorists. On the cultural aspect, both can cooperate on the question of family life, promotion of moral values in the society, importance of tradition and sanctity of human life. The speaker then suggested that continuous contacts and dialogue between the Islamists and the Westerners would make it more difficult for Professor Samuel Huntington and others to argue that Islam is the enemy number one after the collapse of Communism and that the clash of civilizations between a coalition of Islam and Confucianism and the West is inevitable (p. 120). The speaker gave some instances in which the Islamists and the Christian Catholics worked together as in the Cairo Conference on population and World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995.

The Muslim participants while objecting to the Western policies towards Islam and the Muslims also did not spare the Muslims and Islamists from criticism. Dr Osman Shinaishin criticized the trend of many of the Islamic movements in the Muslim world as they are very different from what Islam truly is (p. 133)

Dispelling the impression of the West that Islam will be implemented forcefully, Sheikh Alib El Hall, a Muslim leader was quoted as ‘no one has the right to decide what should be spread and taught in the Muslim world, and no one will be allowed to gain power by force, even if he would like to implement the Sharī‘ah and Islamic law’. (p. 231)

There seems to be a fear in the minds of the West that if the Islamists were allowed to enter into power as government, then they might not leave it even if they would be rejected by the people in the subsequent elections. This has been widely circulated as some of the Islamists (though very few) expressed the opinion that they will not allow the rejection of Islamic regimes even by a popular vote. The Islamists still have to convince the Westerners that Islam has a regard for women rights and human dignity. The debates will go on between Islamists and the secularists on the question of legitimacy of the existing governments in the Muslim world, and the process of democratization. The Islamists politics is not going to disappear and it is not going to be universally triumphant.

The book no doubt is a valuable addition to the scarcity of literature on the subject and would contribute a lot in bringing together the West and the East. However, the book does not depict what the title of the book conveys. All of the discussions about the Islamic political movements are around the Middle East and North Africa, leaving aside the rest of the Muslim World. The inclusion of the Muslims and Islamists of the Far East in this dialogue would be beneficial for the said cause as their relations with the West have comparatively less antagonistic historical dimensions.

The issue of Israel and Palestine dominated all of the sessions. The concern of the Islamists on the issue of Palestine is genuine but is there any possibility of an amicable solution of the problem? And if yes, then how? Another important question arises that if the issue of Palestine is solved then can we predict that there will be no other controversy between the Muslims and the West? Any move towards cordial relations between the West and the Muslims will be futile unless all of the communities agree on some moral values. The Abrahamic traditions provide sound grounds for all the three important actors. It is important that all the communities should concentrate on certain themes related to the co-existence of one community with another dominant community. In this respect, the Muslims and Islamists have a greater responsibility to seek out the answers for certain questions coming up from the present changing and complex situation due to scientific and technological developments which affect the entire social life of all the members of the world community. Does Islam allow Muslims to live peacefully under a non-Muslim country? An impression has been created by certain people and taken by the Westerners that Muslims cannot live in minority anywhere in the world and that it is their aim according to the teachings of their religion to convert the country to a Dāru’l-Islām (abode of Muslims) even by force. This notion is greatly perturbing to non-Muslims and thus fears are but natural in their minds.

The printing of the book is of high quality. It has a beautiful title page depicting the unity of apparently opposite polls in the background of sunlight. However, there are certain typographical mistakes which are incomprehensible in a book published in the USA. These mistakes appear on pages 7, 28, 90, 161, 183, 219, 204 and 241. The book ends with the following beautiful note:

Without doubt the overdue dialogue between Islam and the West has begun. Perceived and imagined dichotomies between the two are being narrowed by shared moral and religious values, and common prayer for a future of peace, prosperity and justice of all the world’s people. Scholars, Western and Islamic (some both), have approached one another as equals and have treated dialogue as a universal good rather than a device for advocacy of special interests. In such enlightened interaction is hope for a 21st century that will be a period of Islamic and Western cooperation and not the confrontation that has dominated the past.


For Questions on Islam, please use our

Replica Handbags Bottega Veneta fake Bvlgari fake Celine fake Christian Dior fake Gucci fake Gucci Bag fake Gucci Wallet fake Gucci Shoes fake Gucci Belt fake Hermes fake Loewe fake Louis Vuitton fake Louis Vuitton Belt fake Louis Vuitton Calf Leather fake Louis Vuitton Damier Azur Canvas fake Louis Vuitton Damier Ebene Canvas fake Louis Vuitton Damier Graphite Canvas fake Louis Vuitton Damier Infini Leather fake Louis Vuitton Damier Quilt lamb fake Louis Vuitton Embossed Calfskin fake Louis Vuitton Epi fake Louis Vuitton Game On Monogram Canvas fake Louis Vuitton Jewellery fake Louis Vuitton Key Holder fake Louis Vuitton Mahina Leather fake Louis Vuitton Monogram Canvas fake Louis Vuitton Monogram Denim fake Louis Vuitton Monogram Eclipse Canvas fake Louis Vuitton Monogram Empreinte fake Louis Vuitton Monogram Seal fake Louis Vuitton Monogram Shadow fake Louis Vuitton Monogram Vernis fake Louis Vuitton Monogram Watercolor fake Louis Vuitton New Wave fake Louis Vuitton Shoes fake Louis Vuitton Since 1854 fake Louis Vuitton Strap fake Louis Vuitton Taiga Leahter fake Louis Vuitton Taurillon leather fake Louis Vuitton Transformed Game On canvas fake Louis Vuitton Utah Calfskin fake Louis Vuitton X Supreme fake Mulberry fake Prada fake YSL fake