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Who’s responsible for the stereotypes of Islam?

Why do some Muslims demand secularism and more than equal treatment in countries where they are a minority, but turn anti-secular and deny equal treatment to non-Muslims in many Muslim-majority countries?

Written by Sudheendrakulkarni |
April 1, 2007 1:51:04 am

Islam fascinates me. But the conduct of some of its adherents also frustrates me. The positive aspects of Islam are too numerous to escape the attention of any unprejudiced and truth-seeking non-Muslim. For example, Hindus have much to learn from Muslims about the virtue of solidarity and fellow-feeling within their community. During the month of Ramadan, I am captivated by the sight of Muslims who, after offering their evening namaz, end their day’s fast by grouping together and eating from the same plate, without any distinction of class or status.

Also, one can only marvel at the power of devotion and the degree of self-surrender of many Muslim mystics, whose lives have undoubtedly influenced pious, ordinary Muslims. Here is a story told by Vinoba Bhave, the great Gandhian who learnt Arabic at age 50 just to study the Holy Quran in the original. An old Muslim saint once had a thorn in his foot. It had gone deep and doctors were worried that the pain involved in removing it would be too much for the old soul to bear. One of his devotees then told them, “Don’t worry. You remove it while he is offering his prayers. He will be so engrossed in Allah that he won’t feel anything.”

Sadly, this ennobling aspect of Islam sits uneasily with the fanaticism that tarnishes its image. Last week I was shocked to watch an interview with Zakir Naik, a well-known Mumbai-born Muslim preacher, whose TV talks on Islam are highly popular in India and around the world. His books and audio/video cassettes are sold in huge numbers worldwide.

Watch the interview at YouTube, the free video site on the Internet, and draw your own conclusions.

Interviewer: Here is a question from a non-Muslim from India. Are non-Muslims allowed to preach their religion and to build their places of worship in an Islamic state? If so, why is building of temples and churches disallowed in Saudi Arabia, whereas Muslims are building their mosques in London and Paris?

Zakir Naik: I ask the non-Muslims, suppose you are the principal of a school and you intend to select a mathematics teacher. Three candidates come and you ask them, what’s the total of 2 plus 2? The first replies: 2 plus 2 equals 3. The second answers: 2 plus 2 equals 4. And the third one answers that 2 plus 2 equals 6. Now, I ask these non-Muslims, will you allow the candidate to teach in your school who says that 2 plus 2 equals 3 or that 2 plus 2 equals 6? They’ll say, no. I ask, why? They’ll say, because he does not have correct knowledge of mathematics. Similarly, as far as matters of religion are concerned we (Muslims) know for sure that only Islam is a true religion in the eyes of God. In the Holy Quran (3:85), it is mentioned that God will never accept any religion other than Islam. As far as the second question, regarding building of churches or temples is concerned, how can we allow this when their religion is wrong and when their worshipping is wrong? Therefore, we will not allow such wrong things in our Islamic country.

Interviewer: But is it not that they (non-Muslims) also think that their religion is true, whereas we (Muslims) think that our religion is true?

Zakir Naik: In religious matters only we know for sure that we Muslims are right. They (non-Muslims) are not sure. Thus, in our country we can’t allow preaching other religions because we know for sure that only Islam is the right religion. However, if a non-Muslim likes to practise his religion in an Islamic country, he can do so inside his home — but he can’t propagate his religion. It is exactly as if a teacher thinks in his mind that 2 plus 2 equals 3. He has the right to do so, but we can never allow such a person to teach this to our children. Non-Muslims are no doubt experts in science and technology. But they (non-Muslims) are not sure about religious truths. Therefore, we are trying to get them to the right path of Islam.”

Naik’s views provoke a troubling question in my mind: “Why do some Muslims demand secularism and more than equal treatment in countries where they are a minority, but aggressively turn anti-secular and deny even equal treatment to non-Muslims in many Muslim-majority countries?” Muslims cannot escape their responsibility to answer this question.

Naik’s defense of the denial of fundamental human rights of non-Muslims in Saudi Arabia is not unrelated to an unbelievable incident that happened recently in the land where Islam was born. On February 26, four French nationals — all non-Muslims working in Saudi Arabia — were killed by gunmen. Their crime? They were resting on the side of a desert road about 10 miles from the holy city of Medina, which, like Mecca, is restricted to Muslims only.

Whenever non-Muslims, including those who admire Islam’s positive features, express alarm at incidents like these, or at views such as Zakir Naik’s, they are accused of spreading “stereotypes” about Islam and Muslims. But shouldn’t Muslims themselves be debating what produces these stereotypes?

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