What's Right with Islam : A New Vision for Muslims and the West

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2010-02-24
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications

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An American imam offers answers for today's toughest questions about Islam, and a vision for a reconciliation between Islam and the West. One of the pressing questions of our time is what went wrong in the relationship between Muslims and the West. Continuing global violence in the name of Islam reflects the deepest fears by certain Muslim factions of Western political, cultural, and economic encroachment. The solution to the current antagonism requires finding common ground upon which to build mutual respect and understanding. Who better to offer such an analysis than an American imam, someone with a foot in each world and the tools to examine the common roots of both Western and Muslim cultures; someone to explain to the non-Islamic West not just what went wrong with Islam, but what's right with Islam. Focused on finding solutions, not on determining fault, this is ultimately a hopeful, inspiring book. What's Right with Islam systematically lays out the reasons for the current dissonance between these cultures and offers a foundation and plan for improved relations. Wide-ranging in scope, What's Right with Islam elaborates in satisfying detail a vision for a Muslim world that can eventually embrace its own distinctive forms of democracy and capitalism, aspiring to a new Cordoba - a time when Jews, Christians, Muslims, and all other faith traditions will live together in peace and prosperity.

Author Biography

Feisal Abdul Rauf is the imam of Masjid al-Farah in New York City. Shortly after the attacks of September 11, he appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including BBC World, ABC News, CBS Evening News, CNN, and 60 Minutes. Born in Kuwait to a long line of imams, Abdul Rauf was educated in England, Egypt, and Malaysia. He is also a graduate of Columbia University in the United States. In 1997, Imam Abdul Rauf founded the ASMA Society, a not-for-profit educational and cultural organization dedicated to building bridges between the American public and American Muslims, and cofounded the Cordoba Initiative. A trustee of the Islamic Center of New York, he is on the board of One Voice. Recently appointed as a member of the Council of 100 Leaders to the World Economic Forum on West-Islamic World Dialogue

Table of Contents

Forewordp. xi
Prefacep. xvii
Introduction: A Cordoba Lostp. 1
Common Rootsp. 11
What's Right with Islamp. 41
What's Right with Americap. 79
Where the Devil Got in the Detailsp. 113
We're All Historyp. 173
A New Vision for Muslims and the Westp. 251
Conclusion: On Pursuing Happinessp. 281
Acknowledgmentsp. 285
Fatwa Permitting U.S. Muslim Military Personnel to Participate in Afghanistan War Effortp. 287
Notesp. 293
Indexp. 307
Table of Contents provided by Ingram. All Rights Reserved.


What's Right with Islam
is What's Right with America

Chapter One

Common Roots

Many of the earliest civilizations believed in a plurality of gods. Fromthe ruins and temples of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt in theMiddle East and Greece and Rome in Europe to India and China in theFar East, the majority of early civilizations worshiped a pantheon ofgods, with each god ruling over a sector of the universe and all of themruled by a greater God. Representing their gods in the forms of statues,early people practiced idolatry, worshiping the gods' physical representations.

He Who Carves the Buddha Never Worships Him

In such societies, the pharaoh, emperor, caesar, or king was generallyregarded as divine, a son of God, and the priestly class (like the Brahminsin India) a privileged one that supported his function as semidivine.Worldly society reflected the structure of the divine court, thepharaoh or king with his consort ruling over society just as the GreatGod had a consort and children who were gods, ruling over the manylesser gods. As the son of God, the king was God's representative onearth.

Together with such beliefs about the God-human relationshipcame a belief in the structure of human society. People were born intoclasses or castes reflecting the structure of the divine court, showinglife "on earth, as it is in heaven." In society were found the royal andnoble classes, the priestly class, the warrior class, the merchant andfarming classes, and all those who did the most menial and undesirablework. Social mobility was not typically the norm; one was born,worked, married, and died within the boundaries of one's class. One'sstatus in life, profession, and choice of spouse were predetermined bythe family and class one was born into -- by the social structure -- andone's destiny was deemed in some societies as karmic.

In many of these societies, rejecting the state religion was not a simplematter of exercising freedom of human conscience (something we inAmerica take for granted today). It was typically regarded as treasonagainst the state, an act punishable by death, not to mention a violationof the institutional social structure on which society was built. Literally,one had no place in society, for such a person would be like an ant rejectingthe structure of its colony, unprotected by its institutions. Thepossible freedom one had to exercise such inner convictions and to betrue to oneself was to opt out of society and live as a hermit in a cave.Pre-Islamic Arabs called such people, driven by their conscience anddesiring to live by its standards, hanif.

Such powerful social constraints may sound strange to the contemporaryAmerican reader, but a mere fifty years ago in America,"unless one was either a Protestant, or a Catholic, or a Jew, one was a'nothing'; to be a 'something,' to have a name, one [had to] identifyoneself to oneself, and be identified by others, as belonging to one oranother of the three great religious communities in which the Americanpeople were divided."

To be independent and step out of sociological norms and deeplyembedded thought patterns is very hard for people to do. And if it washard for us in America, a country where we prize individual freedom,you can imagine how hard it must have been a few thousand years agoin the earliest known ancient Middle Eastern civilizations that straddledthe area between Egypt and Persia.

In that region, and in such a society characterized by a polytheisticreligious, political, and sociological climate, a hanif man called Abrahamwas born in a town in Mesopotamia, the area now called Iraq. He foundthe idea of polytheism unacceptable. Biblical and Islamic narratives informus that Abraham's father was a sculptor of such idols. We can wellimagine the young boy Abraham seeing his father fabricating such statuesfrom the raw material of wood or stone and perhaps occasionallycursing when the material cracked. The reality of the Chinese proverb"He who carves the Buddha never worships him" must have been apparentto Abraham, who probably observed, in the way children seethrough their parents' absurdities, the creature creating the Creator.

The Quran quotes Abraham as debating with his contemporaries:"Do you worship that which you yourselves sculpt -- while God has created you and your actions?" (37:95–96). After going on a spiritualsearch, and after rejecting the sun, the moon, and the stars as objects ofworship (objects his community worshiped), Abraham realized thatthere could be only one creator of the universe -- one God (Quran6:75–91 describes Abraham's search for God). Today Muslims, Christians,and Jews regard Abraham as their patriarch, the founder of asustained monotheistic society subscribing to the belief that there isonly one God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe.

The monotheism that Abraham taught was not only theologicallyradical, in that it decried the plurality of gods as false, it was also sociallyradical. The idea that God is one implied two significant thingsabout humankind.

First, it implied that all humans are equal, simply because we areborn of one man and one woman. "O humankind," God asserts in theQuran, "surely we have created you from one male [Adam] and one female[Eve] and made you into tribes and clans [just] so that you mayget to know each other. The noblest of you with God are the most devoutof you" (Quran 49:13). This meant that all of humankind is a family-- brothers and sisters, equal before God, differentiated only by thenobility of our actions, not by our birth. Showing preference for onehuman over another on the basis of accidents of birth, like skin color,class structure, tribal or family belonging, or gender, is unjust andtherefore has no place in a proper human worldview. Although itgrossly violates reason and ethics, showing preference on the basis ofthese categories is the very way people traditionally judged others andstructured their societies.

What's Right with Islam
is What's Right with America
. Copyright © by Feisal Abdul Rauf. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from What's Right with Islam Is What's Right with America: A New Vision for Muslims and the West by Feisal Abdul Rauf
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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