“On Faith” focuses on Islam

The Washington Post “On Faith” blog this week will focus on Islam. Editors Jon Meacham and Sally Quinn explain why:

Put bluntly and broadly, many people today wish to portray Islam as a peaceful faith with a violent few, arguing that “jihad” (literally, “struggle”) is a spiritual term encompassing the Muslim’s daily religious life and that it can only be used for armed struggles that are defensive. On the other end of the spectrum are those who believe Islam is a violent faith in which jihad is a perpetual militaristic element. The truth, it seems reasonable to say, lies somewhere in between. Believers of all kinds have killed in the name of their conception of God, or of the gods. Historically, some of the blood has been shed in what some traditions think of as “just wars,” some in unjustifiable atrocities, some in battles of conquest. And yet believers of all kinds have done great good in the name of their conception of God, or of the gods, in acts of mercy, charity and liberation.

How do we make sense of these contradictions and complexities in an age of enduring fear about terrorism? The question is essential, and is arguably the central one of our time, for if totalitarianism was the great problem of the 20th century, then, so far, religiously inspired violence is its 21st century successor.

All of which brings us to the project at hand. Over the next six days, On Faith will host “Muslims Speak Out,” a forum in which about twenty leading Muslim clerics and thinkers from around the world will engage in what we believe is an unprecedented online dialogue about the Islam and its intersection with politics and culture. We reached out to fifty such clerics and scholars; twenty agreed to participate. The list is geographically and theologically diverse.

The questions we will pose in the coming days touch on controversial and problematic issues. What would you tell suicide bombers who invoke Islam to justify their actions? What are the rights of women in Islam? Is it permissible for a Muslim to convert to another faith? Does Islam’s view of male-female equality differ from the Western view? Under what conditions does Islam sanction the use of violence? How can laws against apostasy be reconciled with the Qu’ranic injunction saying “there is no compulsion in religion”?

Read it all here.

In the same context, Karen Armstrong’s op-ed, “An inability to tolerate Islam contradicts western values,” is also worth a look:

In the past Islamic governments were as prone to intellectual coercion as any pre-modern rulers, but when Muslims were powerful and felt confident they were able to take criticism in their stride. But media and literary assaults have become more problematic at a time of extreme political vulnerability in the Islamic world, and to an alienated minority they seem inseparable from Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay and the unfolding tragedy of Iraq.

On both sides, however, there are double standards and the kind of contradiction evident in Khomeini’s violation of the essential principles of his mentor, Mulla Sadra. For Muslims to protest against the Danish cartoonists’ depiction of the prophet as a terrorist, while carrying placards that threatened another 7/7 atrocity on London, represented a nihilistic failure of integrity.

But equally the cartoonists and their publishers, who seemed impervious to Muslim sensibilities, failed to live up to their own liberal values, since the principle of free speech implies respect for the opinions of others. Islamophobia should be as unacceptable as any other form of prejudice.

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