The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were a turning point for the world, one that completely altered its political and strategic balances. Some political commentators even say that Sept. 11, 2001 marked the real beginning of the twenty-first century. Looking back at the century just passed, the most important elements of opinion and belief shaping it were ideologies and the relations between these ideologies. Similarly, civilizations, beliefs and the relationship between these two will work to shape the twenty-first century.
There are claims from some quarters that relations between civilizations and beliefs will be fundamentally characterized by "clashes." However, quite to the contrary, it is our hope that these relations will be based upon peace and friendship. The Qur'an will serve as the guide for us, Muslims, in this realm. In the Qur'an, God tells us that the differences between people should be a reason for them to seek to know one another better:
Mankind! We created you from a male and female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you might come to know each other. The noblest among you in God's sight is the one who best performs his duty. God is All-Knowing, All-Aware. (Qur'an, 49: 13)
In another verse, God specifically calls upon Muslims to treat the People of the Book, i.e., Jews and Christians, well:
Only argue with the People of the Book in the kindest way-except in the case of those of them who do wrong-saying, "We believe in what has been sent down to us and what was sent down to you. Our God and your God are one and we submit to Him." (Qur'an, 29: 46)
Thus, Muslims should collectively work to establish a system that brings societies different from one another into relationships of mutual tolerance and peace. Certainly it is one of the main duties of a Muslim to invite people of other faiths to join Islam, but at the same time they must treat such people well and justly whether they answer their call or not. Muslims' constant goal should be the welfare of all humanity, for as God said, "You are the best nation ever to be produced before mankind" (Qur'an, 3: 110).
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, however, a dire problem emerged. Certain circles that claim to speak on behalf of Islam, but clearly lack the understanding of the essence of it, work to wreak suffering on humanity rather than striving for its benefit. In attacking and killing innocent people, they committed the vilest sin forbidden by Islam-in other words, they brought chaos to the world. Their violent methods and aggressive messages seething with anger are wholly at odds with Islam. And at the same time, these circles are putting the world's one-billion-plus Muslims into a very difficult spot.
The Qur'an speaks about such people who misinterpret religion and commit terrorism in the name of faith (3: 7; 27: 48-49). God warned Muslims to steer clear of the forces that are obdurate in "disbelief and hypocrisy," and against people who fail to perceive the noble morality lying at the core of religion and so employ violence due to their hardened natures (9: 47; 49: 14). In the history of Islam, such groups as the Hashashins and Kharijites used terrorism in the name of religion and sowed disorder in the world due to their own ignorance.
Clearly, this is a truly pressing matter crying out for a solution. Islam should be cleansed of such wicked tendencies, and extremism and superstitions should be wiped away. Muslims must instead be educated about true Islamic morality based on the Qur'an, and in the words of the theologian Imam al-Ghazali, the Islamic world should be "revitalized."
Problems in the US Policy
Westerners, and especially the United States, the target of the Sept. 11 attacks, have come to recognize this issue, at least in part. Therefore the US administration has begun an attempt to "reorganize the Islamic world" over the next 10-15 years. However, its strategy has two serious shortcomings:
1. The United States should not employ military methods.
The US operation in Afghanistan ushered in an era of military interventions which so far shows little sign of letting up. To take one example, consider the impending war against Iraq. Some observers predict that after it deals with Iraq, the US will proceed to still more military operations against other countries in the Middle East. Such a path, however, will not help the US to reach its goals, and will moreover claim the lives of many innocents. Military methods will inevitably be interpreted as a "war against Islam," which will in turn only add further fuel to the fires of tension and conflict.
If the United States truly wants to wage a "war against terrorism" it should do so in the realm of ideas and opinion. Terrorism is not a tangible enemy, rather it is a method used by people guided by mistaken ideas. One cannot fight against a method, one can only fight against a force that uses this method. If this force is an opinion, then it should be defeated on the field of opinion. The ideology and psychology that lead to terrorism must be done away with. In their place, people should instead should be taught the real religion based upon the Qur'an, instead of mistaken religious interpretations that result in terrorism.
2. The United States should not try to impose a solution from "the outside."
The reasoning laid out above shows that it is not right for the United States to try to solve the problem from "the outside." The problem lies in misinterpretations and distortions of Islam at the hands of certain people, therefore the solution should come from the world of Islam. Muslims could work to promote a proper understanding of Islam and at the same time fight misinterpretations of it. The United States should support a solution originating from within the Islamic world.
Were the United States to support such an approach, this would be better for the US, better for the world's Islamic community and indeed better for the entire world. Those who claim the opposite should reconsider their stances, realizing in the process that such views are leading the world into a bloodbath. The US administration must be careful not to give credit to the erroneous suggestions of some forces with various ulterior motives. These forces are some ideologues and strategists who want fervently to see a bloody war erupt between the West and the Islamic world, and moreover are trying to portray US anti-terrorist policies as part of a "war against Islam." The US government, and in particular President George W. Bush, has made sensible statements rejecting such "the-West-versus-Islam" interpretations, and these efforts have yielded some good results. However, it is also necessary that the policies of the US government fully reflect a more enlightened viewpoint in the eyes of international public opinion.
How Should An Islamic Union Be?
So then, the war against terrorism should be carried out in the realm of opinions and ideas, and its solution should originate from within the world of Islam. But how will this come about?
Before answering this question, we must point out one fact: The current divided nature of the Islamic world. Today many different religious interpretations, views and models exist in the world of Islam. However, the Islamic world currently lacks a central authority to separate out doctrines which contradict the faith, a service which would guide all Muslims. The world's Roman Catholics can look to the Vatican, and Orthodox Christians have the patriarchs, but there is currently no central authority in the Islamic world.
However, there is no division and uncontrolled structure in the essence of Islam itself; on the contrary, there is unity. After the death of the Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him), the Islamic world was guided by the Caliphate, and this authority became the guide for all Muslims in religious matters.
Though a caliphate would no longer be valid in our age due to its foundations in monarchy, yet it is still possible to set up an authority to act as a guide to all Muslims. In the Qur'an, Allah orders all Muslims to obey "those in command among them." (Qur'an, 4: 59). Now, the methods used to select "those in command" can be altered according to the requirements of the age (such as through sultanate, appointment or popular vote).It is possible to establish an Islamic Union and a central Islamic authority, which should do a number of things:
This union should do a number of things:
1. It should address the entire Islamic world, and have a firm foundation in basic Islamic values and principles. It should not be the representative of a particular sect or school of Islam.
2. It should support human rights, and free enterprise. The economic, cultural and scientific development of the Islamic world should be its aim.
3. It should establish peaceful, harmonious relations with other nations and civilizations. This Union should work together with the United Nations and the international community to control weapons of mass destruction, fight terrorism and international crime, and protect the environment.
4. The rights of minorities living in Muslim countries—such as Jews and Christians—should be protected, and they should be made to feel both safe and respected. Inter-faith dialogue and cooperation should be given priority.
5. Just and peaceful solutions should be proposed to solve conflicts between Muslim and non-Muslim communities, such as the ones in Palestine, Kashmir and the Philippines. These solutions should involve both benefits and concessions for both sides. Such solutions should protect the rights of Muslims and furthermore prevent the escalation of conflicts to the point of intractability at the hands of radical groups.
Bringing such fair, rational leadership to the Islamic world would be good for both its 1.2 billion Muslims who face so many problems today and for the world at large. The world needs such a Union. Muslims, since the time of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh), have led the way forward for humanity in science, philosophy, art, culture and civilization, and the masterpieces they created benefitted humanity. While Europe was still living in the Middle Age, Muslims were teaching science, medicine, art, rational thinking, hygiene and many other virtues to the world. Today, just as in the past, a guiding principle based on Qur'anic morality is needed to restart this Islamic revival stemming from the light and wisdom of the Qur'an.
Finally, we must emphasize that this solution should be realized urgently, because the possibility of "a conflict of civilizations" between the Islamic world and the West is growing with each passing day. The possibility of a war in Iraq is close at hand, and if the current situation doesn't change, other wars will surely follow. Such conflicts will claim the lives of many innocent people. Prejudices and misunderstandings against Muslims and Islam are a persistent problem, and this is also causing difficulties for Muslims living in Western countries. Westerners themselves are living in a state of anxiety due to their fears of terrorism, not feeling safe even in their own homelands. We need a solution that would make these problems a thing of the past.
Truly, the founding of an Islamic Union is such a solution, one that would bring to all these problems a remedy both permanent and peaceful.