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Thursday, January 14, 1999 Published at 09:42 GMT


Talking Point


Perceptions of Islam: Your reactions

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Should the West do more to understand Islam?

What is there to understand when one person kills another in cold blood? Whether it is Christian against Christian in Northern Ireland or Muslim against Muslim in Iraq or other excuses for brutal murder around the world. For God's/Allah's sake, this is not religion.
Mike Dimery, UK

I think the problem lies on both sides. The (US) media plays up the religious aspect of such people (This is the same bunch that wants us to think that if you are a Christian, you are a right-wing demogauge, as if there are no left-wing Christians) The other problem is a) The Islamic countries need to have a firmer control over their extreme militant wings, and b)the terrorists bring their religion into it as the reason behind their bombings. Little wonder the West has associated Islam with Terrorism. It's a shame, but a sad truth.
James Cloninger USA

Due to the liberal and fast life style of the Western world, they are unable to appreciate Islam
Sha-u Hameed Mohamed, Sri Lanka

The West has to say the least been hypocritical about Islam. It has chosen to attack only those Islamic countries that oppose its global agenda ignoring the atrocities againt Muslims elsewhere merely because it suited the West's designs. The West must be even-handed and not seen as a religious prosecutor.
Assur, India

Both the Muslims and the non-Muslims are to be blamed for the present misunderstanding.The Muslim faithful must do more to explain his monotheistic faith in only one true God.The non-Muslims must discard the stereotype media image of a bearded militant fanatical believer, and the West must check the easy tendency to demonise a belief that it has'nt made any serious attempt to understand.One fifth of the world's population are Muslims and most observe and practise their belief peacefully.I urge non-Muslims to have a read of the QURAN, the Muslim's holy book revealed by God to Prophet Mohamed (may peace be upon him)through archangel Gabriel.
N D Sulai, Malaysia

I regret than when an individual does something that is repugnant to humanity at large, and if he happens to be a Muslim, then the media describes him by his religion. By contrast the media and history does not single out Hitler who massacred Jews as "Christian", or more recently, the Serbs and their atrocities against the Bosnians as "Christian ethnic cleansing".
Haroun, South Africa

When in Rwanda an act of genocide takes place, although almost all Rwandan nationals are of Christian faith, no one is presenting the atrocities as religiously inspired acts, although even some priests or nons also participated in the killing.
Amir Shoja, Belgium

While bin Laden et al. urge the destruction of the United States in the name of Allah, one never hears of the US bombing Iraq in the name of Christ. That is the difference.
Matthew Hillson USA

I am a Muslim, and I am proud of that. For those who accuse Muslims of being terrorists, what do you think of bombing Iraq any time the US feel like doing so? Lots of children are being killed every day..In the name of helping to reach peace, by the peaceful Americans... Muslims are weak compared to the Western power, but they call us terrorists just because we are brave men, who did not and will not accept to be stepped on like other people around the world. I don't think that the westerns must understand Islam better, because the more they go deep in it the more they realize that they are facing people who are ready to face the nuclear weapons with their naked chests
Sulaiman, Iraq

Looking a bit beyond the so called "terrorism", I think one has to scrupulously examine why these Muslims have so much anger. .How can these Muslims defend themselves from the bullying and colonizing forces of the west? What kind of oppression could lead a person to commit a suicide bomb? It just shows us what kind of state their people are in for a person to give up his life for freeing his people. I think we have evaluate and critically analyze the facts about who is the real "terrorist" the West or the Muslims?
Tamim Popalzai, Miami, USA

No westerner will have any idea about our feelings until the day they turn on their TVs and see their people, young children being killed by soldiers while they are fighting for their own land and freedom as in Palestine; when they see their women and children raped and tortured like the Muslims of Bosnia; when they see a president, in order to divert attention from his personal problems, order a rain of missiles and air raids on their country, like the innocent people of Iraq and Sudan; when they see countries waiting for UN security council resolutions while their people are being raped, tourtured & killed as in Bosnia, but stepping over the council to attack their country for "so-called" non compliance of UN resolutions as the US & Britain did to Iraq. What I am trying to say is that we should "live and let live". There is no reason to call me a terrorist just because I practice what I believe in. Maybe it's like George Orwell wrote "All animals are equal but, some are more equal than others".
Farouk Sa'eed, Nigeria

Islam is a faith of aproximately one billion people on this Earth, the majority of whom do not live in the Middle East, nor carry guns and call for a jihad against the West. Rather, Muslims abhor violence and try to respect the directives of Islam, meaning to believe in one God and to sumbit to His will. The term "Islamic Fundamentalist" itself is badly used in the media, for one who is a true follower of Islam renounces violence and the taking of life in all but the most exclusive of circumstances. The terrorists the world fears are those who use Islam as a justification and a cover for their political actions; the world, Muslim and non-Muslim alike have every reason to fear them. However, the Western media (who is partly responsible for the inaccurate perceptions of Islam in the West) should make a greater distinction between a terrorist who uses Islam as a weapon and an individual who practices the faith of Islam.
Kuda Hafiz, Canada

The question "Does the West need to do more to understand Islam?" is perhaps not too carefully phrased, since it implies that "the West" and "Islam" are monolithic entities alien to one another, rather than diverse, overlapping cultural spheres. That said, Westerners and Muslims do need to do more to understand one another, especially as more Muslims become Westerners.
Josh Pollack, United States

The Western media chooses to give airtime to the tiny minority of Muslims who provide entertaining sound-bites about killing people for Islam. These people already have an agenda, and use whatever dogma is convenient to justify their crimes. Muslims do publicly and frequently condemn terrorism, but they do not make headlines by doing so. Nor do the 1.5 billion Muslims who don't engage in or condone terrorism.
Yusuf Bey, USA

The West truly needs to understand Islam and the causes for such terrorist activities. The West is sowing the seeds of Muslim hatred. By attacking the Muslims in Afghanistan, Sudan and Iraq, both physically and verbally (through the media) proof is being provided for condemning and hating the west. Movies like 'siege' should not be allowed to be released. The gap is increasing and the media should play a positive role.
Abid Siddiq, Pakistan

I am amazed at the idealism of many of your correspondents. Terrorism is not the worst of Islam - people have been misusing religion for their own ends since time immemorial.
No woman of any age may travel without the consent of the man who "owns" her (father, brother, husband or son), she may not drive a car, she must be totally covered in black regardless of the climate (whilst the men wear free flowing white robes) and can be divorced at a moment_s notice with the simple words "I divorce you" - to gain a divorce herself she must go before a court of Muslim clerics. Of course polygamy is widely practiced.
Then there is the "tolerance" towards other religions. Whilst mosques are being subsidised throughout the Christian world, Christians in Muslim countries are being persecuted and their churches, even where officially permitted, are vandalised. I personally knew a woman who received 150 lashes for attending a Bible class in Saudi Arabia.
No the "West" does not understand Islam - if it did there would be an outcry about many things in addition to terrorism.
Terry George, Australia

I think the world of Islam needs to open up their doors to the rest of civilization. I am a secular person but can remember the heavy restrictions placed upon _other_ religions during my time in Arabia.
It does not stop there, strict censorship on news and communications are the norm _ and even interference in other countries rights _ for example the documentary _the death of a princess_ and of course the _Satanic Verses_ affair.
John Unwin, UK

In a country where scantilty clad women are used to sell everything from matches to cars and to boost TV ratings, where more than one in three marriages end in divorce and where old people are confined to thier homes because of the fear of attack and burglary people should read the Quran and the teachings of Mohammed (PBUH). They will be surprised to learn that Islam is a model which if properly implemented can rid society of all the social economic and other evils.
Ibrahim Hasan, England

Islam is a religion that is not understood by a large number of people. What most of the population in the west hears is what the media wants them to hear, what the media know's will sell. In this way they only see and hear part of the whole story, an example is the "purdha" in Islam. The west interprets it as opression of women's rights by forcing them to cover themselves, when in actuality women are required to wear them so that men do not look at women and admire them for their beauty, it is there to repress sexual thoughts about the opposite sex, thus diminishing things like rape or sexual harrasement, plus it is there to treat women with respect. By this I mean that when a woman's outwardly appearance is hidden, one tends to look for other things to judge a person by, thus, women are given more respect for the role they play in life, whether it be as mothers, daughters or wives.
Shariq Ashfaq USA

Islam has spread across the world not because of the power of the sword, but because it is a simple and attractive religion. Most of the non Arab countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and other African countries converted to Islam quite willingly. But, after that Islam has lagged behind in opening up, while Christianity has shed its confrontational past and has taken a back seat in deciding the affairs of the people. Most Muslim nations are still poor and the leaders of these nations twist the words of the holy Quran to work up the masses to cling to power. It is certainly not the end of the road for relations between believers and non-believers as Muslims around the world are becoming more open in understanding other religions. As with the Christian nations before, democracy and education of the people are going to be the deciding factors.
Sivasubramanian India - Residing in Barbados

Considering that Islam is 500 years behind the rest of the world, and that in Muslim countries cutting peoples hands off for minor crimes is still a mainstream form of punishment, I really don't think that the West needs to make any sort of effort to understand Islam. We should not have have to make allowances for those who refuse to bring themselves into the modern civlised world.
Stuart Ford, Wales, UK

I was born to a Muslim family and was taught nothing but to love others. Islam like all other religions has good and bad points and just like any other religion has followers who take things to extreme. Unfortunately, in the West media portraits Islam as a religion of hatred and violence due to zionist influence. The West is not any less violent than the likes of Bin Laden. Only the weapon of choice is different. A few helpless Muslims may use a small car bomb but the West terrorizes a religion and over a billion Muslims by media and economic hostage taking.
Arash Kamangeer (ex-Muslim), Iran/USA

I think the West has to learn alot more about Islam. I am a Muslim and think that people do not understand that Islam is a religion of peace, not of war or terrorism as alot of people think.
Atif Hussain, West Yorkshire

The West certainly has some pretty skewed misconceptions about Islam and needs to try and rectify them. As the accused, however, the Muslims need to do even more. We, as Muslims need to present our faith in its true form to the West. It is not enough to say, parrot-fashion 'Islam is a religion of peace'. Why should anyone believe it? When HAMAS bombs some marketplace, killing innocent civilians, we know that what they are doing is in direct contradiction to Islam. When the Taliban in Afghanistan close down women's schools, and flog men for shaving, we know that this is not Islam. Not only is it not Islam, it is also pure lunacy. But does the Muslim community ever raise its voice against these heinous acts by so-called 'Muslims' in this so-called 'jihad'. No. We sit there, and watch the bombs go off, watch innocents die, watch the actions of these criminals who commit their crimes in the name of our God, our Prophet, making a mockery of our faith and we do it in SILENCE. As Muslims, it is our responsibility to denounce these acts, as criminal, inhuman, and UNISLAMIC.
Omar Aftab, Boston, USA

It is not so much a lack of understanding as much as misunderstanding(s) between Muslims and us. Of course, it is erroneous to simply lump all Muslims together - the diversity of thought and praxis in Islam is as amazingly rich and astounding as in any Western or non-Western system. One often laments that Islam has not yet overhauled and secularized itself. Such sonorous assertions fail to take into account the fact that Islamic history's trajectory of origin and evolution need not conform to our acquired notions of development.

In as much as the Western response has been guilty of demonizing everything Islamic, there is profound ignorance among Muslims (particularly the disenchanted youth) of non-Muslims. I find the Muslim response strainingly cordial - there is no healthy respect or intellectual parity extended towards non-Muslim cultures. It is also regrettable - again due to ignorance - that Muslims have become increasingly anti-Semitic. They cannot distinguish between Judaism and Zionism and, particularly Arab but also Turkish and Persian writings, display a vociferous and repellent stance towards Jews and Judaism.
Burzine K. Waghmar, London, U.K.

I believe that there are major processes of secularisation taking place in every part of the world today. And any kind of religious fundamentalism is a direct reaction to it by a disgruntled minority. Where democratic forces are strong, extremist tendencies are kept under control. Unfortunately, in the most high-profile regions of the Islamic world (West Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan) democracy has never really taken root, and this status quo was perhaps preserved deliberately by both the West and the erstwhile Soviet Union because of their respective economic and geo-political interests.A bad image for Islam has been the result.Understanding the larger social processes will help the West to understand Muslims better.
Nasrin Siddiqui, India

Islam is a religion of peace and undersanding, unfortunately like many religions fanatics tend to distort the image of the true beliefs of our religion.
Ashkan Yekrangi, California, USA

Of course, you must understand their point of view. All conflicts are brought by a lack of knowledge. Besides, some extremists exist all over world, including Christian, Buddists and other religions.
Hiroko, Japan

No...No...No... enough is enough. Islamic fundamantelism should be dealt with full force and the guilty should be punished severely. Look at this world. 95% of the world problems are created by muslims in the name of Koran and Islam. Nope... they can't be tolerated any more.
Salil, USA

I think Islam needs to improve its own image. I think that the leaders of Islam should show more courage in taking responsibility for the awful crimes done in the name of Islam. The leaders of Islam need to make the decision right now to denounce all violence, for violence and directed hatred even if it's in the defence of religion, shall beget more violence and hatred against it. Islam is being used as a vehicle of terror and hatred against non Islamic peoples, in far greater proportion than acts of terror done in the name of Christianity or other religions. The next time that Osama bin Laden's group or Islamic Jihad blows up a bus of Israeli children, or shoots dead American or European tourists in Egypt, the leaders of Islam must step forward and denounce the acts of terrorism. Islamic peoples should not shield and support terrorists, they should vocally scorn the terrorists, regardless of the fact that the terrorists are Islamic as well.
Steve Kenney, San Jose, California, USA

Islam is just like all the other major religions - patriarchal, intolerant, seeking to rule by tyranny and terror and, of course, it's all absolute twaddle. It's time the world grew up, stopped believing in any kind of god and started pulling together to save what is left of the planet. How nice it would be if the third millennium could be a religion-free zone.
Sue Edwards, England

The problem is that the lives of people in the West are centered around themselves. Most of them want nothing to do with the rest of the world as long they can get cheap gas etc. There is no doubt in my mind that the popular western media is biased against Islam. Osama threatens Americans, the media will show him praying, maybe near a mosque, and so on. There may be Serbian generals who razed a Muslim town, you will never hear that they are devout Christians. Leaders always want to set "us" versus "them" philosophy to gain strength. On the other hand Western governments also try to make sure that Muslim countries should not be democratized, because that may start showing the true colors of Islam.
Sohail Mirza, California, USA

My reading of the situation regarding Islam and terrorism is that more often than not, Bin Laden and other criminals, such as some of the Mullahs of Iran, are using Islam as a tool of power. This is becoming increasing easy for them to do as they prey upon populations becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of opportunity in their societies. This frustration is heightened by an increased awareness of the world brought on by the rising level of education in the Middle East. Coupled with this frustration are old sensitivities regarding colonialism and other elements of the cultures in the Middle East that the likes of Bin Laden can manipulate. As in the financial crises envoloping the word, corruption is driving force behind the rise of terrorism in the name of Islam.
Eric Frazier, Chapel Hill, NC, USA

Islam has a negative view of humanity. Islam destroyed Iran and the future of two generations of our people.
Farhad Gholami, Ottawa,Canada (Iranian)

I'am afraid that the next ground where the confrontation between the two will take place, will be (or is) Africa.
Jacqueline Bikhovsky, Brussels, Belgium

Of course, but this goes both ways - and Islamic people need to make an effort to understand us.
Rob Holman, London, England

In Islam there is no distinction between religion and politics. There is also no center for dogmatic orthodoxy. Any shaykh or mullah can issue a religious opinion binding to his followers. Islam teaches that God has given the world and its wealth to Islam. In this view lands which were once Islamic and are not now, such as Spain and Israel, have been stolen by force. All other non-Islamic lands are held by peoples amounting to armed squatters. The tension in Muslim countries is between inhabitants who have come to accept something of enlightenment humanism and equality, and the rest, a majority, who have not and who thus maintain the traditional Islamic viewpoint. Unreconstructed Islam has an imperial mandate. Orthodox mullahs see it as their religious duty to advise the recovery of lost lands and the conquest of the rest. This can only have political ramifications, involving both the governments of their own countries and external states. The Qur'an preaches that there is no compulsion in religion. In practice, ancient Islam was, and modern Islam is, as coercive as was Medieval and Renaissance Christendom. I see no hope for peace until the peoples of Islam accept enlightenment humanism in place of religious imperialism and the modern resentments to which the imperial expectation has brought them.
Patrick Frank, Palo Alto, USA

Islam is a religion of peace and unity and it's teaching has no mean justify all these militant activities. In fact, the are not only breaking the laws of the west but also breaking the laws of Islam. Using Islam as a reason to justify their fundamentalist activity is surely a sinful crime to God.
Siddick Tegally, Australia

In the west, Islamic fundamentalists are seen as outspoken, and seem to be trying to oppress their own people (for instance forcing women to wear head scarves). My feeling is that they themselvees feel threatened, as they can see the general erosion of their cultural beliefs - religious, or otherwise, and are fighting to keep them alive. They are prerpared to use violence - but in so doing, are merely generating hatred and inviting rejection by the west. In the West, Islam is seen as a threat, because of recent violence and kidnapping. Of course this will cause panic, and inevitably, a backlash. It would be really nice to see an Islamic leader openly comdemn Islamic fundamentalists in their voilence and repression - but will they? I think not - they're just too scared to speak out.
Rob Holman, UK

Islam like other religions of the world faces the same problem of people interpreting religion differently. A so called "militant, radical Muslim fundamentalist" as used by the media so often is causing a lot of harm to Muslim in general. The Western media should undersatnd that these people who commit acts of terror are humans, and they are violent due to the fact that they want justice in their country. The main reason and the major problem I would say is the creation of Israel, without the approval of the people living in that area. Its like creating Israel in England. Tell me how would the English feel.
Adil Aquil, Dallas, Texas, USA

I believe that no matter how much Muslims try to explain their faith to the West, the Western World refuses to listen. This is due to the fact of Eurocentrism and now Americanism. The West believes that it is better than everyone else therefor a dialogue cannot be established. Muslims need to stop sounding apologetic and Western Media needs to provide the Western viewer with a more just and unbiased view of the rest of the world (outside North America and Europe).
Ayman Mansour, Montreal, Canada

The West and Muslims must do more to understand each other. Neither has a special obligation in this regard. Though a generalized Western panic about Islam is understandable, it is also unfortunate. For most Muslims outside the West, survival is a day-to-day struggle and they have little time/interest for violent confrontation with the West. However, Western nations should not allow concerns about cultural sensitivity to hamper their rights to self-defence. Rage is not a valid excuse for violence and the West has every right to defend itself against the depradations of any violent minority.
Thomas Threlkeld, Washington, D.C., USA

The notion that the West needs to do more to understand Islam is flawed as it is. There are Muslims in the West as well as the East. How much do Muslims in the East and West differ is perhaps a more salient question. There is also a need to re-consider the notion that religion and politics are separate. In my view they are not. The two deal primarily with issues of power and how to organise people in order to maximise this. Whilst we believe some things are sacred and others secular, the defining line is drawn for convenience more than real conviction.
Charlene Rajendran, Malaysia

I think the West must remember that their religious tolerance and secular governments didn't come in one day . We must also consider 600 years difference between Christianism and Islam . West had lived the same religious intolerance and discrimination in its past. Islamic countries are lucky to have Westerners as a model .They don't need to suffer and learn by themselves.
Azmi Altan, NY,US

I'm of the opinion that Islam is definitely confused with politics, and misunderstood as a whole. In fact I think most non JudeoChristian religions are misunderstood. We have been bombarded with images of Islamic Fundamentalism since the early 70s, a point in time when the media began to teach Westerners to fear Islam. I think Islam is blamed for many of the nationalistic movements of this last half century, Egypt, Algeria, Iran, even Libya to a certain extent. I can remember reading articles in Time, and the local newspaper here, objectively explaining the main points of Islam, and then placing the articles under headlines that read: "The Islamic Threat". The West should be more open, and sensitive for that matter, to the beliefs of Muslims.
Sven Divay, Winnipeg, Canada

I do think that the Western press and each of us as individuals have a responsibility to learn more about Islam. I would hope that Muslims would join in this discourse. I suspect much of the rhetoric you quoted is as representative of the precepts of Islam as the IRA is of Roman Catholicism. Muslims represent a larger percentage of the world population. It is important for us to understand how they see the world.
Elizabeth Jackson Young, Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Like any other religion, Islam can be abused in political contexts, and this "politized Islam" is very often misunderstood by Europeans as being the Islam of Muslims in general. This is not true, although many find a solid and unshakeable foundation in their cultural heritage. I think it is important to teach our children of the splendour of the Islamic past, and try to analyze why and how Islam is abused in politics. And when we look at this, when we look at Saddam, Khomeini and Ghaddaffi, let us not forget to teach them about who gave leeway, and even support for these dictators, that is US and Europe.
RCE, Copenhagen, Denmark

The best way to know Islam is to learn Islam(Quran, Hadith) itself, not study the Muslims. If you just study the Muslims you will be confused because there are so many views (it is even hard find a good Muslim nowadays). However, if you find it hard to study all that, you can research the views of the prominent Muslim scholars (not the so called scholars who don't have any recognition in the Muslim world). If you find a consensus among these scholars on issues then those viwes can be taken as more or less authentic Islamic view. Besides, there should more dialog and interaction among Muslims, Christians and Jews.
Anwar Zahid, St Cloud, USA




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