The long and turbulent relationship between Islam and the West has intensified over the last 30 years or so.
The worldwide Islamic revival of the 1970s and the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States have prompted many to predict that the two cultures are on a major collision course.
Many in the West have come to associate Islam with violence and extremism, while Muslims, in turn, accuse the West of trampling on their rights and imposing its values on the Muslim world.
Has there been a failure on both sides to understand each other? In particular, does the responsibility lie with the West to increase its understanding of Islam? How can it be achieved?
The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received:
I am a British born Muslim. I have grown up with a thorough understanding of both cultures and I've found that, though there is a lot of difference, there is also a lot of common ground. For example, both Islam and the West promote democratic governance. It is not difficult to understand each other; we simply have to make the effort as with all gains in life. Unfortunately, mutual understanding can be hindered by the prejudices we harbour in our minds. We need to work to rid our thoughts of any misconceptions before we can accuse each other of foul play or intolerance.
It is staggering how many of these comments come from people who believe that the West has discovered the elixir of freedom and political virtue, and Muslims just have to take their word for it. How can anyone think that, after the 20th century? It was the West, not Islam, which invented weapons of mass destruction, and the secularist political ideologies that brought humanity to the edge of the abyss.
I think the problem with understanding Islam is that it does not appear to have changed with modern thinking. Interpretation of the Christian Bible has altered over the years. Islam does not appear to be able to modernise and incorporate new learning and ideas into its ethos. I believe this is because Islam lacks centralised religious world authorities as other religions do, such as the Pope for the Roman Catholic Christians. This lack of leadership allows small radical highly vocal offshoots, who preach intolerance towards other religions, to become the recognised face of Islam in the West.
Being a westerner living in an Arab country, working for a Muslim company and living with two Muslim people, I am sorry to have to say that we westerners are arrogant about our own beliefs and way of life! can honestly say that I have never before come across a culture which is positive towards others, no matter what colour, race or creed. I have had no problem because I'm from Europe, yet we are here debating, whether we understand Islam or not. Why should we understand it? If a Muslim has chosen to follow the religion of Islam, then surely that is the choice of that person. Don't we go on about freedom? That's their freedom. Maybe one day people will lose this stereotypical image of Muslims and that that are all terrorists, like I have done.
Brian Davies, Dubai, U.A.E.
I really don't believe that the West understands what Islam is, because it just believes that Islam is a religion of violence and extremism. But all this misunderstanding is because of what happened on September 11, 2001. The people of the West think because those involved in the bombing are Muslim, that it encourages that type of militancy and violence throughout.
Hassan Timbo, Sierra Leone
I think the West is only now beginning to understand Islam. Few non-Muslims have read their Koran, but everybody can read their deeds. You can argue, justify and obfuscate as much as you want, you can try to make it al the fault of "the West", whatever that is, but to any sane person, it still stands out clearly to those who look, who the terrorists are.
Mr. Bob Duncon: We all are human beings and have bad people everywhere. Peace is not just the property of the West, as terrorism is not only the product of Muslims. And if the West was so peaceful why did the two World Wars happen. The problem with the West is that it always addresses the end-problem, not the causes.
What a dreadful thing institutionalised religion has proven to be over the centuries! It is divisive and has been and still is the cause of bloody conflicts all over the world. I have come to the conclusion that we would all be better off without it irrespective of the name it carries. Maybe Humanism is the solution and then perhaps intolerance would evaporate.
Philip Cunneen, England
I believe that cultural education and understanding must be on both sides, it's not just a case of the West learning to accept Islam - Islamic culture must learn to understand Western values.
While I accept that western ideology is perhaps more aggressively pursued (through the media, corporate strategy, capitalism), I do feel that Islam can learn much from liberal democracy.
Luke, Maidstone, Kent
Unfortunately, we of western heritage have a lot of prejudices against Islam. Islam is as diverse as Christianity. Let's have a look back at the darkest hours of religion wars in Europe and we'll see that we should be humble. Let's have a look at the madness of the US right wing so-called Christians and we'll see people that are no better than the Taliban's and Bin Laden. We should not judge people on religion.
Christophe Constant, Montigny, France.
In the west we get a lot of our cultural references from TV, and too often drama series do not portray positive images of Muslims, compared to images of other religions. This bias is harmful and racist.
The West does not have a problem with Islam; the West has a problem with terrorists who hijack planes, murder holidaymakers, blow up school children and hold theatre-goers hostage. However, in Israel, New York, Moscow and Bali the fact is that these atrocities have been carried out by Muslims in the name of Islam. The vast majority of peace loving Moslems throughout the world who now feel threatened and under suspicion are actually victims of these terrorists. It is up to them to join the West in unequivocally condemning terrorism and in ridiculing the link that Islamist fundamentalists try to forge between their hatred of the West and their religion.
Bryan, Edinburgh, UK
When members of the Christian Right in the US, say, pronounce views that many people consider abhorrent and intolerant, no one assumes that they speak for the Church of England, or the Pope. Why then should we bundle 'Islam' into only one school? Islam is as complex a religion as any other, and no, we don't understand it enough. The same way many people don't understand the West enough. We could all learn many valuable things from each other. Let's stop talking as if 'the West' and Islam are incompatible. We're all people.
Katherine, London, UK
Don't blame the West for not understanding Islam; how are people supposed to react if terrorist activities is undertaken under the pretence of Islam and rest of the Muslim community remains silent about it. I was in NY during the September 11th bombing but did not see any condemnation or protest from any Muslim community against the bombing, if moderate Muslims wants support and understanding form the west they clearly have to define there position clearly and visibly.
Shakila Zafar, NY, USA
The fact that Islam is the only religion in the world today with the unadulterated scripture, while Muslim countries are very weak compared to the adherents of other beliefs; makes the Muslims the object of envy and Islam an easy target for certain influential groups in the west which either have some historical scores to settle or feel that their worldly interests are threatened by the rapid spread of Islam in the West. Such groups do not waste any chance or opportunity to defame the Islamic faith or to distort its image in the minds of the western people. Unfortunately some adherents of Islam, either because of ignorance or frustration, indulge in unethical practices which serve the purpose of the enemies of Islam
Saeed H H Alyousuf,
As Muslims living in the West, we have a very positive and peaceful contribution to make to society. We want to respect others, and be respected. Respect however has to be based on a truer understanding of what living Islam means. Muslims have to make more effort to inform and explain this tolerant Din (way of life) to people for whom the main source of information on Islam is a media driven by the need to report sensationalism. For too long the headlines have been made by fringe groups who are taken to represent all Muslims. In reality they don't - it's time for the rest of us, the silent majority, to speak out and help develop a better understanding of Islam.
I spent about 13 years on and off in the Gulf, the thing that always struck me was the differences in Islam. In the more secular states - such as Oman - we managed to live easily with little problem alongside the local population. We could live our western lifestyle as long as we moderated our behaviour to accommodate the local laws and mores. Saudi was at the other end of the scale - churches were banned, drink was banned, the list goes on. The short point is in the more secular countries where Islam is viewed as a religion capable of peaceful co-existence life is actually pretty easy. Where one side is forced to conform it isn't.
It is not just a problem Islam faces in the West alone. This is the case in secular countries like India also. While nations with non-Muslim majority bend over backwards to accommodate their beliefs, how many non-Islam places of worship would you find in Muslim-majority nations? I think the question should be one of tolerance of other faiths by Islam.
Rashmi, Bangalore, India
I am a westerner and a Muslim. The two are not mutually exclusive.
A Ranaa, London, UK
I recently visited Lebanon with a friend of mine and his family who were all born over there. It was an eye-opening experience. The people were all very civil, and interested to hear my views on their country and its struggles. I found that my understanding of the Islamic people was greatly enhanced by visiting Lebanon, and I suggest that anyone that feels they do not understand their culture should visit.
Richard Thorp, Southend, UK
We must try and understand religion and religious belief in the context of a gene pool of ideas. It is a case of survival of the fittest, and conflicting ideas, such as two different religions, will automatically compete for resources, i.e. the minds of the species. Conflict is natural and inevitable, and the only way to minimise it is to iron out the extreme elements of all religions, and find the common ground where they can all thrive.
Michael, Essex, UK
After September 11 all Muslims are branded as heartless monsters. Where is the proof that this atrocity was carried out by Muslims anyway? Furthermore, if a Christian committed a terrorist act would anyone brand Christianity as a terrorist religion? What about the IRA? The members were predominantly of Christian faith. But does this have an impact on people's view of Christianity? I think not.
It is about time people realize that the west and Islam do not get on; it is about time both sides accepted this and agreed that we should keep our worlds separate.
Mike, London, England.
I spent about 3 months in Egypt last year and the events on and following "9/11" were constant topics of conversation. I heard many different and considered opinions from the Egyptians I spoke to and was impressed by their knowledge of and interest in international affairs. I was constantly asked not to judge the majority of peace loving Muslims by the actions of a few terrorists and, of course, I don't. Even people who were strongly anti-American, and I met many, were almost all against acts of terrorism.
Kulu, Basingstoke, UK
I am a British born Muslim I believe in democracy and I have no family from any country other than Britain. Yet people still think that as a Muslim I'm foreign for some reason. What I want to know is why doesn't anyone ever ask the native Muslims of this country what we think?
James Jenkins, UK
It is amazing the racism towards Muslims from the comments. It shows the hate we Muslims face and will continue to face , if the comments reflect the western view of Islam then I fear things will only get worse for Muslims, we have become the new hate figures.
Many Muslims don't understand what Islam is. Islam is a religion of peace and one of the most important teachings of Islam is education, and how many Muslims do we see who are educated? The true Islam is where we consider the rights of our neighbours, tell truth and pray for our enemies. Islam is not 'Arabic culture' and what we see is Arabic culture not Islam.
After 11th September, living abroad has become quite unbearable for the Muslims. Most of the Westerners have equalized Islam with terror, violence and disorder. Indeed, such an image has been the result of merciless Taliban and relentless war in Middle East. Yet, it should be understood that Islam has peaceful teachings and forbids all kind of violence. Now, Islam is passing through the dark ages like the one Christianity had experienced during Middle Ages. Muslims now have to secularize and modernize their systems and make Europeans understand the insight of their religion.
The "West" is not a religion but a political concept embodying values such as the supremacy and sanctity of the individual and respect for religious freedom. Islam is a matter of personal choice up to each individual as much as Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, Atheism and Agnosticism. It is up to each religion to respect the freedoms that we accord each other in the west and to live by the rules we set.
I think Muslims can, should and have learnt many very positive things from the West as well as a lot of undesirable ones. It's time the West really tried to understand Islam and Muslims. It may be pleasantly surprised and strengthened by it.
Naveed, London, UK
If you want to learn about Islam and more importantly Muslims then learn, read, meet up with Muslims, and let them explain what they are feeling. Discuss engage your intellect and see for yourself what my faith is.
Islam, from my understanding, teaches tolerance and moderation. Yet, all that is picked up on is demands and intolerance from hard liners. Why is it necessary to demand a Muslim parliament? One should accept the ways of an adopted country and if necessary, live as the individual both spiritually and culturally within the confines of a home or Mosque.
The West knows nothing about Islam and only see the weaker side of it in the form of some touts who are hell bent on destroying this great religion through violence. The truth is that this is the fastest growing religion in the whole world and no one can deny that.
Islam has failed to accept the rights of others to live in peace. Only in Moslem countries, such as Saudi Arabia, are Christians and Jews forbidden from praying. Jews are forbidden to live in Jordan and are oppressed in other Arab countries.
Randall Isaacs, Barrie, Ontario Canada
It's Islam which closes itself off to anything that is not Islamic. Islam is not a religion but an all-encompassing legal, political, social and ideological system that simply does not accept any interaction with the 'infidels' world. I'm for a secular mentality, and think religion is a personal choice; it cannot be an imposition, or an authoritarian system controlling everything.
Islam is a religion like Christianity. The fault is human beings not in the religion itself.
I don't claim to understand Islam, but I do not associate it with violence and extremism as much as Christianity. If you don't believe me, go back to you history books and read about burnings and also about the slave trade.
Jonathan Kelk, Glasgow, Scotland
I think the main thing that confuses "The West" about Islam is this: If Islam does not allow "killing infidels" or suicide, why do Muslims allow the terrorists to do it in their name? We've seen little evidence of this "great tolerance and respect for other religions" from the militants who claim to be acting on behalf of Islam. Without action to the contrary, we can only assume they are. Through their inaction in stopping the militants, the peaceful majority of Muslims are fuelling the resentment they seek to stop.
Islam does not have the right to judge the West on the grounds of compassion. The ethnic and cultural diversity found in America is unparalleled in the world. One look at the world's Islamic nations will demonstrate that the majority are woefully intolerant and oppressive towards all non Muslims. Muslims expect to be granted equality in the West while not providing it to anyone else and that is hypocrisy defined. The ball is in their court.
Dan O'Connor, New York City
Unfortunately, as I see it, the problem rests with Islam being unable to accept the right of others to live as they choose. The issue lies with tolerance, few people in Britain are intolerant of Muslims; yet Muslims appear to have little tolerance of anyone who does not follow their doctrine. I wouldn't expect them to have to change their beliefs; but they are going to have to become more accepting of other people having the right to be and live how they choose.
From all these comments mostly from my friends from west clearly shows NO THE WEST DONT UNDERSTAND ISLAM ENOUGH, all they are trying to do is introduce their version of Islam, while Muslims never tried to introduce their version of WEST, the western media had and will continue to show Islam as a threat to the west.
One could equally ask does Islam understand the West? Western society has been shaped by different influences than those Islam. Because we are different does not make us incompatible. The west is not Satan and all Moslems are not terrorists. If we open our eyes to Islam will Moslems open their eyes to the West?
Just as there are Christian cults which propagate murder, there are similar cults within the Muslim world who want to see destruction meted out to those who disagree with them. Unlike Christianity, whose pope speaks out against violent propagandists such as the IRA, Islam has no central authority, and as such there is no representative who speaks for all its varied denominations. What is needed is a spokesman for mainstream Muslims, to speak on their behalf against those who seek to uproot civilisation.
Until 911, I was indifferent about Islam. After 911, I started looking into it more. As a result, I became opposed to Islam. I accept that no race is perfect, but have any of the political correctists complaining about the West's attitude to Islam ever actually looked in the Qur'aan? A simple comparison; In the Bible, there is absolutely no record of Jesus ever having instructed anyone to carry out acts of violence in pursuance of the aims of Christianity. In the Qur'aan and the Hadiths, there are far too many instances of this to count (e.g. 4:89 of the Qur'aan). The Islamophobia debate should be based on the truth and not political correctness. Basing the debate on anything other than the truth is what causes things like race riots.
Graeme Phillips, Berlin, Germany (normally UK)
Since September 11th, I've tried to learn more about Islam. In every book I have read, what stands out the most is their complete intolerance. I live in France and have found it impossible to ever have a conversation with an Islamic person - it definitely does not seem to be a desired thing on their part. In France in any case, we haven't heard much from the "moderate" Muslims so all we know are the ones who shout the loudest. How can we understand people who do not know how to discuss? And where is the Arab leadership? What are they doing, what have they ever done to promote understanding, peace and tolerance on both sides?
Alison Solomon, France
I think it is difficult to reconcile modern western culture with traditional Islamic culture. Western capitalism is all consuming. You either lose your culture or fight against the west. I can see why many Muslims do not want their girls scantily dressed or any of their children listening to sexually explicit western music or eating, drinking and wearing western goods that do nothing for the local economy. I think the answer is to accept that there is more than one way to live a life but that may mean total separation. More than one world on this earth that shall never meet. I left England to live in rural Kerry. I feel much happier living a non-commercialised, self-sufficient lifestyle that is now alien to much of England.
James Butler, Co Kerry, Ireland
I think that the west tends to confuse Islam the religion with countries that are Islamic.
Some people think Sharia when they think of Islam, others think of Islamic Jihad or the Taliban.
However I do firmly believe that there is far more of an attempt to understand the Islamic world then there is in the Islamic world to understand the west.
This is not because of the religion, but rather because the majority of Islamic countries are either Theocracies, Kingdoms or Dictatorships where free thinking is certainly not encouraged.
Dan M, UK
In my opinion the West does not impose its beliefs on other parts of the world, it simply makes itself available. If you don't want a McDonalds or a Coca Cola, don't buy it, no one is forcing people. If certain radicals want to make out that Western society and its values are an insult to their religion that's up to them, but its all about freedom of choice. In that respect I think the west stands head and shoulders above most others!!
I don't see any reason to make extra effort to understand Islam. I find it aggressive, repressive and highly unoriginal. Added to the damage it does to individuals' lives through sheer mind control is the fact that it shares with other power structures a tendency towards corruption, cronyism and personal greed. I have spent time with extremist Catholics and found them to be only interested in you as a convert or a active member, not as an independent spiritual person. I see no reason why Islam should be any better at its heart.
Patrick Curran, Oxford UK
A huge part of the problem is debates like this, whose starting point is 2 monoliths, The West and Islam, in an antithetical, tense relationship with one another. When we say The West do we mean states, corporate interests, capital, society/ies, value(s), human beings - they are not all the same thing. Likewise with Islam. The West is already quite 'Islamic', because there are millions of Muslims living in so-called Western countries, and Muslim cultural and intellectual influences are found throughout European culture. Everybody has to snap out of seeing the world in terms of this particular dichotomy, which perpetuates conflict and really dates back to the West seen as Christendom.
Julian Symes, Brighton
I believe there is a silent majority amongst the Muslims and I think it is urgently necessary that this silent majority speaks loud and clear out against extreme Muslim factions (the killers). If they wait now too long, all good and peace loving Muslims will suffer because there will develop a gap between them and the non-Muslim world which can not be bridged. This will eventually lead to such a polarisation which cannot be controlled anymore, resulting in irrational actions from both sides causing wide spread bloodshed.
M.C. van der Weele, Torres Novas -Portugal
Our perception of Islamic peoples in the West is often disproportionate. There is actually widespread support for al-Qaeda among the Saudi Arabian public, although that isn't solely the West's fault; it is also the monarchy's fault for living self-indulgent lifestyles in lavish palaces and wasting money on buildings like the Kingdom Centre, while poverty rates are increasing dangerously fast. However, we like to pretend this support doesn't exist. It is time we in the West got an idea of the reality of these situations.
Berlin, Germany (normally UK)
Although a Muslim I grew up attending Catholic boarding schools and therefore had the opportunity to read The Bible, as well the The Quran, though much later on in life. Ironically we as Muslims are told that The Bible too is a Holy Book. Similar to this little known fact, I believe that there are more similarities between the major religions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism than differences. By and large we acknowledge, respect and honor the same prophets, worship the same One God and share many similar values. Unfortunately as humans we seek to highlight the few differences rather than the many similarities. And in many cases this thinking is promoted by politicians and clergy on all sides who prefer a "divide and rule" approach, in order to keep their agendas alive. If only we all had the resolve, desire and wisdom to seek to understand our own and the others' faith better.
Islam does not allow "killing all infidels" or suicide, just two of many misconceptions. Islam recommends great tolerance and respect for other religions which even a short but accurate of history will demonstrate. Unfortunately we prefer to be preached to rather than learn ourselves.
A response to Morgana, London, UK (below): Morgana, you are the perfect example of the 'west' not understanding Islam. Your statement "Islam claims all infidels must be killed" clearly shows your ignorance in this matter, not because you are a racist and not because you are a westerner, but simply because you haven't even bothered to go to a bookstore and find out for yourself what Islam is. Sadly, many of us muslims also share Morgana's ignorance.
Imran, London UK
The problem is that much of the Islamic world envies the wealth of the West but refuses to recognise that some "Western" values are essential to achieving it. You can't have stable, inclusive societies without democracy, secularism and tolerance; you can't have scientific and technological advance while adhering rigidly to the religious notions of the 7th Century; and you can't expect your culture to be respected and liked unless it in turn respects and likes other cultures. Muslims need to decide if they want to live in societies like those of the Taliban or Saudi Arabia or societies like those in Europe. The fact is, you can't have both.
Can someone explain why if the Islamic way of life is so wonderful that there are so many Muslims leaving these countries to live in the so called decadent West. Why is there not a rush of people willing to go and live under these Islamic countries strict laws. Please leave our countries as they are, they may not be perfect but they suit us fine.
Bob Duncan, Carnoustie, Scotland
Islam resents the West because it is rich and powerful. Islam blames the West for its own plight. The West being secular in turn does not understand what drives the Islamic world. One thing is clear, however. The solution to the problems of the Islamic world lie within Islam itself and are not caused by oppression or exploitation from the West.
Islamic nations have to become secular and modern in their political and administrative functions. Then they can join the 21st Century and treat all religions and none equally, with tolerance and respect.
What must be questioned is why Muslims seem to be so touchy about any supposed insults to their religion. Why must every non Muslim have to be so careful not to upset Muslims? There are many cases in this country where I feel the UK has bent over backwards to suit the Islamic faith. But this appears never to be enough.
Larry, Plymouth UK
The Islamic assertion that the West tries to impose its values on Islamic countries is undeniably correct, but it derives from a chronic lack of understanding. Some of this misunderstanding is wilful, some just innocent naivety. Either way, the sheer weight of numbers of Islamic followers means that the West must try to understand and sympathise with Islamic nations if the predicted collision is to be avoided.
Jack Delawney, London UK
The problem we have here in Denmark is not that we don't understand Islam, it is that we are not prepared to accept about 9% of the population trying to impose their religion and way of life on the other 91%. These people are unable to accept a secular pluralist society.
Paul Smith, Copenhagen, Denmark
There are of course massive and often irreconcilable differences in the two cultures and both have the common faults of demonizing the other. Only in continuing dialogue and acceptance of these differences can both avoid more painful hostility. For our part in the West we have to accept Islam in its rich and diverse forms is different but not wrong. To our Islam neighbours I would say try and reach the hearts and minds of the ordinary folk in the West try and circumvent calculating governments and multi-national companies and an essentially ignorant media. Personally might I add, I cannot embrace your beliefs but I have respect for them.
The West does not have a problem with Islam; the West has a problem with terrorists who hijack planes, murder holidaymakers, blow up school children and hold theatre-goers hostage. However, in Israel, New York, Moscow and Bali the fact is that these atrocities have been carried out by Muslims in the name of Islam. The vast majority of peace loving Moslems throughout the world who now feel threatened and under suspicion are actually victims of these terrorists. It is up to them to join the West in unequivocally condemning terrorism and in ridiculing the link that Islamic fundamentalists try to forge between their hatred of the West and their religion.
Bryan, Edinburgh, UK
One important point I would like to bring to light. One cannot fully judge a theory by looking at its applications. Rather, one would attempt to understand the theory first, then observe the spectrum of practices, some of which may be ill. And so, there is Islam and there are Muslims. There is Christianity and there are Christians, and so on.
As a Muslim living in a part of Canada where the locals have had insignificant contact with Muslims, I have personally felt the ignorance and wrong perceptions of people towards Islam.
Arif Shah, Halifax, Canada
The question is predicated on the idea of a non-Muslim West. Such a place does not exist, except in a myth which debates framed in this way perpetuate. Plenty of Western citizens are Muslim, and the percentage is rising. Once Western non-Muslims stop treating Western Muslims as foreigners, and learn to accept them as equals, the fallacy behind the question will be exposed.
Julian Symes, Brighton, UK
As a regular visitor to the Middle East, I'm always shocked by the appalling attitude of Europeans to people who are overwhelmingly friendly and welcoming. Certainly the rise of McCarthyism in the US has seen Islam replace Communism as the most convenient enemy. If the West could only relate to Judaism and Islam as cousins and equals, the violence could be quickly stopped. While it is acceptable to support a terrorist like Sharon and damn another like Arafat, Islam is right to consider the West stupid and racist.
David Brown, Helsinki, Finland
The basis of all secular religion is that it teaches two basic elements, morals that we must adhere to and either the fear or love of God. I do not advocate religion in any form and live my life away from the complexities of all religions and as such have brought my children in the same way. I honestly do not see how Christianity or Islam can teach me anything that I do not already know or fail to understand. Why should any religion dictate to me how I should live my life ?
David Westwell, Warkworth, United Kingdom
In Manchester, there have been massive moves to make the Muslims feel welcome. They can build mosques where we cannot get planning permission to build churches, they get preferential treatment in our local Safeways where they only sell halal chicken and if, like us, you refuse to buy halal meat on compassionate grounds, well tough! It is perfectly fine for them to have their "we hate capitalism, down with the West, lets turn the UK into a Muslim state" marches but woe betide any of us who dare say a word against their way of life. These Muslims understand the west just fine - it's called a free ride and thanks to Mr Blair a terrorist haven. They understand perfectly well that over here all you have to do is cry racist and you can literally get away with murder.
I have no problem with any race or religion as long as they stay in their own country and do not come to mine trying to impose their views on me.
Anon, Manchester, UK
Why is the problem always posed as 'The West' (for that read every non-Islamic country) not being tolerant of Islam, when in many places around the world civil unrest, hatred and violence has followed the spread of Islam and it's intolerance towards other ways of life? Surely the real question should be can Islam sit happily with any other doctrine/way of life? It is not the responsibility of those who chose different beliefs to accommodate the Islamic beliefs of others - especially when such actions would not be reciprocated.
D,B, London, UK
Speaking as a white, male atheist married to an Asian, Muslim female in the UK I would like to say that the idea that the west should strive to 'understand' Islam is missing the point. From my own experience I can say it's not the religion but the culture that is important to understand. We tend to mix up culture and religion over this issue. With familiarity what people tend to discover is that despite external differences underneath we are all the same. We all want the same things. We all hold the same values. The only way we can really understand each other is by breaking down the barriers of fear and mistrust which are created by ignorance of each other's different cultures, not religious beliefs. The only way to do this is through racial integration with the end result a truly secular state in which religious beliefs are up to the individual and cultural differences are celebrated rather than feared.
As a student studying Islam and the history of Western colonialism within Islamic societies, I believe generalizations and misconceptions are born out of lack of exposure and education on Islam and the modern Muslim world. I feel that it is vital for Westerners to stop essentializing and start thinking critically and informedly.
Elizabeth Aakhus, New York, New York
Moslems sometimes confuse ancestral culture with religion or unquestionably recite texts from the Koran without knowing what it means. A fundamental problem with the teaching of Islam is that the Koran is written in ancient Arabic and is often learnt parrot fashion in the same language, with no translation or historical context given. A better question would be "Do Moslems understand Islam enough?"
I am a Westerner with a non-Muslim background, who has recently been fortunate enough to learn just how rich, positive, instructive, and beautiful Islam is.
I believe that much of the problem today arises from the West confusing Islam with fundamentalism and erroneously believing that an Islamic government cannot be democratic.
To the extent that Western nations make decisions that affect other cultures, they have a responsibility to listen and learn. There is never anything to gain from ignorance.
Kim, London, UK
The media constantly portray Islam in a negative manner. The only stories we get from the news is always of death and suffering in Islamic countries, we never get to see the other side of the coin. Although I am not a Muslim, I believe they receive far too much bad press and thus fuels ignorance and hatred within Western society.
Most people in the "West", as you call it (I dislike these somewhat artificial aggregates), have little knowledge of Islam, as they have little knowledge of Hinduism or Judaism. But you visit almost any bookstore in the "West", and you do see a large number of books being offered on Islam. Of course, some are better, some worse, and some are quite scholarly and quite informative. Granted, most people will not read any of these books. But there has been certainly an effort to make information on Islam available to people at large. Can we say the same of bookstores throughout the Muslim world? I think not. Yes, many Muslims don't know how to read, many do not have the money to buy books. But many simply do not make an effort to learn more about the "West", preferring to hold on to the usual clichés: the "West" is arrogant, women are "loose", gays are everywhere, people don't take proper care of their elders, etc.
Joao Gata, Aveiro, Portugal
I am a French Moslem and I think that our community must stop blaming the west for its own troubles. I think that the problem is that some Moslems have failed to understand the real meaning of our religion - like the fanatics - or have even perverted it to have a whole country under their power - like the Taliban. This is opposed to Islam.
So far, Islam has had trouble defining its position in the West. In my view, this trouble is caused by the principle of dhimmitude in Islamic law, which places Christians and Jews as protected communities with limited privileges under Muslim rule. This principle thus formulates the following premise: 1. Islam is the majority religion 2. Christianity and Judaism are inferior to Islam, hence: Muslims can never be ruled over by Christians/Jews (or any other non-Muslims).
While this principle has been working perfectly fine since Islam began to spread, colonization by Western nations in the 19th and 20th centuries and the consequent migration of Muslims to Western countries have turned the former realities upon which dhimmitude is based upside down. Vast Muslim minorities live in countries where the majority religion is not Islam and more importantly, the government is not. This, in Islamic law, is an impossibility. This is also why conflicts involving Islamic for the larger part flare up on the fringes of Islam (Chechnia, Palestine, the Sudan, Kashmir etc.). From an Islamic point of view, war must be waged to bring Muslim minorities in Western countries under proper Muslim rule.
It is up to Islam, which has so far expanded rapidly, to come to terms with the geographical and cultural boundaries of its spread, much in the same way the influence of the Church has peaked, only to erode to more modest proportions in recent times.
Ilan Cohen, Rotterdam, Holland
All we ever see in the West is the after-effects of suicide bombs or the smiling face of a murderer proud to have killed so many. Unfortunately, by not condemning the acts of terrorists, the clerics and religious leaders of Islam do their religion no favours and merely help perpetuate the image that Islam is a religion based on hatred, death and violence. When will these leaders let Islam show the 'peaceful' side it must surely have?
Dom, London, England
After 11th September, living abroad has become quite unbearable for Muslims. Most of the Westerners have equalized Islam with terror, violence and disorder. Indeed, such an image has been the result of the merciless Taliban and a relentless war in Middle East. Yet it should be understood that Islam has peaceful teachings and forbids all kind of violence. Now, Islam is passing through the dark ages that Christianity experienced during the Middle Ages. Muslims now have to secularize and modernize their systems and make Europeans understand the insight of their religion. All we have to do is to be free from prejudice towards each other and respect the beliefs of one another. Let's not permit this idea to remain as a Utopia. It's really difficult to live in a world where many people are biased and have hostile feelings against you which is quite inhuman and unfair. To cut it short, not every Muslim is an extremist or a potential terrorist.
I lived in Saudi Arabia for a couple of years and I loved it. There is lots to be proud about.
However, we the West will never trust Islam until it shows it can run a democratically elected country. That is what frightens us - a country run by religious fervour rather than religious harmony.
The domininant ideologies in the west are consumerism and feminism. How can a culture that allows itself to be imprisoned and controlled by these ideological paradigms accept a religion that states that men and women are equal and that the earth, status and prosperity comes from and ultimately belongs to Allah?
Simon, Manchester, England
I work with several Muslims and consider them to be good friends of mine, and over the last year or so I have come to understand a little of Islam. How? Because I talked to my friends, read some literature, even bought a translation of the Koran. Just a little bit of effort and I can see that what is put out by the media is distorted by almost total ignorance. People believe what the Press says because it is easier than finding out for themselves. Until the West understands and accepts the fact that Islam is NOT just a religion but an entire way of life for more than a fifth of the world's population, the current level of troubles will continue to grow because a few Muslims see the actions of the West as against the Word of God. A shame that some of the Leaders of the West believe the same about Islam!
There are some comments here stating that Muslims should try also to understand the West. My response to that is there is a great deal of understanding amongst Muslims: e.g. the crusades, colonialist experience, intense cultural, political and media influence. How much of the same could be said of the influence of Muslim societies on the west? I think Muslims can, should and have learnt many v.positive things from the west (as well as a lot of undesirable ones). It's time the West really tried to understand Islam and Muslims. It may be pleasantly surprised and strengthened by it.
naveed, London, UK
I don't see any difference with the way that the West is portraying Muslims now, with the way that it portrayed Jews not too long ago when Jews too, were being persecuted and misrepresented in the media. While we as Muslims are always told to explain ourselves and our faith, a hostile media and western public never take the initiative to ask why they are demonising us.
Bilal Patel, London, UK
The West tolerates the intolerable for fear of being branded racist. Living very near the Finsbury park Mosque in North London I wonder why Abu Hamza, who openly fuelled hatred towards the West has been allowed to live in London, the West, for so long with no problem at all. Islam claims all infidels must be killed. If that is not pure hatred against those who are 'different' what is? The West understands and tolerates Islam. Islam may understand, but does not tolerate, other cultures.
Morgana, London, UK
Islam is the fastest growing religion in the West. This despite all the negative publicity, despite overt opposition in some quarters and covert attempts at its suppression in others. The West loves its freedom, democracy and liberalism but much of that freedom has been built on and maintained by the often brutal suppression of other peoples, be it the wholesale massacres of American Indians in the New World or the continuing economic enslavement of poorer, less developed countries through bodies like the IMF and the World Bank. These are the sorts of issues that brings Islam into conflict with the West because Islam's ideals are for everyone not just a few hundred million Westerners.
Dr. Dar, London, UK
Following the September 11 attacks, the West was united in listening to the calls of the Muslim world for better understanding and tolerance. I find it disturbing that this tolerance was only being considered in one direction. The Islamic world has gained a reputation for a fundamental lack of tolerance of other religions and cultures, to the extent of active persecution in a number of states. I would hope that the level of understanding comes from both sides, publicly and unequivocally, without the double-speak we so often hear of when statesmen play to their own domestic agendas.
Name withheld, London, UK
There has been a failure of understanding, but I believe the question as posed is an oversimplification. Neither "the West" nor "Islam" are convenient, simple entities. Indeed, this tendency to simplify and package huge issues into bite-sized concepts may well contribute to the problems in communication.
The responsibility to improve the situation clearly lies with all of us. I believe that one important step is the acknowledgement and embracement of diversity. A second important point is to raise awareness of the distinction between religion and "culture" - the two are obviously correlated but are not always one and the same. I suspect that cultural, rather than strictly religious, differences may lie at the root of many problems.
As an atheist, I have always found it so sad that religions call on their God (Jehovah, Allah, etc) to justify slaughtering other people who don't happen to believe the same thing.
I think someone once said something like "when you understand why you don't believe in other gods, you will understand why I don't believe in yours."
It's a bold step, but I think the world would be a much better place without religion. Let's believe in ourselves and stop the killing.
David, York, England
Please admit it!
We do not understand each other. The west does not understand the east and the east does not understand the west. I believe that before understanding there should be acceptance. Acceptance of the truth that being different does not mean being uncivilised or 'kafir' or inferior.
The question should be reversed; Moslems in the West have to understand where we in the West come from. Many of the Moslems commentators appearing in the media remind me of the old communist apologists; they have all answers, do not listen to or countenance criticism. And of course, like the communists, there has never been a truly Islamic state
The greatest problem in my view is that of ignorance, on both sides; Muslims and those in the West. A vast number of Muslims don't fully understand many Islamic rulings and use emotion to prove their arguments. This sort of behaviour is then made worse by people in the West judging Islam as a whole based on what they see some or many Muslims do. An example is that of terrorism and suicide. The Qu'ran and the Prophet Sayings are clear; suicide has been condemned in the scriptures yet many Muslims justify it or sympathise with those who do it.
I do not think that it is Westerners who have the misunderstanding. We do not go to Muslim countries and blow ourselves up. Greater respect for each other's religion must be taught as a matter of urgency. The negative views we have of Islam is purely down to media coverage and unfortunately all Muslims have been tarred with the same brush as the militants.
Gordon Sinclair, Nottingham
I would also pose the question to Muslims living in a Western country - do you understand the West enough to live with harmony with it? Surely it is reasonable that if the West tries to understand Muslims then the reverse should be tried as well - perhaps Muslims would then stop thinking of themselves as victims all the time.
It is time that Islam began to take the blame for its own ills rather than blaming them on the West. After all, Western views, such as democracy and liberalism, can only benefit the repressed people of the Islamic world.
Gareth, Manchester, England
I think there is a general problem with religion rather than just Islam - all major religions want everyone to believe and follow their way. This is an understandable ideal; if you think you have the answers, you want to tell other people. However, it does not allow for tolerance of others who don't agree with you. This is where the problems come from; intolerance of others' opinions, rather than specifically Islam or Christianity or whatever. People don't like to be told what they have to believe.
Rachel Watson, Southampton, UK
The West treats all developing nations poorly. The main difference regarding the Islamic countries is that they have a faith that is outside the West's control - and gives the people a strong sense of identity. The oil wealth of some of the Islamic nations helps give them a stronger role in the world than they would otherwise have.
The current conflict comes more from the creation and continued support of Israel by the West (US) than the poverty that some nations experience.
Probably not, but does Islam understand the West?
All religions seem to be in conflict with contemporary life, especially science & technology. Western Christianity has reached some sort of compromise but Islam has not. Somehow it has to adjust!
I think that the West tends to confuse Islam the religion with countries that are Islamic. Some people think Sharia when they think of Islam, others think of Islamic Jihad or the Taliban. However, I do firmly believe that there is far more of an attempt to understand the Islamic world then there is in the Islamic world to understand the West. This is not because of the religion, but rather because the majority of Islamic countries are theocracies, kingdoms or dictatorships where free thinking is certainly not encouraged.
Dan M, UK
Of course we don't - we treat Islam with contempt without even trying to understand. We fear what we don't understand. The Muslims have a right to mistrust the West as we the British imposed our rule on them and now the Americans are doing exactly the same.
There is a necessary conflict between the Western world-view (Christian and post-Christian) and militant Islam. The way to tackle this conflict, in my semi-informed opinion, is for the West to do what it can to minimise the factors that lead to Islamic fundamentalism. It may be a hard pill to swallow after September 11, but we should accept that terrorism cannot be wholly quashed by superior force. By stationing troops in Arab countries, and destabilising Islamic countries (even for the noblest reason), we risk turning more young Muslims into Islamists. I think the US and its allies should approach diplomatic relations with the Islamic world as a battle for hearts and minds, not a "war on terror." It is easier to undermine fanaticism than to stop a fanatical terrorist.
Arthur Currie, Edinburgh, UK
The West knows nothing about Islam; they only see the weaker side of it and is hell bent on destroying this great religion through violence. People in the West know that they can't accept a religion which involves sacrifices in their day today lives. The truth is that this same religion is the fastest growing in the whole world and no one can deny that.