Islamic Dialogues: 0–Preface & Background
A Series of Dramatic Dialogues
Lewis D. Eigen
Copyright ©, 2008
Islamic Dialogues are a series of dialogues of Moslems about Islam in the modern world. The style is semi-fictional and the individual dialogues can be read or dramatized. The characters are all Moslems, but they and the dialogues represent to wide diversity of the Islamic peoples who are no more monolithic than Christians or Buddhists. Each of the dialogues can stand alone, but the set of them provides the broader picture.
It seems these days that almost every war, insurrection or, violent border dispute vexing the world involves at least one Moslem nation or non-state, Moslem group. There are exceptions like the revolution in Nepal which is strictly of Buddhist ethnicity. And the Catholic-Protestant struggle in Ireland has been ongoing for centuries but now seems to be quieting. None-the-less, hardly a decade goes by without an Islamic struggle or dispute flaring up or continuing on every continent but Australia, and even Australians have been the victims of terrorist attacks albeit on another continent.
While Islam is the world’s second largest religion, it’s adherents are involved in a much greater proportion of the world’s violent conflicts than their numbers would normally predict. And these conflicts involving Moslems also involve a disproportionate share of the most violent and brutal behaviors. Further, current terrorism appears almost exclusively Islamic—so much so that there is not a serious newspaper, magazine, TV network that does not have a continual review of its policy and practices of describing acts of terrorism in conjunction with people of Islamic faith.
While anti-Americanism is not unique among the Moslems of the world, the degree of the hate and vocal expression of their dissatisfaction with America, even before the Iraq invasion, is hard to comprehend for most of us. The images of bloodthirsty mobs of Moslems dancing in the streets celebrating the murder of 3,000 Americans at the World Trade Center are imprinted in the memories of most Americans. Such celebration of the suffering and death of innocent human beings is totally foreign and incomprehensible to most of us, and our disgust has only been exceeded by our puzzlement in our attempt to fathom such behavior—as well as that of some Islamic leaders and apologists whose “explanations” of the behavior was even more offensive than that of the mobs. And the notion that America is the Moslem’s target because of American foreign policy was belied by the intentional murdering of hundreds of innocent school children held hostage in a Russian school. Other apologists who point to Islamic endemic poverty and lack of education fail to convince Americans and many others when we discover that other groups, even poorer, do not behave so violently. Most of the captured Islamic terrorists have turned out to be from middle-class or privileged backgrounds. Then we find that among the peoples of the world, Moslems have a higher literacy rate than many because of the religious obligation of all men learning to read their holy book, the Koran.
There are approximately 6 million Moslem Americans who often find themselves blamed for the behavior of people for whom they have no sympathy and little commonalty besides religion. Many have found themselves singled out for discriminatory treatment when boarding an airplane or simply accosted on the street by hostile accusers. At the same time American Moslems are disproportionately involved in volunteering for the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security and the Military.
The Arab Anti-Defamation League leadership have been very active and vocal in publicly condemning the excessive and violent behavior of their terrorist co-religionists , but among official Arab and Moslem organizations there has generally been a silence or a reticence to condemn terrorism and extreme violence. For many, it took decapitation of innocent hostages to produce a reaction. Many puzzled Americans, viewing the these same groups engage in legitimate, highly vocal, public condemnation of the ethnic profiling and discrimination against American Moslems are disappointed and puzzled by their lack of the same widespread indignation and condemnation of Moslem extremism.
With every new atrocity, each new threat, each new pundit’s column, many of us are drawn into the question of what shall be done. What policies should be adopted to cope with violent Islam? What arguments should be marshaled to persuade Islam? What should all of us do as the world community, nations and as individuals? Even a little bit of thinking about these problems brings us face-to-face with most of our unfamiliarity with the Islamic world, culturally, politically, historically, and theologically. Surely if we could only understand, we could do more to eliminate much of the tragedy. So we must learn more.
When a non-Moslem actually studies the political and moral arguments of the various Islamic groups in various violent conflicts, most of us find ourselves at a loss very often to even understand the points that Islamic spokesmen of the various Islamic groups and movements are making. Often they seem to be illogical, hypocritical, hyper emotional, and quite alien to our way of thinking. This is often explained as a dichotomy between the age old struggle between the Judeo-Christian West and the Moslem world. But the puzzlement which so many Christians and Jews have in understanding many Moslem points of view is mirrored by Hindus, Buddhists, Bhai, Animists and other religious cultures. The Afghan Taliban destruction of the giant Buddhist statues was as seemingly as irrational to the Buddhists as to the Jews and Christians, as well as most other religious cultures. There was almost no understanding or support for that act by any other ethnic group in the world except for Moslems—and even among them there were many critics who were horrified and mystified. But most Moslems, even if they were opposed to the act, tended to be more understanding and did not see the activity as “beyond the pale” so to speak.
Alienation from Islam is not uniquely American or even western. Many Hindus of India say privately to their western friends, “Now you see what we have been coping with for hundreds of years?” And Bhai, for whom nonviolence is so central, will explain that they have been victimized for decades, yet it is only recently that the rest of the world is appreciating the problem.
Books, studies, documentaries by the scores have appeared in the last decade, most attempting to explain the Moslem world to the non-Moslem or the “unbeliever” as most Moslems would call them. These have been of a number of types: Historical or sociological treatises on Islam and its historical interaction with the other religions and cultures of the world make up the largest group. This class is followed by focused works on particular regions, conflicts or practices where Moslems are involved. There is also a large literature on Moslem theology but most of these are directed at “the faithful.”
I. like so many others, have read and studied many in an attempt to understand better the world social and geopolitical situation that we face. But I found the exercise frustrating. The more I studied, the more frustrated I became and the more alienated I seemed to find myself from Islam. What made the experience particularly painful for me is that as a classical liberal I had always believed that all people have most of the basic human values in common regardless of their upbringing. This has appeared not to be as true for Moslem cultures as I had found others. Making the situation more complicated for me personally is that compared to most Americans, I have interacted with Moslems to a much greater extent I suspect than most. My wife had been in the art & handicraft import business since the 1960s and I met and socialized with Muslims from many different cultures. In all those cases my experience was positive and pleasant in all things except when the discussion would turn to history, politics, philosophy or sociology, not to mention theology were I had expected intellectual and theological conflict. At a personal level I have lived among Moslems for most of my life. Our next door neighbor is an Iranian professional. Colleagues—including officers—in my company followed Islam, and I owe my life to a Moslem surgeon who in addition to being a great humanitarian is a magnificent physician. What I discovered from interacting with these people is that they fell into two classes: There were those whose thought pattern and perceptions were essentially the same as mine (mostly those educated and brought up in the West), and those for whom I never could have a satisfactory conversation about these sensitive, fundamental areas.
I learned two important things from the latter group of Moslems however. First there was an emotional element in Islamic thought and practice that is fundamental to the whole. It transcended logic, at least as I had ever known or studied logic. Second, within some clear commonalities, there were also a wide diversity of style, opinion, approach, outlook. The heterogeneity of the Moslems seemed to be as wide as any other group. At the same time, there was an amazing concordance of viewpoint in some areas.
It came to me that to understand what is seemingly inconsistent and illogical, I would cease reading—a very cerebral activity—and talk more to Moslems and above all, listen. I found television and radio interviews with Moslems brought me far more understanding than written articles often prepared by the very same people. But the TV and radio snippets and instances were in no pattern that could lead to an organized understanding. Oral communications are terribly limited in that sense. That is why so many of us as students, transformed professors’ lectures to notes or transcripts.
It was then that I planned Islamic Dialogues. While it is a written work, it takes the form of dialogues. Each dialog is of different people—mostly all Moslem—in a different setting, both geographical and temporal. This form I believe conveys both the rationality of the scholar and the larger emotional truth of the fiction writer or poet.
The dialogues are all fiction. And the characters are all fictional. But the characters, like in any dramatic presentation, are composites derived from the my experience of observing and listening. The dialogue often contains snippets from the many interviews of radio and TV. In a sense, the characters are mostly composite figures who are icons of meaning and representative of different points of view, feelings, approaches and the like. Further, for most of us who do not, as a general practice, plow through intellectual volumes, the dialog format makes for a good, easier read.
While the dialogues are all fiction, the events under discussion are or have been real. To the best of my ability I have tried to provide the “facts” that are historically accurate within the limits of what is possible with such different perceptions of reality and factuality. An advantage of the dialog, as demonstrated by Plato and countless others, is that different perspective and reality can be assigned to different characters to convey a “range of reality.”
Each dialogue ends with its own epilogue. In the epilogue I have switched modes and provide what is a more classic Western statement of the facts, events and their contexts. Here I have tried to reflect fact and reality as best I can within my studied perception. Islamic Dialogues is not to be viewed as anything resembling a historical statement or contemporary compendium of Islam. However, the situations that the characters discuss can all be found in various written works in much more detail than the obvious superficiality to which this modality is limited.
At a few points throughout the dialogues, I have included “Background” sections which are explanations that would take too long to develop in dramatic form. In some cases these are quotations or excerpts that will succinctly convey important information.
Last, I must apologize to my Islamic friends and colleagues. This book was not written for you. It was written for almost everyone but you. It may well, however, have some utility for Moslems to learn how they are understood or misunderstood by infidels such as myself
In a work of a few hundred pages, it is impossible to depict the rich theology, philosophy and history of Islam. I have picked and chosen, with no attempt to be comprehensive or even to be a representative sampling. I have selected issues and examples from which I thought that my fellow un-believers would most profit.
If I have poorly or erroneously conveyed Islamic theology or Sharia—Islamic Law, I apologize. I have consulted Islamic scholars, but I am trying to communicate to others like myself, and occasionally, the analogies and analysis we would make, might be very different and perceived as incorrect. It is my hope that Islamic Dialogues will stimulate a wider discussion amongst people and more inter-ethnic discussion as opposed to writing and talking at each other..
For those readers whose appetite for understanding more about Islam has been whetted, consult one of the many books that have been published on the subject. I urge you to consult Islamic as well as non-Islamic sources. The works of Bernard Lewis are amongst the most valuable in that Professor Lewis relies on and presents so much documentation and original source material that the reader gets much of the original, unfiltered perspective. For as Lewis points out, even the perception of and attitude toward history pass through different lenses in and outside of Islam.
“Moslems” and “Arabs” are not synonymous terms, but throughout Islam, the Arab culture is so intricately intertwined that for many of us, we do not know where one begins and the other ends. Mohammed, the Moslem Prophet, brought Islam to his fellow Arabs in the 7th century. It was a very appealing religion for the time, and very rapidly gained adherents throughout the Arab lands. The Arab, newly Islamic, armies spread out amongst neighboring people bringing the new religion to which people other than Arabs gravitated. The Islamic armies went throughout the Middle East into Iran, across Afghanistan into India; across the Mediterranean into Europe; downwards into Black Africa. Arab sea traders brought Islam to the Pacific. Hundreds of different non-Arab peoples became Moslems. The Koran, the Moslems’ Holy Book, was originally written in Arabic, and rather than possibly corrupt the word of The Prophet, the holy book remained in Arabic and was read in Arabic by peoples why had never had any other contacts with the Arab culture or language. Many of the concepts of Islam, emanating from the desert Arabic cultures transmitted many Arab concepts and philosophies to non-Arab peoples. For the most part each of these peoples, assimilated Islam and although there are differences of Islam in the many cultures the influence was two-way. Arabia as a place, also has a central role in the Moslem religion as each devout Moslem is required to, at least once in his lifetime, make a pilgrimage to Mecca. So today most Arabs are Moslems, but most Moslems are NOT Arabs. The Arabs with custody of most of the holy places of Islam are a spiritual center of Islam and have a cultural influence on Moslems throughout the world.
Brunei Bahrain Albania Libya
United Arab Emirates Syria Somalia Sierra Leone
Saudi Arabia Oman Niger Senegal
Malaysia Lebanon Jordan Saudi Arabia
Iran Egypt Algeria Nigeria
Afghanistan Bangladesh Yemen Niger
Turkey Sudan Palestine Mozambique
Pakistan Nigeria Morocco Mauritania
Libya Kuwait Iraq Mali
Indonesia Tunisia Malaysia Maldives
Sudan Qatar Senegal Syria
Albania Bosnia-Herzegovina Azerbaijan Ivory Coast
Benin Djibouti Comoros Uzbekistan
Chad Cameroon Burkina-Faso Uganda
Gabon Kuwait Kazakhstan Iran
Guyana Guinea-Bissau Turkmenistan Tajikistan
Guinea Gambia Kyrghyz Republic Sierra Leone
There are about 1 billion Moslems in the world. It is the second largest of the world’s religions (after Christianity). 20% of the people of the world are Moslem. Indonesia is the world’s largest Islamic nation. India a predominantly Hidu state, contains over 150 million Moslems—about the same as the entire Arab world and similar to the Moslem population of the Islamic state of Pakistan.
Index to Islamic Dialogues
Entry filed under: History, Politics, Uncategorized. Tags: Arabs, dialogues, discrimination, drama, extremism, History, Islam, Moslems, plays, religion, religion. terrorism. fundamentalism, terrorism.