For my close companions or in fact, anybody who's ever met me on a night out, you'll definitely know by now that I'm Middle Eastern. I don't look it nor do I sound it but the tattoo on my left wrist in Farsi scripture alongside the regular verbal diarrhoea about my mother's roots has made it pretty obvious that I'm proud of my heritage. However, as an atheist bought up in a Western, secularised world, I have never really understood both the religion and the assumptions that has come to define the Middle East: Islam.
I am currently taking two classes at Duke University in North Carolina that focus on the Middle East; Modern Middle Eastern History and a Seminar on Islamic Fundamentalism, with a particular focus on 9/11 and its aftermath. I am not taking these classes to become closer to my so-called" roots" but I am coming to recognise how naïve and uneducated I am about a major global religion and both the beautiful history and the struggles that many moderate Muslims have to face on a daily basis.
I am coming to recognise how naïve and uneducated I am about a major global religion and both the beautiful history and the struggles that many moderate Muslims have to face on a daily basis.
My Modern Middle Eastern History class has taught me about a world that I have never gotten to know. I know about the British Colonisation of India, I know about Napoleon's French Republic and I know more than enough about the Cold War. But the Safavids, Moghuls and Ottomans? Nothing. Why this was neglected in both my childhood and throughout my adolescent years I am yet to know.
In the 16th century, The Ottoman Empire was a civilisation of progression, beauty and inclusion. Far more impressive was their bureaucratic system than any other known empire, their legal system was centralised and well-coordinated and their women had the rights to divorce, own land and hold their own in the work place. The Ottomans were also extremely modern in their approach to religious tolerance, with the introduction of the Millet System. This pluralistic system allowed Christians and Jews the right to religious freedom and expression, a concept extremely progressive for the time. The Safavids, an expansive empire with Persian roots were concurrently in the process of rebuilding Isfahan; a city of glistening turrets, bustling souks and theatre shows that embraced political satire. Urban planning was bold and colossal, with the royal mosque, the Maydan - I -Jaham, holding its place as the centre piece of the cultural hub. The well- known jingle " Isfahan- nisf- jahan" (Isfahan is half of the world) definitely held truth.
But why has this essential part of our global history and an essential player in global religion been continually ignored in Western education and common knowledge? Why are the views that I have on Islam only that of fundamentalism and "bad news" ? Why do I not hear about the moderate Islamic community who have shaped our western world as much as you and I? Why has their history been neglected and why has the Muslim role in building America been erased?
But why has this essential part of our global history and an essential player in global religion been continually ignored in Western education and common knowledge?
My 9/11 seminar has taught me a lot and made me realise that even as someone who regards themselves as extremely inclusive and tolerant, I am still a victim of my own assumptions. Post 9/11 was also when we fell victim to radicalisation. We were taught not to hate the nine men who flew into the twin towers but to hate the Muslim community and vilify them for the actions of an anomalous minority. We were taught that Jihad was a war against us, rather than the literal translation of "the struggle" of ordinary Muslims and were taught that Sharia law is the main determinant in the oppressive nature of many Middle Eastern countries. Little did I know that Sharia literally means "the path", a way to live your life as humbly and morally as possible and that Jihad has become a misconstrued term that fundamentalists use as a justification of their actions. It is frowned against and illegal in the Islam religion to injure innocent people, even in state of war.
I am still a victim of my own assumptions.
But we have congregated innocent Muslims with extremists. We have forgotten the beauty of a religion and ignored the voices of the masses who just want us to understand. We ask Muslims to apologise for the actions of Osama Bin Laden and the Muslim Brotherhood, yet we forget that their views are just as disjointed from those men as ours are. President George Bush made the grave mistake of vilifying the Islam Religion post 9/11 and both Muslims and ourselves have come to feel the repercussions. 45% of Americans view the Islam faith as unfavourable due to this misunderstanding and the time has come for both Americans and the western world to come to terms with the concept of the Islamic Religion as a whole entity, rather than just the negative press cuttings from CNN.
Islam is the biggest growing faith in the world for a reason and with that comes the need of Muslims to be politically assertive to make a place for themselves in the western world. I believe, similar to any modern religion, that Islam certainly can fit into the western world, given that the pluralistic and less literal reading of the Qur'an is used. But we also need to recognise the liberal and moderate nature of 99.99% of the community.
It is inevitable that the question of terrorism will arise at some point within this post and I do believe that the West has a role to protect its citizens. However, Islamism does not equate to terrorism nor has it ever done. Terrorism is certainly something the West should not and does not put up with but I suggesting that terrorism is entrenched in Islam, the West is simply making this toxic situation worse. Islam, as Antepli suggested is an inherently peaceful religion and this is something the West must acknowledge and respect. Perhaps, through the respect of the religion, those disenfranchised members of society who turn towards more radical forms of Islam will no longer feel the need. It is a self-perpetuating circle that can only be broken with religious tolerance and greater understanding of Islam and the recognition that Sharia is a way of life, Jihad is permission based not obligatory and that the vast, vast majority of the Muslim Community are as innocent as you and I.
It isn't just the time to limit the radicalisation of the Islam Faith but it is also time to stop the radicalization of our own views. Fine, religion has the potential to be toxic but so do we.