Islam defies easy definition

Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism reinforce negative stereotypes of Islam as a violent religion and fuels academic arguments for a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam. This week the Muslim Students Association is doing its part to reverse negative stereotyping with Islamic Awareness Week at the University of Calgary.

“The Muslim, Christian and Jewish religions have a common heritage,” said MSA president Muhammad Al-Murayri. “We need to sit at the same table and engage in dialogue.”

Al-Murayri is organizing the April 3-7 awareness campaign focused on inter-faith dialogue.

On Monday evening the MSA brought together a Rabbi and an Islamic Scholar to discuss the violently controversial Danish cartoons first published in September 2005 and again in Canada in February 2006–most notably by Calgary-based news magazine, the Western Standard.

Dr. Jamal Badawi introduced the Danish cartoons as a tragic event which introduced an important opportunity for interfaith-dialogue.

“The silver lining in such a tragedy is that we can sit down and discuss such matters,” said Badawi, noting the dialogue concerning the Danish caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad has been described as an example of a potential clash of civilizations between the U.S.-led West and Islam.

Samuel P. Huntington spawned the clash of civilizations as a political theory with an article in a 1993 issue of the journal Foreign Affairs, which later became a book. The basic premise of Huntington’s thesis is that 21st century geopolitics will be dominated by culturally based civilizations rather than the interests of nation-states.

“This is not a clash of civilizations, it is a clash between the uncivilized on both sides [Muslim states and the West],” said Badawi.

After the publications of the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad by a Danish newspaper, the Danish Embassy in Beirut was burned down and approximately 45 people were killed in violent demonstrations throughout the Muslim world.

“Under Islamic teaching there is no grounds to take such violent reprisals,” said Badawi. “This violates long-standing Islamic traditions.”

Badawi stressed the lack of civility on both sides of the conflict.

“This is not an issue of cartoons, this is an issue of depicting the Prophet as a terrorist,” said Badawi. “How is it in the West that a Holocaust denier be put in prison, yet when the Prophet to one-fifth of the world’s population is insulted it is said to be a right of freedom of speech? The Muslim world felt they had been oppressed not only internally by tyrannical leaders, but also from the outside from the biggest power in the world.

Rabbi Dovid Weiss also felt the real issue has been misinterpreted.

“Interfaith dialogue doesn’t have to mingle our faiths,” said Weiss. “The issue is that something has been misconstrued. The cartoons that were printed [are] something that has been bothering the Jewish religious community for some time. Political movements are the catalyst that brings about something like these cartoons.

Weiss said he believed it is political agendas on both sides that tend to antagonize issues out of proportion.

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