American philosopher specializing in Theology and Philosophy of Religion. Prolific author. Professor of Philosophy at St. Olaf College. Member of the Royal Institute of Philosophy.
I believe that this message from the Leader of the Islamic Republic, Seyyed Ali Khamenei, to the youth in the West is most welcome. It should be welcomed by those of any age in the West. His analogy about Islam and Christianity is deeply wise. Just as Christians needed to understand and recognize that the attrocities carried out in the name of Christianity (slavery) were contrary to the teachings of Jesus and thus not true to the spirit and integrity of Christianity, today, everyone, perhaps especially the youth who are trying to be open minded and find wisdom, need to discern what is truly Islam and what is false. While the letter’s focus is on challenging those who portray Islam as innately dangerous and bent on violating the rights of others, it implicitly challenges and condemns those who wrongly use the name of Islam and the Prophet to carry out acts of violence which are clearly in violation of Qur’anic teachings. It is important for the West to see that those who killed Charli Hebdo and his associates are not heroes in the great culture and religion of Islam. The great legacy of the Iranian 1979 revolution is that it was one of the greatest overthrow of a cruel regime by nonviolent means. It is good for the youth and those of any age to appreciate how strikes, marches, boycotts, and especially voting can bring about radical change, and such powerful nonviolent means are what we are called to do in Islam.
What will be the effects of Ayatollah Khamenei’s message on some anti-Islamic movements such as PEGIDA?
The more this message can be spread and interpreted as condemning both the caricature and false portrait of Islam as well as interpreted as a clear condemnation of those who commit cruel, wrongful acts in the name of Islam, the greater the success of Islam among the people of the West. Clearly, true Islam condemns the killing of school children. Clearly, the Islamic Republic condemns gunmen shooting police in the streets of Paris. This letter needs to be read as a dramatic challenge to Pejida and any of those who think that Islam –true Islam– matches the wrong, deplorable misinformation that is spread about Islam.
Why power structures are trying to marginalize Islamic thoughts?
Many powers in the West want to welcome Islamic culture. In most Western countries now, there are substantial, growing Muslim populations; and Muslims are increasingly becoming members of legislatures and legal courts, members of Parliament and, in my country, achieving political representation at increasingly high levels on the state and federal level. The worry is not with Islam, otherwise none of these achievements would be possible. The worry and the Islam-phobia comes from the focus on select numbers of so-called “radicalized” persons who are prepared to use guns and bombs, rather than non-violent means. Even on this point, though, I would prefer not to use the word “radicalized.” The word “radical” refers to the root, and suggests that a radical in some domain –let’s say a radical peace-maker– is someone who is seeking peace at the most radical level; he is going to the roots of a conflict, and seeking peace. Those who kill French police or treated as heroes that do in the name of Islam are not working from the root of Islam. They may be following what they think is Islam, but the enemies and friends of Islam need to know they are not acting from true Islamic teaching and life. I am a Christian, but I count myself as a strong friend of Islam: I vote and act in ways to promote Islamic culture in my own country. When I was last in Iran, I asked those whom I think of as my brothers in faith, Muslim clerics and philosophers, to pray for my safe travels. They have my prayers for safety now, in a mutual drive for the world to know the true spirit and integrity of Islam.
How can the youth in Europe and America find the reality of Islam?
In a community that truly lives in accord with Qu’ranic teaching and the example of the Prophet, peace be upon him and in connection with the many strong friends of Islam who are everywhere.
First published on Tehran Times