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A Muslim's Apology By: Salim Mansur
Toronto Sun | Wednesday, October 04, 2006

In a recent column, Michael Coren, my colleague here at the Sun, demanded Muslims apologize for wrongs too numerous to list.

Coren is right. I, as a Muslim, apologize without equivocation or reservation for the terrible crimes -- small and big -- committed by Muslims against non-Muslims and against Muslims, as in Darfur, who are weak and easy prey to those who hold power in the name of Islam.

I imagine, however, Coren is not seeking an apology from a person of Muslim faith such as I, who maintains no rank and cannot speak on behalf of the institutionalized world of Islam.

Like many others who share his frustration and legitimate anger, Coren is asking to hear a contrite voice from within institutionalized Islam -- to repent for Muslim misconduct, past and present, that is indefensible by any standard of civility and decency, and seek forgiveness.

But Coren and others might well wait indefinitely for such an apology from those representatives of institutionalized Islam convinced of their own righteousness, even as they are engineers of a civilization's wreckage and prosper in it by the art of bullying.

Muslims and non-Muslims often point to the fact there is no Vatican in contemporary Islam -- no figure like the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury who authoritatively represents the Muslim world.

This is only partly true, for the lack of a Pope-like figure among Muslims does not mean an absence of an institutionalized setting operative in the Muslim world.

From the earliest years of post-Prophetic Islam, Muslims holding the power of the sword and what constitutes the authoritative meaning of the Koran and the prophet's traditions, have rigged the boundaries of institutionalized Islam. The wielders of the sword and interpreters of faith have worked in tandem to impose their consensus on all Muslims, and those who have questioned their authority have paid a steep price.

This institutionalized reality of Islam and its resulting complexity are not well understood by non-Muslims. Institutionalized Islam is represented by Muslim majority states and their political and religious leaders who share a consensus on matters of politics and faith.

Below institutionalized Islam's scrutiny exists a vast unaccounted number of Muslims who seek anonymity to escape the coercive notice of authorities in mosques and in presidential or monarchical palaces. Their voices, were they heard, would be rudely dismissed as heretical.

From its beginnings, institutionalized Islam's representatives hollowed out the spiritual content of Islam in the service of political expediency. The inevitable followed -- politics dressed in the robes of religion.

The faces of institutionalized Islam -- political leaders such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarak or religious leaders such as Lebanon's Hasan Nasrallah -- are revealing of what politics have done to faith.

Within the Arab Sunni world the Egyptian-born Sheikh Qaradawi, 80, of Qatar, is the face of institutionalized Islam. He is the closest to what might pass for a titular head of Muslims akin to the Pope. Qaradawi's words, now broadcast by television network al-Jazeerah, are taken as authoritative pronouncements of Islam. He is the "spiritual" leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement formed to repudiate freedom and democracy, and a defender of Islam's war against the West by any means, including suicide bombings.

For such representatives of institutionalized Islam, all things are political. They are the authoritative guardians of the ideology that in Islam religion and politics are inseparable, and jihad -- holy war -- is its defining aspect.

Hence, since this institutionalized Islam is at war with the West, for Coren or anyone else to expect an apology from its generals is rather naive.

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Salim Mansur is a professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario.

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