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The Struggle for the Soul of Islam in Cambridge By: Al Kaltman
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, December 28, 2006

Cambridge, England is justly famous for its university.  Founded in 1209, the University of Cambridge is one of the oldest universities in the world.  It has been a center of enlightenment and learning since its earliest days.  Erasmus, perhaps the most important scholar of the Renaissance in northern Europe, translated the Greek New Testament and wrote the textbooks that became the basis for the “new learning” while at Cambridge.  Milton, Harvey, Newton, Wordsworth, Byron, Tennyson, Darwin, Cavendish, Russell, Rutherford, Keynes, and Hawking among many others all contributed to Cambridge’s illustrious history.

In this bastion of liberal Western thought, it is not surprising that Timothy Winter, the Sheikh Zayed lecturer in Islamic Studies at Cambridge’s Wolfson College, is one of the most outspoken advocates for the creation of a European Islam.  He is one of a number of European Muslims who believe that Islam can be adapted to function harmoniously as one of many religions practiced within a secular society.  As a fellow academic, Tariq Ramadan, explained to Peter Ford of the Christian Science Monitor (“Europe’s Rising Class of Believers: Muslims,” February 24, 2005) "It is important for us as Muslims to be unambiguous that we respect the law and the secular framework." 


Winter and Ramadan believe that European Muslims have an opportunity to reinterpret their religious sources, and by so doing reshape their thinking and modernize their customs and practices, that is to move away from the fundamentalist Arab view of Islam to a 21st Century European view of Islam.  They believe the most important step on the path to a European Islam would be to change the attitude of Muslim men toward women.  As Ramadan explained, “Our experience in Europe has made it clear we must speak about equality.”


It must therefore be disheartening to men like Winter and Ramadan that in preparation for the upcoming Eid-ul-Adha holiday, Muslims living in Cambridge received the following instructions with respect to women attending prayer services.


Many women - may Allah guide them - go out uncovered, wearing make-up and perfume, flaunting their adornment, when there is such serious overcrowding in the mosques - the dangers of this situation are quite obvious. So those who are in charge must organize the `Eid prayers properly, by allocating separate doors and routes for women and delaying the men’s departure until the women have left…. If the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, had seen what has happened to women, he would have stopped them from going to the mosques... It is better if permission is given only to those women who are not going to look at men or be looked at, whose attendance will not lead to anything undesirable and who are not going to rub shoulders with men on the street or in the mosque. (i.e., women whose going out will not cause fitnah or temptation to her or to men).”


According to the Cambridge Muslims Online website, during the Eid prayer service, “the Imam must remind the community about its responsibilities and obligations towards Allah, fellow Muslims and the fellow human beings. The Imam must encourage the Muslims to do good and ward off evil. The Muslim community must also be directed to the state of the community and the Ummah at large and the feelings of sacrifice and Jihad should be aroused in the community.” 


The term “jihad” has various interpretations.  The meaning that the Cambridge Muslim website ascribes to it is found under the heading “Authenticity of the Qur’an” in an article written by Abdur-Raheem Green.  Mr. Green has been called an exponent of radical Islam, but a more accurate description would be that he is an orthodox Muslim. In that sense he can be likened to fundamentalist Christians and ultra-orthodox Jews.  


According to Green, the struggle between Islam and the West “is for one purpose only and that is to establish the religion of Islam in its totality.”  Green believes that the condition of Muslims today is that of self defense which he defines as “restricting the fight to ‘those who fight you’ (2:190), and releasing the lands of the Muslims from the control of their enemies.”  The final stage of jihad is that of “fighting in order to open the path for establishing Allah’s rule in the lands of the unbelievers, as was done by the Prophet’s companions and the Muslim rulers after them….  So this Jihad is the peak of the matter and fulfilling it is part of fulfilling the covenant with Allah, and abandoning it is the cause of humiliation and defeat for the Muslims.”


Green believes that those of us in the West misunderstand the basic nature of the conflict.  “So the matter of conflict between Islam and the West is not at all…factors such as geography, past enmities, culture clash and so on; nor is the Islamic Revival some search for identity, coupled with some sort of inferiority complex. To the believer the conflict is one of truth against falsehood, justice against oppression, the way to Paradise against the way to Hellfire, the perfection of Allah’s revealed way against the misguidance of human ignorance.”  


Green goes on to write that Westerners who believe they can reach some sort of compromise with Muslims are mistaken, and that Muslims and Westerners can never live peaceably with each other.  “The truth is that Islam teaches its followers to seek death on the battle field, that dying whilst fighting jihad is one of the surest ways to paradise and Allah’s good pleasure. It is as Khalid bin Waleed, whom the Prophet, peace be upon him, called the ‘Sword of Allah’ and hero of every good Muslim child, said in response to a Roman letter inviting him to surrender: ‘We have with us people who love death as you love wine.’ It was Ronald Reagan who quite rightly pointed out that: ‘How do you expect to defeat a people who believe that when you kill them they go to a paradise filled with beautiful virgins and rivers of wine?’ Whether the believer sees the result in his or her life time is irrelevant, for their duty is to carry on the jihad, and so be saved from Allah’s wrath in this life and the next…. The conflict will be there as long as there are those who stubbornly resist submission to their Lord and Creator. If all of this seems intransigent and fundamentalist that’s because IT IS. With Islam you are dealing with absolutes.”


Those European Muslims who like Professor Winter do not share Green’s apocalyptic vision believe they are engaged in a “struggle for the soul of Islam.”  According to Winter the Saudis and other Persian Gulf nations “spend tens of millions of pounds to ensure that the most fundamentalist form of Islam prevails in schools and bookshops. Liberal Islam - economically, culturally, and socially - is crying in the wilderness.”  If the Cambridge Muslims website is any indication, the soul of Islam is still firmly in fundamentalist hands.


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Al Kaltman served in the U.S. Air Force as a Chinese linguist. He holds a Ph.D. in political science from George Washington University, and is the author of Cigars, Whiskey and Winning: Leadership Lesson from General Ulysses S. Grant and The Genius of Robert E. Lee.

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