SEEKING PEACE AND DOING JUSTICE IN THE WORLD

The Seniors for Peace web page is organized around the broad understanding of peace issues as presented by people of mature years, many of whom have spent a life time in peace related work. The page contains essays and bibliography as well as pertinent links to other peace sites.

Dwight David Eisenhower, President of the United States, General of the Army, April 16, 1953:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the clouds of war, it is humanity hanging on a cross of iron.

Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, challenges Seniors succinctly:

" . . . the extended course of human life endows older people with invaluable knowledge, experience and wisdom—qualities that are worth harnessing, but which are instead all too often marginalized or allowed to lie dormant."

Martin Luther King, Jr:

"On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right? There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but one must do it because conscience (says) it is right."

SFP Essays and articles:
Other peace sites:
Peaceable books and bibliography

Contact president and top administrators via e-mail:

President George W. Bush, e-mail: president@whitehouse.gov

Vice President Dick Cheney,e-mail: vice.president@whitehouse.gov

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, e-mail: public@defenselink.mil

Secretary of State Colin Powell, e-mail: secretary@state.gov

US Senator's e-mail addresses and phone numbers

ISLAM: THE TRAUMA OF MODERNITY

by
Marlin Jeschke
Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies
Goshen College


It doesn't take long for anybody who follows the media today to notice that the Islamic world is in turmoil in its encounter with the modern West. It's clear that just about all countries in the Islamic world accept some modernity in the form of cars, telephones, and computers. At the same time they oppose much of what they see in the modern West. What is the cause of this turmoil, and, to raise a more difficult question, what might be a solution?

The first thing we have to notice is that the modern picture is a striking reversal of a historic one. When Islam began in the early six hundreds of the present era it experienced remarkable success in terms of geographical conquest and development. Within a century of Muhammad's death in 632 CE Islam had taken over the former Persian Empire, the whole eastern half of the Byzantine Empire, all of North Africa, and Spain. It developed the greatest Empire in the known world at the time, not only in its geographical extent but also in the sophistication of its culture and civilization. Historians wax eloquent in their descriptions of its glory and achievements. Children in Islamic schools are taught that there was once a great Islamic empire stretching from Spain to the Great Wall of China.

What most historians fail to notice, perhaps especially Muslim historians, is that Muslims inherited most of this great culture and civilization. It was not produced by the Arab Bedouins who came out of Mecca and Medina, even though they became the rulers of this Empire and made Islam the state religion. Islam admits, in fact, that before the time of Muhammad the Arabs of Mecca and Medina lived in an era of ignorance and barbarism (jahiliyya). Pre-Islamic Mecca and Medina were governed by tribal mores, not codes of law. But after conquering Byzantine and Persian territory they were quick learners and soon saw the value of availing themselves of the power of the Persian and Byzantine civilizations. The Umayyad caliphs of Damascus, for example, simply took over the existing political infrastructure of the Byzantine world and, unlike the first four caliphs in Medina, established a royal dynasty living in luxury, as did the Baghdad caliphs later.

The schools of law got formulated about two centuries after the time of Muhammad when the Islamic Empire felt the need of such codes, and the Byzantine and Persian law codes showed how it could be done. Modern Western observers would claim, though, that Islam did bring along much of pre-Islamic Arab culture -- for example, polygamy and the "dhimmi" system.

It did not take long until there were many converts from Christianity and Zoroastrianism who learned Arabic and became the leading thinkers in the Islamic world. The Abbasid caliphs of Baghdad actually set teams of translators to work, translating Greek classics into Arabic in order to mine the intellectual and cultural and technical treasures of Byzantine learning -- Greek medicine, astronomy, mathematics, and philosophy. The creation of the four schools of law in Sunni Islam was itself the result of Islam's encounter with the modernity of Byzantium and Persia. Islam made significant advances in some of these fields and showed good stewardship of this culture. It was through Arabic translations that Western scholars first discovered the classic Greek works, which later initiated the renaissance in Europe.

So the recent encounter of Islam with modernity is not its first. Islam's early conquest of eastern Byzantium and Persia was a case of Bedouin Arabs bumping up against a culture and civilization much more sophisticated than Meccan and Medinan society. It really was a big step for Arabian Islam to become imperial Islam. Most Muslims may not look upon Islam in its golden age as having borrowed. True, the borrowing was on the ruling Muslims’ terms. But borrow they did, and wholesale, even though Islam soon forgot that much of its civilization was borrowed. It's only human to forget something like that.

From the beginning Islam established a whole system of laws and practices to signify its superiority and to reinforce its power. One was the doctrine that Islam is the last and final revelation of God that corrected and superseded God's previous revelations to the Jews and Christians, revelations they did not preserve correctly but corrupted or falsified. And therefore these revelations had to be replaced by God's revelation of the Qur'an through Muhammad. Unlike Christians, who kept the Jewish Scriptures as part of their canon, Muslims did not accept the Jewish or Christian Scriptures as canonical. True, Jews and Christians were recognized as "people of the book" and were tolerated as dhimmis.
The word in Arabic means protected or covenanted, and Muslims often portray dhimmitude as benign. But it turned Christians and Jews for all practical purposes into second-class citizens.

Islam portrayed the world as divided into two realms, the world of Islam and the world of war, the world of war denoting that part of the globe Islam considered hostile, the enemy, or the territory not yet characterized by Islamic peace, but that hopefully would yet be brought under the rule of Islam, Islamic rule being defined as peace. Added to all that, Islam was and is a state religion. To the present hour Islamic writers consistently point out that Islam does not accept separation of church and state. According to Muslims, it is appropriate for Islamic faith to be privileged and for Islamic law to be imposed by the state, even if Islamic rulers are only a small minority of the population of a given territory, as they were at first.

Still another Islamic law prescribed the death penalty for conversion from Islam to Christianity.

Historians speak of the Abbasid Caliphate, roughly 750 to 1258, as the golden age of Islam, although by the end of that time the caliph had to some extent become a figurehead, with sultans and emirs, even rival caliphs, asserting de facto independence in areas such as Egypt and Spain. Some people may consider the crusades the first significant reverse Islam experienced at the hands of the West (not counting Charles Martel's halt to Islamic encroachment in southern France, where Martel turned back a plundering band of Muslims). As historians remind us, the crusades did not make much of an impact upon the corporate Islamic consciousness, given the nature of communication then. The crusades involved only the small area of Palestine, which was not an important center of Islam at the time, and the Frankish crusader presence did not last long. Crusader rule in Jerusalem was less than 100 years until the Kurdish general Salah-a-din (Saladin) defeated the crusaders and drove them out of Jerusalem back to the Mediterranean coast.

It is in modern times, since Islam's loss of power, that the crusades have become a militant symbol, and that for a couple of reasons. For modern Muslims the crusades are a convenient way to show what the Christian West is like, and what the designs and intentions of the Christian West are. But the crusades also reassure Muslims that the West can be defeated by a reassertion of Islamic power.

The Islamic world was shocked by the Mongol invasion under Genghis Khan and the sack of Baghdad and the execution of the caliph in 1258. Islam survived that shock because Mongols too encountered a superior civilization and converted to Islam. This pattern was repeated when the Turks accepted Islam and took over the leadership of the Islamic world, moving the Caliphate to Turkey.

The really shocking reverses came to Islam with the rise of the modern West. Except for some Mediterranean trade, the Islamic world did not take much of an interest in the developing modern West. Perhaps Islam was simply complacent. But it was rudely awakened--in different parts of the Islamic world at different times -- by Britain's takeover of India, Napoleon's invasion of Egypt, the British colonization of Iraq and Palestine and Egypt, and the French colonial occupation of Lebanon and Syria and much of North Africa. At the time of WW I Europe was startled to discover the weakness of Turkey, which till then it had respected as a significant power. After all, the Turks had captured Constantinople in 1453 and following that had pushed up through the Balkans and twice besieged Vienna, first in 1529 at the height of the Reformation, and again as late as 1683, when Vienna would most likely have fallen to the Turks except for its rescue by an army of the Polish King Sobieski.

In the last few centuries it was apparent that the West had outstripped the Islamic world in economic, military, scientific, technological, and industrial power, and the Islamic world had been left behind. It left Muslims asking two questions, as Bernard Lewis puts it in one of his recent books: Who did this to us? And where did we go wrong? It's always easy to blame somebody else, even if problems may be of our own making.

Why did the rise of modern science not take place in the Islamic world but in the West instead? It's a big subject, but let me offer a brief and simplified answer. Besides the danger of smugness or complacency that can overtake any civilization that's on top (including ours), which has happened to many world empires that have come and gone, Islam stressed the finality of its truth, that the revelation through Muhammad and the Qur'an was so final that it did not admit of, or need, any new truth.

Then too, Islamic scholars rejected some of the promising aspects of Greek philosophy such as Aristotle's interest in natural science. There were some Muslim philosophers called Mutazilites who bought into Aristotle's philosophy (Avicenna and Averroes), but they were opposed by the Ashariyya, or Asharites, who rejected the exploration of what we call natural or secondary causes and stressed rather the direct action of God in all that occurs in the world. You can see the implications. If someone is sick, do we look for natural causes such as germs, or do we accept it as an act of God? We shouldn't forget, of course, that Christian medieval civilization too ascribed events to God rather than to natural causes.

Finally, Islam discouraged the idea of new truth by the doctrine put forward under one of the later caliphs that the gates of ijtihad were closed. "Ijtihad" means interpretation. This pronouncement that the door to interpretation was closed was intended to preserve the unity of Islamic belief and of the Islamic world, but it insulated the Islamic mind from new truth. Both Sir Hamilton Gibb and Montgomery Watt, British experts on Islam, note a curious view that arose in the Islamic world, namely, that there was a fixed quantity of knowledge or truth in the universe, and the only question was how much of that any one scholar could master.

Why did science arise in the West? Again, it's too big a subject to go into here, but one reason surely is Christianity's eschatology, which did not see God's revelation in the Old Testament and in Jesus of Nazareth as final and closed, but only another stage of God’s salvation that was ongoing and would lead to new truth. Christian eschatology is not just belief in some future final judgment with no progress till then. Note the utopianism that developed in the Western world, beginning with Thomas Moore, in which one writer after another was ready to question traditional beliefs and entertain ideas about new systems of ethics, even new civilizations.

Another reason for the rise of science in the West was the acceptance of the secular.
By that I do not mean secularism, but rather the investigation of natural causes in the world. It is interesting to see how differently the West accepted Aristotle, which helped open the door to science at an accelerated pace.

We could mention also the profound effect of the Reformation. The claim that long-standing beliefs of the Catholic Church were wrong opened the door to the parallel suggestion that many of the old views in science should be questioned.

In the last half-century since World War II Islam has entered a new situation. Gone is colonialism (unless you want to point to Israel in Palestine and the US in Iraq). Still, many Muslims continue to feel daunted by the scientific and economic and military power of the Western world. Statistics about per capita income in Muslim countries is embarrassing. They feel their loss of status in the world all the more acutely because their religion still tells them that they possess the last and final revelation of God and that therefore Islam should be on top.

Islam's response to modernity could be described two ways.  One would be to trace two contrasting movements in recent times, modernism and fundamentalism. The modernist movement was not widespread, being centered chiefly in India and Egypt. Its pioneer in Egypt was a man called Afghani (1839-1897), but its most notable exponent was his successor Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905). Abduh eventually became head of the Azhar, Islam's premier University in Cairo, and also grand mufti of Egypt (that is, supreme jurist). In this latter connection he handed down some "fatwas," or rulings on the modern application of Islamic law.

The most important and most central proposal of the modernists was to reopen the "gates of ijtihad," that is, to reopen the door to new interpretation of Islamic thought. Modernists believed that developments in world history required some possibly far-reaching reinterpretation of Islamic thought and practice if Islam was to cope with modern global challenges. Today this conviction of the need to reopen the gates of ijtihad is pretty well accepted across the Islamic world. The modernist school of thought has not continued as a formal movement as such, but what its originators began has been continuing with increasing momentum among progressive Muslims everywhere.

For better or worse, what gained more visibility than modernism in the Islamic world, and in the West, was Islamic fundamentalism, which seems to have started with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the 1930s. That Brotherhood was suppressed by Nasser, then by Sadat, and is still held on a short leash by Mubarak. Whether because of Egyptian suppression or in spite of it, it has spread widely since. The basic tenet of fundamentalism is the demand for a return to pure Islam, if not the original Islam of the first four rightly guided caliphs, then the Islam of a fully developed Shari’a, that is a return to Islam's golden age when Islam was a world empire.

Now, there's absolutely nothing that hinders any Islamic country from returning to an earlier form of Islam. The fact that Islamic countries don't do it shows that the overwhelming majority of Muslims recognize that they cannot or do not want to go back to some primitive Islam. Modernity has opened the doors to all kinds of new things, not only technological gadgets but modern education and the prospect of freedoms and economic betterment. And therefore the problem is not whether to change, but what to change, and how much, and how to justify it.

It is not clear just how a fundamentalist restoration of a pristine Islam would return it to its former glory as a world empire. Christianity too has had its proponents of a return to apostolic Christianity, but these cannot escape the forces of history. History moves in only one direction, and a faith that will not just survive but adequately serve its adherents today and tomorrow cannot merely cling to a golden age of the past but must reinterpret its faith to meet new historical situations.

Another way of describing the Islamic world's response to modernity is to lift up, perhaps a little arbitrarily, four areas in which it has worked at change. I will discuss these in order from things most unhesitatingly accepted to things most problematic: the four are technology, education, democracy, and law, Shari’a.

First, nothing is more obvious today than that the Islamic world is modernizing totally uncritically in technology. Several centuries ago those Muslims who first encountered Gutenberg's invention (printing) rejected it. And "an Ottoman Muslim jurist, Mufti Shihabuddin Alusi [who lived in the last part of the 1700s and first half of the 1800s] was reluctant to allow the use of firearms" by the Turkish army ("Islam, Modernity and Society," by Muhammad Khalid Masud). But it didn't take Turkey long to seek military equipment and instruction from the West. Today, from cameras to telephones to automobiles to radios to airplanes to television to computers, behind which, of course, is general electrification--not to mention modern medicine and agriculture--Muslims can't buy into these fast enough.

And then there’s the military. Do you know of a single Islamic country that does not use modern western style uniforms along with Western weaponry? Civilian clothes too. Except for traditional Arab garb worn by the Saudi oligarchy and a few others in Arab societies, male attire in the Islamic world is Western. If women's external garb may not be Western, what they wear underneath it is. Just look at lingerie shops in many Muslim countries. Even where people's attire may be traditional, its manufacture is by modern textile mills invented in the West.

A great deal of Islamic modernization is therefore an undiscriminating acceptance of modern technology. While many Muslims may be vaguely aware that all this technology is being borrowed from the West, too few ponder the philosophical and historical questions of what the underlying meaning of this is, what the ethos of modernity is that gives it these scientific and technological advances that Muslims want. You can buy cars and computers and even hospitals, as many Islamic societies do, especially if they have oil money. But you can't buy the ethos that produces them. Accepting the mentality that lies behind technology and that produces it is a much more complicated thing.

A second way the Islamic world is responding to modernity is in education. Well into modern times schools in most Islamic countries perpetuated the classic system of the madressa, with curriculums teaching memorization of the Qur'an and the study of Islamic law and the traditions about Muhammad (the Hadith). Under the impact of modernity, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan started a modern kind of University in India in 1875, which in 1920 became Aligarh University. In the early 1900s the Azhar in Egypt introduced courses in the modern sciences. Presbyterian missions established the American University in Beirut, the American University in Cairo, and the American school in Teheran. (Nasser's daughter graduated from the American University in Cairo.) The American University in Beirut especially has become the Harvard of the Middle East.

Third, democracy. While most Muslims uncritically accept modern technology and more cautiously modernized education, they are even more hesitant in their appropriation of another modern institution, democracy. Muslims have accepted some transliterated form of that word in their languages. But except for Turkey, most Islamic countries don't want a secular democracy that involves separation of church and state.

It's curious, almost amusing, how Muslims go about assessing democracy. Many writers claim Islam already has all the ingredients for democracy in its own tradition and that it therefore doesn't really need to borrow anything from the West. For example, Muhammad once counseled his followers to engage in "shura," consultation, and said all human beings have the responsibility of "khalifah," being representatives of God on earth. And, one of the sources of classic Islamic law is "ijma," which means consensus, and all Islamic societies today are again open to "ijtihad," that is, interpretation. Therefore, say some Muslims, if Islam would merely put together these four values from their own tradition they would already have democracy. Why they haven't done it by this time is another question. Incidentally, when Muslims today talk about wanting democratic freedoms, usually freedom of religion is unfortunately left out of the discussion.

It should be clear that for Muslim countries to adopt democracy would mean more than some military regime scheduling popular elections. It would require a new mentality among enough people in the populace to make it work. That means shifting from reliance upon external coercion to influencing people's thinking by persuasion. That spells voluntarism, and voluntarism in politics calls for voluntarism in religion. Genuine democracy means also, of course, renunciation of the whole doctrine and practice of the "dhimmi" status of non-Muslims.

I think it is safe to say that change in the Islamic world toward democratic modernity will not be achieved by coercion but only by evolution. We of the democratic West do well to remember that it took Christianity well over a millennium to finally even begin to develop democratic societies. For hundreds of years the West too lived under the autocratic rule of lords and kings and emperors who imposed state religion. The Christian West then went through its painful experience of the Enlightenment, a movement still denigrated by many Christians. Yet the Enlightenment too was itself a product of Christianity and, whatever excesses it produced in the way of skepticism and secularism, it forced serious Christians to move into new understandings of the faith. The central principle of the Enlightenment was "reason," which signified the importance of shaping human beliefs by persuasion.

At present too many Islamic societies are dominated by clerics, but here and there Muslims are recognizing that the clerics do not have the education and knowledge to lead their society into the modern world. In some places clerics are getting replaced by academics equipped with modern education and skills to tackle the tough administrative jobs needed to make corporations a success, says one writer. Clerics are not equipped to administer an educational system that meets contemporary needs. They don't have the skills in economics needed to guide their country in a new world of international finance.

It's a pity that much of Islam's resistance to even good modernization is caused by the US. I'm not just talking about resistance to change generated by external force.
Incidentally, how open to change would America be if someone invaded us and tried to force a new political system upon us? Iran, for example, was changing and had a democratically elected prime minister and was on the road to becoming a modern nation politically when the CIA helped to depose its prime minister Mossadegh in 1953 and replace him with the dictatorial Shah (incidentally, Mossadegh had a doctorate from Neuchatel University in Switzerland). That was a major factor leading to the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini, the Iranian revolution, and the hostage crisis, to which we responded with support for Saddam Hussein's war against Iran.

It would also be helpful if Americans, for example, would not expect Islamic countries to simply copy our American system of government. To hear some Americans talk, you would think America had invented democracy, when actually the US has lagged behind other nations in freeing slaves, giving the franchise to women, and disengaging the vote from ownership of property. One of the misfortunes of the modern West is that it suffers in one way from exactly the same mentality that held back the progress of Islam for so many centuries and still does today -- the belief that American democracy as a system can’t be improved upon.

There is one feature of the modern West that most Westerners just take for granted and never stop to question. One Muslim writer I read questioned it. It is the assumption that the independent nation state is the highest form of human existence. Actually modern nationalism replaced the Holy Roman Empire, which was predicated upon the view that the Christian world should be one. Today nationalism is practically a dogma -- and a disease -- the view that national self-interest, national security, patriotism, and the flag are unquestionable. If we Christians stop to think about it, narrow minded nationalism violates one of the deepest convictions of Christianity: that there is one human family living under the rule of God, and that political organization should reflect that understanding and serve the interests of all of humanity.

Islam too has its doctrine of the Umma, the world community of Islam that it believes should be one. That is still Islam's highest ideal, reflected in the hajj, the pilgrimage, when Muslims from around the world come to Mecca, everyone clad in white robes.
And yet modern Islam too has bought into the nationalism of Western modernity in the wake of colonialism, which left a patchwork of nations where there used to be one Islamic world.

Fourth, Islamic law. Shari’a is the most contentious issue in Islam's encounter with modernity. Unlike the Christian West's fixation upon orthodox doctrine or upon experience (being born again) Islam stresses law and social ethics. Where American society emphasizes rights, Islam emphasizes duties.

Under the impact of modernity, many Islamic societies around the world today believe, not quite correctly, that until the impact of modernity they lived under Islamic law. The truth is that just about all Islamic societies had political rulers who saw the need to supplement Islamic law because that law was not adequate for changing circumstances. That process has only accelerated with the advent of modernity. Western colonial powers at first imposed western laws upon Islamic societies -- the British in India and Egypt, the French in Syria and Lebanon and North Africa, the Dutch in Indonesia. When the colonial powers left, these countries continued to run by many of the new laws left behind by the departing colonial powers, so that today just about all Islamic states have a dual system -- a criminal code, for example, banking laws, and laws regarding education---that function alongside old Islamic marriage and inheritance laws.

Even in the matter of marriage Islamic governments have drawn up new laws, rationalizing, of course, that they are consistent with historic Shari’a. For example, Egypt has a law about marriage that says a wife can stipulate in the marriage contract that there will be no second wife unless she is barren or ill and thus cannot bear children or satisfy her husband's sexual needs, in which case she can then give her husband permission to take a second wife. It is no longer simply a man's right to take a second wife. It's clear then that Islamic societies/countries did not simply revert to classic Islamic law when the colonial powers left, both because they found Shari’a inadequate for the modern world and because they found some of the new laws very helpful.

The really big issues are those beliefs and practices of Islam reflected in Islamic law, some still very much in effect, others not actually practiced anymore, but still beliefs or prejudices that cast their long shadow in any Islamic society and register their influence in popular behavior. Central to them all is the doctrine of Islam as a state religion. This gives Islam the right, of course, to then prescribe other laws to Islam’s advantage. For example, a Muslim man can marry a non-Muslim woman, but a Muslim woman cannot marry a non-Muslim man.

More serious is the prescription of execution for apostasy, which in Islam means the right to execute any Muslim who converts to another faith such as Christianity. The original situation from which this law was derived was Muhammad's invitation to kill those Meccans who pretended to convert to Islam but then reneged when it appeared that they could defeat Muhammad and the people of Medina. There were four wars between Mecca and Medina in the final ten years of Muhammad's life. Mecca won two and Medina won two—the decisive two, it turned out. In the alternating fortunes of the conflict some Meccans feigned conversion, then reneged, depending upon which side appeared to be winning. Muhammad’s original order to kill was directed against those Meccan hypocrites, and it is a mistake to apply it to persons who sincerely convert from Islam to another faith. Some liberal Muslims today admit this, but as you can see, it is an entirely different matter to persuade 100 million Pakistanis or 15 million Saudis to change their understanding of this centuries-old dogma.

At the very foundation of Islam, and behind everything else Islam believes or does, is the claim present already in the earliest stages of Islam in Mecca, that the Qur'an was given to Muhammad word for word through the angel Gabriel. In the course of its history Islamic scholars developed the tenet that there is a golden Arabic Qur'an in heaven coeternal with God.

It wouldn't hurt to remember that even until recent times many Christians also held the view that the very words of the Bible were given by God to prophets and apostles. If modernity required us to change our views on this, it may be possible for Muslims
too--if the doors to reinterpretation of the Qur’an and Islamic law get truly reopened. As modern Christian experience illustrates, this takes time.

Besides the four things I mentioned -- technology, education, democracy, and the rethinking of Islamic law -- recent years have witnessed a very practical development.
Modern economic opportunity and democratic freedoms have drawn many Muslims to the West, where they face an unprecedented situation. Some are students in Western universities who are influenced by what they experience both in the classroom and outside of it. Many of them really like what they discover. Some want to stay in the West. Others want to take back to their home countries some of the best features of Western culture, with limited success.

And then there are the millions of immigrants to the West (an estimated 4,000,000 in the U.S.) who face new challenges. On the one hand they find themselves in the situation Christians have been in for centuries within Islamic societies -- perhaps to some extent disadvantaged, definitely perceived so. On the other hand they see an entirely new picture, namely, Western pluralism, total freedom of religion, and equality before the law. And the right to teach in our universities and practice medicine in our hospitals.  
Many of them like it and wouldn't want to go back to the state religion and Shari’a of the country of their origin. Some are challenged by their minority status and become more devout Muslims than they (or their ancestors) were before immigration. Some see their immigration as infiltration, hoping that non-Islamic lands may sooner or later come under the rule of Islam.

Historic Islam developed the view that a Muslim should not live under a non-Islamic government. But in recent years some Islamic clerics have ruled (handed down a "fatwa") that it is permissible for a Muslim to live under a non--Islamic government, provided such a person works for the furtherance of Islam. Remember that Islamic thinking is very territorial. It's a doctrine of Islam that once it rules a given piece of turf, that territory should never revert to non--Islamic control. That is one of the reasons (not the only one, of course) that Israel is such a thorn in the side of Islam. Spain and the Balkans and India too were once under Islamic rule and, according to Muslims, should revert to Islamic control again.

I am persuaded that modern pluralism can't but influence Islam, not just the pluralism of millions of Muslims living in the West, who are in communication with friends and relatives back home. I'm talking also about the new pluralism of radio, TV, and the Internet that has jumped over so many barriers, including state boundaries.

The big question in the Islamic world's coming to terms with modernity is not whether it will, but how and when. Much will depend upon how much the West hinders or helps it in its current intellectual struggle. There may be something profoundly useful in Islam's hesitation in not wanting to move too precipitously, in evaluating and adapting features of the modern West with care. There's no question that Islamic societies will continue to borrow from modern science and technology, especially the natural sciences. It is also clear that they are already accepting quite a bit of Western social science. (The professor who was our guide in Iran got his master's degree in counseling from McGill University in Montreal and now teaches that new academic field of study in Qom.) The question is whether they will open themselves to unfettered research in the world of history and theology, the kind of study that examines the historical causes of Muhammad's revelations and of Islam's development, the kind of historical critical study that has given Christianity so much profound new understanding of the Bible and of Western history.

I am inclined to expect that an Enlightenment will overtake also the Islamic world. It really has already begun. How long will it take? Well, how long did it take the West?
The appropriate thing for us Westerners to do is to be sympathetic, to not try to dictate where Islam should come out, but especially to try to avoid presenting unsavory and even repugnant images of Western civilization (in our entertainment, for example) and to give the Islamic world time to come to terms with modernity. Along with that it behooves us to engage in a rigorous critique of modernity ourselves, because it is undeniable that the modern Western world has hatched a good many evils -- military violence, pornography, economic greed, the breakdown of family life, violence on television and in the movies, and harm to the environment.

After we have critiqued our modern Western civilization and culture we owe it to ourselves and the world to have confidence that the best in modernity will commend itself to the Islamic world without the need of force or coercion. Above all, we can trust that the God of history is still in control and will guide history to its appointed goal.



Marlin Jeschke, is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Goshen College.

*This lecture was given at the Goshen College Afternoon Sabbatical on March 15, 2005.  It is not for distribution or duplication without the permission of the author.


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Additional SFP Essays

CHRISTIANITY AND ISLAM: SOME REFLECTIONS, by Marlin Jeschke, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Goshen College, Goshen, IN

THE PEACE WITNESS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE, by Marlin Jeschke, Emeritus Professor Philosophy and Religious Studies at Goshen College, Goshen, IN. Article first published in "A Peace Reader," edited by E. Morris Sider and Luke Keefer, Jr., Copyright Evangel Publishing House, 2002

THE TRUTH WILL EMERGE, by US Senator Robert Byrd Senate Floor Remarks - May 21, 2003.

THE WAR PRAYER, by Mark Twain

NEVER GIVE UP, an exhortation by H.H. The XIV Dalai Lama to stay steadfast in spirit and work for the good of all people everywhere.

TERRORISM AND NON-VIOLENCE, a convocation address given by Professor David C. Cortright on Wednesday, September 12, 2001. David Cortright is with the Fourth Freedom Forum and is also Associate Professor of Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies (Parttime) at Goshen College.

PEACE--SECURITY AND JUSTICE: A Message From The Psalms, by James Waltner, retired pastor of College Mennonite Church, Goshen, Indiana, presently serves as Interim President of Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries, Elkhart. He is writing a commentary on the Psalms for the Believers Church Bible Commentary project.

THE DEATH PENALTY AND THE BIBLE, From Law as Retribution to Law as Covenant Love. An article by Millard C. Lind, Emeritus Professor of Old Testament at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary. © Millard C. Lind. Not to be duplicated or distributed without the author's permission.

SFP will continue to publish essays relevant to peace and justice. Watch this insert for updates. Those interested in contributing essays, contact John Fisher, johnjf@goshen.eduÝ

 

Articles previously published by Seniors for Peace may be accessed on the ARCHIVES page.

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PEACEABLE BOOKS TO LEARN FROM AND LIVE BY
-J. R. Burkholder, April 2000

Let's talk a bit about books- we'll call them peaceable books, a list of readings that will enable us to do a bit more than dream of peace or just wish for peace. Books that I find important must fulfill at least one of three purposes; the first is providing food for thought and understanding; that is, the necessary foundations in theology and history. Other peaceable books are like tools; they help us learn the skills and techniques for action as peacemakers. And still others, perhaps most significant, are those sources of motivation and inspiration that enable us to do what needs to be done.

By necessity, this is not a comprehensive catalog, but rather an incomplete and arbitrary checklist from a personal perspective, in response to a request to make some suggestions for books for church libraries or gifts for special people. So I'll begin with books that I think of as essential for Christian peacethinkers on the edge of the new century, some titles that are fairly new and others more classic. Then there are the "maybes," determined more by taste or special interest. The alphabetical (by author) list is found at the end of this discussion.

If you could add only one book to your collection now, the "must" is Walter Wink's THE POWERS THAT BE. Here is a brightly-written survey of biblical theology that is as concerned with justice as with salvation, yet as relevant for our spiritual selves as for our political lives. Summing up some thirty years of Wink's trailblazing work, this book elaborates Jesus' nonviolent ethic in the context of a comprehensive worldview oriented to God's future. It is required reading for pastors and teachers and all interested adults.

For further biblical orientation, two older books that have been tested by years of use are still in print. Don Kraybill's UPSIDE-DOWN KINGDOM won an award when it first appeared over twenty years ago. Revised in 1990, it continues to highlight the call to discipleship and the way of the cross. WAR AND PEACE by Vernard Eller appeared first under another title in 1973, addressed to the Vietnam era, but was rewritten as an overview, from Genesis to Revelation, of the suffering servant theme.

Stories of peaceable people are most important tools for passing on the faith. Not just every church library, but every Christian home, ought to have available two books written primarily for children, but which offer inspiration for all ages. I refer, of course, to Bauman's COALS OF FIRE and Lehn's PEACE BE WITH YOU.

Another area of reading combines storytelling with insight and analysis. John Paul Lederach has summed up his learnings from years of international mediation work in THE JOURNEY TOWARD RECONCILIATION. His accounts of significant activity in situations of conflict are complemented by biblical and theological reflection. Glen Stassen's JUST PEACEMAKING also connects provocative biblical commentary with contemporary events at the end of the Cold War. His "transforming initiatives" represent a very practical application of the peacemaking strategies found in the Sermon on the Mount. (Don't confuse this 1992 book with a more recent similar title, edited by Stassen, in which ten scholars present politically-oriented applications of similar concepts; that book is more for specialists.)

Finally, my basic list includes two other books that can make vital contributions to spiritual growth. JOURNEY INTO COMPASSION by Jim McGinnis is best introduced by its subtitle: "A Spirituality for the Long Haul." The author invites the reader to join in a retreat experience that ranges from contemplative prayer to acts of nonviolent resistance.

John Alexander, for decades associated with The Other Side magazine, combines contemporary cultural analysis with biblical, theological, historical and philosophical insights dedicated to reclaiming Christian depth in the face of the pervasive SECULAR SQUEEZE. Although grounded in serious scholarship, Alexander writes simply, clearly, and graced with humor.

Now just a few words about some other books, the "maybes," that appear below. The selections other than those mentioned above are all from the past decade. Scholars and historians should give attention to Bailie, Cahill, Hawkley-Juhnke, Driedger-Kraybill and Wehr-Burgess, and of course the Yoders, both John and Perry. Teachers of children and youth will profit from Landis and Steiner. The titles from Jones, Shriver, Tutu and Volf reflect a timely interest in the challenge of forgiveness, especially in relation to enemies. Clapp and Kraus deal primarily with the mission of the church, but with a Christian pacifist perspective.

As I move to bring this series of book blurbs to a close, I'm aware again of all the gaps. There's nothing by or about Martin Luther King, Jr., the most significant exemplar of Christian nonviolence in this generation. And nothing about the very important related areas of economic and restorative justice. But enough for now.

Bibliography:

Seniors For Peace Groups express their commitment to peace and justice, deriving personal strength and mutual accountability from their fellowship. To avoid organizational burdens, each group remains autonomous and free to shape its own identity and modes of action:

AN OPEN INVITATION FOR SENIORS TO BECOME A PART OF THE SFP MOVEMENT:

The way to begin is simply to gather like-minded Seniors in the community or congregations and get started. New SFP groups in their formative stages may be in touch with the Seniors For Peace Coordinating Committee, 1900 South Main Street, Goshen, IN 46526-5218. Phone: (219) 535-7053. FAX: (219) 535-7165. E-mail: peacecenter@collegemennonite.org

Comments about this site or requests for more information about SFP may be e-mailed to: J.B. Shenk, jacobbs@goshen.edu

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Updated: 7/22/05

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