Muslim scholar laments Islamic politicization
The Bangladeshi university professor has little hope for political stability coming soon to Iraq.
By WAVENEY ANN MOORE
Published October 16, 2005
ST. PETERSBURG - Fulbright scholar Ataur Rahman says he understands the American government's actions in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and that he is angry at those who used his religion to justify violence.
Rahman also says, however, that the American government should be more measured in responding to perceived threats.
These will be some of the points he will raise during a talk, "Politics and Islam: One Scholar's View," Wednesday at Eckerd College.
A professor of political science at the University of Dhaka, in Bangladesh, Rahman is on a six-week visit to Eckerd College as part of a program that aims to promote understanding of the Muslim world. During his stay, he will speak to civic organizations, including the Rotary Club of St. Petersburg, and the faculty at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, which owns the St. Petersburg Times.
In an interview at Eckerd College, Rahman, 57, talked about the evolution of the radical Wahhabi form of Islam in Saudi Arabia, its role in politics in that country and its spread to places such as Egypt, Algeria and Iran.
Islam, he said, initially was used as a weapon against colonialists and later to unseat unjust rulers. For example, Rahman said, religion was used by the fundamentalist Islamic clerics who inspired the 1979 Iranian revolution.
"Democracy should have taken root in Muslim countries earlier," Rahman said, adding that he holds little hope "in the short term" for political stability in Iraq.
Sept. 11 was a culmination of "longstanding anger" by radical Muslims, he said. Now is a time for healing, the visiting professor said. America must work to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim world, he said.
Stereotyping "is counterproductive," Rahman said, emphasizing that Muslims are not a monolithic group.
It is the responsibility of Muslim scholars like himself to "build bridges and understanding about Islam and its followers," he said. "Islam as a religion is not responsible for terrorism. It's a section of people who politicize Islam, who radicalize Islam for their wrong perception and narrow interests. ... We need to create trust if America is to handle this category of Muslim who can come from any part of the world."
During last week's interview, Rahman also spoke about what he said are misconceptions about the role of women in Muslim society. Islamic teachings dictate that women are to be treated with respect and equality, he said. Syria, a Muslim country, was the first nation to give women the right to vote, said Rahman, who is married and is the father of a daughter and two sons.
American educated, the Bangladeshi professor was last in the United States in 2000. He still finds Americans liberal and tolerant, he said, but notices they have become more interested in Muslims, "what they believe, what they do, and what they think."
That's unlike the way it was in the 1970s, when he was studying for his master's and doctorate degrees in political science at the University of Chicago, Rahman said. "Nobody asked what kind of religion you belonged to. They asked where you came from."
Rahman's visit to St. Petersburg is part of a Fulbright visiting specialists program administered by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars. The agency has helped to administer the Fulbright Scholar program, a U.S. government academic exchange effort, for over 50 years.
Rahman was a senior Fulbright scholar at George Washington University and head of training and research at the United Nations University/Leadership Academy in Amman, Jordan.IF YOU GO
Fulbright scholar Ataur Rahman will talk about "Politics and Islam: One Scholar's View," 7 p.m., Wednesday, in Miller Auditorium, Eckerd College, 4200 54th Ave. S, St. Petersburg. Free.