Professor discusses the truth about Islam
By WAVENEY ANN MOORE
Published November 8, 2006
Seyyed Hossein Nasr, professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University, will speak on "The Heart of Islam" on Thursday evening at Eckerd College.
During an interview this week, Nasr discussed Islam, misconceptions about the faith, its attitude toward other religions and the potential for harmony between radical Islam and the West.
Describe some misconceptions about Islam.
First of all, misconceptions in the West are very different from, say, in Japan and China. ... Islamophobia exists from the old days, when Islam, in a sense, encircled Western civilization. From that has come the following major misconceptions: First and foremost, that God could not have sent a religion after Christ and therefore Islam is some kind of a parody or diversion or falsehood.
Because Christianity is a religion whose central reality is Christ, people when they are trying to attack Islam, they try to attack the Prophet (Mohammed), thinking that he holds the same central position. So that in attacking him, they will attack the religion.
Do women have rights in Islam?
Women have remarkable rights according to Islamic law and according to the Koran. First, they are equal before the law.
Both men and women are special to God and both can go to paradise or the inferno. Women can work if they want, but the money is their own ... and women have the same rights as men in acquiring knowledge. ... There have been a lot of social customs which have prevented many of these Islamic rights from being fully practiced and have been blamed by Western critics on Islam itself.
One of the points that has often been brought up is women are forced to cover their heads, their bodies. ... This was not only an Islamic instruction, but Judaism and Christianity also did the same. What core values do Muslims, Jews and Christians share?
First of all, the belief in the one God ... and from that issues the very important point that this God is the one that has not only created the world, but also cares for the world. And that there's a direct relationship between God and human beings. Also, that we human beings do not only have an earthly life, but that life on earth is like a journey on a caravan, which prepares us for eternal life. And what we do in this world affects what happens to us after we leave this world.
What is Islam's teaching about Christians, Jews and other religions?
According to Islamic law, Muslims must protect the life and the wealth and also the religion of the Jews and Christians. They must allow them the freedom of practice of their religion. ... Every religion believes it is the best and Islam is no exception, but that doesn't mean there should be coercion in religion. ... During the last half century, fanaticism and bigotry have increased, both in the West among Christian fundamentalists and in the Islamic world. Today, you have a lot of Muslims who do not believe that present day Christians and Jews will go to heaven. But most do, because it is in the Koran, which says explicitly that those who do good works and follow the teachings of their religion will receive compensation from God. I am against that belief that Christians and Jews are not people of God.
What about Saudi Arabia, where freedom of religion isn't extended to non-Muslims?
Every religion has its own teachings about sacred areas, which are only for its followers. For example, it's like saying there are no mosques in the Vatican. ... In the Islamic world, the area around Mecca and Medina, according to tradition, God said that they are in essence preserved for Muslims alone. The fact that this area is bigger than the Vatican is only a historical matter. ... I've read oftentimes where people say we allow mosques in Western cities, when there are no churches in the Islamic world, which is totally false. There are a number of big churches in Cairo, Damascus, Beirut. In fact, there are churches in every Islamic city except in (Saudi Arabia).
Is there any hope that the animosity between radical Muslims and the West will lessen?
Yes, there is hope. As long as there are human beings, there is hope. But even from the logical point of view, if well-meaning people and thoughtful people in the West - which has more than 100 percent more military, political and economic power than radical Muslims - ask themselves the question: Why is it they're radical? Why is it there is this hatred? I think once you ask that question, then there will be an honest and logical answer. ...There is the cultural invasion and then the political problem, the Arab-Israeli problem.
I am one who believes there is hope, providing Jews, Christians and Muslims are willing to stand on common principles that unite them rather than on what one would call parochial and tribal differences, which separate them, and they do not seek to perform aggression against each other under any name, not even the name of God.
The Islamic faith
"The Heart of Islam" by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, professor of Islamic studies, George Washington University, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Fox Hall, Eckerd College, 4200 54th Ave. S, St. Petersburg. Call (727) 867-1166.
About Seyyed Hossein Nasr
Born in 1933, in Iran, Seyyed Hossein Nasr is considered one of the world's leading experts on Islamic science and spirituality. He is the professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University and author of more than 50 books and 500 articles. He earned bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.
If you go
The Heart of Islam by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, professor of Islamic studies, George Washington University, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, Fox Hall, Eckerd College, 4200 54th Ave. S, St. Petersburg. Call (727) 867-1166.
By the numbers
Muslims in Pinellas County, 10,000
Muslims in the United States, 7-million
Source: Council on American Islamic Relations
About Seyyed Hossein Nasr
Born in 1933, in Iran, Seyyed Hossein Nasr is considered one of the world's leading experts on Islamic science and spirituality. He is the University Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University and author of over 50 books and 500 articles. He earned bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.
[Last modified November 7, 2006, 21:23:11]
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