Islam and Contemporary Civilisation

Clash of Civilizations
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The main consequence of such misrepresentation, to which many contemporary Muslims have contributed through their own lack of critical intellectual examination or intolerance, is that Islam is too often perceived in Europe as incompatible with the principles which are at the basis of modern European society which is essentially secular and democratic and of European ethics human rights and freedom of expression. While this incompatibility certainly does exist, as between Islamic fundamentalism and the cultural and ethical principles which the Council of Europe upholds, for example in regard to the treatment of women and respect for freedom of expression, it is not representative of Islam as a whole.

It must be recognised that intolerance and distrust unfortunately exist on both sides, Islamic and non-Islamic. The Assembly is aware of this situation, of the need for a better knowledge of the past so as better to understand the present and prepare the future, and of the valuable contribution that Islamic values can make to the quality of life through a renewed European approach on an overall basis to the cultural, economic, scientific and social fields.

Greater attention moreover should be given to co-operation with the Islamic world. The Council of Europe has already done a considerable amount of work on intercultural understanding and this should be further developed with specific reference to Islamic culture. Further co-operation should be sought with non-governmental institutions and organisations in this field, such as the Western Institute for Islamic Culture in Madrid, the Paris Institute for the Arab World and others.

The Assembly therefore recommends that the Committee of Ministers find room for consideration of the Islamic world in the intergovernmental programme of activities of the Council of Europe and in its recommendations to the governments of member states. The following measures are proposed: In the field of education :In the field of education A balanced and objective account of the history of Islam should be included in education curricula and textbooks along the lines of the international research project: "Islam in textbooks".

Freedom of religion includes Islam too

There should be wider provision for the teaching of Arabic as a modern language in European schools. Scientific research on Islamic matters should be encouraged, inter alia, by increasing the number of Arabic and Islamic professorial posts in universities. Islam should also be included in mainstream studies, for example Islamic history should be taught in history departments, Islamic philosophy in philosophy departments and Islamic law in law departments, and should not be relegated, as is often the case, to oriental language departments.

Griffith Experts

Similarly, in theology courses, a comparative approach should be encouraged, including Islamic, Christian and Jewish studies. An integrated teaching approach should be adopted to specific areas such as the Mediterranean basin, including studies on religion, philosophy, literature and history. Student and teacher exchanges should be set up and developed within a framework of university co-operation between Europe and the Islamic world, along the lines of Recommendation on the creation of a Euro-Arab University.

In the field of the media. The production, co-production and broadcasting of radio and television programmes on Islamic culture are to be encouraged. In the field of culture. Places of cultural and intellectual expression are needed for immigrants from the Islamic world. The development of their own culture, however, should not entail their isolation from the society and culture of the host country.

Cultural itineraries of the Islamic world inside or outside Europe and cultural exchanges, exhibitions, conferences and publications in the fields of art, music and history should be encouraged. Museums have an important role to play in this respect. Selected Islamic works, classic and modern, should be translated and published in a manner more conducive to greater understanding in Western society. Administrative questions and everyday life. I should qualify that by saying that that the AKP doesn't regard itself as Islamist or Islamic in any way of course, that would be a violation of the Constitution in Turkey.

It regards itself rather as a conservative democratic party. Halim Rane : Absolutely, yes.

With the PKS, one of the challenges they're facing at the moment is their capacity building, They've been surprised by the level of success they've had at elections, and so they're taking a 'steady as we go' approach, and trying to build a more solid foundation. They actually have a MOU. And now they've moved into the -- they've become a political party. But you can see them to be quite distinct from the earlier Islamically-oriented political parties in Indonesia, in that this party doesn't advocate the formation of an Islamic state.

But rather what they say is that an Islamic state is one where people should have their rights. There should be opposition to corruption, there should be a fairer distribution of wealth, we should seek to eradicate poverty. Halim Rane : Right. We should respect human rights and those things that we would value in a Western context.

Geraldine Doogue : So in terms of -- do you think people in Australia for instance, Muslims in Australia that you've looked at, as well as of course, around the world, is there a new type of Muslim politician emerging in your view, in this second generation, that there are real patterns you can detect, or is it all just too diffuse yet?

Halim Rane : Yes, I think that the new pattern is that the new Muslim politician is more in touch with reality.

Supporting Information

Between these two groups there is now a third, whose number is increasing, which sees a possibility for reconciliation between modern life and the old religion. Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik self-identified as Christian but does not represent devout Christians any more than violent jihadists represent observant Muslims. Christianity has passed through this phase and the contradictions between the sacred and the profane were resolved by separating the Church from the State during the period of renaissance and reformation. In recent times there have been two parties amongst the Muslims: one maintaining that religion should be sacrificed for the sake of modernization, and the other that modernization should be sacrificed for the sake of religion. Ahmad Ameen went even further, claiming that only fifty verses of the Koran and seventeen Traditions of the Prophet were really concerned with law.

If you take the case of Indonesia, the mood is quite secular. And so what the second generation has done is come to a middle position. One that is appealing to the broadest cross-section of society. It's advocating policies that meet the needs and expectations of Muslims and non-Muslims alike, and the way this is being done, and the way they've been able to maintain Islamic legitimacy is to change the discourse and the way that the Qur'an, for example, is approached. And this is another major distinction between the first generation and the second generation.

The first generation advocated a more literal approach to the Qur'an and Islamic sacred scripture, whereas with the second generation, they have more of what I call a maqasid -oriented approach. The maqasid is an Arabic word that means 'higher objectives, intent, or purpose', and so rather than approaching a text like the Qur'an for a very literal perspective, the Qur'an is approached in terms of context, the context in which verses were written, the social-political and historical context, and also looking at these verses in terms of what was their purpose, what was their objective.

And so when all of these factors are taken into consideration, it's recognised that what Islam really was meant to be about was establishing a just and ethically based social order, and when parties like the AKP in Turkey, and the PKS in Indonesia, and the PKR in Malaysia assessed the history of Islamically-oriented political parties, they noticed that those parties and governments that came to implement shariah law, really didn't meet the basic needs and aspirations of people.

There was still widespread poverty, there was still widespread corruption, there was a lack of human rights, and the demand of the people was that they would have more freedom, they would have more of a say in the running of their country, that there would be more equitable distribution of wealth, there would be less corruption and so on.

And so it's through a maqasid , this higher objective and its contextual approach to Qur'anic interpretation that these parties have been able to reconcile the two. Geraldine Doogue : Well it's terribly interesting because of course it implies that they are free to think this very interesting new interpretative, or throw a new interpretative light on the Qur'an. That means the role of the mullahs and the religious establishment is -- and it's a question for you, does that mean that slightly less or disproportionately less in places where this has occurred?

Halim Rane : It's actually interesting, that it's not really the ulama or the mullahs or this religious class that are most heavily involved in this -- well I have to qualify that term 'new approach' as well, but I'll come to that. It's really a new generation of educated Muslims that are most embracing of this particular approach, rather than the traditionally educated, scholarly class. If I just had to comment about that point about 'new'. It's not actually a new approach, the maqasid -oriented approach was actually developed in the 14th century, and you had a number of scholars at that time come up with this particular perspective, it's more of a philosophy of Islamic law.

Islam Past and Present

You had people like Ibn Taymiyyah in Damascus and you had people like Abu Ishaq al-Shatibi in Muslim Spain, who developed this approach based on these higher objectives, to move away from this literal approach and the reasons were very interesting. There was major social, political and economic turmoil in the Muslim world in the 13th century.

One example is that you had the sacking of Baghdad by the Mongols, you know, completely destroying that very advanced city at that time. And so by the 14th century you have some political stability again, but it's a time where scholars were then reflecting on what had happened and how the world had changed. And it's quite interesting to note that it's now in the 21st century that you have Muslim intellectuals engaging in the same activity.

There was major turmoil for Muslims in the 20th century, you had in the 19th and 20th century, you had colonial rule, Muslims became newly independent from colonial rule and you had by the middle of the 20th century, you had the formation of the modern Muslim nation-states, that struggled a lot with various social, political and economic problems, and it's only with the turn of the century that many of these countries are starting to get on a steady footing, and so it's at this time you see a gravitation more towards this maqasid oriented approach.

What sort of advice do they want from the Labor Party?

Islam and Contemporary Civilisation

I've never discussed it with any people within the Labor Party, but my understanding is that what they want is assistance with capacity building, on how to govern. That's the idea. Part of this emerging trend in the Muslim world is really to not continue to see the West in adversarial terms, but to start to recognise that the Western world has developed superior systems and institutions that the wider world can learn from and benefit from, and that's the realisation of the second generation Islamist political parties, that the Western world has developed these systems and institutions that are beneficial to their own people.

Geraldine Doogue : Well Dr Rane, this is very interesting research. Thank you very much indeed for joining us. Geraldine Doogue : And Dr Rane is deputy director of the Griffith Islamic Research Unit, and his most recent book Islam and Contemporary Civilisation: Evolving Ideas; Transforming Relations is a Melbourne University Press publication, published this week and look out for further research that he's undertaking as well, and we'll keep you up to date with him.

Add your comment. Hi Geraldine and team, That was an extremely interesting and informative interview with Dr Rane. Thank you! The points he made are similar to what I have been reading in books by Karen Armstrong, but he was able to condense and express it so well in your interview. The worst is so often assumed of Islam and the "Muslim world" and unfortunately not many scholarly voices such as Dr Rane's are heard. The sound bites related to the Middle East in the media are usually so scathing of Islam, even if it is by inference.

I have recently received an email from a friend that is apparently being passed like a chain letter around the world warning people about Islam and sharia law.

It reminds me of the propaganda that must have been used against Jewish people in Nazi Germany. Scary stuff. So it was good to hear the interview and be informed about Islamic values, ones that are basically the same as the best Christian values.