Times Writers Group: Islam does not preach coexistence
By Dick Andzenge
September 12, 2007
The sixth anniversary of Sept. 11 is not only a reminder of that infamous day, but of the need to understand our changing societies and how to address fear of terrorism.
In the weeks leading to this anniversary, German police arrested three Islamic youths and were looking for seven more on suspicion of plotting massive bombings against American and German targets. Just a few days earlier, Danish police arrested several people in the Copenhagen area for planning acts of terrorism.
What these arrests and many others in the world have in common is not the ethnic or national origin of the suspects. The common attribute of the suspects is that they are Muslims.
As we reflect on the events of Sept. 11 during this anniversary, I wish to discuss the central issue — that the suspects are young Muslims. The question to ask is this: Why would young Muslims in Denmark, Germany or other countries plot terrorist activities against countries that give them a relatively comfortable living?
For years many have blamed American foreign policy for terrorist activities. But the spread and threat of terrorism to countries whose foreign policies differ from our own force us to ponder.
Bin Laden’s tapes
The most recent videotaped messages by Osama bin Laden give us some answers. In his advanced message to the release of the last tape, bin Laden calls on Americans to convert to Islam. In the released tape he urged supporters to join the caravan of martyrs.
These calls for conversion are not extreme nor unique to the Islamic faith.
It is the nature of all religions to seek converts. Many religions that preach the doctrine of hereafter also see martyrdom as a measure of faith that would be rewarded. Christendom is replete with the history of sainted martyrs.
The uniqueness of Islam through its history is the concept of jihad, which is used internally and externally to achieve salvation in the hereafter.
Islam, the faith that means surrender, requires a total surrendering of one’s entire life and being. That is different from other faiths, which call on believers to have faith through internal transformation and the search for meaning as well as coexistence with nonbelievers. The Islamic faith does little to address coexistence either in its doctrines or practices.
So as impressionable young people convert to Islam or as devoted Muslims migrate to other societies, the reality of living with nonbelievers can easily become unbearable. Their response is to demand or expect that everyone convert to the faith or not question their expressions and lifestyle.
The expectation that there would be peace if everyone converts to Islam, though not supported by fact, continues to be central in the minds of many Islamic believers.
If simple conversion was enough to create peace, Islamic nations would be the most peaceful nations. This is not the case. Those who followed the Holy Prophet Muhammad resorted to violent conflicts soon after his death. Islam is therefore not monolithic.
Recent efforts to educate the international community about the peaceful nature of Islam are misdirected. If new Islamic converts in many countries see violence as a means of asserting their faith or hate, public attitudes of fear and suspicion would not change due to public appeals.
The focus should be to educate Islamic converts on the inevitability in modern societies of living and accommodating people of different faiths.
It is particularly important to Muslim immigrants to accept and be willing to adapt to the laws and customs of the new societies to which they migrate. This is a very difficult task as the faith gives little room to separate one’s faith from the rest of his or her life. Indeed, this may require modernization of some Islamic tenets.
Many of us who are Christians believe that our faith covers all aspects of our lives and should show in all that we do. Unfortunately, the separation of church and state in the United States demands that the practice of our faith not impose on other people’s faith or lack of it. It is our immigrant and Muslims converts who need to be educated about life in multicultural societies.
This is the opinion of Dick Andzenge, a criminal justice professor at St. Cloud State University. His column is published the second Wednesday of the month.