THE London bombings have added to the anxiety in London and pressure on the Muslim community. Many people ask: ‘How can a religion of peace have become such a cause of fear?’
When one reads the Qur’an, one is struck by the simplicity and directness of the central themes. There is one God, Allah, Mohammed, peace be upon him, is his Prophet and all people have a duty to obey God’s laws, which require prayer, works of charity, justice and mercy.
These doctrines are closely related to those of Judaism and Christianity. A good Muslim who is loyal to the Qur’an has a great deal in common with a good Jew, who studies the Torah, or a good Christian, who studies the Bible. Again and again the Qur’an emphasizes that Allah is a merciful God, all seeing and all wise. This is not a doctrine of bombs, but of mercy and compassion.
How, then, are we getting so dangerously close to religious conflict, not between Islam and Christianity, such as occurred in the Middle Ages, but between Islam and the modern culture of Europe and North America? What is it in the two cultures that has brought them into such conflict? No doubt the conflict arises out of material interests as well as cultural.
The root of the conflict is, however, a clash of civilizations, which all of us need to understand. Islam is a religion of the book; one cannot begin to understand Islam without reading the Qur’an. It might not be a bad thing if more Muslims read the Bible to discover how much of the holy books of Judaism and Christianity are, in fact, compatible with the teaching of the highest beliefs of Islam. They will remember that Mohammed, peace be upon him, himself once had a vision of Jesus, whom he respected as a Prophet.
The modern civilization of the West is so pluralist that it cannot be represented by any single book. A Muslim who wanted to understand the core beliefs of the West would need a large library, stretching from the American Declaration Of Independence to Marx’s Das Kapital and Lenin’s Imperialism. He would need to read Newton, Darwin and Einstein; not to mention Tolstoy, Dickens and Hemingway. He would need to listen to music from Beethoven to The Beatles. It is even harder for Muslims to understand Western culture — except by living it — than for Westerners to understand theirs.
The senior figures of the British Muslim community, who quite rightly have meetings with the Prime Minister, reassure him that Islam is a religion of peace — that is, after all, what the word means — and that no one who supports terror can be a good Muslim.