“We hear a great deal these days about a clash of civilizations between the Islamic world and the West. I disagree profoundly. In my view, it is a clash of ignorance which we are facing. And the answer to ignorance is education.” Mawlana Hazar Imam, Convocation Address at Sciences Po, Paris, France, June 15, 2007
In the previous article, we reviewed the common misperceptions and misrepresentations of Islam. This article will continue to explore how we can become Ambassadors of Islam by examining how ignorance leads to the spread of misunderstanding and how we can fill this gap through education and knowledge.
What is the educational gap between the West and Muslim world?
The relationship between Muslim and Western societies is sometimes described as a “Clash of Civilizations,” in which they are perceived to be in conflict because of deep cultural and religious divides. The educational gap between the Western and Muslim worlds is grounded in stereotypes and misperceptions about one another. In the West, many misperceptions are held about Muslims, such as that Muslims are violent, backwards, un-intellectual, intolerant of other faiths, and that Muslim women are oppressed.
How can we respond to such stereotypes?
In responding to such stereotypes, there is an opportunity to emphasize the immense diversity of the Muslim Ummah of over 1.5 billion people. Muslims do not all believe or do the same thing. Throughout history, there have been different interpretations of Islam practiced by people living in different cultures and climates, speaking different languages, from different socio-economic classes, influenced by different forms of political governance.
What can we learn from Islamic history to inform our response to misperceptions?
Muslim history also provides examples for us to draw on in responding to misperceptions. The Charter of Medina, a document drafted by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) outlined principles of peace, tolerance and cooperation between the early Muslims and other tribes living in Medina, including many Jewish communities. Muslim civilizations throughout history built peaceful, tolerant societies in many parts of the Muslim world.
In Spain, Muslim rulers created a society in which Muslims, Christians and Jews lived and worked together in peaceful coexistence. Similarly, the Fatimids, under the rule of the Ismaili Imams, also built an inclusive society where freedom of worship was protected and in which non-Muslims could rise to the highest positions in the government based on merit.
These societies were also at the forefront of knowledge in their time. Centres of learning were established in cities across the Muslim world, making contributions in the sciences, medicine, astronomy, architecture and the arts. Scholars freely studied knowledge from other civilizations, built upon that knowledge and shared it with others. The works of some leading Muslim scholars were later translated into Latin and studied in Europe.
Examples from history such as these can challenge stereotypes about Muslims being violent, intolerant, and un-intellectual.
What examples from Muslim history contest the view that Muslim women are oppresed?
In combating the view of Muslim women as oppressed, mention can be made of Bibi Khadija, the Prophet’s beloved first wife, who was a wealthy merchant in her own right. Another example is Queen Arwa, an Ismaili woman who ruled Yemen for over five decades in the 11th and 12th centuries in the name of the Fatimids. More recently, several Muslim countries have had female heads of state in the 20th and 21st centuries, including Bangladesh, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Turkey.
How does Hazar Imam believe we can improves the comprehension of our faith?
In his speech at the Opening Ceremony of the Ismaili Centre, Burnaby on August 23, 1985, Mawlana Hazar Imam said:
“Muslims living in the West can, and indeed must, contribute to improving the comprehension of what their faith does stand for, and to dispelling misconceptions which, both in the short and the long term, pose a serious threat to international understanding.”
As ambassadors of Islam, it is our responsibility to correct such misperceptions by explaining our faith patiently and calmly.
To learn more about the Clash of Ignorance and the Education Gap, visit:
- Speech: Mawlana Hazar Imam, Banquet hosted in Honour of Governor Perry, 2002
- Speech: Mawlana Hazar Imam, Evora University Symposium, 2006
- Video: Mawlana Hazar Imam, Interview with CBC, 2006
- Video: Shafique Virani, “Islamophobia and the Clash of Ignorance (TEDx Talks),” 2016
- Article: Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?,” 1993
- Article: Edward W. Said, “The Clash of Ignorance,” 2001
- Article: Azim Nanji, “Beyond the Clash of Civilizations,” 2001
- Article: Carl W. Ernst, “‘The West and Islam?’: Rethinking Orientalism and Occidentalism,” 2010
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