On a blustery Wednesday evening in central London, about a dozen people from different parts of the city made their way to St. Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace. They included an attorney from a large London law firm, a political lobbyist, a corporate consultant, a Muslim college chaplain, a university professor, a female rabbi and a research scientist.
A recent study by two Indiana academics suggests that Shari‘a law, the Islamic legal code often associated with strict rules, oppression of women and harsh punishments, has a softer side when it comes to the poor.
Although Muslim reform may seem like an oxymoron to those who see Islam only through the lens of graphic violence, Muslim reformers have been in the sights of jihadist groups such as al-Qaeda for years. Their increasingly bold public stance has made them the natural enemy of those who seek to squeeze followers of Islam into a tight-fisted sectarianism at war with the entire infidel world.
Among the messages of sympathy that poured into London following the July 7 bombings were condolences from the governments of Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Iran, Turkey—all nations with majority Muslim populations—and at least two Muslim nongovernmental groups: Hamas and Hezbollah.
Prior to September 11, 2001, a substantial majority in the United States approached Islam with a strange kind of detailed ignorance. For many Americans the words Islam and Muslims evoked disjointed images of violence, religious fanaticism, rejection of the modern world, mistreated women, and praying men bowing in the direction of Mecca.
Before mid-November arrives, multicultural educator Afeefa Syeed will have brought third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students from the Muslim Al Fatih Academy in Herndon, Virginia, to several public schools to share the practices and beliefs of their holiest month, Ramadan.
Delegates to the World Council of Churches’ Faith and Order Commission meeting in Kuala Lumpur in August had the novel experience of seeing their sessions covered in the Malaysian media with the intensity that normally attends national elections or the latest developments in the “Malaysian Idol” competition.