Robert Kelly: Change In Islam Can Only Come From Within

Robert Kelly

Inter-religious … dialogue between Christians and Muslims is … a vital necessity, on which in, large measure our future depends. … Christians and Muslims … make up more than 55 percent of the world’s population. … the relationship between these two religious communities (is) the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world.

— Open letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Oct. 12, 2006

Diplomacy is slow; church diplomacy, slower. Caution is the rule of the day. Words are the weapons of diplomatic conflict.

Each word and phrase is studied and parsed. Nuance is the rapier thrust; bluntness, the nuclear bomb.

So it isn’t surprising that the 2006 letter to the pope from a group of Muslim scholars did not result in hasty plans for a meeting. But deliberations and the behind-the-scenes negotiations have apparently concluded, and during this month, the parties hope to hold an unprecedented Catholic-Islamic meeting. The stakes are high.

Richard Weaver’s 1940s book, “Ideas Have Consequences,” will be forever influential. Nowhere is the truth of his title more apparent than in the current War against Terror, which includes the march of rogue nations like Iran toward the possession of nuclear weapons, and the sobering fact that an unstable Muslim nation like Pakistan already has them.

If the ideas that have openly motivated too many powerful Muslims during the current decade — and their millions of followers and sympathizers — are not changed, the consequences will be huge and painful.

The ideas in question have led to despicable actions: The murder of innocents around the globe; street celebrations in response to bombings in the United States and Europe; violent riots following unflattering depictions of Muhammad in the West.

And they have a common source: Schools and mosques dominated by teachers and prayer leaders who are Wahhabists, rigidly orthodox Muslims dedicated to the superorthodox teaching of Abd Wahab (who, with Muhammad Ibn Saud, founded Saudi Arabia in the 18th century), a doctrine that too often becomes a lesson on how/why to hate non-Muslims.

If these teachers and prayer leaders continue to shape the minds of young Muslims, the War on Terror will be soon renamed the War of Civilizations.

No Western nation can bring this change about. It must be done internally by the 138 Muslim scholars who signed the open letter to the pope cited above, and the 87 additional ones who have joined the plea for dialogue — in total, 225 voices for peace.

The consequences associated with the failure to re-direct Muslim teaching have been defined by history. Those who view the War on Terror as a hunt for Osama bin Laden are ignoring the rants of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other radical Muslim leaders who dream of the return of the glory days of Islam.

Weak Europe and debt-ridden America prefer to forget that Muslims can unite against a common foe. Under Muhammad himself, Muslims grew from a small religious sect to become rulers of Arabia in less than three decades.

They once controlled much of lower and middle Europe; and the Ottoman Empire was one of the most powerful military forces in the world until the caliphate was dismembered after World War I.

This they did without nuclear weapons. Now they have them, along with sympathizers who live within our midst thanks to clueless immigration policies.

It is promising that influential Muslim scholars seek a relationship of mutual respect with Catholics. But success will not bring “meaningful peace.” In fact, it may direct time and effort away from real problems.

Islamic scholars, with the right goal, are aiming at the wrong target. Terrorism does not exist because of theological/cultural differences with Rome. It exists because of theological/political differences within Islam. When the scholars start writing open letters to Ahmadinejad, bin Laden and the Taliban, hope for peace will become more real.