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May 23, 2003 - Image 21

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-05-23

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Fending Off Fanatics

Academic calls for the strengthening
of Muslim moderates.

r. Rifaat Hassan, an
instructor in religious stud-
ies and humanities at the
University of Louisville,
told a Detroit Council for World
Affairs gathering at Wayne State
University last week that the adher-
ents of Muslim terrorism are "fanatic
and extreme."
She endorsed military action against
terrorists, as in Afghanistan, but said
such action would "not be the solu-
tion" to the problem. Instead, the
United States and its partners in fight-
ing terrorism, including General
Pervez Musharraf in her native
Pakistan, need to strengthen Muslim
moderates and give them a buy-in as
new political realities, such as that in
Iraq, take hold.
In Pakistan, she noted, more than
1 million students study in madrassas
— schools run by radicals, which
, "teach ritual and dogma, but not
ethics." Such schools are breeding
grounds for discontent in the oppres-
sive, non-democratic regimes in the
Muslim world. Musharraf knows he
has a serious problem, as do the
Saudis who, Dr. Hassan claimed,
"have created a Frankenstein."
Dr. Hassan, a self-described liberal-
progressive Muslim and advocate for
women's rights in the Muslim world,
also discussed semantics, which she
described as one of many issues
which divide Muslims from the
West. Seeking a Muslim definition of
terrorism, Dr. Hassan prefers to use
the term "haraba," whose original
meaning was highway robbery or
rebellion, rather than 'jihad,' which
means struggle, usually of a spiritual
nature. She noted that Islamic teach-
ings allow only "defensive" wars and
quoted from the Koran that "God
does not love aggressors."
Dr. Hassan said the term "funda-
mentalism" does not even exist in the
languages of Muslim countries. She
argued that it is a term coined in the
United States in the 1920s to
describe Christian reactionaries who
interpreted the Bible literally and
were sometimes militant. In Islam,
all followers are described as militant
in the practice of their faith and all
interpret the Koran literally, she said
Dr. Hassan explained that the mis-


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taken use of these terms is insulting
to Muslims, for whom disrespect is a
very serious cultural offense. She
went on to say that, since the Sept.
11, 2001, attacks, the comments of
some members of the media and the
academic world have trended toward
dehumanizing Muslims, brutalizing
the sensitivities of her co-religionists.
The mass media in general made
things even worse, she said, by disal-
lowing Muslim moderates onto the
airwaves in favor of more extreme
viewpoints and negative analysts.
Dr. Hassan said the weakness of
Muslim moderates exists in America
as well as in the Muslim world. She
noted that many conservative

She endorsed
military action
against terrorists,
but said it would not
solve the problem.
The U.S. needs to
support Muslim

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Muslim clergy lead mosques here
which were founded in previous
decades by moderates. One solution
to that problem would be the estab-
lishing of moderate Islamic seminar-
ies and religious institutions. But
without Saudi and other Gulf oil
money, that is unlikely to happen.
On a positive note, Dr. Hassan
said that since 9-11, American aca-
demic and interfaith circles have
improved their approach to Islam,
doing better research, educating
themselves and others,and dialoguing
more seriously with American
Muslims. Whether those advances
prove to be long-lasting in terms of
Muslim-Jewish and Muslim-
Christian relations remains to be
seen. ❑

— Jewish News staff report

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