Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, September 2009
The Muslim World and the West:
A Partnership for the Future
By Siraj Wahab
The original title of this article was: Islam and the West: A Partnership for the Future," which is following the name of the Brussels conference cited below. The title has been changed into "The Muslim World and the West: ---" because of the inaccuracy in terminology.
While Islam is a religion, the West is a political term referring to the NATO countries. The right term is "The Muslim World and the West," as the term "Muslim world" refers to a number of countries, like the term "West," which also refers to countries too.
"Dr. Francis Lamand, president of the Paris-based “Islam and the West” nongovernmental organization, is a man on a mission." Francis Lamand
— to promote understanding between Islam and the Western world. Since the organization’s inception in 1980, the former French diplomat and international law expert has sought to develop cultural, social and economic relations between the Islamic and Western worlds, both in France and overseas.
“For the last 30 years my organization has been working vigorously in favor of rapprochement between Islam and the West in religious value as well as cultural, social and economic values,” Lamand told Arab News in Jeddah. “I may add that when we established our association in February 1980 with the objective and mission of acting to better the understanding between the two worlds, the public opinion in Europe followed us with a mixture of curiosity and skepticism. We felt the need to establish bridges between the two parties rather than seeing Islam and the West confronting each other and viewing one another as a threat.”
Lamand is busy preparing for the international conference and debate that his organization has planned for Nov. 10-12, 2009 in Brussels. The theme of the conference is “Islam and the West: a Partnership for the Future,” which is being supported by the European Commission, the Pontifical Council for the Inter-religious Dialogue, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the Muslim World League (MWL), the World Muslim Congress (Karachi), the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), the Islamic Institute of the Paris Mosque, the Al-Azhar University (Cairo), the Oxford Center of Islamic Studies and the Jeddah-based International Islamic Forum for Dialogue.
“This is not just another conventional forum but rather a valuable encounter that seeks to build a genuine partnership founded on common international, social, cultural and economic values that are shared or could be shared, with a view to generating real cooperation between Islam and the West,” Lamand said of the upcoming conference. “In a world which is in the grip of the globalization- related hazards and turmoil, this encounter may be a gateway to a new era of mutual understanding, fellowship and solidarity.”
Invitations for the conference have been extended to all those seeking a mutually beneficial rapprochement between the two worlds. “Come, let us join this debate on the future and participate in the construction of a great arch of reconciliation and exchange between Islam and the West, which aims to bring together in the same spirit of concord Jews, Christians and Muslims,” he said.
It is an ambitious goal, but Lamand and his organization have accomplished much in the last three decades. During that time “Islam and the West” has played important roles in representing the interest of European mosques and creating an atmosphere in which the European Muslim community could have its own religious television programming. The organization also helped to organize the first tête-à-tête at the Vatican between Pope John Paul II and Dr Abdullah Omar Nasseef, secretary-general of the Muslim World League.
The organization has also sought to re-establish the historical presence of Islam in Cordova, Spain, hosting the first world conference there in 1991 on Pakistani philosopher Allama Muhammad Iqbal and organizing the first Islamic art exhibition there in centuries. Lamand also played a leading role in the initiative to re-open the “mihrab” of the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordova.
“There is lot of ignorance about Islam in Western societies,” Lamand said. “There needs to be a sustained campaign to remove these misunderstandings. Ignorance breeds contempt, and this ignorance needs to be taken care of. The many conferences that we have organized in the last 30 years were all aimed at promoting understanding between various faiths.”
On his fascination with the Islamic world, Lamand said: “I was a professor at the French Faculty of Law and in 1970 I was appointed a diplomat in Kuwait where I worked until 1975. This was the first time I had traveled to the East. I began teaching in 1971 and taught international law to graduate students at the Faculty of Law and Shariah of Kuwait University. I had students from all over the Muslim world. In this atmosphere, I got a new image of Islam. I compared Islamic ethical values with those in the Western countries and it was in this context that I was attracted to Islam. I wrote a number of articles comparing the Islamic and Western legal systems. I now believe that the Western legal system could be enriched by incorporating Shariah law.”
He disagreed with those in the West who always run down Islam. “In attempting to humiliate Islam, people have lost their sense of sacredness. This sense of sacredness is still very popular in Islam. If Western countries could open themselves to the teachings of Islam, they might recover from the moral decline they themselves admit and deplore. Let me cite two examples here: Islam prohibits alcohol. There are instances of wife-beating, horrible traffic accidents and deaths due to drinking. Still the West allows it and condescends to Islam for prohibiting it. Islam allows polygamy, while in the West it is forbidden. But you seldom run across a Western man who has not had an affair with a woman other than his wife. So, is it not strange that West allows adultery with many different women while at the same time prohibiting four legal wives?”
Lamand praised Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah for his efforts to create interfaith dialogue and to dispel misinformation about Islam in the West. “People now know that a vast majority of Muslims are peace-loving people,” Lamand said. “Yes, they are upset that the West has not been able to understand them. Our conference in Brussels will focus on the common inheritance of shared Abrahamic foundations, the convergent social values, the challenges of the new world order for Islam and the West, the economic stakes for the two entities and the spiritual dimensions.”
Lamand noted that many of the ideologues who espouse conflict between the West and Islam do so based on limited knowledge and assumptions often regional in nature. “Every epoch, every civilization, every society only has the kind of oracles that it deserves. The West has, so it seems, recognized its own, and thus the concept of ‘clash of civilizations’ has come to be common currency today,” Lamand said. “The fact is that, following the Sept. 11 attacks, many rushed to rally to the so-called doomsday scenario of Samuel Huntington, according to which war between Islam and the West would be inevitable because, so he claims, the Western values, namely individualism, liberalism human rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law and democracy, would be incompatible with Islamic culture.”
Lamand noted that the answers that each side seeks come in part from a better understanding of the other side. “The West and Islam are traversing simultaneously, and for the first time in their history, a period of critical crises: a value crisis in the West ..., an identity crisis in Islam. Yet they can both find a reciprocal remedy to their malaise,” he said. “Today, the West and Islam are two wounded worlds in need of each other’s comfort, before they resume their common and long, onward march on a shared path of humanism.”
-- Details about the Brussels conference can be accessed at www.islamandthewestorg.com.
This article was first published in Arab News on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009.
Opinions expressed in various sections are the sole responsibility of their authors and they may not represent ccun.org.