Building Bridges Between Islamic World And West

Emanuel Sarfraz & Intasab Sahi

Dr Tamara Sonn of Georgetown University, Washington speaks about her book ‘Is Islam an Enemy of the West?’ and the current state of affairs between the two civilizations.

“It is the headlines that create misconceptions. It was long before 9/11 that these headlines had started appearing. USA had started believing that Muslims hated them. After the revolution in Iran USA was labelled as Satan and the popular slogan was ‘Death to America’,” Dr Sonn stated this at the annual Khurram Murad Memorial Lecture held the other day at University of Management and Technology.

Professor Sonn is an American Academic;  Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani Professor in the History of Islam and Director of the Al-Waleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at the Edmund A Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University.

Prof Sonn in her lecture at UMT explained how the situation continued to aggravate when after 9/11 there were bombings in Eastern Africa, London, Madrid and other places. “The so called ideologues who did not have anything to do with Islam started claiming such acts as a way of reaction to what they termed western attempt to dominate,” she said.

An expert in Religious Studies with a focus on Islam, Prof Sonn has authored several books about Islamic Identity and its geopolitical manifestations.

Prof. Sonn, while addressing the audience quite succinctly, explained why Islam is perceived to be the nemesis of the West. She revealed that the title of her book, “Is Islam an Enemy of the West?” was decided by her American publisher. The reason for such a selection became apparent as soon as Dr. Sonn began her lecture.

Most of what is known to the West about Islam comes from the “headlines,” according to the American Academic. More often than not, the so-called spokespersons of Islamic identity are the leaders of terrorist organizations such as ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram.

According to Dr. Sonn, the perpetrators of terror are never representing Islamic ideology. In fact, they are the “outliers” who manipulate the religious narrative for political gain and lure young minds who feel “marginalized” and “victimized” by Western society due to the religious affiliations based on the perception of that religion as propelled by the least representative, the affiliates of terrorist groups.

According to Prof. Sonn, the question of Islam being an Enemy of the West is simply, “ridiculous.” She continued her lecture by establishing linkage between Abrahamic Religions; Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

The champion of interfaith harmony detailed how one religion or ideology has always been at the receiving end of politically motivated propaganda. “At one point in time, the Jews were perceived to be the ‘enemies’ of the West within the West.  Then came the day of Communism and the Cold War, entire decades spent in ‘fearing’ the rise of the Left. These days, it is Islam that is perceived as a threat to the West,” she said.

However, what needs to be remembered is that radicalized groups even if they don any religious identity are never representing religion. As Dr. Sonn believes, mainstream Muslims need to be heard. The simple Mosque going individuals who are often attacked by the terrorists pretending to be the representatives of Islam condemn any act of terror in the name of Islam.

Albeit, the Muslims’ opposing misuse of Islam never make the headlines. The Professor of Religion went on to discuss how this manipulated image of a Religion prevents the World from seeing its suffering. Furthermore, Prof. Sonn shed light on the plight of the Muslims in areas of conflict such as Kashmir, Palestine, Myanmar, Southern Philippines (Mindanao), China amongst others.

However, the very West or in other words America has had long-standing ties with many Muslim countries said the Professor. It is not only the ‘oil-rich’ Gulf States that America or the West are invested in but, countries like Pakistan and Indonesia are also amongst the Muslim majority regions with whom the USA has withstanding connections.

“Vast majority of Muslims live in poor countries where they do not earn more than two dollars per day. Radicalization is bound to take place when there is so much frustration around due to poverty,” Prof Sonn was of the view.

“The vast majority of Muslims who have nothing to do anything with terrorism need to speak against it. They have not been able to make headlines but their governments should try to raise their voice. The west should also understand that intervention in other countries does not help in controlling the menace of terrorism. Forging alliances with Muslim countries is perhaps the solution.

Prof. Tamara Sonn‘s lecture essentially outlined why the West and the Muslims have an uncanny ‘fear’ of the other; in this case of each-other. The West marginalizes Muslims on the basis of reported perceptions and Muslims who live in the West or outside the Western boundaries, in countries where conflict and economic instability is rampant because of most of these regions including Pakistan were decolonized only in the mid of 20th century, feel unjustly accused and misrepresented.

Prior to the lecture rich tributes were paid to the late Islamic scholar and writer Khurram Murad. Prominent among those who spoke on the occasion were DG UMT Prof Abid Shirwani, Dr. Nomanul Haq, Dr Junaid Ahmed and  Prof Azhar. In the end President UMT Ibrahim Hasan Murad said the vote of thanks to Prof Tamara Sonn and also presented her with a souvenir.



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