The Colgate Scene
March 2005

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. . . I would like to respond to Bruce Healey's letter about Islam (Scene, January 2005). While Mr. Healey starts off appropriately stating that Islam and terrorism are not the same thing, and that terrorists have been hijacking the name of the religion for their own purposes, he then takes a sharp turn in his arguments for the worse, blaming the religion itself for the hijacking.

In Islam, the Qur'an cannot be literally translated into other languages from Arabic. The translation of the meaning of the Qur'an, rather than of the words themselves, is what is done. This protects the Qur'an from deliberate and nondeliberate distortions and changes that can be introduced in such a process, and helps unite Muslims over one original source that we believe is the word of Allah. For some reason that he doesn't make clear, Mr. Healey believes that this "facilitates the dissemination of religious ideas, based on very little information." Apparently, he is not aware of the volume of interpretive work written about the Qur'an in almost every language throughout the ages. In fact, a quick search in's website for the word "Qur'an" reveals 963 different hits in the books section. Contrary to what he might believe, there is an abundance of interpretations. Now there are guidelines for interpretations, mainly designed to prevent random people with no qualifications from distorting things, but within such guidelines, there is plenty of leeway.

Mr. Healey, despite the fact that he says he studied Islam, seems unaware of the history of Islam and Muslims, of the incredible transformation that occured when Islam came to the Arabs and brought them from being a backward culture to being leaders of civilization and the world for many centuries afterward, pioneering many of the advancements of their time.

He also blames the lack of a hierarchy in Islam for what he calls a lack of progress, which is a strange point to make. On the contrary, the lack of a hierarchy is a point to be taken in favor of Islam; it allows flexibility in adapting to local situations and customs, and to changing situations and times. There is nobody at the top with interests to protect and maintain, no rigid structure interested in its own survival and control.

He also claims that "fundamentalist Islam has, through history, been used by the Arab peoples as a cure-all for a decline of Arab prestige, power, and learning since the Middle Ages," and that this only served to "produce despots and villains bent on maintaining their power." What he seems to miss is the fact that most, if not all, of the despots in the Arab world are secular, and in many cases, socialist. They mainly pretend to be connected to Islam in a futile attempt to legitimize their rule. He also seems to assume that this is a problem with the creed, rather than with the people trying to apply it. Islam urges Muslims to interact with their world, to seek advancements of culture, science, and life, all within a framework of spirituality. It seeks to organize, shape, and refine people and put them on the path that Allah intended. If people apply Islam in the wrong way to a situation, that is a problem with the people, not, as Mr. Healey implies, with the religion.

I am troubled by the tone of his letter. I can't help but hear echoes of ideas such as "The White Man's Burden" from the past, a patronizing attitude that does not help matters any. Education is one solution to the problems in the Islamic world, yes, but it has to be education connected to the roots, culture, and religion of the region, instead of trying to transplant foreign ideas that are alien to the people and that will produce nothing but a knee-jerk reaction in the opposite direction.

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