Diary of a Travelling Imam - With Friends Like These
Issue 83 August 2011
I was a guest at the University of Ireland in Galway. I was debating a rightwing neo-con who was bordering on neurosis and pathological hatred of Islam. The title of the debate was contentious, “This House believes Islamic law is barbaric and not compatible with liberal western democracy.”
I was booked into a lovely Irish inn, with loud and happily intoxicated Irish men and women. I, the only non-white person, felt a total misfit having a vegetarian meal with mineral water. The waitress spoke to me because I was so odd. I told her I was a Muslim and was here for a debate on Islam. She looked curious and then she politely withdrew from front of house service, and stayed behind the bar.
After a day touring Galway, I arrived at the university and was greeted by the organisers. I met my opponent and felt sick at having to engage with him. But I was not going to shy away at this stage. I spoke first and outlined my reason why Islamic law was not barbaric and if the letter of the law and the spirit of the law is observed, the core components such as protection of life, intellect, property, family and faith can only be seen as similar to the current universal values. These Islamic principles pre-dated Magna Carta, or any Bill of Rights. Islamic law is about collective interest and not just personal benefit. The primary purpose of Islamic law is to empower people to be self-conscious and self-regulating, with high standards of character and moral parameters. This is the precise reason why Islam is perfectly compatible with western liberal democracy. It is in today’s democratic environments that Islam is able to provide the requisite balance between material pursuit and spiritual contentment.
My opposition was vitriolic in his absolute hate and disgust for Islam. His opening argument was Islam is not even a genuine religion; it has nothing original to offer the world; it has been a political tool for the nomad Arabs to unite and usurp wealth and power. The remnants of this vile religion had inspired many to commit terrorist crimes in the world and threaten the non-Muslim infidels. According to him, the Qur’an urges Muslims to take up holy war, or jihad, against the kuffar—disbelievers. How can such a religion have any space in the modern world, he declared.
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