A Course on Islam
By: M. Zuhdi Jasser
On the surface, the Bureau of Jewish Education was perceptive and timely in its offering this summer of a course titled “Islam 101.” However, knowing the materials distributed by the course instructor, Carl Goldberg, a Ph.D. in Russian history, a more fitting title would have been “Islam: The totalitarian ideology.”
Goldberg conflates various oppressive theocratic interpretations of Islam as “the Islam.” A recent missive he sent me stated, “Only by deviating from Islamic doctrine can Islam become compatible with democracy. But, that is logically absurd because then Islam would cease to be Islam.”
Goldberg defends his claims by stating that he is simply reporting the “truth” as taught by “leading” Muslim scholars. When presented with alternative modern scholarly interpretations of the Quran and Hadith, he ignores them as contrived, illegitimate or hopeless. His responses to Muslim reformists would certainly make Bin Laden and Imam Al-Awlaki proud.
This is not about Goldberg or the Bureau of Jewish Education. This is about understanding both our enemies and our friends. They are both Muslim, and they both practice a form of Islam. By inexorably linking supremacist ideologies to the entire faith, we are surrendering one-quarter of the world’s population to a supremacist mind-set that leaves nothing for the future but a global clash of religions.
We need to recognize the validity of devotional anti-Islamist Muslims and marginalize the ideas of political Islam. We need not one but many courses on Islam, political Islam, salafism and jihadism to name a few. But these courses must teach about the debate going on within the faith. The House of Islam is not monolithic. It has a diversity wherein lies the future of its own political modernization and thus our security.
We need an open and frank discourse about the religion of Islam. Radical Islam is but a symptom of political Islam, which seeks to incorporate Shariah into government. The only way to truly defeat global Islamist terror is to instill in Muslims the ideas of liberty that will give them the strength to reject the supremacy of the Islamic state. This process will not happen in a setting that dismisses the entirety of Islam.
Sadly, the comfort our Founding Fathers had with a critical discourse on religion has been lost. The negative perceptions nationally about Islam have almost doubled since 9/11, beginning at 23 percent negative. Leading Islamist groups in D.C. – Muslim Brotherhood front groups – have only served to fan the flames and advance the ideologies of transnational political Islam. These Islamist groups have ushered in a prevailing perception among Americans that Muslims are disengaged from American security and in denial over the need for real, deep reform.
Education is a journey whose direction and destination should be open and thoughtful. Instruction that castigates an entire faith for the global theo-political movements within it leaves students with nothing but anger. A teacher’s responsibilities go beyond repetition of a few facts; they lie in discussing the solutions our students may go on to implement. Without a reasoned Muslim-based solution, there will be only a dangerous vacuum from which no one can benefit.