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Islam Expert Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo Answers Questions

May 12, 2009 by admin††

Filed under islam

Patrick Sookhdeo Interviewed in the Australian Presbyterian magazine


Below is an extract of an interview with Barnabas Fund International Director Patrick Sookhdeo published in the April edition of the Australian Presbyterian magazine. For the full interview click here.


Patrick, Islam is one of the most powerful religions in the world today. How does Islam shape the belief of its followers?

The most important thing to grasp about Muslims is that they see themselves in terms of their religion. They are committed to it. Islam defines their identity. They may not believe all the teachings of Islam but they still define themselves as traditional or cultural Muslims. The vital thing is that issues of faith and religion are of supreme importance to them. Of course, this is not the way that people tend to see themselves in the West. We are more ambivalent towards religion and are likely to find our identity in ways that are decidedly secular.


Are Muslims like Jews in this sense?

Yes, they are similar in the way that each of their religions tends to define them. If you are born a Muslim or Jew, then that is what you are. You can be Jewish or Muslim without believing everything that the religion teaches. I remember someone once saying to me, ďIslam is in your blood. Itís always thereĒ. What is happening today is that as more people become Muslim and Islamic values and identity become more widespread, Muslims feel more emboldened. The interesting thing is that as the number of Muslims grows, instead of being repelled by some of its more unattractive features, people are actually drawn to it because of its sense of duty, discipline and order.


So what attracts people to Islam?

Islam projects strength and vitality in a way that secularism and Christianity in the West do not. For example, Muslims believe in a transcendent God. In the West the tendency has been for God to become so immanent that He is hardly different from us. People are searching for authority in a directionless world and Islam offers a god and a plan that appears to answer many of their religious longings.


Again, western society is collapsing because the notion of duty has been lost. Our age has abandoned ideas of obligation and responsibility. Islam, on the other hand, focuses on order, duty and morality. Against the West, which is preoccupied with sexual freedom, Islam presents itself as a defender of ethics, family and community. I should add, however, that the way that Islam presents itself and the way it actually operates are worlds apart. Be that as it may, Islam presents itself as an advocate of strong theism and traditional morality, and that is how itís perceived.


Many in the West see Islam not simply as a proselytising faith but as a political and military force as well. Is there something about the nature of Islam that gives rise to this threat?

There is an aspect of Islam, arising out of Muhammadís own struggles with his enemies, that gives rise to this perception. Muhammadís life as a religious leader and prophet can be divided essentially into two stages. If we take the traditional Muslim chronology, which is questionable, Muhammadís activities in Mecca up to AD 621 are essentially peaceful and spiritual. During this period he conducts no wars although he does experience persecution as a result of his new-found beliefs. Then in June 622 he flees from Mecca to Medina in what is described as the hijira (or migration). This is the turning-point in his career and marks the beginning of the Muslim era and calendar.


Traditionally the hijira takes place as a result of persecution. Muslims claim that Muhammad was forced to leave an enemy land for a secure place in which he could practice his religion. Nevertheless, the debate continues as to why he really left Mecca. Some scholars believe that Muhammad was actually preparing to move to Medina so that he could establish a city-state there and install himself as its leader. They claim he had political and military ambitions as well as religious ones. It may well be that both positions contain elements of truth. Certainly, Muhammad did experience considerable hostility in Mecca. However, it is likely that he was making plans for the spread of Islam and the invitation from Medina coincided with his plans for the next stage of Islamís development.

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