Constructive Attitudinal Change
Despite the negative influences consequent to the factors analyzed above, there have been several developments, especially during the last decade, which have improved the image of Islam. These changes have not yet overtaken the negative influences. That transformation depends to a great extent on the incidence of violent acts, which, rightly or wrongly, are ascribed to Islamic sources.
The first change lies in the religious realm Mainline Protestantism, Catholicism and Orthodoxy have abandons earlier exclusionary views of other religions. The words "heathen" and pagan" have disappeared both in hymns and official statements. Courses on Islam and other religions are now taught in major theological schools and significant ecumenical dialogue has occurred. The Old Testament literalism characterizing American Protestant evangelicals is not found in Europe or in mainline American churches. The statement of policy adopted unanimously by the National Council of Churches in 1980 is quite different from the fundamentalist's views and is similar to the carefully crafted positions espoused by Roman Catholicism since 1964.
Both the Roman Catholic and the Orthodox churches show a greater appreciation of Islam and an affinity with Arab culture. The existence of the Pontifical Institute of Arabic Studies and the policies enunciated by the Second Vatican Council, as well as the Twenty-Four Declarations issued by the Vatican Muslim Conference in Libya in 1976, make this clear. The Roman Church embraces within its fold a variety of Eastern rites in some of which Arabic is the liturgical language. It is significant that the liturgies at the elevation of a new pope, the Pontifical Christmas Mass and the annual Pontifical Christian message and blessing includes some liturgical reading or message in Arabic. Ironically, the crusader legacy and the conquest of Spain, both occurring in the context of an undivided Christendom, have not resulted in a theological or institutional antagonism towards Islam in the Catholic Church. The Vatican position, shared in large measure by Orthodoxy and by the Episcopal, Lutheran Presbyterian and Methodist churches, is in stark contrast with the fundamentalist millenarian views discussed earlier.
There are several governing documents elucidating the Catholic change of perspective towards Islam. This change is linked to a somewhat different interpretation of the role of the missionary in non-Christian societies. Father Georges C. Anawati attributes much of the new perception of Islam to the influence of the distinguished French scholar of Islam, Louis Massignon, who had a long-standing friendship with Pope John Paul VI. The Vatican's re-evaluation of Islam is of enormous significance in the evolution of Christian-Muslim relations. It reversed an attitude of antagonism which had existed since the Crusades of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The documents parallel a similar point of view enunciated by mainline Protestant churches through the National Council of Churches. These views, both catholic and Protestant, are bolstered by sympathy for the Palestinian cause, expressed in a variety of other statements. The papal documents referred to here, however, deal exclusively with Islam as a religion not to the political problem of Israeli-Palestinian relations. It should also be pointed out that the new attitude towards non-Christian religions includes Judaism, whose special historical and theological relationship to Christianity is acknowledged and admired. These new attitudes are deftly, brilliantly and almost poetically summarized in a series of brief essays by Pope John Paul II in his new book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope. As early as 1964, following Vatican Council II, Pope Paul VI declared in Ecclesiam Suam, "We do well to admire these people [of the Moslem religion] for all that is good and true in their worship of God." This was confirmed in his encyclical letter Lumen Gentium, "But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place among whom are the Moslems..." It was Paul VI's encyclical declaration, Nostra Aetate, which set forth this new relationship most clearly and fully:
The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth who also has spoken to men. They strive to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to God's plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own. Although not acknowledging him as God, they worship Jesus as a prophet, his Virgin Mother they also honor, and even at times devoutly invoke. Further they await the Day of Judgement and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead. For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God especially by wary of prayer, alms-deeds and fasting. Over the centuries many quarrels and dissentions have arisen between Christians and Muslims. The Sacred Council now pleads with all to forget the past...
Respect for Islam does not mean that the Catholic Church has abandoned its missionary efforts. In Evangelii Nuntiandi, Paul VI reaffirmed keeping alive the missionary spirit which "never ceases" and that respect and esteem for such religions as Islam should not be interpreted as "an invitation...to withhold from these non-Christians the proclamation of Jesus." A somewhat different attitude towards missionary activity, "a new evangelization" was first expressed in the encyclical Ad Gentes in 1965, amplified and confirmed by John Paul II in Redemptoris Missio in 1990. This landmark comment calls for inter-religious dialogue, profound understanding of the indigenous recipient culture ("inculturation"), and activity in social institutions such as schools, community projects and hospitals. Pope John Paul II has written in Crossing the Threshold of Hope that by the year 2000 Muslims will outnumber Catholics who then become the new minority. This statistic alone must not deter evangelization; rather, he continues, it can only engender greater determination to overcome obstacles.
In 1974 Paul VI established the Secretariat for non-Christians, with a special section to study Islam. Since that time meetings have been frequent. Is it possible that if Dante Aligheiri were writing today we would find Muhammad in Paradisio rather than Inferno? There is also emerging a pattern of Catholic-Muslim cooperation in politics and diplomacy. Recent joint efforts in New York on blocking sex education measures in schools and defeating birth control provision as the United Nations Conference on Population in Cairo are stunning examples. Muslims find themselves in agreement (except for the strictures against capital punishment) with the message in the encyclical of John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae of 1995. This new understanding of Islam by Catholicism, resonant in mainline Christianity, and the compatibility of vies on many social issues, portends a new harmony between these tow religions.
In the political arena several changes favorable to a better perception of Islam can be noted the increasingly sophisticated strategy of Muslim and Arab groups in the United States ahs been effective in countering much of the distortion. Among organizations now learning to use the strategies of other, particularly Jewish, groups are the Islamic Shura Council of North America, the Islamic Society of North America, the American Muslim Council, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and the North American Council for Muslim Women, the Council on American -Islamic relations, and the Arab-American Institute. The latter has been especially effective in national politics and was able to get platform discussion of the Palestinian issue at the Democratic National Convention in 1992, the first time this has occurred. The Middle East Policy Council, (founded originally as the American Arab Affairs Council) publishes the highly respected journal Middle East Policy (formerly American-Arab Affairs), now in the thirteenth year of publication. The Council also conducts workshops on Islam and Arab Affairs for high school teachers throughout the country and holds seminars for members of Congress and their staffs. The National Council on US-Arab Relations is a flourishing organization with activities on several fronts. It has sent hundreds of high schools seniors to the Middle East as Kerr Scholars. Under the Malone Fellowship Program, it has sponsored nearly four hundred college professors in the Middles East for short terms of study. Hundreds of college students have participated in mode assemblies of the League of Arab States held in all parts of the country. Study trips to the Middles East have been arranged for college presidents, cadets in military academies, members of Congress and their staffs, journalists and public school administrators. There are also several successful Muslim organizations with intellectual objectives. The largest of these is the Islamic Society of North America with headquarters in Plainfield, Indiana. It serves as an umbrella organization for 521 Muslim professional and other societies wan d holds annual conventions attracting thousands of Muslims. The International Institute of Islamic Thought in Hendon, Virginia ahs since 1983 published the influential scholarly journal, The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences. The impact of these activities, both political and intellectual, is being felt in the Untied States.
The media have not been entirely negative in their appraisal of Islam. An editorial by Richard Cohen in the Washington Post of July 27, 1993 typifies a more reasoned attitude: "A fear of Islam is deeply embedded in Western n culture. [We must] stop affixing labels to a vast religion (Islam) or a whole people (Arabs) whose diversity is stunning. They have their fanatics, of course, but before we throw stones of gross generalizations, we ought to check our own glass house." The New York Times, which took a similar position in an editorial referred to earlier, later published several articles in serial form on "Islam in America" in May 2-7, 1993 issues. They were dispassionate in tone; indeed the analysis was somewhat like that of the issue of The Economist referred to earlier. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, former Governor Mario Cuomo of New York and former Mayor David Dinkins of New York City have publicly denounced defamation of Muslims. Robert H. Pelletreau, Jr., Assistant Secretary of State for the Middle East, has similarly cautioned against viewing Islam as a menace replacing the Soviet Union. Richard Armitage, former Assistant Secretary of Defense and National Security Advisor Anthony Lake have taken strong positions against Huntington's thesis of the dangers of an Islamic threat.
Three of the most perceptive, most carefully balanced analyses are books by William Pfaff and John Esposito and the special issue of The Economist by Brian Beedham. Pfaff regards the fundamentalist movements as essentially defensive and isolationist rather than expansionist. Since these Muslims are in flight from the West "[why] would they want to incorporate still more of the West and its civilization within their own religious frontiers? ...They would not dream of attempting to overrun western societies even if that were possible." Esposito's analysis is somewhat different, but he also concludes that the perceived Muslim threat to the West is without foundation. Beedham's analysis was summarized earlier in this essay.
Other developments, largely ignored by the media, suggest a slowly changing attitude in the United States. The United States now has some 600 mosques serving 5 million Muslims. The America Islamic College was Organization of the Islamic Conference. In Both the House of Representatives in 1991 and the Senate in 1992 as Muslim cleric gave the opening invocation. These were the first such events in the history of the Congress. In 1993 the first imam was commissioned a captain in the US Army. The US Navy plans to commission Legalman First Class Malik Neil as an imam-chaplain. The American Muslim Council, based I Washington, D.C., has become increasingly active in monitoring what it regards as anti-Islamic actions. It recently announced plans to register on million Muslims to vote in the 1996 elections. Recently it protested to the United Nations the unbalanced composition of the tribunal to try war criminals in former Yugoslavia. Even though most of the victims were Muslim, no Muslim was included on the 11-member tribunals. From Malaysia, a Hindu was appointed, from Pakistan, a Paris; and from Egypt, a Christian. Yet all three countries are overwhelmingly Muslim. This protest, although it may have been ineffective, is another indication of the slowly growing political awareness finding institutional expression among Muslims.
In Western Europe where some 15 million Muslims live and in the Russian Federation and Georgia with some 21 million there is some evidence to suggest that progress towards greater empathy for Islam is being made. Much of this is due to organizational sophistication of the Muslim communities and an increased awareness by non-Muslims of the significance of the global Muslim resurgence in September 1993 the World Islamic Council sponsored a three-day conference in London on Muslims in the West which was attended by Muslims throughout the world, including Australia, Japan and the United States. This was not the first instance of such international cooperation. Scores of internationals symposia have been held in many countries under the aegis of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, League of Arab States, Muslim World League and similar organizations. The 1993 London conference reflected the emerging integration of Europe and the common problems of Muslim minorities in that area. The London meeting issued a 23-point plan which included establishing a Council on Shar'ia to decide conflicts in interpreting Islamic law.
In England the most heartening development mitigating the increase in racial riots mentioned earlier was the televised d address of the Prince of Wales on October 27, 1993. It was given originally in the Sheldonian Theatre of Oxford University at the opening session of the Oxford Center for Islamic Studies Widely reprinted in the Arab world it was the basis for a television film shown in Britain. It was also the inspiration for an international conference held at Ditchley Park and convened by the Oxford Center in October 1994. With uncommon eloquence and empathy, Prince Charles traced the contributions of Islam to western civilization. The most appealing theme was his view of the contribution which Islamic can make to contemporary life:
Islam can tech us today a way of understanding and living in the world which Christianity itself is poorer for having lost. At the heart of Islam is its preservation of an integral view of the universe. Islam refused to separate man and nature, religion and science, mind and matter and has preserved a metaphysical and unified view of ourselves and the world around us...The West gradually lost this integrated vision of the world with Copernicus and Descartes and coming of s scientific revolution. A comprehensive philosophy of nature is no longer part of our everyday beliefs.
The Crown Prince reiterated this view in a conference "Britain and the World" convened by the Royal Institute of International Affairs in March 1995 Even more enthusiastically received by Muslims was Prince Charles' separately televised comment that he would prefer to have one of the Crown's titles changed to "Defender of Faith" for "Defender of the Faith". He referred specifically to Islam as one of the faiths in England.
Another welcome development in Britain was implementation in July 1994 of a new syllabus for state schools which makes the teaching of the principles of Islam, Christianity and Judaism mandatory for students I elementary and secondary schools.
There are other indications of a changing image of Islamic in Europe. The second largest mosque in France was dedicated in October 1994 in Lyon, serving a 300 thousand Muslims in the Rhone-Alpes region. The mosque, along with several others in France, was financed by Saudi Arabia. The dedication address was given by Interior Minister Pasqua who on previous occasions had advocated a ban on all immigration. Pasqua affirmed the French government's support of Muslims: "Today Islam is a French reality because it is the religion of a big portion of Frenchmen. And it is not enough to have Islam in France; we must have an Islam of France." In October 1993 the first Islamic University opened I Paris with an initial enrollment of 300 students. Half of the courses offered are religious and fifteen percent are in Arabic. The university seeks to develop knowledgeable, practicing Muslims who can also be good French citizens. At the governmental level an auspicious point of view was expressed by Philip Sagan, speaker of the National Assembly. After tracing the mutual influences between French and Islamic culture, had concluded that the two cultures are closer to each other than is commonly thought.
In other European countries there are hints of positive development. Europe's largest Islamic cultural center has been built in Rome. Opening in 1995, it includes a mosque for 2 thousand worshippers, a library museum and conference room. Saudi Arabia has contributed seventy percent of the cost; to other Muslim countries contributed the rest. Under the aegis of King Faisal the decision to build the center was made in 1972; construction began in 1984 with the personal encouragement of the President of Italy. The cultural center symbolizes the amicable relationship was has emerged between the Vatican and Islam. In Germany the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen in 1995 mandated the study of Islam in its primary, intermediate and secondary schools.