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Islam: Misunderstood throughout the World

James A. Bill (professor of government and director of the Reves Center for
International Studies at the College of William and Mary in Virginia) writes - 'By the
turn of the century, for the first time in history, the number of Muslims (those who
practice Islam) will have surpassed the number of Christians in the world.

Islam is a monotheistic religion, civilization and way of life now practiced by 1.1
billion people. Easily the world's fastest growing religion, Islam is not confined to the
Middle East. It is a truly universal force. More Muslims live in America today than all
the Presbyterians and Episcopalians put together.

There are more than 1,200 mosques in the United States and 1000 mosques in
England, where the Muslim community has established its own national parliament.
There are more Muslims in Indonesia than in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Saudi Arabia
put together. More live in Malaysia than in Jordan, Lebanon and Kuwait combined.
Nearly 20 million Muslims live in China.

Wherever one looks, Islam is on the move. As the people of many societies find
themselves rootless, disconnected and alienated, they increasingly seek help in a
comforting Islamic ideological refuge. In a world of incoherent violence, widening
inequities, political corruption and shattered families, many are massing behind the
green flag of Islam. This is essentially a populist movement, a bubbling up from
below, a march of the distressed, the dispossessed and the oppressed. ....

… Although the great bulk of Muslims seek to improve their status through quiet,
moderate and pacific means, violent methods have been adopted by fringe groups—
elements also present in Christianity and Judaism. Oblivious to their own profound
ignorance and often harboring crude political motivations, many Western opinion
leaders consistently label all Muslims with words such as 'aggressive', 'militant' and
'uncivilized'. Islam is the 'religion of the sword'; Muslim activists are 'terrorists,' and
Muslims countries that challenge Western policies are 'outlaw states'.

Muslims themselves maintain quite a different worldview. It is in the deepest interest

of the United States to attempt to understand this perspective. In brief, Muslims see
themselves as the afflicted, not the afflictors; they feel themselves desperately on
the defensive, not on the offensive; they consider themselves the objects of violence,
not the initiators of violence. In sum, Muslims across the world consider themselves
victims. In support of their position, Muslims will take their Christian and Jewish
neighbors on a quick tour of the world. They inevitably begin with Bosnia, where
nearly 200,000 Muslims have been slaughtered by Serbian Christians. Muslims are
horrified and sickened by the fact that 22,000 Muslim women, aged 9 to 82, have
been raped by Christian troopers. Muslims wonder privately about the weak and very
late Western response.

In Kashmir, Indian occupying forces violently oppress Muslims, killing thousands of

Kashmiris. Elsewhere in India in December 1992 and January 1993, violent Hindu
mobs went on a rampage in Bombay, killing over 800 Muslims, destroying 5000
Muslim homes and forcing 200,000 Muslims to flee the city. Mosques were
firebombed and mothers watched as their sons were pulled from their homes and
slain or burned alive. In Tajikstan and other places in Central Asia, the Communists
have made a comeback and, with the help of Russian troops, have attacked and
killed more than 20,000 Muslims. Another 350,000 have been forced to flee.

Even in China, Muslims find themselves under heavy military pressure. Chinese
troops oppress Muslims in the western province of Xinjiang.

Even in many of the predominantly Muslim countries of the Middle East, Muslims find
themselves under attack where the leadership is essentially secular. In Iraq, Saddam
Hussein continues his war of genocide against the Shi'ites in the south.

In Algeria, when the Islamists scored a surprise victory in the December 1991
elections, the regime declared the election null and void. Since then, Algeria has
been the scene of a bloody civil war. The government blames Islamic fundamentalists
of striking terror in the very same areas where they had received majority of votes
from. The governments explanation of fundamentalists unleashing waves of terror in
their own strongholds, sounds very plausible indeed and casts shadows of dound
over the credentials of the secular government instead.

In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak's regime, facing widespread disaffection of its people,

pursues a policy of torture and execution of members of the Muslim opposition. In
March 1993, his troops fired upon 500 unarmed Muslims at prayer in the Rahman
Mosque in Aswan, killing nine and injuring 50. In the West Bank, another more widely
publicized mosque massacre occurred a year later in Hebron when a Jewish settler
killed 30 in a group of praying Muslims before the survivors could beat him to death.
This litany of anti-Islamic violence is recognized and recited by Muslims everywhere.
The situation is exacerbated when Muslims incredulously find themselves labeled as
terrorists and when Western governments encourage their secular Middle Eastern
allies to confront Muslim populist movements with brute force. One result of these
Western perceptions and policies, of course, is that they begin to radicalize the huge
mass of moderate Muslim believers. Meanwhile, the extremists on the fringes
become more active and militant.

A vicious cycle of misunderstanding, misguided policy and increasing violence has

been set in motion. Before this vicious cycle begins to spin wildly out of control, it is
essential that non-Muslims make a major effort to slow it down. Such an effort will, as
the very first step, require that stereotypes be discarded.

Second, recent history shows that the application of force is not always an effective
way of countering a system of deeply held ideas and beliefs. The steady flame of
resurgent Islam will not be extinguished by the breeze of bullets or the blast of
missiles. A recently published report in Washington Post, confirms Islam to be the
fastest growing religion in the United States despite hostile government policies and
negative media stereotyping, only goes on to prove the truth of this statement. It is
time for everyone to take a crash course on Islam. More recently, CNN too published
a report, first of US kind ever done in this part of the World, titled as: Islam in US -
Growing and maturing.'