muslims homeportraitsthemesinterviewsfaqsdiscussion
photo of imam feisal abdul raaf
interview: imam feisal abdul raaf

What are the fundamentals of Islam? What does it teach to be a Muslim?

The fundamental idea which defines a human being as a Muslim is the declaration of faith: that there is a creator, whom we call God -- or Allah, in Arabic -- and that the creator is one and single. And we declare this faith by the declaration of faith, where we ... bear witness that there is no God but God. And that we are accountable to God for our actions.

And that's the bottom line?

That is the universal Quranic definition of a person who is a Muslim. Because God says in the Quran that there is only one true religion, God's religion. It's the same theme that God revealed to all of the prophets, even before Muhammad. They all came to express the truth about ultimate reality: that the ultimate reality, with a capital "R" is God; that God created this universe; and God created humanity for a very specific purpose and mandate, which is to recognize what he or she truly is -- a being created, as we say in the Judeo-Christian world, in the image of God. The Quran uses a different language. It says, created out of a divine in-breathing, because the Quran says when God created the shape, the form of Adam from clay, God says, "When I shall have breathed into him from my spirit." Then he announced to the angels, "Fall in prostration to Adam."

So the defining aspect of a human being is that the human being has within its envelope a piece of the divine breath. This is the Quranic definition of what you might call the quote, unquote, "divine image in the human envelope." And the human mandate is to recognize this essential definition of self, and to acknowledge the very special relationship that exists between that self and the creator.

It doesn't sound so different from Christianity or Judaism.

The Quran does not speak about Christianity or Judaism. You will not find that word once mentioned in the Quran. But you'll find many, many instances of Christians and Jews, because the definitions the Quran uses are human-based definitions. Not conceptual definitions; very much it speaks about the realities. So God, for example, is creator. God is seeing. God is knowing. God is all-powerful. You don't have words of concepts as much. God is beautiful. So the ascriptions or the descriptions or the adjectives are what are used to describe the creator. Religion is defined by the relationship between God and man. And Islam is the submission and the acknowledgment of the human being to the creator.

Could you just give me a short version on how these two religions are related to one another?

God says in the Quran that there is not a single community on earth to whom we did not send a messenger. So the same message, the same truth, was revealed to all of humanity through a series of prophets; whose complete number, we don't know. The Quran mentions 25 of them by name.

He is the imam of Masjid al-Farah in New York City and founder of the American Sufi Muslim Association (ASMA) Society, a not-for-profit, non-political, educational and cultural organization dedicated to creating bridges between the American public and American Muslims. Born in Kuwait and educated in England, Egypt, and Malaysia, Abdul Rauf has a degree in physics from Columbia University in New York and a master's degree in plasma physics from Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. Abdul Rauf is a member of the board of trustees of the Islamic Center of New York, and Islamic advisor to the Interfaith Center of New York. He is the author of Islam: A Search for Meaning, and Islam: A Sacred Law, What Every Muslim Should Know About the Shari´ah. This interview was conducted in March 2002.

But the message is one: that God is one; that the creator is single; that the creator has no partner; that the creator is described by the perfection of a number of attributes, which Muslims call the divine names. So God is one; God is almighty; God is all-seeing; God is all-knowing; God is all-hearing. God is compassionate, merciful, forgiving, loving. God is just. And so forth.

Many Muslims feel in this country like the Christians did in Rome when they were fed to the lions. And here the lions are the media.

So we are forbidden to ascribe to God attributes of weakness or imperfection. So we cannot say God is one, but God is poor; God is one, but God is blind, for instance, or doesn't have the attribute of seeing. It is equally important for Muslims to assert, not only the oneness of God, but the perfection of his attributes.

And the message, in its substance, embodies what Jesus said were the two greatest commandments. When Jesus was once asked, "Rabbi, or Rebbe, what are the greatest commandments?" he said, "To love the lord your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul and all of your mind." And the second, which is co-equal with it: that you love your neighbor as you love yourself. Love for your brother or your sister, what you love for yourself. Not to harm them in a way that you do not wish to be harmed.

That again embodies these two principles: A, that you have to acknowledge the creator correctly. And B, that you are going to be held accountable for your ethical decisions and choices. And the particular form of revelation was a function of society. So every prophet or messenger spoke in his own language to his own community. Some words were spoken in Hebrew, or in ancient Egyptian. Every revelation was given in the language of the community to whom it was sent. The rituals may have been a little bit different, but the essence of the rituals were there: prayer, charity, and fasting.

If the message is the same, then how come the people don't agree with each other?

Well, God's perennial lament -- not only in the Quran, but in other scriptures as well -- is that people generally do not follow God's dictates and the guidance and the mandate that God has offered to humanity to follow. We tend to be recalcitrant. We tend to be disobedient to divine guidance. And if you look at human conflict, it has even existed within people of the same religious tradition. I don't need to remind you that even among those who call themselves Muslims there has been a lot of bloodshed.

We're finding that it's very hard to define who Muslims are. Every time we figure, oh, that's what it is, or that's who they are, there's an exception to the rule. There's a very traditional housewife-looking lady in Malaysia who's also an OB/Gyn who ministers to unwed mothers. We have girls in Turkey who are saying, "Look, we want to express ourselves as Muslims. We want to cover our hair." And we have a secular government that's discriminating against them -- women who want to cover, women who don't. Men who want to keep women in the house; men who agree that women have absolute opportunity to do what they need to do in society. How does this all fit?

The definition of the faith of Islam that I gave you before is the Quranic universal definition of the human being vis-a-vis the creator. There is a narrower definition of Islam which is used, which is those who follow the teachings of the prophet Muhammad. Now, according to that definition, their Islam is defined by what was commonly called the five pillars of faith. This is what theologians call the orthopraxy, or the orthopraxis. It means the practices which define you as a Muslim.

There are also five articles of creed, of belief, which theologians call the orthodoxy. That which defines you as a Muslim, if you adhere to these beliefs, [parallels] to, say, [Christianity] and Judaism, that in the Jewish faith, there is an orthopraxy, not much of an orthodoxy. As long as you abide by the rituals, the dietary laws, male circumcision, et cetera, et cetera, there is flexibility within the Jewish tradition on what you might choose to believe in to be considered as a member of the Jewish faith community. So there is flexibility in whether [you] believe in an afterlife, heaven and hell and so forth.

In the Christian faith, you have the opposite situation. You have a fundamental orthodoxy, which is, you have to believe that Jesus Christ is savior. If you believe wholeheartedly that Jesus Christ is savior, you are saved; you receive salvation. And there's a great flexibility on the ritual end. What you do in terms of prayers or dietary laws, circumcision, et cetera, there's flexibility on that.

In Islam, we have both an orthodoxy and an orthopraxy. The orthodoxy of the Islamic faith is defined as a belief in the oneness of God and the right attitude, the right understandings of God, as I mentioned earlier. A belief in the angels, beings created of light, who convey the divine commandments. The belief that God communicated to humanity via scriptures. And these scriptures are considered to be both oral and written form. ... And the belief that God also communicated his guidance and messages and teachings to humanity via human intermediaries, human messengers, we call them. prophets, or messengers.

And the last item of the Islamic orthodoxy is the belief in the last day. The last is a compound concept which means that this creation will, in fact, come to an end. So those of us who believe in the big bang theory, there will be a big implosion, in other words, at the end of time, so to speak, followed by a day of resurrection, where all the souls shall be resurrected; followed by a day of judgment, where all souls will be judged; followed by the obtaining of divine approval or divine disapproval. A pass grade or a failing grade. Those who get a passing grade will be in paradise. Those who get a failing grade will be in what we call hell. And the underlying theme of the last day is that we are all accountable for our ethical actions. ... That's the orthodoxy.

The orthopraxy of Islam is a declaration of faith: the statement that there is no God but God; that Muhammad is the messenger of God; the five-time daily prayer; the giving of alms, typically 2.5 percent of one's income or assets; the fasting of the month of Ramadan; and the going to pilgrimage, or hajj, once in one's lifetime, if one can afford it, financially and physically. Anybody who does these things is within the box of Islam.

There are other things, secondary things. Rules of dress and rules of behavior and rules of what may be considered right or wrong. And these come from cultural norms and from secondary sources of jurisprudence. But anybody who believes in these things and practices these things is a Muslim. ...

[Who decides the rules of Islamic jurisprudence?]

The thing about the Islamic situation is we don't have a church. We don't have an ordained priesthood, which makes it a little complicated. But we do have a tradition of scholarship, and rules of scholarship. It's very much like any field of knowledge.

Take any field of knowledge, like physics or biology or chemistry. Anybody can become a chemist or a biologist or a physicist. But there are rules [developed], and a kind of a growing consensus of opinion on how one should think correctly to arrive at what would be deemed a right, a correct decision.

Analogously, there is, in Islam, a tradition of theological interpretation, of [juridical] understanding and knowledge. And as long as you abide by these, the consensus of understanding on how you arrive at a decision, certain differences of opinion are considered equally valid.

What about interpretations regarding women, in particular? We find, in many parts of the world that tend to be populated by Muslims, it seems that women are getting the short end of the stick.

Well ... the prophet, for his times, was a feminist. And there are certainly voices within the Muslim world who believe and argue very strongly for the rights of women. But gender relationships really deal with the cultural norms of a particular group and the times in which they live. If one were to say, for instance, that American women are behind Muslim women -- and I pick the fact that there have been five Muslim women heads of state, and that the United States is behind the Muslim world in this regard -- that would not be considered to be an accurate assessment of how women are regarded in a particular society. One has to look at the sum total ... of the norms and the relationships and the understandings that exist in a given society in a given time. ...

Some of what we see may be considered to be inequities. But we have to remember that when Islam spread from Arabia to what we consider the Muslim world today, it spread through countries and societies which had very ancient traditions. Egypt had an ancient tradition, Iran, another ancient country, Persia before that. The subcontinent of India: another ancient culture. Same thing with current-day Turkey, the Byzantine Empire. ...

Through that, many cultural norms became to be considered by societies as being Islamic, but they're really cultural. So in matriarchal societies, which you will see some matriarchal societies like in West Africa or in Egypt, you'll find women very, very influential. Women hold the purse strings; women determine a lot of what happens, because ancient Egypt had a tradition of having women kings, women queens, queens of Egypt.

Whereas in some societies, which tended to be nomadic, it was very much more male-oriented, and the patriarchal and very strong male orientation became predominant. So as you go across much of the Muslim world, you will see this diversity, which really entered into Muslim life through custom, and not through the Quran and the hadith itself.

Can you define "hadith" for an American audience?

The word "hadith" means any report of something the prophet either said or did. That's hadith with small "h.". Hadith with capital "H" is the collection of all these reports.

Which have been carefully substantiated or authenticated?

There are all kinds of grades of hadith, from the most authentic to those that have been forged, and various degrees in between. Islamic hadith scholarship actually is a very fascinating study, because through the different hadith you get a slice of Islamic history. The politics of what happened at different periods of time are all manifest in the hadith.

And the Sunna, similarly.

The word "Sunna" is used to mean the normative practice of the prophet. In fact, the jurists have defined the general Sunna of the prophet to mean everything the prophet did or said. The hadith is the report of the Sunna. And of the practice of the prophet, there's a certain class of actions that are normative for Muslims to follow, Sunna which has legal value, has a precedent value. And there is Sunna which has no Sharia value. For instance, the prophet prayed a certain way. This has Sharia value, we're supposed to pray that way. The prophet went to hajj on a camel -- doesn't mean that we have to ride a camel from Medina to Mecca for our hajj to be valid. We can take a car. We can take a plane, because that Sunna has no Sharia value.

Can you explain Sharia?

The word "Sharia" is the term given to define the collectivity of laws that Muslims govern themselves by. And there is a presumption that these laws recognize all of the specific laws mentioned in the Quran and in the practice of the prophet, and do not conflict with that. So any law, anything studied in the Quran or the hadith, is definitely [Sharia]. The idea is that it is divinely legislated, that the creator also has legislated certain things for us.

But in the community of Muslims, it was recognized very early on that the Quran and the hadith do not speak to all issues. And there are many issues which are not necessarily addressed in the Quran and the hadith, that the Quran is silent on. ... There is a recognition in the [science] of Islamic jurisprudence that there are issues which have to be obtained by analogy, by consensus, and other [subsidiary] sources of jurisprudence. But as long as they don't conflict with the Quran and hadith of the prophet, it's considered to be, quote, unquote, "Sharia."

The flexibility built in there, you know, the using of your own common sense, is that what allows different places to apply Sharia differently?

Well, I wouldn't phrase it quite that way. The correct phrasing would be that when people think about Islamic law, there's a presumption that all of Islamic law is Quranic, or emanates from the Quran and the hadith. The point is, and the truth of the matter is, what really defines Islamic law [is] the sum total of Islamic law as has been practiced by Muslims throughout the last 14, 15 centuries ... . Generally, it emanates from the Quran and the hadith. The Quran and the hadith are a limiting factor and a shaping factor. But any body of laws that includes and embodies the specific commandments and prohibitions mentioned in the Quran and the hadith, that does not violate any of these things, has been considered as Sharia, as Islamic. And this allows a lot of variation of opinion, in things which the Quran and the hadith are relatively silent on as long as the principles are maintained, of justice, et cetera.

My understanding of [the Sharia] rules about punishment for matrimonial infidelity [is that] you have to have four eyewitnesses, or several eyewitnesses to the [act] in order to demand the death penalty. It's almost inconceivable to me that you could ever produce that kind of eyewitness or evidence. But we hear that these kinds of punishments are meted out fairly regularly. Is the law being followed the way it's set [out]?

You cannot judge a whole body of law by one instance of criminal law. When people think about Sharia law, they often think about the penalties for certain crimes. They don't think about the sum total of Islamic law and its jurisprudence, which means the underlying structure and philosophy and understanding of how you arrive at what we call the Islamically correct decision. You do not define Sharia law by just a couple of penalties. ...

Islamic law has a few penalties for certain crimes. But the rules of evidence, as you mentioned in the case of adultery, require either the free confession by the individual and/or the existence of four witnesses who are of sound mind and who fit the description of qualified witnesses, which is very rare to obtain.

Much of what we see when we hear of events that apply Sharia law, what we see in Nigeria, for instance, or even in Pakistan, is a desire by much of the people to see the general principles of justice followed. ... It is a desire by the people to see their system of laws be more equitable. It is a call for correction of the overall system of social justice, of economic justice, which the Quran calls for, and the example of the prophet calls for.

You see, Muslims have an ideal. Part of their ideal is to follow what they call the example of the prophet, the Sunna of the prophet. So at an individual level, a human being who wants to perfect himself or herself looks to the tradition of the prophet, his individual practice, and tries to emulate the prophet as much as possible.

There is also a collective subliminal ambition that Muslims have, that at a collective level, they also embody the ideals of the community that the prophet developed in Medina. So when Muslims today speak of the attempt to establish an Islamic state, what they are really saying is that they would like to have a community that lives in accordance with the ideals, the relationships, the social contract, which the prophet had developed in Medina with his companions and how they had this amongst each other. ...

In what ways do Western values, morals, and cultural practices, intrude upon, and [in what ways] are they at variance with Islamic ideals?

I think there are two aspects to this question, in the broader sense of the word. There is Western values regarding governance; Western values regarding separation of powers; Western notions regarding what the role of government is in society; Western notion in terms of democratic institutions and principles and ideas. And to a large extent, Muslims are very enamored of these systems, and would like to implement them in their own societies ... because these principles and norms are completely in sync with the principles of the Quran and the teachings of the prophet. Muslims would like very much to implement these norms within their societies.

When you come to speak about things like behavioral norms, gender relationships, or the kind of things that people will do, this is a separate issue. And there is another aspect of the West, and that is the attitude of the West towards the non-Western countries, in terms of trying to be presumptuous in telling them how they should even live their lives in ways that they are not accustomed to -- like modes of dress, for instance. In the 1930s, when the first shah of Iran forced his soldiers at bayonet point to force Iranian women to take off the chador, for instance.

People don't like to be told how to dress. This is a matter of personal individual conscience. Even we here in the West do not insist that our students in public schools wear uniforms. We give them that level of freedom. People do not like to be told how to do certain things in their personal lives.

What are the key differences between being a Muslim in America and being a Muslim in the Muslim world?

There are many aspects to that. There is the political aspect, the sociological aspect, the social and family aspect, the economic aspect. So there are many aspects to the to the difference between living in a Muslim country as a native especially, and living in this country. ...

If I were to look at maybe the broadest difference: there is a sense of freedom in the United States. So one practices one's faith in the United States as an act of deliberate choice. If you are not [doing so, it's] not so much because of social pressure. There may be a certain amount of social pressure. But at a certain point in one's life, one is relatively free to live one's life as one chooses in this country.

And that sense of freedom makes one's religiosity or the defining lines of one's religiosity much sharper. Religion is a much more personal thing here. It is also a deeper experience within the personal envelope. One is forced to attach oneself to one's religion in a personally deeper way in terms of the existential issues -- it has to be anchored on a much deeper existential foundation.

Another aspect about living in the United States is that one experiences a lot of negative media attention to one's Islamicity. And that has resulted, and can result in a reaction one way or the other by many people. Many Muslims feel in this country like the Christians did in Rome when they were fed to the lions. And here the lions are the media. We hope that perhaps things will change in the United States, as they did in Rome, as well.

It seems there is a societal dimension to being a Muslim, in terms of the ways one would like one's society to be organized. Are there conflicts in that sense between how one would like society to be, and the realities of American society?

I would say that Muslims in America, especially those who come from other countries, experience both an attraction, a strong attraction, to the positive things that America offers: freedom, political freedom; economic mobility and well-being, the ability to live a materially comfortable life. These are all the things that draws people from all over the world, Muslim and non-Muslim, to this country.

However, there are certain things that people, even when they come from their own country, don't like to give up. They don't like to give up certain aspects of their cultural norms. Their practices of family relationships they try to maintain. Their cuisines they like to maintain. Those values, which they consider to be their ethics, they like to maintain.

And so Muslims who have come to this country generally believe that the democratic principles, the political principles, the economic structure of this country really resonates with the faith of Islam, and draw them to this country.

To the sense that, let's say, American social norms or values are not supportive of the families -- in those issues, Muslims may happen to have a different opinion. [On] those values which violate their sense of decency, they may have a different opinion.

In a certain sense, much of the ethical and moral issues which Muslims feel strongly about in this country is shared by what you might call the Christian majority in this country -- more of the moral mooring, or the sense of decency, which is commonly shared in other faith traditions.

... I also believe that, as the American Muslim community matures in this country, that the American Muslim community will be an interlocutor, and important intermediary between the West and the Muslim world. And more so today, because today, we have much more much easier communications between the immigrant Muslim population and their extended families in the Muslim world. ... Unlike those who immigrated a century ago from Europe, there is maintained contacts with the Old World and the New [World]. And this phenomenon will give rise to a much different sense of what it means to be a Muslim in the world.

Tell me more about that. What is an American Muslim -- if there is such a thing as "an American Muslim?"

I think it is very much a work in progress. If you look at what happened to the Muslim-American community over the last, say, 40 years, it is a mosaic; it is a cross-section of the Muslim world.

We look at the Muslim centers, or mosques, starting with the early 1970s as waves of immigration began to occur from the Muslim world. You found, as certain ethnic groups reached critical mass, that mosques sprouted with a very ethnic complexion. So we have a Turkish mosque in Brooklyn, an Albanian mosque. You will find a West African mosque, mainly from French- speaking West Africans from Senegal and Mali [in] the Bronx, for instance.

You have also always had African-American mosques. You have Arab mosques, Hindu, Pakistani mosques, Bangladesh mosques.

However, what we are seeing is that these mosques tend to be maintained in terms of their cultural complexion and their general collective psychology by the continued immigration from the Old World. The second generation, the children of these immigrants, are finding themselves with a different psychological complexion. And I see a development of an American Islamic identity, which is currently a work in progress, which will be kind of the sum total of these influences.

But amongst those who are born in this country, or came very early into this country at a very early age, they grew up with a sense of belonging to the American scene, which their parents did not have. The immigrants tend to come here with a little bit of a guest mentality. But those who are born and raised here feel they are Americans. We have to define ourselves as Americans. And just as I said earlier, when Islam spread to Egypt, and Iran, and India, it restated its theology and its jurisprudence within the cultural context of those societies. It also anticipated that Islam will restate itself within the language constructs, within the social constructs, within the political constructs of American society, as well. ...

[What do you think will come of the American influence on Islam?]

I think the major lesson that will that will come out of it is the increased democratization of our societies, our Islamic societies. The increased democratization of Islamic societies, and the sense of greater equality amongst people, whether on the basis of gender, the elimination of any vestiges of a class society. ...

Do you think we have witnessed a period of reactionary-ism against the Western influence within the Muslim world in the past 50 or 100 years?

The 20th century was a century in which the Muslim world experienced the hands of the West in the perception of the Muslim world -- a dismantling of some of its important constructs. The most significant of that was the dismantling of the Ottoman caliph. Because for the first time in the collective consciousness of Muslims, there is no caliph anywhere. And it was replaced-- especially in major population centers of the Muslim world, those that were important at the turn at the beginning of the twentieth century: Turkey, Egypt, Iran -- the traditional forms of rulership were replaced by militantly secular regimes. Not only secular regimes, but militantly secular regimes, which did not even support traditional values which were cherished by the people. In Turkey, for instance, Ataturk himself forbade the calling of the prayer in the Arabic language. They changed the script of Ottoman Turkish from Arabic script to the Roman script.

So the Muslim world felt that there was a deliberate attempt to create a split in that bond which Muslims had. ... So what happened created a split between Arabs and Turks ... and refigured the map and created new identities of people.

People [had] thought of themselves as part of a group. You had the family, the clan, the tribe and extended notion of a tribe, a people, a nation. So for example the Uzbekis were split geographically. So you have some Uzbekis in Uzbekistan, some in what we call Afghanistan.

The Pashtun people were split: some in Pakistan, some in Afghanistan. The Hazaris were split between Iran and Afghanistan. We tell these people, this segment of Uzbekis, Pashtuns and Hazaris, now think of yourself as a completely new identification based upon geography, which people did not have before. And this seeded conflict. ...

We did the same thing in Iraq, and the Kurds lost out. They are split between Iraq and Turkey. So the West planted the seed for some grave problems in the Muslim world. But at the same time, they robbed the Muslim world in the minds of the Muslims, from a sense of identity that was based upon people, and also a sense of pluralism that existed within the Muslim dialectic. So within, let's say, the Ottoman caliphate, they had a principle of different peoples.

So they had the notion that the sultan had political power over these different people. But these peoples had their different cultural norms, different religions. They had their different religious leaders, as long as political homage was paid to the sultan, and they didn't act in a way which was treasonous politically. They had their own court system, dealing with matters of religious affairs and so forth.

All was part of this of this grouping of people. So we had a method of pluralism which worked, which was successful. And there were instances of intermarriage between the people and so forth, but people lived harmoniously. It created what Samuel Huntington calls "torn societies."... Samuel Huntington describes a torn society as "a society whose leadership, those who hold the reins of the power, identify with a different set of cultural norms than the people on whom they govern."

And what would be the key implications that came of this fracturing, tearing apart, in the way Islam has been lived?

I think the major thing is that Muslims have been taught to think in certain ideas that are peculiarly Western -- the idea of nationalism, the idea of nation states. And in their attempt to fulfill their natural urge to perfect themselves as Muslims individually and collectively, they therefore try to create some peculiar hybrids.

Like the notion of an Islamic state, for instance. Several generations of Muslims now have been educated in ways that their mindset and ways of thinking, if not their language even, is very much Westernized. So they think in terms of Western ideas and concepts, even if they speak their own native languages.

So the urge therefore to develop an Islamic nation-state -- a concept which some people may regard as being an oxymoron, because the nation-state is not something which developed out of the Islamic tradition ... that the Islamic philosophical tradition was based upon identification of grouping of peoples, who had governed themselves according to living in certain ways and structured in a slightly different way. ...

There seems to be a growing conservatism, or conservative interpretation of Islam taking hold. Is that something you have seen, or agree with?

I think that in the 20th century there are certain waves that occurred. There was, at one point in time, a feeling -- in fact, when you go back to the first part of the twentieth century, there were some well-known voices who grew out of Islamic tradition but who were exposed to the West ... who felt the need to restate what it means to be a Muslim in the 20th century. They found many aspects of Western society to be highly admirable, and wanted to bring it to their own countries.

In fact, in the 1920s the Wafd party was founded in Egypt to introduce democracy into Egypt. And the Wafd party had on its platform Egyptians -- not only Egyptian Muslims but Egyptian Jews and Egyptian ... Christians from the Coptic Church on the platform.

So there was an attempt to meld the best of the of the East with the best of the West. These movements ... were interrupted by events of World War II and the rise of militant dictatorial regimes, which completely changed the sociological complexion, the political complexion of much of the Muslim world. During that period of time, I would say 1950s and 1960s, there was a time when these regimes had the upper hand. And they felt that the way to fast-forward as societies, in terms of the industrial development, was to emulate the West in all of its aspects.

Their policies didn't succeed. And this resulted in a reaction to much of these policies, because this newfangled way of doing things didn't work. Let's go back and revisit our traditions, and let's find comfort in those traditions. ...

Could you just explain to us the key things that Islam, Christianity and Judaism have in common -- what they share?

They share geography. They share Jerusalem, which is important to all. We share a common ancestor, Abraham, who was really the founder and the patriarch of all of us. And I think if we can revert back to the Abrahamic foundation, that is [where] we will find our common ground. Our languages are very similar -- Arabic and Hebrew and Aramaic ... . The ideas are very similar; and the fundamental impulse of belief in God, that God is the creator, that we are obliged to act in a way that is ethical and just and right. These are certainly among the important aspects of kinship between these three faith traditions. And I would even go further and say -- apart perhaps from some differences in the notion of God -- but as far as the idea of the common good, the idea of social justice -- [that] is shared with all faith traditions.

home · portraits of ordinary muslims · introduction · major themes · interviews · faqs
readings & links · discussion · teacher's guide
producer chat · tapes & transcripts · press · credits · privacy
FRONTLINE · wgbh · pbsi

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

NEXT ON FRONTLINE

The Rise of ISISOctober 28th

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS