We gratefully acknowledge and thank the author, Akbar S. Ahmed for permission to reproduce these excerpts from his book 'Living Islam.'

(i)    Islam in the Age of the Western Media
(ii)   Islam and the West: Confrontation or Consensus? 
(iii)  The Muslim Failure with the Media
(iv)  The Gulf War and the media
(v)   Media encouragement of Muslim orthodoxy 
(vi)  The Western bogeyman: Islamic fundamentalism
(vii) Concluding thoughts

For more articles by the same distinguished author on this web site please see:

Sufism: The Muslim Universal Way
The Problems of Muslim Minorities 
Reflections on Muslim Family Issues
Muslims in the West

Islam in The Age of The Western Media

By the end of the 1980s the world had changed dramatically. And the causes of change crept up on us quietly, almost without our noticing. The main developments concern widespread use of the audio-visual media. These include video, fax and satellite communications technology. In the context of the global political situation, in which the USA has emerged as the master of the age, these developments assume a special cultural significance. 

Islam And The West: Confrontation or Consensus

In the 1990s America and its cultural allies (like the countries of Europe) appear to dominate the world. They do so through the media. That is why the media is seen as hostile by the Muslim world. Anything from the West is regarded as potentially threatening; this creates neurosis and suspicion. Anyone associating with the West is seen as an agent, a representative of the CIA. It is the gut reaction and bizarre response of a people repeatedly humiliated and let down by the West. It is not the response of Islamic civilization which has survived over a millennium and produced some of the most enduring cultural systems ever seen. 

The West, dominated by North America and Western Europe but also including countries such as Japan, is the driving force in the new global culture. The standards of living of many of their citizens have never been so high in history. But they have little to offer those outside their borders. Indeed, they would close their borders to outsiders. The notions of 'fortress USA' and 'fortress Europe' are just beginning to develop and will certainly grow in the coming time. Strong notions of race and social superiority are embedded in these countries and can very easily translate into dangerous political philosophies. We see the Nazi salute and ideology openly displayed in Germany once again. This was unthinkable even a few years ago. Once again the cries against Jews and foreigners are thick in the air, as crude racism re-emerges in Europe, including France and Britain. Once again immigration laws are debated and are being made stricter. So into the next millennium the dominant Western nations will wish to maintain a tightly run island of prosperity to be protected from the hordes of the hungry and restless wishing to join them. 

Then there is the Islamic world. In its population and its resources it is potentially capable of forming a major world presence. Its politics, however, remain volatile. Its leadership still requires vision and stability. Its own thinkers still require clarity. It is for this reason that Western journalists find it easy to label groups of Muslim countries as an arc of crisis, or an Islamic crescent of crisis, and dismiss them. They take some Muslim countries and connect them across Asia or Africa; so Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Turkey form a crescent. This is a journalistic cliché. 

Correctly or not, Muslims perceive the Western media as hostile. Many factors explain this sense of discomfort. The general attitude of hostility is largely true. Western programmes about Muslims are often slanted to suggest negative images of Muslims. Many carry messages of political instability and the poor treatment of women - the two notorious Orientalist prejudices against Islam. 

The restless generation coming of age in Muslim societies is another factor. It has grown up with the media and feels familiar with American culture. It is ambiguous about what it sees: it cannot live by the American standards it observes, yet paradoxically it wants them. It also feels contempt for much of what it sees on television (particularly sex and violence) and believes it to be representative of American society. Frustrated, it finds its only legitimate sense of identity in its own traditional civilization, which is Islam. This generation therefore emphasizes its Islamic identity by rejecting the West. 

As we know, Islam is not the only religion experiencing a resurgence. There has been a rise of religious revivalism throughout the world. This has often taken new expressions, sometimes aggressive ones. Whether evangelical Christianity in the USA or Hinduism in India, this phenomenon of revivalism is peculiar to our age. Notions of the secular, of progress and of science which many took for granted a generation ago are being challenged. 

Another factor is that Muslim societies appear to be experiencing problems with the contemporary world and its ethos based on speed, cynicism and disbelief. Islam recommends balance and a steady pace. There is also the noise and dazzle of the media. Again, Islam emphasizes quiet, meditation and simplicity. The family itself is under attack in today's world. Islam emphasizes the family as the key unit of society and would safeguard it at all costs. Most important, Muslims believe in God in an age dominated by materialism and agnosticism or atheism. 

Further, people have already been predicting that after the collapse of communism the West's next enemy would be Islam. Now that there are no more powerful enemies for the West to conquer since the break-up of its main adversary, the USSR, Islam alone remains in its path, preventing final world supremacy. There is a growing feeling among writers and commentators that the world is heading for a final show-down, a final crusade, between Islam and the West. 

Because there is so much anger and frustration, there is little analytic or objective thought around Islam; there is little sense of working out solutions, of pondering on problems, in a global context. There is sometimes despair and at other times a wild attempt at striking at the enemy. Not unnaturally, this prevents understanding, analysis or communication. 

The Muslim failure with the media 

Anyone today with access to a television, radio or newspaper will have been recently inundated with negative images of Muslims. The controversy regarding The Satanic Verses, the Gulf War and the collapse of the BCCI are three examples of the media focusing attention on Muslims and causing heated argument. Through the drama that surrounded the author and the novel, the way the Gulf War developed and was fought, and the story of the bank, Muslims all over the world were forced to engage in a debate with non-Muslims and indeed with other Muslims. With media descriptions of a 'criminal culture,' to many in the West Islam appeared to be a force for anarchy and disorder. 

Some of the main questions in the media about Muslims that related to the above examples were: Is the burning of books a standard Muslim response to literature they don't approve of? Does this mean Muslims do not prize knowledge and learning? Are Muslim leaders merely dictators who invade and occupy smaller neighbours forcibly? Are Muslim businessmen only capable of fraud? What are Muslims really like? Muslims themselves were angry and bewildered by the extent and intensity of the criticism. While they did not approve of The Satanic Verses, most did not wish to kill the author; while many did not support the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq, they felt it was high time someone challenged the bullying attitude of the West; and while they were shocked at the extent of corruption in the BCCI, and many lost their deposits, they nevertheless felt that the manner of its public exposure was partly motivated by a deliberate attempt to humiliate Islam. 

In the age of the media, of the sound bite, of television images, Muslims have not yet found a way of expressing themselves adequately. Their leaders - whether Gaddafi or Saddam - rely too much on mob oratory and controlled television appearances which appear artificial and ineffective in the West. Besides, the vernacular translates poorly. Hyperbole may be thought appropriate for the mob gathered in the Muslim city - wiping the enemy from the face of the earth, the mother of battles which would claim thousands of lives, and so on - but it translates badly in the international press. Muslim leaders either appear as military dictators ordering the chopping of hands and the whipping of the poor (Zia in Pakistan and Nimeiri in Sudan) or as tribal tyrants (Arab rulers) or as socialist dictators (Saddam in Iraq and Assad in Syria).

There seem to be two distinct Muslim responses to the Western media in the 1990s. I will give two examples from Pakistan. One response is mimicry, to accept Western culture, indeed to reflect and further it, often unthinkingly. The weekly paper, Friday Times (Lahore), and the monthly magazine, Herald (Karachi), both in English, are edited by Oxbridge/London University journalists who provide useful and often penetrating political commentary. But they also faithfully echo Western jargon and ideas. Even the word 'fundamentalist' is used, without a trace of self-consciousness, to describe fellow Pakistanis; indeed it is often abbreviated to 'fundo'. Both carry detailed and regular commentary on the latest videos and pop songs coming from America. Pop stars like Madonna are frequently featured. The other response, also from Pakistan, is that of the Jamaat-i-Islami political party. A member announced in public that if Madonna or Michael Jackson were to be invited to Pakistan the party would not only agitate against the government for allowing the invitations but ensure that the functions were disrupted. More zealous members promised to break the legs of those who participated. 

While one reaction was to absorb without thought what was coming from the West, the other was total rejection. (They were echoing the two separate streams of education I pointed out in chapter 4.) But are these really well-thought out, balanced and serious responses? Will they be long-term? Do they solve anything? Do they help us to understand better the relationship between Islam and the West? 

Muslims have yet to discover how to use the media to project ideas and images of their own culture and civilization. A perfect example comes from Muslim Spain. Although the King of Spain has dutifully apologized to Jews for what his ancestors did to them in the fifteenth century with the fall of Granada, he has not apologized to Muslims. It is known that he is keen to build bridges but still awaits a Muslim initiative on the matter. From this it appears that Muslims who are so acutely aware of the loss of Andalusia in their popular literary culture find it difficult to translate this into realpolitik and international diplomacy. The failure to do so has cost them heavy. They are always lagging behind in the world, and the injustices inflicted on them are barely mentioned. 

Another example comes from Afghanistan. We have discussed the mujahid as the equivalent of a Muslim Zorro figure. But in the Western media the word means different things in different times and places. Mujahid in the Middle Eastern context is a young man with a Kalashnikov wearing battle fatigues, his face covered by a Palestinian scarf, taking a Western hostage. A mujahid in Afghanistan was a heroic tribesman fighting the Soviets. There were thus different interpretations, different responses to the same person fighting for the same cause: the right to self-determination and dignity. 

But the media is fickle. Once hailed as the giant-killers, those that successfully fought a superpower, the Afghan mujahidin in the wake of the new world order find themselves discarded. The Americans now see little need for them. Afghanistan is still in a state of turmoil, one-third of the population wiped out and the remaining scarred physically and mentally by one of the most savage confrontations in modern times. The Afghans find themselves at a loss. 

The Gulf War and the media

When they came out of the Arabian desert in the seventh century, Muslims had little besides horses and faith. It was this faith that scattered the more established and powerful armies before them. It was a time when faith could sweep all before it, and that lesson was never forgotten. In 1991 in the Gulf War we saw how things had changed. The Iraqis could not even come near the enemy as death rained down from the skies thousands of feet above. It was impossible even to hold one's own against a superior technological force. It was a pitiful spectacle, a massacre. 

It is a truism that the media are used as a weapon in today's world. I was in Britain during the war and I watched television and read the newspapers closely. In the first few days there was a complete blackout of news reported from the Arab side. Television channels broadcast a number of discussion programmes with some very distinguished participants. Because the Western media had built up the war as a major conflict between two largely balanced forces it was difficult to separate reality from illusion. Saddam 's army (the fourth largest in the world), Saddam's nuclear potential, Saddam's Scud missiles and Saddam's super-gun were constantly paraded before us. It was going to be a bloody and prolonged fight. 

The reality was totally different. Some of the most powerful nations in the world had combined their forces to lure, fight and destroy a Third World power. And at best Iraq was nothing more than a Third World power. Its armies had not even succeeded in penetrating beyond the borders into Iran in the long war in the 1980s. This was in spite of the full backing of the West and indeed the Arabs who wished to prevent the Iranian revolution from spilling into their areas. 

However, watching the war on television one had the impression that this was going to be a repeat of the Second World War. Saddam had been elevated to the rank of a Hitler - indeed the word was commonly bandied around. Then there was the completely one sided nature of the commentary and analysis. No brown or black faces were to be seen on the discussion - panels in the early days. Furthermore, not only Iraqis but Arabs by extension became the enemy. It became the war of the white man against the brown one, the European and American against the Arab. By further extension it soon became the war of the West against Muslims. 

This equation, looking back coldly now, appears astonishing. And yet it happened and is true. Because of this identification of Muslims as the enemy, numerous incidents were reported of Muslims being taunted, beaten and abused in the UK. The irony of picking on a Bangladeshi in the London Underground, a man who had nothing to do with Saddam and his politics or indeed the Middle East, did not strike those who vented their anger against Muslims. Even Indians were not spared. The further irony of an Indian - perhaps a Hindu - being taunted as a Saddam supporter strikes us as ludicrous now but created an uncomfortable atmosphere during the war. I was aware of the seriousness of the situation because I was one of a group of Muslims invited to call on the junior Foreign Minister, Douglas Hogg, at the Foreign Office. The delegation conveyed some of the apprehensions of the beleaguered Muslim community in the UK at the height of the war. A long list of incidents that had taken place over the last few days was presented to the minister. This included women being spat at, pushed and abused because they were easily identified as Muslim (wearing a hijab or shalwar-kameez). In the public mind anyone who even looked remotely Muslim was supposed to be a supporter of Saddam . 

This atmosphere created a siege mentality within the Muslim community. Muslims began to feel their loyalty was on test. Many opposed Saddam and his policies, but there were many others who did not necessarily approve of him yet saw in him a man who had the courage to stand up to the West. The television discussion programmes in the West at first did not allow the opposite point of view. Not only were there very few speakers who could represent the Muslim point of view but they were rarely given a chance. Those that did appear sympathetic to Muslims were dismissed as the loony left or romantics who knew nothing of political reality. In one such British television programme in which I appeared the distinguished panellists virtually dismissed Victoria Brittain simply because she expressed pro-Arab sentiments and wrote for the Guardian newspaper (although the latter probably created greater animosity than her support for the Arabs in some of the conservative panellists - particularly since the Guardian consistently opposed the Gulf War). There was no doubt that the Muslim point of view was not only marginalised but was not allowed to be represented. On Channel 4's Midnight Special programme, I found that positions were often firmly taken before discussions and then firmly held. There was little attempt at exchange of ideas or even dialogue; and these were extremely distinguished people: MPs, air marshals and experts. However, I also found that some of the famous names showed unexpected sympathy for the suffering of the Iraqi people. Harold Pinter, for example, spoke strongly in support of the underdog. He was, of course, roundly attacked by most members of the panel. 

It was quite clear that whoever controlled the media could project how the war was being fought. More important, they could project why the war was being fought. The other side was simply not given a chance. Even untrue stories could be cooked up or true stories be presented in a manner that blurred reality. We were shown the savage bombing of a building in Baghdad that killed hundreds of civilians in the basement. We were not sure what happened. We were told that this was a military target. It was only through the emotional voice and the disturbed eyes of the British television reporter who went in and saw the carnage that we were aware that something terrible had happened. Hospitals, bridges, homes - the very fabric of society was being demolished. For each news item we had to use a method of calculation, to make adjustments, to arrive at the truth. 

But there were other extraordinary developments in the Muslim world itself that needed to be explained. Although many Muslim governments supported the West against Saddam , the people were with him. It was a strange phenomenon, this support for Saddam. Muslims were aware that he was far from the ideal Muslim ruler - that, in fact, he was a tyrant created by the West and supported in the 1980s to stem Iran's Islamic revolution. Yet in Pakistan and Egypt, although the governments sided with the Western allies, the people took to the streets in support of Saddam. The Supreme Council of British Muslims met in Bradford and unanimously supported Saddam. His posters became the most popular item throughout the Muslim world. Suddenly Saddam was being seen as another Nasser, even another Saladin, who stood up to the West. Although Saddam was neither of these, he had assumed an almost mythical status. So intense was the sense of humiliation and anger among Muslims that they would even rally behind the devil himself if he stood up to the West. This is not only a disturbing explanation but an uncomfortable reality. 

Media encouragement of Muslim orthodoxy 

There is a causal relationship between the Western media and the orthodox position in Islam. Ironically, the media encourage what they set out to deflate. Let me explain. Until the availability of modern technology which would link distant parts of the world, Muslim societies were culturally diverse. The Qur'an and the Shar'iah provided guidelines but local practice often varied. So the most colourful syntheses of cultures are recorded from one end of the Muslim world to the other. In due course these became part of Islamic observance. Unchallenged, they were accepted as custom. 

Today, however, nothing can go unchallenged because everything is public. Within minutes, accounts of the behaviour of a Muslim group in one part of the world can be flashed to another. This has given the main centres of orthodoxy unimaginable powder and has allowed them to act and behave as the guardians of orthodoxy in a manner unthinkable and practically impossible only a few years ago. 

Looking at South Asian Muslim customs, we observe that many of them are derived from Islam's close contact with Hinduism. Over the centuries these have become part of Muslim custom. But their absorption into Islam alarmed Muslim scholars. In the eighteenth century the Muslim scholar and reformer. Shah Waliullah, emphasized the need for Muslims to reject these customs. But his voice, although powerful and respected, was nonetheless a single voice. His following and his writing had an impact, but it was limited to the literate. Today the power of the media is such that any custom which is deemed to be abhorrent or unorthodox can be exposed to literally millions of people through the media. It is therefore much more difficult to practise something that is not officially sanctioned or accepted by the orthodox. Sufism provides an interesting example. It is increasingly under attack by the orthodox. The media images of Sufism as a corrupt, decadent cult attracting hippy figures do not help. Sufism has already been under attack over the last century by modernizing Muslims who absorbed Western scientific and enlightenment concepts. Arab leaders with socialist ideas, like Nasser, have also attempted to suppress it. 

Although Sufism in its purest forms is traced directly to the Prophet himself, and some of the greatest Muslim figures have been inclined towards Sufism, the more distorted forms attracted much contemporary criticism. Tomb worship, saint worship and stories of miraculous powers have contributed to the disrepute that Sufism now seems to have fallen into. However, this does not mean that Sufism is to be rejected in its entirety. It is one of the most endearing faces of Islam. Its philosophy of universal love, of universal peace, sulh-i-kul, is one of the most powerful and attractive messages it has for our age. Besides, its orthodoxy cannot be challenged. The Sufi's first task is to master the Shar'iah, a Sufi must first be orthodox before he can go on to the stage of mystical achievement. 

Yet Sufism stands as a discredited force particularly among the younger generation. This is for several reasons. The strictly orthodox Wahabis of Saudi Arabia believe that much of Sufism is little more than mumbo-jumbo, a deviance from the straight path. They are especially critical of the notion of intermediaries between man and God. They believe that power attaches to God alone and not to human beings. Not even the holy Prophet has any special status apart from the fact that he is the last messenger of God. Some extreme sections of the Wahabis would even go as far as discouraging visitors to the tomb of the Prophet because it attracts worshippers who in turn begin to worship the tomb rather than God. 

This is logical and correct. But, like all philosophies carried to an extreme, it can create problems on the ground. It produces a rigidity which does not allow for alternative explanations. Backed by the power of scholarship, funding and propaganda, it can easily convince the younger generation that anyone accused of being a Sufi is little short of indulging in shirk, attributing a partner to God, one of the most serious crimes in Islam. I have heard accusations against some of the most respected and saintly figures in contemporary Islam who were suspected of having Sufistic leanings. These people would in turn chuckle and say, 'May God give Muslims better understanding. ' 

The media play their part in discouraging Sufism. It is not easy to convey the Sufistic message in the media. The hidden meanings of the saints, mystical powers and esoteric images do not translate easily. The image is far more powerful than the message. A Sufi is easily reduced to a Hollywood caricature. 

The other Muslim position, the more formal and orthodox, is paradoxically enough boosted by the Western media. Images of crowds yelling anti-Western slogans and pictures of militant young men capturing embassies or blowing up planes do not discourage other young Muslims. On the contrary they attract them. It gives them a sense of identity, a pride in their cause. They are striking a blow for Islam, for the glory of their religion. They are prepared to make any kind of sacrifice and indeed it is on the news all over the world. This is acknowledgement. So the media play a role in assisting one form of Islam as against another, however unwittingly. 

The Western bogeyman: Islamic fundamentalism

What is this so-called Islamic fundamentalism? Why is it becoming such a force in world politics today? Islamic fundamentalism is an imprecise and elusive term which attempts to convey contemporary Islamic revivalism and resurgence. Certain features of this phenomenon can be identified. There is a belief that Islam is a comprehensive way of life, that it includes society, politics and economics. There is also a belief that the failure of Muslims is due to their departure from the straight path of Islam and their infatuation with Western secularism and its materialist ideology. Then it is felt that the renewal of society necessitates a return to Islam, which draws its inspiration directly from the Qur'an and the Prophet. Many Muslims also believe that, in order to create a truly Islamic order, the present Western-inspired civil and criminal codes must be replaced by more Islamic ones. Westernization is condemned but modernization is not; science and technology are therefore accepted, but they need to be subordinated to Islamic belief. The process of Islamization itself requires organization and association of dedicated and trained Muslims who will struggle in jihad against corruption and social injustice. However, some go beyond this set of beliefs. They see the West as continuing the Crusades against Muslims with the Crusader mentality. They reject even their own Muslim governments because they are not inspired by the Shar'iah. While accepting that the Christians and Jews are people of the Book, their links with Western colonialism and Zionism make them unbelievers. 

Many factors feed into this Islamic revivalism. Most significant are the rapid developments in communications which link up Bradford with Islamabad, Washington with Cairo, connecting Muslims living in the West to their own societies. There are also visiting scholars, diplomats and travellers. This is why when the explosion took place around The Satanic Verses in Bradford a movement developed rapidly among Muslims all over the world. In Bombay and in Islamabad Muslims were killed protesting against the book. Benazir Bhutto, who had just assumed the office of Prime Minister, said, 'Salman Rushdie almost sank me.' Never before in history could the problems of an author living across the world have had such an effect on the politics of a country like Pakistan. 

There is also a sociological factor. We note a polarization in Muslim society which often leads to conflict. Neither extreme is desirable: neither integration, for it implies the blurring of borders which would in the end deny a separate Muslim identity; nor isolation, for Islam is not and cannot be isolationist with its emphasis on the universal and the global. But the tensions of the times have created the crisis of polarization, and the lack of leadership among Muslims has allowed it to grow to the point of mutual incomprehension. 

World politics have also contributed to the growth of the phenomenon. From the Muslim perspective it is important to understand that during the Cold War both the USA and the USSR were equally suspect in their dealings with the Muslim world. The Muslim perspective was best summed up by Khomeini's dictum na sharq na gharb, neither East nor West. During the 1950s and 1960s the USSR threatened Muslims. One of my memories as a young undergraduate in Pakistan is Khrushchev's drawing a circle around Peshawar in Pakistan threatening to wipe it out with a nuclear attack. Syria and Iraq fell to a local variant of communism and the results were disastrous. It was feared that if the USA removed its protection many other Muslim countries would fall to the Soviet Union. Then, in the 1970s, things began to change. 

When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, it was expected that like so many dominoes the surrounding states of Iran and Pakistan would be the next to fall. But the Afghans stood their ground, and eventually the USSR packed up and went home. This was followed by the complete break-up of the USSR, which in turn led to the emergence of six new Muslim states. Not unnaturally, this sequence of events was linked by Muslims to their own vision of Islamic destiny. For Muslims it was the triumph of their faith against Godless Russia; the inevitable victory of good over evil. - With the collapse of the USSR, Muslims believed that the USA alone remained as the major force hostile to Muslims. However, we must emphasize that not all Muslims accept conflict with the USA as inevitable. Many nations have close ties with the USA, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. 

In considering why Islam is becoming more of a world force today, we need to explain what is happening to make countries like Algeria - once firmly secular - turn to Islam. Algeria itself is an interesting example because it was one of the first Muslim countries to achieve independence from a European colonial power. After a heroic struggle which cost millions of lives, it then set itself on the path to secular democracy. Having rid itself of the French it would try to become as far as possible French. The paradox was not resolved. It was simply frozen. 

All this, however, did not meet the economic and political aspirations of the ordinary Algerian. A generation later Algeria seemed to have got nowhere. Worse: in the process it began to lose its own sense of identity. Horror stories of the treatment of Arabs in France further alienated Algerians from the French model. Questions were raised: if we are to be totally French and yet the French despise us there must be something wrong? Where do we look for another identity? Is the answer in our own culture and religion? The alternative source of identity was, of course, Islam. It was always there. Earlier it had simply been assumed. Now the present generation of Algerian leaders began to examine it seriously and discovered in the process that there were many Algerians thinking along these lines. 

"Islamic revivalism,' 'Islamic resurgence,' 'Islamic movement' - we imagine these are new and peculiar to our age. We think we are understanding something happening in the world by labelling Muslim expressions thus. In fact these very terms are as old as Islam itself. Islam is nothing short of an endless revolution, the eternal quest to reach out to God. It is the universal desire of human beings to pose the eternal questions and attempt their answers in our brief span here on earth. 

Concluding Thoughts

A hundred years ago Muslim lands were under the European colonial powers. Muslim capitals such as Algiers and Cairo were occupied. Those that were not, like Kabul and Tehran, were under the influence of one or other power. It was the nadir of Muslim political fortunes. Today, a hundred years later, there are about fifty Muslim states, almost a billion Muslims in the world (with, significantly, about ten million Muslims in the West). 

Islamic symbolism remains high among Muslims. Constitutions are declared Islamic and flags bear an Islamic star or crescent. Airlines like Pakistan International and Gulf Air say a prayer before the flight when announcing take-off. Major hotels indicate the direction of Mecca for those of the faithful who wish to pray in their rooms. 

Perhaps because of the global Islamic position that is forming, there is also a feeling among non-Muslims that Islam is a threat. Throughout the world there is confrontation between Muslims and people of other religions: in South Asia between Hindus and Muslims (India and Pakistan), in the Middle East between Jews and Muslims (Israel and the Arabs), in Africa between Christians and Muslims (Nigeria and Sudan). Even the disintegration of the communist states shows how deep-rooted these divisions are in history. In Bosnia Muslims once again confront Christians, and in Azerbaijan Azeri Muslims fight it out with Christian Armenians. 

The Andalus syndrome is never far from the Muslim mind. The sense of injustice, of loss, of the cruelty of the world is sharp. It is captured by a South Asian Muslim character in an Urdu novel commenting on Muslim losses which fuse in his mind and cause confusion: 

The bearded man tried hard to recollect: after a while, he said, 'all I can remember is that as I was leaving Granada ... ' '

Granada!' the rest looked up at the bearded man with a start . . . And the poor old bearded man, already shocked at their mocking disbelief, felt utterly distraught at the laughter . . . 'I've been uprooted,' he remarked dolefully, 'and that's what matters. What difference does it make now for me to remember whether it's Granada that I've been thrown out of, or Bait-al-Muqaddis [Jerusalem], or Jahanabad, or Kashmir . . .?' 

The depth of sadness in his voice had an intensely melancholy impact on all the men. They drifted into silence. After a while the bearded man said tearfully, 'Friends, we left behind all that was once ours, and now it seems we've even left behind our memories. ' (Husain 1973:93) 

Andalusia, Kashmir, Jerusalem and now Bosnia - the list of Muslim losses is long. It brings together the past and the present. It acts as an open wound. Political injustices, deep-rooted hatreds, disintegrating empires and overzealous reformers explain some of the confrontation between Muslims and non-Muslims today. But it is also to be explained by the ethnic and religious revivalism all over the world. It is a revivalism that is still to be understood in its present global context. We must therefore attempt to explain the differences that exist between Muslims and non-Muslims. By doing so we will make some sense of our different positions. By avoiding it we will perpetuate the stereotypes and misunderstandings. There is no reason to assume that differences in themselves set different civilizations on a collision course. Indeed, in the plural world that we live in the differences must be not only tolerated but also understood. 

Living Islam, From Samarkand to Stornoway, by Akbar S. Ahmed, Published by BBC Books Limited, Woodlands, 80 Wood Lane, London, U.K. W12 0TT©1993. This book accompanied the BBC television series "Living Islam" which was first broadcast in 1993.