JOSEPH'S BOOK, NOT PHAROAH'S:

What Muslims Hear at Friday Prayers: Is there really a clash of the cultures between Islam and the West? SPIEGEL documents Friday sermons from mosques around the world. As imams guide their congregations, they praise the delights of paradise, sow the seeds of doubt in government authority — and sometimes preach hatred. (Der Spiegel, 4/19/06)

Islam has many faces, and on the Friday before the Prophet’s birthday, SPIEGEL correspondents visited mosques from Nigeria to Indonesia to listen to the sermons of the imams. They were there in part to look into a suspicion that has taken hold in the West, especially since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Have the mosques been transformed from a place of prayer into a hotbed of extremism and center of Islamist indoctrination? Is there truly a dangerous clash of cultures underway, as so many people in Europe and America fear? […]

Whereas imams in places like Istanbul and Jakarta tended to devote their sermons to theological exegesis, Friday prayers in Pakistan, Iran and the Gaza Strip were markedly more political. In these places, religious scholars whipped their listeners into a holy frenzy and drew a sharp line between the Dar al-Islam, or House of Islam, and the Dar al-Harb, or House of War — the two spheres into which schools of Islamic legal thought have divided the world.

But at the same time, often in the same sermon, imams ask God for help in confronting everyday woes, issue moral appeals to their own political leaders and constantly return to the Islamic world’s greatest lament: a comparison between the gloomy present and the glorious past. […]

[D]idin Hafiduddin, the imam at Istiqlal Mosque in the Indonesian capital Jakarta, made no mention of the precarious geopolitical situation in his sermon, given in one of the world’s largest houses of prayer. Titled “Professionalism and Honest Trusteeship,” it sounded more like a presentation at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland than fiery religious rhetoric. Hafiduddin told the faithful in the most populous Islamic country about Joseph the Israelite, the man charged with running the Egyptian pharaoh’s economy. He drew parallels between the story — which is also mentioned in the bible — and modern-day Indonesia’s struggles with corruption.

“Place me in charge of the granaries of the land, and you will see that I am a clever custodian,” Joseph advises the pharaoh in the Koran sura that bears his name. No one has ever been a more efficient manager than Joseph, at least according to the imam from Jakarta. Today’s leaders ought to take a page from Joseph’s book, he said, adding that “corruption, laziness and fraud bring about destruction.” By contrast, said the Indonesian imam, God rewards professionalism and a “strict work ethic” with happiness and fulfillment.

The moral appeal to one’s own political leadership is a leitmotif in the sermons of Muslim preachers — but also a natural response to strict autocratic conditions in many Islamic countries. It was almost an understatement when Sheikh Ibrahim Abu Bakr Ramadan, an imam in the Nigerian city of Kano, said that the “injustice emanating from our leadership is the worst part of our society,” in reference to President Olusegun Obasanjo’s efforts to amend the constitution so that he can be reelected when his current term expires in 2007.

In Peshawar, Pakistan, Maulana Khalil Ahmad compared the world’s monotheistic religions and — perhaps not surprisingly — praised Islam as being the most complete of them all: “Contradictions prevail, especially in Christianity and Judaism, as well as in Communism.” But that was mild compared with the sermon his fellow local imam Abd al-Akbar Chitrali gave in the same spot a week earlier, when he derided Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s claim to have given Pakistan true democracy. Musharraf, the imam complained, is trying to introduce the “Western secularism” of his idol, Turkish leader Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The founder of the modern Turkey, said Chitrali, was a man who “turned mosques into churches and had religious scholars murdered. Listen to me, Muslims! Kemal Atatürk is not our ideal. Musharraf is not just attempting to placate the West and the USA, but also to remain permanently in power.”

It’s no coincidence that Turkey has a GDP per capita of $8k. That’s the psychic break that Islam faces–they can’t escape from the gloomy present to a glorious future unless they reform along the lines of the Western separation of Church and State.

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