Muslims in the West

I’d like to thank Dr. Joyner for the invitation to post on Outside the Beltway. His interest in shining light into the less popular niches of the blogging world is commendable, to say the least.

On my own blog, Crossroads Arabia, I write about Saudi Arabia, particularly how reforms are taking place there, but also about why US-Saudi relations matter. (Hint: It’s not “All about oil.”) I’ve recently returned from a trip to the KSA, taken to ensure that my optic is still accurate following my last assignment there which ended in 2003. I’m pleased to find that, if anything, I’d been too conservative in my estimation of the rate of change going on.

Among the changes since 2003 is more openness in the Saudi media toward discussing things hitherto taboo. Foremost among those topics is religion.

Asharq Alawsat is an Arabic language, “pan-Arab” paper, published in London, by the Saudi Research and Marketing Group (which also includes numerous Arabic language magazines and the English Arab News). The paper is the largest-circulating Arabic language paper in the world. Its views, while independent, largely track official Saudi government positions, though it doesn’t take marching orders from the government.

Among the regular contributors to the paper is Amir Taheri, an Iranian exile whose writing are widely syndicated across the world. I find the fact that he is being published, in Arabic, noteworthy on several counts: He’s Iranian and presumably Shi’a; his point of view is moderate to say the least; he criticises “over-religiosity”, a problem many Saudis have to contend with.

Yesterday, the paper published Taheri’s review of Tariq Ramadan’s Western Muslims and the Future of Islam. (Ramadan, you may recall, became a cause célèbre when his application for a visa to take up a faculty appointment at Notre Dame in 2004.) Taheri severely criticizes the book, but still finds it worth reading:

With the implantation of large numbers of Muslims, mostly immigrants from the Indian Subcontinent and North Africa, in Western Europe, the issue of Islam’s place in what is , after all, an alien cultural environment has attracted increasing attention from scholars o both sides of the divide. In that context three key questions are posed.

First, how should Muslims define their new homeland in relation to Islam? Is the West now part of Dar al-Islam (The Abode of Islam) or should it have some other designation?

Secondly, should Muslims obey laws that are un-Islamic if not, in some cases at least, anti-Islamic?

Finally, what should Muslims in the West do when and if their new non-Islamic homelands become engaged in conflict or even war with Muslim states?

Taheri says Ramadan’s major problem is that he never defines his terms, making it difficult for readers to understand just what he’s saying. Ramadan, he says, tends to obfuscate for ideological reasons when he should be writing for clarity. He thinks, too, that Ramadan’s views are predominantly those of the Muslim Brotherhood and not representative of Islam as a whole. Take a look at the review, or perhaps the book itself. It’s always useful to know the full range of arguments being made.

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John Burgess
About John Burgess
John Burgess retired after 25 years as a US Foreign Service Officer, serving predominantly in the Middle East. He contributed 35 pieces to OTB between February 2006 and April 2014. He was the proprietor of the influential Crossroads Arabia until his death in February 2016.