Zafar Bangash, Director of Contemporary Islamic Thought Institute, says Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, adopts a light and kind tone in his letter to the youth in the West with the aim of promoting the Islamic moderation and warning against the rise of extremism in the name of Islam.
Q: The Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, has penned an open letter to the young people of the West, urging them to seek out their own understanding of Islam with the help of primary and original sources and NOT the prejudiced views. The letter encourages the younger generation to read the Holy Quran, warning them about a flood of misinformation about Islam in the West. What's your perspective on the message?
A: The message of the Supreme Leader to the youth in Europe and North America is important because it has been delivered at a very critical time. There is intense propaganda against Islam and the noble Messenger of Allah (saws) in the West. Instead of responding to this vile propaganda in a negative way, the Rahbar (Leader) has chosen the path of appeal to reason. He has appealed to the good sense of the youth who are idealistic and searching for truth. If they see logic and reason in any argument, they will accept it. Thus, the message is extremely important, especially given its timing and content.
The first point that struck me was that the letter was addressed to the youth in Europe and North America. In normal discourse, this segment of the population is generally ignored. Second, it came from a father figure who was addressing the youth in a kind and gentle manner. Third, he emphasized that the youth are always searching for truth because they are idealists. He extolled their virtue of idealism and reminded them to find about Islam from its primary sources rather than second hand.
This (the letter) can certainly be considered public diplomacy with a special touch, the use of soft power of Islam. In life, it is always more effective to appeal to people’s better sense. The Rahbar used that aspect of Islam’s message in a very effective way. In the West, Islam is presented in a very negative light and often equated with terrorism. The Rahbar’s message completely demolishes this image by his gentle and kind appeal to the youth to learn about Islam directly and for themselves.
The tone and style of the letter are very appealing. There is no harsh language used at all. In fact, one is reminded of the letters that the noble Prophet (saws) sent to various rulers inviting them to Islam. Those letters appealed to the good sense of the rulers and were measured in tone with no harshness. The Rahbar adopted the same style in his letter.
The highlights of the message were the directness of the letter addressed to the youth. The Rahbar explained that he was not addressing his message to the politicians because they have divorced truth and fairness from their political discourse and decision-making. The appeal was made over the heads of the politicians to reach the youth directly.
Q: It seems that western governments are making all-out efforts in order to marginalize Islam and Quran and then promote Islamophobia throughout the world. In order to accomplish this, their mainstream media outlets are spreading false narratives on Islam and Muslims all around the clock and, in fact, are putting many obstacles in the way of the youth trying to learn about Islamic teachings. What’s your take on that?
A: The real barriers to studying Islam are the politicians and their devious ways as well as the media that is always distorting the message of Islam. In his letter, the Rahbar pointed to both aspects. He told the youth to study Islam from its own sources asking them whether they know anything about Islam beyond what was told to them in the media. Any thinking person would immediately reflect on it and ask whether he has been fair to the subject he is dealing with. Since the youth generally are inquisitive and want to search answers for themselves, the Rahbar has appealed to their better senses to discover Islam for themselves.
The western media portrayal of Islam is completely negative. Everyday, nasty things are written about Islam and Muslims. Whenever anything wrong happens in which Muslims are involved, they immediately allege that this is because of Islamic teachings. An average person in the West has little or no knowledge about Islam to know whether what information he is fed is accurate or not. Thus, the negative portrayal of Islam passes off for being accurate when it is not.
The media portrays Islam in this light because western governments are waging wars on Muslims. Western armies have invaded and occupied Muslim countries and have killed hundreds of thousands of innocent Muslims there. The killings continue. These governments justify their aggression against Muslims by portraying them as the bad guys. This is also reflected in the media. If Muslims and Islam are not reflected in a negative light, how would they justify the wars they are waging.
There is no reason why Islam and the West cannot have a positive and constructive co-existence and engagement. For this to happen, however, there has to be a change in attitude of the West. Political leaders in West will have to abandon their hostility to Islam and Muslims and adopt an attitude of mutual respect. If they do so, they will find Muslims more than willing to deal with them in an equitable manner. So far, there is no evidence that the West is prepared to do so. Its leaders insist on domination of other societies that is the root cause of all the conflicts.
There are definitely ideological differences between Islam and the West. Islam derives its values from divine teachings while the West has abandoned religion altogether. The West believes that man’s reason is the highest source of guidance while Muslims believe all guidance comes from Allah. This is a fundamental difference between Islam and the West but it need not be a source of conflict. Islam allows people to hold different views so long as those different views do not lead to aggression. Muslims have not attacked others simply because they hold different views from them. This is what the Qur’an teaches us and this is also what we find from the Seerah (tradition) of the noble Prophet (saws).
The other source of conflict is the West’s view, indeed obsession, that it must dominate all other societies. That nobody should question its right to plunder the resources of other lands. As long as the West maintains this attitude, there will always be conflict. It will end only when the West realizes that it must adopt an attitude of respect for other cultures and others’ values without imposing these on others.
Definitely, the West is trying to demonize Islam. This is standard western policy. Whenever it embarks on a policy of conflict with any country or people, the first thing it does is to demonize those people. In the past it was communism; today Islam has replaced communism because the West knows that only Islam can offer an alternative to the West’s exploitative policies.
The West’s policy of demonizing Islam is driven by greed, geo-strategic interests as well as to grab the resources of Muslim lands. For this, it needs to subdue the people before it can grab those resources. Those people and countries that resist the West’s aggression are presented in a negative light.
We must first understand that religion is not the root cause of conflict. As explained above, conflict is caused as a result of the West’s greed and complete disregard for the rights of other people.
Religious leaders as well as intellectuals have generally been able to work together to eliminate differences and conflict in society.
As far as extremism is concerned, it is deliberately instigated and promoted by certain vested interests both in the West and the Muslim world in order to advance their hidden agendas. The phenomenon of extremism is not something that has emerged in a vacuum or on its own. It has been created and financed because it helps the West in its exploitative agenda. Extremism is also used as justification to continue the West’s wars of aggression.
What religious leaders of different faiths and intellectuals can and must do is to expose the nature and origins of extremism so that it can be confronted effectively. At the same time, those powers that are financing extremism should be isolated so that they are unable to continue their criminal policies.
Courtesy: Islamic Revolution Document Center