Aspects, Dimensions of Islam

Article excerpt

The Mosaic Foundation held the third installment of its lecture series on May 15 at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC. Although he was to have presented a lecture on the "Aspects and Dimensions of Islam," Prof. Seyyed Hossein Nasr instead chose to engage in a question-and-answer dialogue with the audience focusing on the original lecture's topics.

A recognized scholar on Islam and Comparative Religious Studies, Dr. Nasr is the author of over 20 books and 300 articles, many of which have been written in, or translated to, languages other than English. He received his Ph.D. in the history of science and philosophy in 1958 from Harvard University, and has taught at Tehran University, Temple University, Princeton University, and the American University of Beirut. Nasr currently is professor of Islamic studies at the George Washington University in the nation's capital.

According to Nasr, Western domination or hegemony over countries in the Middle East is the root cause of much of the rage that pervades the region's body politic. It is "not being able to be themselves," he explained, that motivates social groupings to engage in tactics challenging the status quo.

Often the "vanguard of Western interests" in the Middle East can be delimited to locals who are members of Western Christian sects, said Nasr, such as the Maronites in Lebanon and many Protestant groups. Conversely, the Eastern churches-such as the Greek Orthodox and Assyrians-tend to be well integrated into their societies. Nasr described those in the Middle East who are members of Western churches as often "doing the bidding of the West."

Emphasizing the lack of any inherent discord between Middle Eastern Muslims and Christians, Nasr noted that many of the founders of Arab nationalism were Christians: Michel Aflaq and Constantine Zurayk being two prominent examples. The Ba'athist (Renaissance) ideology followed by the Syrian and Iraqi states was based on the foundation established by such ideologues as Aflaq.

The U.S. initiative to "preempt" potential Iraqi aggression against its neighbors (i.e., Israel) and its subsequent occupation of Iraq are ironic, argued Nasr. Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussain was a bulwark against the spread of Islamism and the idea of an Islamic state. …