Bahrain Hosts Dialogue on Islamic Contributions to Civilization

By Zuhair, Muhammed | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September/October 2002 | Go to article overview

Bahrain Hosts Dialogue on Islamic Contributions to Civilization


Zuhair, Muhammed, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


The Kingdom of Bahrain hosted a conference on May 30 in Manama to address current and historical aspects of Muslim civilization in the context of Western civilization. The Ministry of Information event was put together by "Discover Islam," a non-profit, privately run information organization.

Sri Lankan Prof. Christy G. Weeramantry former vice president of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, gave the keynote address. Setting the stage for the series of presentations, Weeramantry quoted H.G. Wells: "The future of humanity is a race between education and catastrophe."

A dialogue of civilizations, Weeramantry said, means an appreciation of each other's cultures and a common set of universally accepted principles. Once people can see beyond their own mono-cultural boxes, so to speak, they are rewarded with common elements and principles upon which all the world can agree.

Weeramantry noted that mankind's various civilizations are all interlinked, with all cultures having contributed to the sum total of human achievement. He described the unique role Islamic culture has played through the ages. Islamic scholars preserved and advanced the knowledge of classical Greece. Islamic philosophers such as Averroes/Ibn Rushd resurrected Aristotle and Plato. The Jewish philosopher Maimonides and the Christian theologian Thomas Aquinas built heavily upon Averroes' work. The Muslim ruler Harun al-Rashid was instrumental in gathering knowledge of Greece, India and China. Arab universities stimulated the formation of European institutions in Paris, Oxford and northern Italy, according to Weeramantry. Twelfth century Baghdad was reputed to have had a library of 700,000 volumes, while Cordova, Spain, had 400,000 to 600,000 books.

Egyptian-Canadian Prof. Jamal Badawi, who teaches management and religious studies at St. Mary's University in Halifax, Canada, examined the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims. He noted that Islam is a comprehensive way of life which is defined by the Qur'an and the teaching of the Prophet Muhammad. Westerners must judge Islam upon these sources, Dr. Badawi argued, not upon media misreporting stemming from half-truth and superficiality.

International law is a subject rich in Islamic contributions, the professor noted. Twelve centuries ago Islamic Law had built a legal system in multi-volume treatises no less developed than today's international law. These laws covered matters such as war and peace, battlefield conduct, the sanctity of treaties, as well as the treatment of diplomats and prisoners of war.

Islamic principles formed rules for international trade and the safe conduct of traders, Dr. Badawi continued. The "good faith" principle so vital to Muslim life was also the basis for international treaties, industrial relations, property trusteeship, the notion of sharing and caring, and for the right of privacy.

Dr. Badawi noted that relations with nonMuslims are commonly hampered by several errors:

Outright mistranslation of Islamic terms or texts. For example, kafir means "covering up the truth," not "infidel"; waliyah means "protector," not "friend"; jihad means "struggle against personal wrongdoing or against social oppression," and not "holy war."

Mistaking an exception for a general rule. In Islam, for example, fighting is commanded under strictly defined conditions, and is considered something hateful. It is not a means of aggression and ongoing militancy so as to conquer the world for a particular religious community.

* Disregarding the historical context of a verse, or its "occasion of revelation." For example, fighting was commanded in order to break oppression, after other means had failed.

*The "cut-and-paste" approach, whereby a subtopic is separated from its topic. For example, since the Qur'an gives many instructive examples of Jews' disobedience to their own prophets, Muslims are portrayed by current commentators as being sworn enemies of Jews. …

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