Dawdi defends a peaceful Islam

by Tracy Landers | 5/8/02 5:00am

Professor Jama A. Dadwi of St. Mary's University in Halifax, Canada, provided an in-depth and positive look at the realities behind Islamic concepts such as peace, brotherhood and Jihad in last night's most recent Islamic Awareness Week event.

Beginning his defense of Islam, entitled "Islam, Peace and Sept. 11," with a prayer for peace, blessing and mercy, Dadwi set a tone of interfaith reconciliation and constructive criticism which characterized his speech.

An attentive audience, but one that filled only about one-quarter of 105 Dartmouth Hall, heard Dadwi attempt to dispel misconceptions about his faith, such as the common belief that any action by a Muslim is an act done in the name of Islam.

"It's not just a matter of linguistics ... is every Christian action equivalent to the action of Christ?" Dadwi asked. He said that an Islamic action, as opposed to an action performed by a Muslim, was defined by its correct relationship to the Koran and to fatwas, religious interpretations that he described as "fallible."

As opposed to the doctrine of certain forms of Christianity, the teachings of Islam lack the sacredness of papal authority, Dadwi said, noting that fatwas change based on time, place and circumstance.

Dadwi went on to discuss the historic meaning of the word "Islam," which reflects the nature of the religion it describes. Its etymology reveals that Islam comes from a combination of three Aramaic sounds, "SLM," that together mean peace and submission.

For Dadwi, the religious meaning of Islam is the attainment of peace with God, self and the other creations of God through the submission to God by choice, a decision that manifests in love, trust, acceptance and obedience.

The emphasis on peace in Islam is evident in the universal greeting "Peace be with you," which Dadwi described as the "magical words well-known by all Muslims." He said peace was behind all the five broad objectives of Islamic law, which include the "safeguarding" of faith, life, the mind, honor and property.

According to Dadwi, one of the gravest problems after Sept. 11 has been with "people with agendas who keep saying all this violence is ultimately traced back to the Koran." He calls this reading of violence into the Islamic holy text a "cut-and-paste" method that could be used to justify anything.

Though the Koran does contain verses that refer to killing non-believers, Dadwi said these had to understood in their historical context and the context of preceding and following verses. The problematic verses come from a time when Muslims were at war with "people who were aggressors."

Dadwi spoke about "one generic religion," which includes all monotheistic religions and is described by the term "Islam."

"Followers of Jesus are also called Muslims in the broader sense. All prophets are to be believed in, respected and honored," Dadwi said. He extended this concept of universality to include race and ethnicity.

"The origin of different human languages and skin colors is purposely created by God," therefore, he said, "If this is [God's] will, who are you to force your theological correctness on others?" He said the Koran removes any claim of superiority of one human over another, including gender superiority, and that people should only be judged in terms of righteousness.

Dadwi described an etiquette of interfaith dialogue that all Muslims are called to follow. Peaceful coexistence with neighbors who are not oppressing Muslims because of their religion, freedom to choose a faith that "satisfies one's heart and mind" and acceptance of plurality were among the tenets of this etiquette.

According to Dadwi, Muslims are called to deal with peaceful non-believers with "birr," an untranslatable phrase that means the highest moral conduct and includes the love and kindness between parents and children.

Emphasizing the importance of etymology, Dadwi said Jihad means exertion of struggle rather than the common translation of "holy war."

"It's a myth but you hear it everywhere ... 'Holy war' is not really in the Koran," Dadwi said, offering $1 million to anyone who could find Koranic evidence to the contrary.

"I think we all know who coined that term," Dadwi said in reference to medieval Christians who called their crusades "holy wars."

Dadwi was clear in his condemnation of the events of Sept. 11, saying, "there is no sane religious or political justification. Wrong is wrong no matter what your background."

At the same time, Dadwi expressed understanding of why the terrorists felt the need to attack the United States.

"To me, peace and justice are the wings of the bird, you can't take off with just the one. Sometimes we forget that violence is caused by huge injustice, and that people are pushed into violent behavior."

During the question-and-answer session following the speech, Dadwi was unreserved about his pro-Palestinian viewpoint.

"Might makes right. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely," Dadwi said of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who he described as a war criminal.

He said the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to "de-Zionize the area, one person and one vote at a time."

This controversial opinion was not shared by several Dartmouth students in the audience, who said after the speech that they disagreed with Dadwi's assertion that "Palestinians should never give up their right of return regardless of whether the struggle takes five years or 500 years."