In case you happen to have seen the news report about the mass gathering of Muslims at Jakarta’s Gelora Bung Karno stadium last week, you might be wondering, well, what it all means. After all, this wasn’t just a small group coming together, but some 100,000 people, right? Mostly women. Interesting that. I have yet to have come across an assessment of why, but the cynic in me says that this was a deliberate effort by event planners to send out a message to women around the world that, hey, Islam is okay!
Of course Islam is okay, but what about the goals of this particular meeting of Muslims in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world? An outsider might be inclined to think, woe – 100,000 people? This must be what Muslims are all about, whatever these people are saying.
Well, not exactly. Think about it. Around 250,000 people gathered together in Washington D.C. in 1963 to listen to leaders of the civil rights movement, including Martin Luther King, Jr., who spoke eloquently of his dream of a better future for all. And I have no doubts whatsoever that those quarter of a million people did not represent the aspirations of the majority of Americans at that moment. Likewise, the audience and participants in Jakarta cannot be said to have represented the one and half billion Muslims around the world. Like me.
Superficially, there may have seemed a resemblance between the Jakarta gathering and the march on Washington. Both seemed to aspire to a unification of sorts. But whereas King’s vision was for a unity of all mankind, the extremists who promoted and spoke in Jakarta used violent rhetoric, painting a picture of division and hatred. I am not suggesting that everyone at the meeting was cruel or abusive or a terrorist. I am not inclined, as the Bush government is, to throw out the word terrorist any time they wish to turn the U.S. population against an individual or group of people that have fallen afoul of the U.S. government. 100,000 terrorists did not attend the Jakarta gathering; 100,000 impassioned people did.
But how many of them really understood the message being delivered there? How many of them truly comprehend the historical concept of this caliphate they so long to return to? Various regimes have existed throughout Muslim history with ambitious, sometimes quite brutal rulers referring to themselves as khalifa. And as their brutality grew, it became necessary by the 18th and 19th centuries for some Muslim writers to argue that a brutal ruler may be acceptable, so long as he enforces the law of God. Tell me – how is it possible for a cruel man to enforce the law of God? The law of God, as best I can understand it, has nothing to do with cruelty.
For that matter, the law of God, the shari’a, is not about killing either. And yet that is also what some of the presenters at the Jakarta conference were in essence calling for. Even if they didn’t use those specific words. You see, those who call for a khalifa, unlike Martin Luther King, have no intention of uniting the world into a global society ensuring equality for all. The type of world they see is a divisive world. In the time of the caliphate, Muslim leaders perceived a divided world: the Dar al-Islam and the Dar al-Harb. That is to say, the realm of Islam and the realm of war. Which tells you what? That anywhere in the world not governed by Muslims is an area that must face war, struggle, until the infidels have been conquered or converted.
Not a pretty picture, is it? But keep this in mind – as I said before, 100,000 people may seem like a lot, but they do not represent the 1,500,000,000 Muslims of the world today. And my sense of my fellow Muslims, however wrong I may be, is that most Muslims just want to live in peace and security. They do not see a bipolar world, a world divided between Islam and war. The types of divisions many people around the world today perceive are more likely to be defined according to nationality, ethnicity, economics, and politics. A working class Muslim Turk does not go about his day wondering how he can cleanse the world of non-Muslims or contribute to the establishment of a worldwide caliphate. More than likely, he thinks about how he can make more money, take care of his family, provide them with a home.
In other words, however strange it may sound to those Americans bombarded with images of so-called Muslim extremists, most Muslims in the world today are just like most non-Muslims. They just want to live – not fight, not struggle, not kill. They long for a world of peace, of caring for one’s family, of striving to learn and better oneself. And that would be a pretty wonderful world to live in, I think. Which is why it worries me any time someone calls for a worldwide caliphate. THAT is not a call for peace. THAT is not a call for unity and harmony and understanding. It is a call for separation, for division. At its worst, coming from the mouths of a few extremists, it is a call for war.
I would like to think that most of the attendees in Jakarta did not want war. I don’t believe that was the case. But they need to be very, very careful. Because they are intently listening to and passionately considering the propaganda of men who want just that. And as we have seen from our own experiences here in the U.S. – you get just the right men spouting just the right propaganda, and you can stir up all kinds of fear and avarice and hatred. With just the right words about weapons of mass destruction and about how if we don’t fight "them" in Iraq, we’ll have to fight "them" here in the U.S. … and you can convince an entire nation to march into battle or to support mass killings. As has happened in Iraq, where many, many innocent people have died. With just the right words, my brothers and sisters, you may begin to perceive war as a blessing. … And by then, it is too late.