Raheel Raza on “The Clash of Civilizations”

| January 12, 2011 | 2 Comments

Raheel Raza

A recent evening with Raheel Raza, hosted by the Kehilla Academy in Los Angeles, opened the doors to a wonderful lecture on “The Clash of Civilizations” and lead to an interesting post lecture discussion with audience members.

The “Clash of Civilizations” is a term made popular by the fateful events of September 11. And while it would certainly seem that two worlds are at odds, not everyone would be so quick to agree. A closer inspection reveals fissures that guide a curious observer to a far more disturbing truth.

For Raheel, while historically there was no “clash of civilizations”, there is one today.  During her hour long presentation, Raheel used the strong held belief as a jumping point to really get into the core circumstances that fuel the idea of two worlds at war.

Raheel cites political mileage used by Muslim leaders to stay in power, with Palestine being a key dilemma turned into a political weapon. Partly due to a lack of the separation of mosque and state, Palestine gets played as a political and religious card used to leverage Muslim paranoia against Israel.

According to Raheel, at the end of the day “you can’t have a dialogue with an entity you don’t recognize.” With this she in one swift step reveals an underlying component behind why the Israel-Palestine issue has no clear end in sight, adding that peace will arrive “when the Palestinians truly want it.”

With the Quran citing Jews as “People of the Book”, recognizing Israel as the chosen land, acknowledging that it (the Quran) is a merger of what came before it, and with the creation of the Israeli state mirroring Pakistan’s own origins, it’s a shame that more isn’t done to utilize a shared background to cultivate interfaith relations.

So according to Raheel, there is a clash of civilizations but for all the wrong reasons. She brings up two interesting points: Islam and the West and Islam in the West. By breaking down these two applications of Islam in the 21st century, Raheel offers a more thorough perspective on why we’re seeing the radicalization of Islam. She points to the Salafi’s, who covet Western technology but not Western democratic values; the radicalization of campus Muslim Student Associations and radical Islam in prisons; paranoia, a victim ideology,  and cyber jihad. In a post lecture casual Q&A, she also criticized Obama’s choice of Muslim advisors, with each one having a questionable perspective or association that discredits their status as truly progressive Muslims.

Raheel extends her criticism to include Muslim apostates, such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, by accurately pointing out that much of their criticisms stem not from facts but from personal experience that lack a political/historical understanding and which pair non-Islamic rituals such as genital mutilations and honor killings with the faith itself.  She rightly argues that “moving out of it [Islam] takes away the right to change it and bring about reform…[which is] a general problem with apostates.”

When asked about moderate Muslims, including my own observation on a lack of truly secular Muslims, she offered a quick litmus test to help identify truly progressive Muslims – simply ask them if they support sharia and recognize Israel right to exist. She also astutely pin pointed a core problem behind troubling policies and programs by identifying the role of Saudi funding or questionable/unidentifiable  monetary sources.

Raheel was well received by the large audience who listened intently and challenged her with both genuine and pressing concerns of their own. Unfortunately, one or two left the premises in mid Q&A when their question met with an answer that didn’t play into their misperception of Islam. This was hardly a reflection of the group but rather a sad reality that some people don’t want anything less than a conflict; by leaving because of one disagreed-with statement, they essentially discredit everything Raheel did say that they otherwise did agree with. Here you have a strong well-informed moderate Muslim, and you have a problem with it because they don’t subscribe to your agenda.  That’s a sad attitude to say the least.

Overall, the powerful messages in Raheel’s speech were fused with refreshing humour, a charming spirit, resolute conviction, patience, and a wealth of knowledge. On a personal note, a warm thanks to Raheel for being so welcoming in the post lecture discussion and introducing me to our wonderful hosts of the Kehilla Academy, who are looking to set up Muslim Jewish dialogues in Los Angeles. Not only was I won over by the hosts’ generous hospitality, their willingness to open their home up to over 80 people, but also the community’s willingness to spend their Saturday evening listening to a lecture on Islam by a Muslim. It’s unfortunate to say the least that we don’t see the same being done in Muslim households.

For further readings and viewpoints, check out Raheel’s book entitled Their Jihad, Not My Jihad.

Photo credits: David Horwatt

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  1. American Leadership Ten Years After 9-11 : The Qudosi Chronicles | September 10, 2011
  1. It still strikes me that the term “moderate Muslim” is an insult to those it is intended to honor. It suggests that their dedication to Islam is somehow weaker than that of a Salafist. In America, one might say “First Amendment Muslim,” although that is a bit clumsy. Is there a term that can be borrowed from Arabic that is more precise and more honorable?

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