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'West has to be made aware'

Ahmed is currently touring India to gain insight for ?Islam in the age of globalization? project in partnership with the Brookings Institute and Pew Forum.

india Updated: Apr 04, 2006 19:44 IST

Why is Islam being seen to be in conflict with modernity?
The Westerners know only one type of Islam and they hate it. The biggest problem is with their interpretation of “jehad.” There are only impressions without serious discussions. Issues of modernity, gender and class exist in every society.

Do you agree with the clash of civilization paradigm?
The clash is happening. The civilizations do exist. The ‘Islam in the Age of Globalization’ initiative is exploring the question of “who speaks for Islam?” It recognizes the dual challenges the US faces in its relations with the Muslim world and in addressing the role of religion in 21st century. The UN has formed a High Level Group to build alliances of cilvilization… It is good to promote dialogues but that is too elitist. The idea of synthesis is not very strong within Islam. Dara Shikoh tried doing that and that is why parting of ways happened with his brother Aurangzeb.

You need to go to the grassroots. You need long discussions in which India must be involved. You also need more time.

Why are the Saudi Wahabis seen as the sole representatives of Islam?
That is why you need to come to the Indian sub-continent. We have three schools of Islam: The first is Aligarh, which failed as a vibrant and modern Muslim metaphor. Pakistan is a consequence of the Aligarh model. Second is Deoband, which is orthodox but it inspires people throughout the world. Only now it is beginning to engage with the outside world. And the third is Ajmer, which is a romantic and idealistic model that has worked very well in India and Pakistan.

Do you feel some old positions have shifted after 9/11?
The Muslims everywhere are feeling under siege. It is very difficult to practice one’s faith under siege. The young people are anti-US because they feel that the US hates Islam and bush hates Islam. They are also taught that Islam can never be defeated. The question is that how do we interact with 21st century?

Is there a way in which the global civil society can intervene?
The answers have to come from within. We must engage the orthodox school. Interesting things are happening in India. I was delighted to see Islamic scholars using computers in Deoband. You have to be a catalyst of change. You can’t bomb Deoband.

To my mind the best answers lie in some of the sub-continental models. For instance, Ajmer has a model of “sulahkul” which stands for peace with all.

Can you imagine a saint living in the middle of Rajasthan in the middle ages, surrounded by Hindus, and propagating peace and harmony through Islam? The West has to be made aware of the Ajmer model that is older and deeper. It is a valid Islamic model and not saint worship or mumbo jumbo. I have faith in it.