BUT FIRST, THIS:
An Arizona columnist writes about what he sees as a conflict between religion and Native American spirituality.
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Partly because of the recent time of Hajj in Islam (the pilgrimage to Mecca), I've been seeing some fascinating things in print having to do with the militant and radical strain of that religion -- a strain many Muslims would say is outside the boundaries of their faith.
One of the most interesting was a piece in the Wall Street Journal called "Right Islam vs. Wrong Islam," by Abdurrahman Wahid, the former president of Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country in the world. Wahid makes a stirring argument that the extremists in Islam are following a "virulent ideology that underlies fundamentalist terrorism and threatens the very foundations of moderan civilization."
When people ask where the voices of moderate Islam are, here's one.
Besides that piece, which I commend to you, I want to call your attention to the different way a few news organizations reported and commented on the annual Hajj sermon delivered recently by the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh (you'll see various spellings of the name), a man I met and spoke with (along with other journalists) on a trip to Saudi Arabia in 2002.
The account by Arab News, an English-language daily that often publishes what passes for government criticism in Saudi Arabia, emphasized the mufti's call for moderation. It quoted only a line or two of the sermon before going on to describe the experiences of some of the pilgrims. Its lead said the mufti urged Muslims to "steer clear of fanaticism and extremism."
By rather stark contrast, the Associated Press report said in the lead that the mufti "declared the West was conducting a 'war against our creed.'" It quoted him this way: "Oh, Muslim nation, there is a war against our creed, against our culture under the pretext of fighting terrorism. We should stand firm and united in protecting our religion."
In response to that and other more complete reports of the sermon, the Daily Times of Pakistan, which describes itself as "A new voice for a new Pakistan," published a devastating critique of the sermon, suggesting Muslims themselves often are to blame for their sometimes-baleful condition.
The Times' editorial said the mufti should have asked political and other experts to vet the sermon, parts of which it described as "embarrassing in its reductionism to any educated person."
"The bleak picture presented at Arafat (location of the sermon)," the editorial said, "was bleak only because the clerical worldview behind it was not informed with knowledge the new generation Saudi Arabia has acquired in recent years."
All of this seems to indicate a level of intellectual fervor and engagement in the Muslim world that I find healthy and encouraging. Voices of dissent are being raised. Standard-issue sermons that give aid and comfort to radicals (surely the mufti would deny he was doing that) are being challenged. The non-Muslim world must continue to encourage the atmosphere of freedom in which such challenges can be offered without fear of reprisal.
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I mentioned yesterday that it was my birthday. One of the joys of the day was spending part of last night with all four of my grandchildren, all of whom live pretty close. Here they are with their grandpa. I'm wearing a shirt (only part of which you can read) given by friends that describes my life as a columnist. It says: "I Make Stuff Up."
To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here.