- The Washington Times - Friday, July 20, 2001

Muslim scholar Khalid Duran wants to give the West a realistic view of Islam. Although his "Children of Abraham" book was written in the spirit of interfaith understanding, it has earned him the label "apostate," he says, which to radical Muslims means that he is worthy of death.
"Some people are surprised and asked me, 'Why is there such a noise about this book?'" Mr. Duran, 61, says. "Books in Arabic are much more critical and controversial than this one. In this book, I am kind of conservative."
Written as part of an American Jewish Committee (AJC) interfaith project, his volume is subtitled "An Introduction to Islam for Jews." The companion work, written by Rabbi Reuven Firestone, is "An Introduction to Judaism for Muslims."
"It is a marvelous book," Mr. Duran said of the rabbi's work. "It shows the commonality of Judaism and Islam."
For his effort, however, Mr. Duran has become embroiled in a mini-"Rushdie affair" — a reference to author Salman Rushdie, whose irreverent novel "The Satanic Verses" evoked a death decree from Iranian ruler Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989.
About a third of Mr. Duran's book is a sympathetic summary and defense of Islam's religious beliefs and practices. Other parts of the work focus on history. Yet Mr. Duran also ties Islam to turbulent current events in the Arab world — which could embarrass any religion.
These events include bloody wars and riots between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims, despotism, terrorism, economic and educational failures, and the mistreatment of women — despite the teachings of the prophet Mohammed.
"The guy is a polarizing figure," says Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which on May 1 called for the delay of the release of Mr. Duran's book. "He is not the right person to write a book about Muslim-Jewish understanding."
Mr. Hooper said plenty of books praise or criticize Islam. Hence, he criticizes the AJC for presenting this project as an interfaith bridge.
"It is like, 'Let's get Ted Turner to write a book about the life of Jesus,'" Mr. Hooper said. "Mr. Duran may have doctorates, but he doesn't speak for Muslims." CAIR also protested the book cover's Persian image of Abraham, since orthodox Muslims view images of prophets as idolatrous.
Then on June 6, the Al-Shahed party organ in Jordan declared that Mr. Duran was an "apostate," or traitor, to the faith. It paraphrased Sheik Abd Al-Munim Abu Zant, a party leader, urging a Muslim authority to rule by fatwa, or legal decree, that Mr. Duran was an apostate "whose blood should be shed."
Later, the sheik told a newspaper he did not remember his exact words.
Yet some in the U.S. government have said the sheik's statements are an incitement to violence against Mr. Duran, and the State Department has condemned them.
"We did not see it as an article with impact. It seemed to go largely unnoticed," said Greg Sullivan of the State Department. Still, he says, "You could call it incitement."
The State Department says the sheik is an obscure figure, but Duran supporters say Sheik Zant is "one of that country's most powerful Islamist leaders." He was an opposition figure in Jordan's parliament and in 1999 was jailed for backing Hamas, the militant wing of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The sheik's statements became known in the United States at the end of June, when the AJC announced the threat.
"We knew that Muslim extremists would criticize this book, whoever its author was," says Kenneth Bandler of the AJC.
"The Jordanian paper praised CAIR for its efforts," he adds.
Responding to charges by CAIR that the AJC has published the book as a way to improve sales, Mr. Bandler says the AJC does not need "publicity stunts" to sell the book. "The book is doing fine."
In June 30 news reports, Mr. Duran, a Bethesda resident, was said to be moving between safe houses with an armed lawyer. Interviewed last week, he was between travels and defiant about his decision to write the book.
"How can I merely tell people about the teachings of Islam, and then they go to places around the world where very different things happen?" Mr. Duran says. "So my approach is to give theory but also reality."
The book was reviewed by 14 other Muslim scholars, who probably were among the more independent wing of Muslim specialists who are growing in number, Mr. Duran says.
Citing evidence of growing independence among Muslim intellectuals, he points to the international Arabic newspaper Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat, which in 1998 began running articles by more than 100 contributors on "What Kind of Islam Do We Want?" This series proves the emerging diversity of opinion in Islamic faith and practice, he says, as opposed to some slogans that say "There is only one Islam" or simply, "Islam is the solution."
"The newspaper series is a challenge to Islamists," Mr. Duran says. "Its title was like a sin" to radical Muslim fundamentalists.
Islamism is "Islamofacism," he says, that wishes to impose religious orthodoxy on the state and the citizenry. Mr. Duran says if this stance makes him a "polarizing" figure, it is because he wants to distinguish Islamism from historical and pluralist Islam.
Born in Germany as Detlev Khalid Duran, he has a Moroccan Muslim father and a Spanish Catholic mother. Having lived in the United States since 1986, he taught at Temple University in Philadelphia and for a decade was part of an interfaith circle of scholars there.
Mr. Duran also has taught at several universities abroad and speaks eight languages. He has written six books. His previous contentious book was endorsed by Prince Hassan of Jordan, an advocate of centrist Islam.
An opponent of extreme Islamic fundamentalist regimes, Mr. Duran supports a return to Afghan culture before the militant Taliban takes over and supports dissidents who have fled Iran's Islamic revolution. He also heads the Khaldun Society, described as "a cultural association of moderate Muslims opposed to Islamism."
He takes the Jordan sheik's comments about blood being shed seriously not because they are from a mufti — a religious figure authorized to issue a fatwa — but because charges of apostasy these days can incite violence.
"An apostate, according to what people think, should be executed," Mr. Duran says. Even cosmopolitan Muslims avoid the term for its ability to start rumor mills and riots. "There is a notion that it is like high treason."
Mr. Duran insists he is no apostate. "However liberal a Muslim may be, if you believe in God and Mohammed's revelation, you are a believer. Of course, there are many interpretations of how that revelation works."


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