- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2002

The Rev. Patrick Sookhdeo, an expert on Islamic history and politics, directs the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity in London and the Barnabas Fund, a charity. Of Pakistani descent, he grew up as a Muslim in Guyana, then converted to Christianity, eventually becoming an Anglican priest. In November, he was awarded the Coventry International Prize for Peace and Reconciliation. The following are excerpts from a talk he gave Sunday in Fairfax County.

I think we have a greater problem in Islam than we realize. Much as I understand why politicians in the U.S. and U.K. have made the kinds of affirmatory statements they have made, I think time will show they have made a mistake.In dealing with Islam, you have to tell the truth. And you have to meet it head on. It understands power and only power. And so you have to know how to exercise power.
I believe we face a much greater threat from Muslim communities within our own countries than we realize. What we are dealing with is the increasing radicalization of groups within our societies that would have their own agenda.
The Muslim world sees itself as under threat. Far from being unified, it is heavily fragmented. But there are certain challenges they will face [together]. And that is Western globalization, which they blame for everything. Western neo-colonalism arising out of old colonialism that, too, they blame for everything. Their massive corruption of their own leadership structures, their autocratic leadership rules that exist all of this has tended to create new forces within the Islamic world.
For a number of years, Christian communities have suffered excessive problems at the hands of Muslims. Generally, the Western nations have opted to deny the existence of such difficulties. They have oil interests, they have geopolitical interests and they are concerned with their bread-and-butter issues. Therefore, why take up issues relating to Christian minorities when there is nothing to be gained by it? We can rescue Kuwait because there is oil, but why should we want to rescue black Sudanese Christians? It is as simple as that.
And the church opted for interreligious dialogue. They desperately wanted a relationship with the Muslims. So it meant the Christian minorities had to be sacrificed on the altar of community relations.
With the advent of Islam in the West, the Western countries have to come to terms with a minority and they didn't know how to do it because of civil liberties. We have got societies that are strong liberal democracies. Our own legal framework stops us from dealing with extremist religion.
Historically, Islam has never learned to live as a minority because its basis exists in power. Therefore, how does it reconstruct itself in Western societies? My own feeling is that what will happen in the British society I am waiting to see whether it will happen in the U.S. is Muslim societies will emerge within Western countries where they will develop their own patterns of social sharia [Islamic law].
In Britain today, where Islam controls the inner cities, we have major social exclusion and the development of sharia. We have had churches burned, Christians attacked and a mission center destroyed. The media has deliberately kept everything off the air. This plays into the hands of Muslims ultimately.
As for the church in the West, I see a real dilemma in that it works on the basis of pluralism. Difficulties arise in three areas. The first is the uniqueness of the Christian faith. Can we hold onto uniqueness in the context of pluralism in society? And what if government and church leaders say, just for the sake of peace in our society, Christianity must sacrifice its unique role? That is an issue already in Britain.
Secondly, there is the question of evangelism. Will we have the right to evangelize Muslims? The Samuel Zwemer Institute [an American missions organization] just said that since September 11, more than 34,000 North Americans have converted to Islam. In Britain, phenomenal numbers are moving towards Islam. It seems strange that a religion whose followers could propound such a heinous crime has actually come out on top. That is unanswerable. Why is it that the church is losing ground and not Islam?
The third great question is conversion. Islam sees conversion as a fundamental attack against their religion. So will we have to deny that? Overall, I think we are going into very difficult waters. The question is what policies Western governments take vis-a-vis toward Islam? I think we must drive Islam to have a reformation, which is what Salman Rushdie is saying, that Islam unreformed will be brutal and barbaric. Its only future is in having a Martin Luther. But the question is: Who is going to be that leader? And will he be allowed to survive?
If all the West does is support conservative Islam, then they are actually simply putting off the evil day. The policy of the British government, the monarchy and the church has been to sell Islam. In fact, the most conservative, right-wing paper, the Daily Telegraph, did a 16-page supplement on how wonderful Islam is. And everyone accepted the article. No one was allowed to criticize. I was one of the few that did. I was simply massacred. The only line permitted is that Islam is peaceful, it is tolerant, it is a wonderful religion.
If your president, your church in our case the monarchy if everyone sings in tune for the media, what is the average person in the street going to say? We have sold a lie and people have bought it.
[British] Muslims realized at a very early stage [after September 11] they would capitalize on this. They sent out a Koran, and Muslim holy books to every member of the House of Lords, to every member of the House of Commons. They swamped the country and they succeeded. They then sent out their speakers. Muslims have approached all churches and said, 'Why don't we instruct you on Islam?' Now our government is considering creating a booklet on Islam for all institutes and structures to study.
Here I am highly critical of church leaders. I think they failed their own country because they did not have the courage to break with what was going on and they did not have the insight to see what needs to be done. The Muslims found a very vulnerable people who were open to their ideas.
Meanwhile, Christianity was painted in a particular light. Melanie Phillips, writing in Britain's Sunday Times, said that Christianity is the only religion that has extended itself through mission, colonialism and the Crusades. In other words, Christianity was conceived as a white man's religion brutal, barbarous and evil whereas Islam is a noble religion based on peace.
If I say the history of the West has been infinitely superior to [that of] the Muslim world; that freedom, democracy, human rights and religious liberty have come out of Christianity and the West; that we have something to offer the Muslim world that is viewed critically. How are we now going to educate the average person out there that there is something very good about the West and Christianity?

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