By Loubna Flah
By Loubna Flah
Casablanca – The western media has been contriving and transmitting a plethora of images that portray Muslims as backward, violent and irrational.
Muslim women on the other hand are no longer tainted with orientalist eroticism. The New image that is propagating in western media is that of destitute women suffering under the weight of patriarchy and religious orthodoxy.
Islam itself is being depicted as either a warlike creed, or as an impotent religion as described by Time Magazine staff writer Ishaan Thahoor in his article “Gentler Islam”. Being either misinformed or stubbornly debased, Western leadership and western media attempt constantly to sketch a simplified taxonomy of the Muslim World and its components. This system of binary oppositions and mutually exclusive identities fail short from reporting the complexity of modern Muslim societies.
Ironically enough, Muslims themselves feel utterly alienated by the way their religion is portrayed in western media. While their own Muslim scholars try to enumerate the merits of Islam as a religion of peace and concord, a large part of the West remains convinced that Islam is the “embodiment of evil.”
As the halo of hostility and mistrust keeps widening, the West and the United States, in particular, deems it urgent to explore this threatening “Orient”, not with the noble intention to set a path for dialogue, but mainly to control it once again just as Napoleon sent his expedition of scientists to Egypt in 1798 to assess the country’s resources as a prelude to a large scale military operation.
Looking for an alternative strategy to curb the surge of political Islam and the Jihadist narrative, and while exploring the archives of history, the Americans stumbled over Sufism. By the virtue of its spiritual and egalitarian ethos, Sufism emerge as a strategic ally against the politicization of Islam. On October 24, 2003, the International Security Program of the Nixon Center held a conference in Washington to examine the role that Sufism is likely to play in US foreign policy.
Sufism preaches a gradual detachment from worldly pleasures. The disciples of this tradition engage in a quest for the communion with the divine. Sufism is defined by the Sufi scholar Ahmad Ibn Ajibaa as a ” science through which one can know how to travel into the presence of the divine, purify one’s inner self from filth, and beautify it with a variety of praiseworthy traits”. Through chant, dance, Dhikr, and prayers, the Sufi tries to heal the wounds of their souls by engaging in a spiritual pursuit.
Nevertheless, Sufism as a mystical dimension of Islam remains disaffected by politics and issues of governance. As Sufis choose often to stay in the margins of politics, they become politically and civically impotent. For western leadership, such a variety of Islam is the ideal partner in their hegemonic enterprise.
But to their dismay, Sufism does not appeal to the bulk of Muslims, especially the young generation. Moreover, some Muslims would be dexterously selective by embracing some Sufi ethos, especially those who have trait with soul purification without being politically apathetic.
In his article “Gentler Islam”, Ishaan Tharoor, describes Sufism as a “gentler” version of Islam. The use of this comparative entails the existence of a “benign” Islam opposed to a “malignant” from. Such bigoted representation is the offshoot of the orientalist legacy wherein the pursuit of power produced a large “repertoire” of misrepresentations about the oriental.
The plurality of Islam is not a problem per se, but the Western approach driven purely by the desire to subjugate the Muslim World is the real problem. Understanding the Muslim world as it is and not as it should be is one step towards a real rapprochement between the West and Muslims.
The Muslim world offers the vigilant observer a broad spectrum of ideologies, religious orientations, as well as infinite possibilities for mutual enrichment. Until Western leadership engages in a process of “unlearning” as suggested by Edward Said to dismantle archaic beliefs about the Muslims, the tradition of misrepresentations and the legacy of antipathy will persist and thrive.