By Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal
There has never been so many faces of Islam; there has never been so many Muslims in the world, and there has never been such a confusion about matters of faith both within the community of believers and outside. This change has been brought about by a number of rapid historical reconstructions of the Ummah, the body of believers that is joined by a common thread—the Book.
This historic change took place at a time when both Islam and Muslims were supposed to have become a “spent force”. But out of the ashes of a conquered, devastated and degraded polity there arose a sudden new dynamic and traumatizing experience: shortly after the second World War, the entire political map of the traditional lands of Islam changed and there emerged some 57 independent states, each with its own peculiar set of problems but nevertheless, Muslim states which were by and large governed and ruled by secularized dictators, military generals, and heroes of independence movements.
In addition, a very large number of Muslims started to immigrate to the lands of their formal colonizers and within a few decades, France and England—and later Germany and several other European countries—found themselves caught in a strange dilemma: the spent force, which they had conquered and ruthlessly ruled for a century and more was exerting itself in the very heart of their own polity: London, Paris, Hamburg, Berlin, New York, Chicago and all other major and minor cities of Europe and North America suddenly had numerous mosques, halal meet shops, and all the other things which come with that particular mode of being which is called Islam.
Then, there arose a new generation of converts who found spiritual, intellectual and emotional resonance in Islam. These new Muslims added yet another dimension to the new faces of Islam. Some of them were highly gifted. They not only accepted the religion which until recently was considered to be almost of no consequence to their polity, they became its spokespersons—people who studied various sciences of Islam at the feet of truly gifted scholars who belonged to another time, another era, in places like Damascus, Cairo and remote regions of Yemen and Mauritania. These new converts then used their considerable personal abilities and skills to speak about the religion of their choice, with the enthusiasm, veracity, and strength of a true believer who knows why he or she believes in what he or she believes in.
All of this has formed what is now Islam’s new face on the globe—that is to say, the manifestation of religion in blood and flesh, in the form of real human beings who walk and talk. Never before has there been such a situation in Muslim history that such a large number of human beings from outside the traditional lands of Islam became spokes persons for Islam. The new situation is simply fascinating in its totality: We have a very large number of Muslims who have been uprooted from their religion to such an extent that there is utter confusion in matters of basic beliefs and we have a small minority of converts who have studied deeply what they believer and who are very articulate.
As a natural consequence of this situation
Muzaffar Iqbal is the founder-president of Center for Islam and Science (www.cis-ca.org), Canada, and editor of
Islam & Science, a semi-annual journal of Islamic perspectives on science and civilization. He received his Ph.D. in chemistry (University of Saskatchewan, Canada, 1983), and then left the field of experimental science to fully devote himself to study Islam, its spiritual, intellectual and scientific traditions.
Born in Lahore, Pakistan, he has lived in Canada since 1979. He has held academic and research positions at University of Saskatchewan (1979-1984), University of Wisconsin-Madison (1984-85), and McGill University (1986). During 1990-1999, he pursued his research and study on various aspects of Islam in Pakistan, where he also worked as Director, Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH) between 1991-96 and as Director, Pakistan Academy of Sciences (1998-99).
During 1999-2001, Dr. Iqbal was Program Director (Muslim World) for the Science-Religion Course Program of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS), Berkeley, USA.
Dr. Iqbal has published books and papers on the relationship between Islam and science, Islam and the West, the contemporary situation of Muslims, and the history of Islamic science.
His publications include Islam and Science, God, Life and the Cosmos: Christian and Islamic Perspectives , Science and Islam, Dawn in Madinah: A Pilgrim’s Passage , The Making of Islamic Science (IBT, 2009) and a few more titles.
He is the General Editor of the forthcoming seven-volume Integrated Encyclopedia of the Qur’an, the first English language reference work on the Qur’an based on fourteen centuries of Muslim reflection and scholarship. He is a regular contributor to Opinion Maker.