Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Teaching Moderate Islam

The New York Times features a fascinating story about how a Turkish Islamic scholar who lives in the United States is creating schools in Pakistan, Nigeria, and other countries that combine a secular Western curriculum with a moderate brand of Sufi Islam. The schools are the brainchild of Fethullah Gulen, and they are funded by Turkish businessmen. Times correspondent Sabrina Tavernise describes the schools as follows:

They prescribe a strong Western curriculum, with courses, taught in English, from math and science to English literature and Shakespeare. They do not teach religion beyond the one class in Islamic studies that is required by the [Pakistani] state. Unlike British-style private schools, however, they encourage Islam in their dormitories, where teachers set examples in lifestyle and prayer.

Tavernise also offers a great example of how these schools can spread moderation when she recounts this encounter between the Turkish school principal and some locals in the Pakistani city of Karachi:

When he prayed at a mosque, two young men followed him out and told him not to return wearing a tie because it was un-Islamic.

“I said, ‘Show me a verse in the Koran where it was forbidden,’ ” Mr. Kacmaz said, steering his car through tangled rush-hour traffic. The two men were wearing glasses, and he told them that scripturally, there was no difference between a tie and glasses.

“Behind their words there was no Hadith,” he said, referring to a set of Islamic texts, “only misunderstanding.”

This seems like exactly the kind of project that the United States should be promoting. Of course, as Terry Teachout noted in COMMENTARY in an article on the CIA’s Cold War activities, there is a stigma that comes with covert American funding if it is uncovered. Therefore we need to think about creative ways, perhaps using foundations, to fund moderate schools of the sort that Fethullah Gulen seems to be building. In the long run, such efforts can do more than cruise missiles or Predators to defeat our enemies-and the enemies of the vast majority of moderate Muslims.