Suroosh Infani writes an adoring review of Karen Armstrong’s autobiography in the Daily Times of Pakistan (thanks to Ali Dashti for the link). And why not? She has said and written much that is quite useful to the radical Muslims, who are so powerful in Pakistan.
As an icon of intellectual activism and religious pluralism bridging the gap between the Muslims and the West, Armstrong has come a long way from the struggling woman who was driven by her successive failures and inner terrors to the brink of despair and suicide. In fact, her Spiral Stairway is a living testament of a divine paradox aptly summed up by the 13th century sufi poet Rumi: The seeker after Truth will never surrender for a trifle; [refusing to settle] until belief turns unbelief and unbelief becomes belief….
At the same time, Armstrong’s western stereotype of Islam as an “inherently violent and fanatical faith” changed completely as her readings of Islam showed her that “Islam was more tolerant of other faiths than Christianity”. However, the Salman Rushdie controversy made her realise that there was hardly any book in the market that could counter the inflamed western prejudice against the Prophet of Islam in an idiom the western reader could relate to. This prompted her to write a biography of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that endeared her to many Muslims, and made her one of the compelling voices in interfaith understanding. Interestingly, however, Armstrong also makes a passing reference to an interfaith seminar in London, where a fellow panellist who called himself a Sufi Sheikh refused to speak to her, or even acknowledge her presence there.
Writing the Prophet’s biography, too, had its secret surprises. Armstrong notes that her immersion in the lived experiences of the Prophet’s time as she did the book virtually transformed her writing into an act of surrender- or Islam in the literal sense of Surrender.
Interesting. Does this mean that Armstrong has become a Muslim?
Some of her most notable works, including A History of God followed after she did the Prophet’s biography.
For a woman who became a nun as a teenager because she wanted to encounter God and be filled by divine presence, God now signifies the urge for transcendence and transformation, as indeed the desire to live a life more intensely rooted in compassion. It is a living engagement with such compassion that has transmuted Armstrong’s struggle with the darkness within, into a struggle against the darkness of religious hatred and intolerance in the world outside.
An Urdu translation of Armstrong’s autobiography and its circulation in Pakistan’s schools and seminaries could help enlarge the spiritual horizons of the young; and inspire them to acknowledge, and perhaps engage with the reality of the spiritual quest in societies and people other than their own.
In sharp contrast to this love note, I have been denounced three times (twice by the same man) in the Pakistani press. In chronological order, although the articles now appear undated:
One common element I notice in all three of these: they provide no evidence whatsoever that anything I say is false. What I say is simply presented (and often misrepresented, as when Khalid Hasan says falsely: “Nor does Spencer acknowledge Islam’s great contribution to science, art and culture”) as self-evidently wrong and even hateful.
What they think of me isn’t important. But since I am simply working from Islamic texts, this raises an important question. So in the spirit of the quest for truth that Infani praises in Armstrong, I hereby invite Armstrong, Infani, Khalid Hasan and Lt. Col. M. Zaman Malik to a public discussion and dialogue here at Jihad Watch. Every conclusion I have come to about the need for reform in Islam, and the need for a frank public examination of what in Islam gives rise to terrorism, I have arrived at through study of core Islamic texts — particularly but not limited to the Qur’an. These conclusions have important implications for public policy, some of which are explored in some interesting and provocative ways here by Lawrence Auster.
Therefore, it is of the utmost import, if Armstrong, Infani, Hasan and Malik are really interested in truth, to investigate these texts and see whether what I have found in them is really there, and what can be done about it. Ms. Armstrong, Mr. Infani, Mr. Hasan and Lt. Col. Malik: you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to hearing from you.