Professor Richard L. Rubenstein has kindly sent me these personal reminiscences of the late Dr. Zaki Badawi, a renowned moderate Muslim who grabbed headlines last summer by being denied entry into the U.S. and then drawing a reversal and an official apology. Dr. Rubenstein offers a little cautionary tale about how vexingly difficult it is to identify genuine moderate Muslim spokesmen — the one thing the world wants most these days, but can’t seem to find in any great number.
I learned this week of the passing at 83 of Dr. M.A. Zaki Badawi, K.B.E., (Knight Commander of the British Empire), and the most influential Muslim religious scholar in Great Britain. His was a career of extraordinary achievements, the details of which are available from the obits of the Guardian, the Times (UK), Aljazeera.net and many other sources. Among those who praised him, when learning of his passing, were Jonathan Zacks, the Chief Rabbi, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, the Prince of Wales, and Tony Blair.
I came to know Dr. Badawi in the 1980s and early 1990s. He and his wife Mavis attended some of the same international conferences as did I and Betty. Because of his sophistication and the range of his knowledge, Betty and I would often sit at the same table at dinner with Dr. Badawi and Mavis. We enjoyed his company until one day the subject of Israel came up. He said to me, “But, of course, you know that sooner or later the Israelis will have to go.” In his mind, the matter was a foregone conclusion and discussion was out of the question. Mavis chimed in, “Like the Crusaders.” Understandably, I lost any interest in Zaki Badawi as a dining companion.
This year I learned from a non-Jewish British friend who is a leader in the realistic human rights movement in the UK (supportive of Israel) that Badawi had recently told him that he had never taken out citizenship in spite of more than 30 years as the Establishment spiritual leader of British Islam. He told my friend he remained an Egyptian citizen. He also said that he had no interest in Darfur because those sub-Saharan Muslims were not really Muslims but polytheists.
Because he wanted to see this worldwide Islamic state come to the West without violence, or at least without violence in the contemporary situation, Badawi was embraced as a moderate. But this universalist desire he expresses cannot be understood apart from Sharia, with all its denials of rights for women and non-Muslims. Even if that comes to the West peacefully, I will resist it.