The roots of Muslim anger run deeper and stretch farther back in history than the events of Sept. 11, according to the Rev. Patrick Ryan, S.J., who presented a lecture at Fordham on Nov. 6 titled “The Roots of Muslim Anger: the Religious and Political Background of Worldwide Islamic Militancy Today.” “If we want to understand the events of the last six weeks in New York, Washington and Afghanistan, I must sketch for you with a broad brush some important moments in the history of Islam,” said Ryan, an Islamic scholar and president of Loyola Jesuit College in Abuja, Nigeria. Ryan, a former holder of Fordham’s Loyola Chair in the Humanities, said Muslims’ disdain for the Western world has grown out of a distaste for secular democratic culture, Islam’s economic and political failures and America’s shifting alliances.
He explained these developments by chronicling the history of Islam, from its founder, Muhammad, born around 570 A.D., to the Muslim Arab armies that conquered parts of Africa, Europe and the Middle East, to the demise of Muslim rule in Turkey after World War I and beyond. Muhammad’s life was punctuated by religious and political conquests that established success as an Islamic ideal. Unfortunately, his successors’ attempts to replicate and sustain Muhammad’s political achievements failed, frustrating Muslims.
“Many modern Muslims are reacting in anger against the historical failures of Islam in this world,” Ryan said. “It all adds up to a tragic history of calamities for Sunni Islam as a religio-political venture.” Islam’s contemporary history has been marred by continuing injustices committed against Muslim populations, such as the treatment of Palestinians since the late 1940s and the suppression of Muslim minorities in parts of the Russian Federation and the former Yugoslavia, Ryan said. At the same time, Muslims have found it difficult to reconcile their religious life with democratic cultures. Islam is more than a religion; it’s a way of life that is governed by rules about hygiene, economics, education, politics and clothing, Ryan said.
“For many devout Muslims, the divorce between religion and the state…suggests that Western democracies are atheistic or even anti-theistic states,” Ryan said. “Muslims characterize such nations as living in what is called in Arabic jahiliyyah – the state of ignorance.” These bad feelings are compounded by the evolving international allegiances of the United States. For instance, America helped arm Afghan leaders during Afghanistan’s war against the Soviet Union and now it is fighting to overthrow some of those same leaders. “A lot of people feel used by the United States,” Ryan said. He then quoted the W.H. Auden poem titled “September 1, 1939,” the date that Nazi Germany invaded Poland, saying ” ‘Those to whom evil is done do evil in return.’ ” Ryan’s lecture was part of “Transcending Tragedy: The Fordham University Lecture Series on Sept. 11 and its Aftermath.”