The Islamic world is a restless and fearful place needing reform, a prominent Islamic scholar argued in South Haven.
However, reform and calm cannot be imposed by forces outside the community, Ebrahim Moosa told an audience of about 200 at the South Haven Speakers Series at Lake Michigan College's South Haven campus.
Moosa, a professor at the University of Notre Dame, said the reform must start with reinforcing the Islamic teaching that all humanity has dignity.
"You use the gifts that God has given you to live a life of dignity," said Moosa, a professor of Islamic Studies in Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies and Keough School of Global Affairs.
The native of South Africa said Islam's core teachings – chastity, justice, courage and generosity – fall on deaf ears to terrorist groups claiming to uphold Islam.
That has happened, he said, because a number of Muslims in the Middle East have been brought up to be ashamed of their Islamic background. They live in poverty, there is very little gender equality, and they are educated to believe that people who do not believe is Islam are practicing false religions.
"A number of Muslims are educated mainly by old theologians," he said. "Tradition is important, but not all traditions are relevant today. Tradition can provide continuity, but it also should incorporate new experiences."
Moosa said fear is one factor that has created the violence many Muslims in the Middle East and other countries have become associated with.
The fear is the result of a long history of political and religious unrest in the Middle East, which has led to unstable governments, violence and a reliance on Islamic theology that Moosa said has been misinterpreted and abused.
He used the Islamic concept of "Jihad," in which Muslims fight against enemies of Islam, as an example.
"An individual or a group cannot call a Jihad," Moosa said, referring to Muslim terrorist groups.
But the idea of Muslim groups creating a Jihad came about during the European colonization of Middle Eastern countries, such as Arabia and Egypt.
"During the colonial period, English, Spanish and the French overran the (Islamic-run) governments. Islamic groups said, 'How do we rid ourselves of them?'"
During the past 50 years, independent Middle Eastern countries, free of European rule have emerged, but there is much political and cultural unrest, Moosa said. He said foreign government interventions will not solve that situation.