BROOKE GLADSTONE: If we've learned anything from the nation's leading newspapers it's that Islam is not what Osama bin Laden says it is. The New York Times reports quote "that leading American scholars and practitioners of Islam say that he has twisted and debased Muslim theology."
The Los Angeles Times concurred that quote "Most Muslims are quick to say that extremists are distorting the faith and violating its fundamental principles of peace for political gain."
The message for Americans is that Islam is a religion of love, and yet close readers are bound to get another message -- that many Muslims in the Middle East can find some justification for violence in the faith. Bruce Lawrence is the head of the religion department at Duke University and the author of many books including Shattering the Myth: Islam Beyond Violence.
So professor, is Islam a religion of love?
BRUCE LAWRENCE:Yes, I think you could say it's a religion of love, but it's also dotted with islands of hate. There, there is a violent group, and there is a violent outlook that is characteristic of some Muslims, but it's not fair to say that Islam itself is a religion of violence any more than you can say in all phases at all times it has been a religion of love.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So then you agree with the USA Today quote that says "Most of the one billion Muslims in the world today believe those responsible for the acts committed on September 11th are zealots who have a misguided view of their religion's tenets that they use to justify terrorism."
BRUCE LAWRENCE: Well, you know, I'd like to say that I agree with USA Today, but I have to disagree on one crucial point, and that is most people see Osama bin Laden as somebody who has righteous causes. The means may have been wrong, but the causes are correct for many Muslims. So I think USA Today is wrong if they're suggesting that most of the Muslims do not accept Osama bin Laden's cause as their cause even though they disagree with the means he uses to, to reach that cause.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What about Osama bin Laden's continual invocation of the Islamic faith to justify his acts?
BRUCE LAWRENCE:Well he is a Muslim! Many, many other people feel that his severe criticisms of not only the West but also his fellow Muslims hits to the heart of what they see as corruption, as lavish spending, as-- unequal economic and political circumstances characterizing much of Asia and Africa where Muslims are the majority.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:But if as you say the Islamic faith is based on the central text of the Koran, and the Koran says you shouldn't kill women or children or unarmed men and he does that, is that an Islamic act or is it not? Or is that an irrelevant question?
BRUCE LAWRENCE: No, it's not irrelevant. I think it's very relevant question, but what is characteristic of Osama bin Laden is he bases himself on the Koran, yes; but he takes as his moral stand in the 21st Century the rule that you have to go beyond the Koranic statements when Islam itself is under attack, as he believes it is.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So then this Islamic tenet that he is taking in order to justify his acts does not come from the Koran.
BRUCE LAWRENCE:No, it comes from the 13th Century, and it comes from a very severe interpreter of the Koran -- a man named Ibn Taymiyyah, and there's a direct line between Ibn Taymiyyah in the 13th Century to a man named Sayyid Qutb who was himself a radical Muslim if you will in Egypt in, in the 1950s and '60s and was eventually hung by Nasser - Gamal Abd-Al Nasser - whom he opposed; and there's a direct line between Ibn Taymiyyah in the 13th Century and now Osama bin Laden in the 21st.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:So this is a pretty lengthy Islamic tradition to regard any direct attacks on the faith as a justification of the kind of violence that was committed on September 11th.
BRUCE LAWRENCE: Yes. It's longstanding, but I want to stress it's minor, and it is one that most Muslims -and I, and I stress that -- that most Muslim scholars would reject as applicable today.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Do you think that Americans who want to learn the truth about Islam can find it now generally on television, in their daily newspapers, in the weekly magazines?
BRUCE LAWRENCE: The difficulty is that it, it remains a religion based on a text in Arabic which can be approximated but not translated into other languages. The kernal of it, if you will, the core, the heart of Islam is Islam as expressed through the revelations given to the Prophet Mohammed in Arabic, and that remains something that's generally inaccessible to most Americans and most people who don't speak Arabic.
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Here in America we have Muslim Americans standing up saying this is not the Islam we practice. This is not the Islam we know --the Islam of Osama bin Laden. Can they speak for world Islam or can they only speak for Islam as it's practiced here?
BRUCE LAWRENCE: Brooke before the -- 11 September your question would have been answered in the affirmative. Before 11 September I would have said there was at least a relationship and maybe even a close identity between Muslims in this country and Muslims beyond this country.
But I think since 11 September almost every Muslim -- in fact I can't think of a single American Muslim whom I have met -- and I have met many - I've been to mosque - I'm a Christian but I go to mosque on Friday with Muslim friends, and when I do the, the sermons that I hear are consistent in one theme: this was an un-Islamic act. We oppose this. We want those terrorists brought to justice.
Beyond our boundaries, especially through Asia and Africa and as we've seen even in the streets of Jakarta, Indonesia there nonetheless are groups that feel very strongly that Osama bin Laden represents their grievances -- not that they support the ways he expressed those grievances, but they support his grievances, and therefore they oppose military action against Afghanistan and some of its neighbors.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Professor Lawrence, thank you very much!
BRUCE LAWRENCE: Thank you!
BROOKE GLADSTONE:Bruce Lawrence is the head of the religion department at Duke University and the author of many books including Shattering the Myth: Islam Beyond Violence.