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About Islam's Advance

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This blog aims to challenge our perceptions of Islam as a monolithic and extremist creed, and to look for answers to some of the most important questions facing the world today: how is Islam adapting to the demands of the 21st century? What can the religion do to reform from within? And how do those tensions play themselves out in the lives of ordinary Muslims?

Over the next few months, I'll be traveling around Central Asia and the Middle East in search of answers to these questions. Starting in Afghanistan, I'll be talking to dozens of young Muslims about what their faith means to them, how to they see the world around them changing, and what their role in it will be.

Some of their voices will be quirky and idiosyncratic, others more reflective and steeped in tradition. Most must juggle the competing forces of family and modernity, sectarianism and a transnational creed, extremism and Western-style freedoms, corrupt governments and unfulfilled promises from the international community. A few have chosen to take on what they see as the evils threatening their communities at considerable personal risk.

Added together, I hope they will form a complex and composite picture of one of the world's great faiths in its struggle to change. This blog will seek out the men and women caught between these forces.

It's little wonder their response often takes radically different forms: the violent clashes between Shi'ite theocrats and Wahhabi Sheikhs, and the strange new synergies, such as Islamic feminism's rewording of the Koran, or property speculating mullahs in Mecca. Ultimately it's these individuals who will shape what Islam looks like in the century ahead.

As a reporter who began work in the Middle East shortly after September 11, I learned to see the region in terms of a great ideological battle between Islam and the West. During six years of reporting across the region, I've come face-to-face with the darker sides of Islamic extremism: suicide bombings, kidnappings and sectarian violence. I had only an occasional glimpse of the richer and multi-faceted world of engaged, passionate Muslims.

They are the subject of Islam's Advance. I hope you will join me in exploring their world, and adding your voices to their debate.

Jack Fairweather

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Comments (11)

Tariq Mahmood:

These Westerners are blind and ignorant.

I am a proud Muslim but I know the faults of my people and they are not the Bin Laden's or Abu Sayaff's (God knows that most Muslims are too afraid of discomfort to fight any war, no matter how badly they should). The problems of Muslims are the same problems that are rampant in South America, Africa, South East Asia, and even parts of Europe, that is corruption. There is two sets of laws, the laws for the haves and the laws for the have nots.

The West condemns Suicide bombings yet carpet bombs nations, whether it was Israel in Lebanon, or the United States in Iraq and in particular Fallujah. In fact during the 1990 Gulf War, more bombs dropped down on Iraq then Europe during the entire second world war. The public has become desensitized to violence with inflated figures of 800,000 dead in genocide in Rwanada (I ask how 800,000 people can be killed through violence in a nation of 8 million during 100 days give the attackers were armed only with machets, lacked a sophisticated network of roads, and by some accounts were only 5,000 strong?).

Anyone traveling to the middle east, and in particular women will find a very inhospitable place. Even in tourist destinations like Egypt and Turkey tourists are continually harassed. The truth is the Muslim world has a bad rap for all the wrong reasons.

As for Penang comments the same can be true of minorities every where. Even in America minorities are treated horribly, the government neglects the Indians and does not correct the depraved culture rampant in Black America.

Ironically some people living as minorities in Muslim countries are treated or were treated better then some minorities here, my sister's friend is an Assyrian from Iraq, her father served in the Iraqi army during the Iran Iraq war, they say they were treated well by their Muslim co religionists. I am not denying that in many part of the Muslim world religious minorities are treated badly but the reality is that happens everywhere, and in some cases coreligionists are treated even worse.

As far as the U.N. is concerned they need to stay out of the Third World's business. They blame the governments of the Sudan for the backwardness of the people of Juba, they blame the Pakistani government for the backwardness of the Balouchis, yet they do not condemn the poor level of development among African Americans and Appalachian Americans in the U.S. (despite Appalachia's rich resources, primarily coal, that still fuel the U.S. economy, 20% of households don't even have a telephone line, that is just one example of deep poverty is their). Does the U.N. condemn the Canadians for failing the Aboriginals? No it is hypocrisy.

Groups are marginalized everywhere yet only in the third world are sanctions put on countries where segments are marginalized.

As for the problems in the Islamic world, they are primarily the lack of the rule of law standardly applied. The world should move toward establishing non corrupt regimes that apply the law regularly and fairly, not condemning a people for defending themselves.

Also as far as Islam versus Christianity and Judaism, that is battle the Judeo Christian enthusiasts will never win.

King David killed 100 Philistines, removed their foreskins and offered them as a dowry for King Saul to grant his daughter to her in marriage. The Old Testament even sanctions the forced marriage of a rape victim to a rapist.

The Quran has little in the way of stories of barbarity, in fact the story of Abraham sacraficing his son is far more humane in the Quran then it is the Old Testament, in the Old Testament Abraham tricks his son and binds him, in the Quran Abraham tells his son of God's commandments and his sound responds that he will obey God's commandments.

The hadith, that is another story. It resembles the Bible and Talmud a great deal and has a number of objectionable stories and laws.

Bottom line is this, the West has plenty of reason to look down on the Muslim world, but it isn't suicide bombings or petty acts of retaliation. It is the horrible treatment of Westerners in Islamic countries like Egypt and Turkey. It is the corruption that enables criminals to go free because their family members have power and influence. And most shockingly the Muslim World's near silence on this matter and complete apathy to this disease. All of which are condemn by the Islamic faith.

The West too has many flaws, in the United States radio talk show hosts like Howard Stern are able to openly mock Mentally disabled people on T.V. bringing them on his show to be ridiculed, while Adam Sandler's movie studio can make films insulting drawfs, and organizations like NAMBLA can lobby for the legalization of sex between adults and minors, and violent pornography depicting simulated rape of women and young girls can be made.

If that is freedom give me chains.



I just surfed into your site here...this is an awesome project. It's nice to see you emerging as a signature journalist!

Some of the comments below are funny. I don't think these folks really took the time to read this page; they just get all fired up by the word "Islam".

Don't get fooled folks, this guy really knows his business.



Mr. Fairweather,

I do not believe that the question should be "how is Islam reforming to meet 21st century societies?" but rather "how can contemporary society still honor and respect Islamic culture?"

It makes me sick that Western ideas (and Western people) have decided to take it upon themselves to change this sacred religion. Change must come naturally, just as it did in our religions - from the inside. If the folks who follow the Islamic faith would like to see it changed, they will do so. This process is up to no one but Muslims themselves, and it is not at all necesscary.

What we have here is clear discrimination towards these Islamic ideals and beliefs. They do not need to be changed, just because they are different from the conventional Western ideals.

Going into these places, and essentially attempting to force these people into changing their ways is terrible.


TOTTI is a moslem:

To DontTypeLies,

That TOTTI is a moslem. All his "whys" only lead to his great Allah.

Don't be fooled.


I am a catholic living in Malaysia, and I have spent quite a number of years staying in the United States. I am a Chinese.

One thing that I can tell you about the journey that you are taking is this - it's a waste of time.

You guys in the West want to reason with the Muslims, but unfortunately, the Muslims don't want to reason with you.

Mohammad is not Moses. Mohammad is not Jesus. Mohammad is a guy who will cut off your head if you do not obey him. Neither Moses nor Jesus would do such a thing.

Have you read the Quran, the REAL Quran in Arabic? If you have, then you would know why Islam is the root of so many problems in this world.

Stop pretending that you know better than those of us who have to live under Islam's threat day in and day out.

You are not a non-Muslim from places like Indonesia or Malaysia, you do not have to bear that fear every day of your life. Your words are cheap, and your heart is in the wrong place.

I can't stop you from your nonsensical journey, nor can I stop you from spreading lies. Those are not your lies, but the lies those Muslims will tell you.

I can recite these lies to you too. "Islam is a religion of peace" "We believe in equality" "Our religion teaches us to respect other people's religion" and so on, and so forth.

I've heard those lies way too many times. They are lies, for none of the Muslim country I've been to (and I've been to almost ALL the Muslim countries in the world) practice what they preach.

While Islam may be a religion of peace, Muslims are killing people in the name of Allah.

While Islam may be respectful of other people's religion, but the practice of forcing whoever want to marry with Muslims into the Islamic faith tells otherwise.

While there are verses in the Quran itself that stressed "equality", none of the Muslim country practice that.

Not Saudi Arabia. Not Malaysia. Not Bangladesh. Not Sudan. Not Indonesia. Not Pakistan. Not Syria. Not Turkey. Not Chad.

One last thing about your series - if you keep on spreading the lies about how good Islam is, you will end up destroying the West, as all of us know it.

You have been forwarned.


Totti, you are so full of it. You keep asking Why? Well, go read the Bible and Compare Jesus to Muhammed. It is not as complex as you try to make it to be. You obviously have not educated yourself.


The matter is that no body see insdie himself. We don't see what is going on in our culture in the west. The same extremism is happening in the west, but with the different titles and the almost all of the conductors of these extremist actions are christians, but we never never lable the christians with the christinanity. Why?

Why we lable the wrong deeds of the Muslims with Islam, while every sound mind knows that bloodsheds are in every community and regions, but still Muslims are the only community whom are labled or judged according to their faith. Why? Why we don't judge the christians, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs... according with their faith.
While on the other hand one can never find these extreme acts and voilence in the Quran and the traditions of the prophet Muhammad of muslims, even if we read the bible and other non Islamic religious scriptures, we can find lots of extremism and voilent acts, but yet nobody in any Media or TV or internet has pointed those voilent actions which are there in the the scriptures of the christians and Jews and hindus.
So, I suggest that one should not appraise or judge the Muslims or any other people according to the present day Media or the sources in Internet. We should make a fair and just judgement. How can we forget that the Muslim Quran is challenging the people in its authenticity and guaidance, so once again I suggest that let's prove these extreme actions of muslims according to their Quran and the Muhammad and if we don't know about thes two, we better not cross our fingers to them and lable them terrorists and extremists according to CNN Or BBC.


well i dont agree with karen, things have changed dramatically in south asia and the middle east now ....

"40% of the radicals dominate 60% of the people not paying attention to their faith.....and the 40% have the money and the violence too."

.... When you travel thru Muslim countries you will see alot of people confused with the situation in iraq, pakistan, afghanistan and alot of people practicing their faith much mroe then a few years back...... so things have changed in a few years time quite dramatically ....... would be very intersting to see what you come up with,
dont forget to ask people if they felt any change in their perception of life and religion with in the last few years post 9/11 world....

and try and see if you can catch up with religious scholars to check their stance at things ...



"This blog aims to challenge our perceptions..."
"Our"...? What do you mean our, Kemo Sabe? Our? Don't include me in your "Our". You may speak for yourself to be sure, you do not speak for me!!

Karen Harris:

Jack, don't bother. Been there, done that long before you had the idea.

You are risking your life. Don't go into muslim countries and start asking questions about Islam.

I have nothing to report that is new. 40% of the radicals dominate 60% of the people not paying attention to their faith.....and the 40% have the money and the violence too.

The poor muslims who don't even understand their faith can not help you nor can they help the world.


An interesting idea, Jack. But what about South Asia (Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh) and Indonesia, which now comprise the majority of the world's Muslim population? Can 'Islam's Advance' truly capture Islam today if it doesn't include those areas in its ambit?

I look forward to your future posts!

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