Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak questioned on Thursday whether Muslims had done enough to change the West’s “wrong perceptions” about Islam, which he said was under “ferocious attack.”
He also said Islam needed a fresh religious discourse to promote tolerance and uproot extremist views.
“The Muslim world is facing a ferocious attack, describing Islam wrongly and offending Muslims’ sacred (symbols and figures) and beliefs,” Mubarak said in a speech marking Lailat al-Qadr, the night Muslims believe God started the revelation of the Koran to Prophet Mohammed more than 1400 years ago.
“Don’t we Muslims share part of the responsibility for the wrong perceptions about Islam? Have we done our duty in correcting the image of Islam and Muslims?” he said.
Analysts say the rise of Islamist militancy since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States has deepened beliefs among many in the Christian-dominated West that Islam advocates radicalism.
At the same time, many Muslims regard U.S. support of Israel against the Palestinians and the 2003 invasion of Iraq as part of a campaign targeting their faith.
They say little tolerance by Arab governments, including Egypt’s, of political opposition and their failure to challenge U.S. policies has prompted some to regard militancy as the only way to force change.
Uproar swept through the Muslim world after Danish cartoons were published last year lampooning the Prophet Mohammed, and after controversial remarks in September by Pope Benedict in which he quoted a 14th century Byzantine Emperor who spoke of the Prophet’s command to spread his faith by the sword.
Mubarak, a close U.S. ally who has been in power for 25 years, attributed the decline in Muslim civilization to the decline in the role of independent reasoning in theology and law.
“Isn’t it the time for a new religious discourse, that teaches people the correct things in their religion ... and promotes the values of tolerance against those of extremism and radicalism?” he said.
It was the most detailed remark yet by the president on the need to reform Islam’s jurisprudence to accommodate more moderate views, although critics say the state’s control of religious institutions in Egypt has harmed their credibility.
Egypt has been battling radical Islamists since before Mubarak took office. His predecessor Anwar Sadat was assassinated by Islamist militants.