“The blood of the Prophet runs in me, and I am the instrument of his will.”
Can you imagine who said that as he prepared to lead his people into bloody battle?
Following September 11th we’d be inclined to guess it was an Islamic terrorist, justifying his jihad. In fact, the speaker was Sean Connery, playing a dashing Arab chieftain in the 1975 film, “The Wind and the Lion.”
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At the time, most American filmgoers simply found it quaint that former Secret Agent 007 could utter such a line in his inimitable Scottish accent.
Today, in fact, the vast majority of faithful Muslims are no more inclined to violence than are Christians. They look to their faith much as Christians do: for guidance, hope and reassurance — not for righteous indignation.
Contemporary Muslims even have televangelists. Samantha M. Shapiro of The New York Times recently followed one of them, Amr Khalid, around Egypt, England and Germany, and profiled him.
Khalid, 38, born and raised in Egypt, is not an imam. Like many American televangelists, he lacks theological credentials and, on TV, prefers to dress in sweaters, polo shirts and business suits rather than in robes. Before he became a preacher he was an accountant.
His popular sermons are broadcast throughout the Middle East by Iqraa, a Saudi-owned satellite channel that also attracts millions of European viewers from Dublin to Romania. In his sermons, Khalid skirts commentary on Islamic law and politics in favor of offering tips on success, happiness and the avoidance of sin. He is inclined to shed tears as he speaks of Allah’s love and mercy. Part of his popularity stems from treating Muslim women as the equals of men.
Early in his career he was harassed by the Egyptian police, who slashed his tires while he was preaching and forced him out of Cairo to a mosque 20 miles from the city. The tactic failed. Thousands from all over the country took buses to hear him, often filling the streets and rooftops near the mosque. Khalid and his family finally left Egypt for England, where he focuses his ministry on second-generation Muslims living in Europe.
Unlike American televangelists, Khalid declines donations from his viewers and live audiences, living instead on a comfortable but modest income from the Iqrra satellite network. He is a revivalist, not a revolutionary. Although he preaches that Islam “empowers” women, he urges them to wear hijabs, or head scarves, explaining that their bodies are as precious as pearls, requiring a shell.
Throughout the Middle East, he urges Muslims to help one another rise above ignorance and poverty. In Europe, he urges his coreligionists to integrate, adopt the native language, volunteer for community betterment and live upstanding lives. He challenges Muslims everywhere: “If God had wanted it, he could have created all mankind as one religion. He created many different ways so we will cooperate.”
David Yount’s latest book is “Celebrating the Rest of Your Life: A Baby Boomer’s Guide to Spirituality” (Augsburg).