Improving US-Islamic World Relations: Some Practical Suggestions
A lecture co-organised by IAIS Malaysia and IDFR
Speaker: Dr. Omar Altalib
Dr Omar Hisham Altalib, an American Muslim and currently an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Kulliyyat of Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia, obtained his PhD (2004) from the Department of Sociology, University of Chicago. As an academic he has taught sociology at several American universities, including University of Mary Washington, Virginia and Indiana University Northwest. Dr Altalib has served as a civilian employee of the US Department of Defense assigned to temporary duty in Iraq. His various engagements in the post-war Iraq include a key role in the re-establishment of its Ministry of Education. He has published articles and book reviews in journals and magazines.
Professor Altalib’s lecture was co-sponsored by IAIS and the Institute of Diplomacy & Foreign Relations (IDFR) of Malaysia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and chaired by Professor Emeritus Dato’ Osman Bakar (Deputy CEO, IAIS Malaysia).
Speaking as an American Muslim with personal experience of the American occupation of Iraq, Dr. Altalib reviewed the main features of bad relations and perceptions between the U.S. and Muslims. The basic reality remains mutual hatred, complicated by political and social obstacles blocking convergence in relations. Yet he also asserted that the U.S. and Muslims share more in common than divergent issues of conflict suggest.
Dr. Altalib sought to clarify aspects of American policy misunderstood by many Muslims: U.S. policy does not support dictatorships, even though conflicting organs of government (the Defence vs. the State Department) often give a wrong impression. U.S. government officials need to learn how to engage moderate Muslim religious groups, not merely aid pro-American elites in societies. His “practical suggestions” for Muslims for improving relations were: providing Ramadan meals for non-Muslims in Muslim-minority societies; organizing a representative global body of Islamic authorities to provide consensus views on controversial issues; separating Arabism from Islam while highlighting diversity and pluralism; improving women’s rights; tolerating Christian missionaries; and being more consistent on questions of justice through self-criticism. Dr. Altalib concluded that Muslims should become more secular and consumerist after the pattern of Kemalist Turkey, or Malaysia.
The many persons who attended and raised pointed questions evidenced the keen interest in this topic among professionals, academics, and officials.