Evolve a new theology to defeat Islamism and Jihadism


A War on Terror has been raging for 17 years now, but we are no closer to defeating Islamist terror. Jihadism continues to attract Muslim youth. This is because the world has not paid enough attention to the ideology of Islamism and Jihadism.

Mainstream Muslims have considered Islam a spiritual path to salvation, one of the many. Islam aims at reforming society for a peaceful, harmonious, pluralist existence. However, due to certain historical factors, the theology and jurisprudence of Islam that evolved in the 8th and 9th centuries (CE), present Islam as a political, totalitarian ideology of supremacism, xenophobia, intolerance and gender discrimination. It is this theology of violence, exclusivism and world-domination that is taught in madrasas and sustains Islamism. But despite the Islamist violence against peaceful Muslims and non-Muslims alike, the community is still not focussed on the need for evolving a counter-narrative of Islam.

It is imperative that Muslim countries that have signed the UN Charter look into the issue urgently and work towards developing a new theology of peace, pluralism and gender justice. While several countries like Morocco and now Saudi Arabia appear to be moving in this direction, the one country that has made a solid contribution is Turkey. In a decade-long exercise 100 Turkish scholars have managed to limit the number of authentic ahadith to just 1600, out of over 10,000, and provide each hadith with context and suitable interpretation. This book of authentic Hadith has been provided to all mosques in Turkey but I hope it is made available to the global Muslim community in their own languages as soon as possible.

The present theology is simply not compatible with the requirements of living in complex, plural societies of the 21st century. Allama Iqbal, a poet-philosopher of the South Asian sub-continent had called for the reconstruction of religious thought in Islam almost a hundred years ago. Let us at least start working on it now.

But first, it’s important for us to understand what has led to the present state of affairs. Why have the Muslims ulema (religious scholars) become so tolerant, if not actually supportive, of the militant Jihadis in our midst, despite the horrendous toll, in which tens of thousands of Muslims have themselves been killed, not to speak of events like 9/11, and repeated terrorist violence in a number of cities in Europe and North America.

The so-called Islamic state which is known for broadcasting its brutalities in chilling detail has been ousted from its control of territories in Iraq and Syria, but its ideology appears to be gaining ground in Africa and South Asia. Al-Qaeda may be down but is not out; it continues to exert ideological influence on sections of Muslim youth. The Taliban which harboured al-Qaeda in Afghanistan are resurgent and the world community appears to be gradually coming round to the view that they should be allowed to share power in the Kabul administration from which they were ousted soon after 9/11 in 2001.

Islamist terrorist organisations like Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad in Pakistan, Boko Haram and Al-Shabab in Africa and Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia, indeed all across the world, are continuing to gain strength.

While the world community may have gotten involved in issues related to Islamist extremism since 9/11, this is essentially a war of ideas within Islam which has been going on for centuries. Both God and His Prophet wanted Muslims to be a moderate, justly balanced community. An ummat-e-wasta, Holy Quran 2:143, said. Numerous verses in the Quran and narrations of Hadithexhorted Muslims never to take to extremes, not even in matters of fulfilling religious obligations like prayers and fasting. The Prophet actually expressed his anger specifically against a group of people who wanted to pray all day and night, fast continuously for weeks, abstain from marriage, give up eating meat in order to control their lust and to renounce sleeping in beds, etc.

And yet, not long after the demise of the Prophet in 632 (CE), extremists started emerging and taking it upon themselves to decide who is a Muslim and who a Murtad (apostate), Mushrik (polytheist) or kafir (infidel) and also taking it upon themselves to punish and kill people for perceived apostasy or blasphemy. The first group to do so were called the Khwarij (the excluded). They killed thousands of Muslims including Hazrat Ali (RA), the fourth rightly guided caliph. Today our religious books, belonging to all sects in Islam, give scores of grounds on which a Muslim can be declared an apostate (Murtad), Mushrik (polytheist), or infidel (Kafir) and punished with death.

These theological views empower even individual Muslims to start delivering justice to Muslims who, they think, have committed acts of apostasy or blasphemy. The divine justice that was to be delivered by God on the Day of Judgement is dispensed here by individuals who have been brainwashed with extreme ideas of the scope and authority of divine commands like Amr bil Maroof wa Nahi ‘anil Munkar (Enjoining good and forbidding wrong).

Quran, Hadith, and classical Fiqh (jurisprudence) all agree that while there is no concept of an Islamic state in Islam, only the rulers of a legitimate Muslim state can take decisions for perpetrating any kind of violence, either in a war against another state or against individuals in order to impart justice. In classical fiqh (jurisprudence) no individual or group is empowered to take any violent action on its own. But today, violence in various forms is tolerated by the community in the name of Islam. A terrorist has only to quote something from scriptures in justification, without even a reference to context, and his vile acts are forgiven. After all, Osama bin Laden never faced a fatwa of apostasy or blasphemy, while religious reformers like the famous educationist Sir Syed Ahmad (1817—1898) of India were issued scores of fatwas of apostasy by Indian Deobandi ulema as well as the Mutawalli of Khana Ka’aba in Makkah. Indeed, dissenters and reformers in various parts of the Muslim world continue to be killed by individuals and groups. So-called Islamic State chief Khalifa Baghdadi’s statement that “Islam was never a religion of peace, not even for a day,” was greeted with complete and resounding silence from Muslim ulema around the world.

This apathy to growing Islamist extremism is so great that even some highly educated Muslims ask: “What if 30,000 Muslims from 86 countries joined the Islamic State in just one year? What is their percentage in a community of 1.7 billion people? How can you cite this miniscule percentage as evidence of growing extremism?”  One doesn’t know how to respond to such “intellectuals.” The fact is that even if one Muslim thinks that going to a mosque in the form of a human bomb and blowing oneself up to kill fellow Muslims during prayers will bring one divine reward, the community should have been wondering what is it in our religion that lends itself to such dastardly crimes in the hope for reaching Heaven. Radicalisation has grown exponentially, but even after thousands of terrorist crimes having been perpetrated, one or two being reported practically everyday from some part of the world, we remain unconcerned.

Indeed, the man who killed Governor Salman Taseer of Pakistani state of Punjab for showing kindness to a Christian lady accused of blasphemy, is glorified as a saint. After his judicial execution, the Sufism-oriented Barailvis of Pakistan have built a shrine in his name and hundreds of thousands visit it, seeking this vile murderer’s intercession with God for ending their woes in this life and beyond.

What is the source of this glorification of crimes committed in the name of religion? What lies behind this indifference, this unthinking, unquestioning acceptance of any crime that is perpetrated in the name of Islam? It seems Muslims actually stopped thinking and questioning with the defeat of Mutazillah, the rationalists, in the middle of ninth century (CE), i.e., a little over two centuries after the demise of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). They were told by the ulema to close the doors of Ijtihad, the Islamic principle of creative rethinking and they did. Ijtihad had been used from the time of Hazrat Umar (RA) the second rightly guided caliph who assumed office merely two years after the death of the Prophet (peace be upon him).

(This is Part-1 of the two-part series by Sultan Shahin. This article was first published in New Age Islam and is being reproduced in News Intervention with due permission from the Author)

Click here to read Part-2 of this two part series

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