Tag Archive: extremism


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On Saturday 30th April, I attended Cumberland Road Mosque’s conference 2016 which was entitled “Reclaiming Islam From Extremists” which consisted mainly of lectures given by renowned imams and students of knowledge on the issue of extremism within the traditions of Islam. On the bill were Taalib Alexander,a known student of knowledge who has delivered various lectures in South London, Abu Taymiyyah, student of knowledge from Leicester and Abu Usaama Adh-Dhahabi, Imam from Green Lane Masjid who filled in at the last minute for Abdur-Rahmaan Hassan. Taalib Alexander gave us an insightful lecture on the contemporary manifestations of extremist movements within the arab and muslim world. Focussing on Isis and Boko Haram, mainly, Taalib explained how these were organisations whose main aim was money and power and he gave examples of how these groups have killed muslims in order to attain power and influence.

 

His talk was beneficial because it gave the conference a more of a contemporary feel, since many of these lectures focus on the khwaarij mainly but Taalib exposed how these groups target muslims and other people of all faiths and none in the name of their own ideology, especially the targeting of young children which goes beyond all bounds and ethical norms. Abu Usama Ath Thahabi explained the Islamic definition of extremism and the position of islam and the traditional scholars on the issue of extremism, which they call ‘Ghuloo’. He explained that Islam doesn’t only recognise the far right extremists, which is those people who go overboard within religion which they impose on others, but there is also a recognition of far left extremism, which is the secular types who make up reasons for not practicing islam and the example he gave of this type of extremism was Quilliam Foundation. He explained that Islam was in the middle of these two extremes which is not to overburden yourself to the far right or not to be too relaxed in religion which is the far left but rather to stay on the middle path as explained in the Qur’an and the Sunnah & to finish off Abu Taymiyyah spoke about the contextualisation of violence within the sharia and gave examples of how, even though in some circumstances violence could have been used, the Prophet Muhammad(saw) chose peaceful methods when it came to dealing with people. From my experience in counter extremism work, those three topics were enough in terms of providing an over-arching framework of the extremism debate within Islam which provided enough scope for further issues to be discussed so with this in mind, I asked two questions at the Q&A session.

 

My first question was directed at Abu Usama my question was pertaining to the concept of Al Hakimiyyah (Sovereignty to God) and how extremist groups differ in their understanding to that of the understanding of the orthodox muslim scholars. Abu Usama explained that traditionally the Sunni Scholars have three categories in relation to the Oneness of God. Tauheed al Ruboobiyyah (Oneness of God in His  Lordship), Tauheed al Uloohiyyah (Oneness of God in his Worship) Tauheed al Asma Was As Sifaat (Oneness of God in His Names and Attributes) and he said that within these attributes, one can come to the understanding that God is al-Hakim (The Sovereign). So with this understanding, one is still within the orthodox sunni understanding of Islam however he went on to explain that extremists have come up with a fourth category which is Tauheed Al Hakimiyyah (Oneness of God in His Sovereignty) and what they have done is focus on the category of Al Hakimiyyah & politicised it to the detriment of all the other obligations within islam. So with this politicised category of Al Hakimiyyah there are no agreements with different states, there are no boundaries or nation states, mankind has no place in the interpretation of divine laws and regulations, there is no room for different opinions etc because everything and everyone comes under the rulership of God, well according to the way these extremists understand the Sovereignty of God. This question was needed to be asked because I wanted to focus on ideology which Abu Usama explained well Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God) but the debate on extremism is changing. It is not just solely on political violence anymore but it has evolved in to one of the friction between liberalism and conservatism. So with this in mind, I asked Abu Taymiyyah the question about the killings of the secular bloggers in Bangladesh and how muslims should deal with secular atheist bloggers in muslim majority societies. Both he & taalib denounced the killings of these bloggers stating that extra-judicial killings is against the rulings of Islam and it is only the prerogative of the ruler to deal with those subjects who may have broken the law of the land. Abu Taymiyyah went on to explain that muslims should deal with Secular bloggers with dialogue and debate, not violence.

 

Although there was a lot of benefits in going to this conference, I do have some lines of constructive criticism for the mosque committee and speakers. Although I understand that the speakers came from far and there were time limitations, for lectures that are essentially annual conferences for masjids and religious institutions I would have liked to see the use of audio visual equipment like, pictures, video etc by the speakers to compliment what they are talking about as it was billed as a conference so there could have been room to spice up the talks especially now that there is a lot of online verified testimony from people who have escaped the clutches of ISIS and Boko Haraam, seeing some of these videos as part of their talks would have been a nice compliment. So that’s my first point of constructive criticism. The second point comes with a caveat, although I understand the masjid was a small masjid and the lectures had to take place in the mens prayer space but to me you cant advertise something as an event for all of the community, only to find that at the event, there is a total lack of the presence or the participation of women. That, as well as of the issue of writing questions on paper for women, some would say, is almost discriminatory and I don’t think this has any place now as women, as should rightly be in my opinion, are involved in all aspects of public life. So for future events, I would suggest the renting of a hall where women are present and are participating in the event (by this I mean, you can have women speakers as well) or to extend the mosque where you have shared spaces where you can host your annual conferences and other events.

I would suggest the further development of halls in mosques as then when you do events, you can incorporate things like entertainment such as poetry or acapella rap or acoustic nasheed singing so the event is fun but also more importantly educational as well.

 

But with these points of criticism, I still commend the brothers for hosting an event on such a topic, it was very beneficial and I wish them all the best for the future by the Will of God.

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Islam and the future of toleranceI first heard about the book “Islam and the future of tolerance” on maajid nawaaz’s  facebook page during the controversy of Quilliam receiving funding from the co-author of the same book, Sam Harris. This book was supposed to be the first of its kind, a dialogue between an atheist and an ex-radical liberal muslim where controversial issues surrounding Islam were to be discussed and debated. Prior to the release of the book there were many reviews recommending the book, the most notable one’s coming from the Conservative Muslim Forums’ Mohammed Amin who said that he found the book very “absorbing” which made me think that this book might be of certain value as well as challenge me in my personally held views. The fact that this book was marketed in a way that made it unique, that critical issues were going to be discussed and debated with one of the world’s leading atheist leader’s added value to its overall image.

Discussing and debating about the role of Islam in this contemporary world is something that I welcome as I believe that we share this world with people who hold different beliefs and habits, especially now that we are living in a world system that is largely secular and is notoriously exporting neoliberal democracy throughout the globe, and not just the Muslim world. Debates on meeting both the religious and secular challenges must be had but they must be had by qualified individuals who have in-depth expert knowledge in all of the social, scientific, ethical, philosophical, and religious sciences with the aim of providing solutions and this book is promoted as if it will add value in this area. The format of the book is that of questions by Sam Harris, author, neuroscientist and philosopher, and answers by Maajid Nawaaz, ex-member of Hizb-Ut Tahrir, author of Radical and chairman of the counter extremism think tank Quilliam Foundation.

The first thing that stood out for me are the individuals in this conversation themselves because both Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaaz are NOT Theologians or experts in the Islamic sciences and this lack of in depth religious knowledge is definitely evident in their dialogue as no matter what subject they discuss, it goes no further than the base elementary level which, for me, greatly devalued the book in regards to the contribution that people like Mohammed Amin said it would make. A quick example of this is in Sam Harris’ question that many Muslims view, in a problematic way, the Qur’an as the literal word of God. Maajid’s answer, in short, was that historically there were Muslims called the Mutazilite who didn’t believe the Qu’ran was the literal word of God but were crushed by Muslim empires and therefore interpretation of Islam was influenced by whoever was ruling at that time. Now, I’m not disagreeing about his commentary regarding the Mutazilite, I just didn’t see how his commentary regarding that group added value as there is a lot more that could have been said in regards to this aspect of the debate. Maajid could have educated him about the process of revelation, how and why they occurred and how they are implemented. The lack of depth in his answers reflects the fact that he lacks in depth knowledge of the religious sciences itself.

The question of implementation is also very important as Maajid states that even an extremist can be a scholar and interpret the text and therefore the best way to deal with this is to actually promote the belief that there is no credible interpretation of the holy texts. This new method promoted by Maajid seems to have found fertile ground among the liberals but this methodology still doesn’t solve the problem to which the Quilliam were formed to allegedly solve as this methodology still doesn’t solve the problem of human agency, that extremist speakers will always bend the text to suit their world view and seek to use their religious dogmatism to radicalize vulnerable people. This along with the fact that the Qur’an and the hadith give guidelines and how the text should be interpreted.

Instead of dealing with the problem, maajid’s solution is to expand the remit of interpretation even more when he said “In the absence of a right answer, pluralism is the only option and pluralism will lead to secularism, and democracy, and human rights.” The problem I have with this is that this methodology created the problem of extremism in the first place. Extremist organisations like Al Qaeda, ISIS and others deem their interpretation of the Islamic text to be correct, no matter how much it deviates from the correct teachings or mainstream understanding. The solution is not pluralism or promoting the lack of the belief in the right interpretation but to actually contextualise how the Muslim community should live with their faith in light of the reality that they are living in no matter where they reside. It is the lack of education in regards to the text and how to apply the ethics from the texts in light of the context that we have found ourselves in, that has gone someway in creating the ideological problem of extremism.

He also mentioned that pluralism will lead to human rights and secularism which I think is very telling as this means that he believes that more autonomy should be given to those who are critical of Islam in muslim majority countries. I do not contend the fact that ex-muslims, members of sexual minorities and others in muslim majority and minority countries have some valid points regarding contemporary muslim societies that should be heard and addressed. However if one were to scrutinise the opinions of many of these contemporary liberal muslims or ex-muslims, you will find that many of them, like Maajid, lack knowledge of Islam and its sciences which in and of itself has led to many bigoted opinions of the religion and the muslim world and therefore can serve to reinforce stereotypical views to an unknown public. The fact that Maajid stated that pluralism can tackle extremism aligns himself with certain policies of the Bush administration which aimed to amplify the voices of certain individuals within Muslim majority and minority countries due to their dissent of islam and Muslim practices, in other words amplify Islamophobia. This political alignment, between the current dominant power and the individual, has given rise to what Hamid Dabhashi calls ‘native informants’ in the Muslim world which is a status the Maajid believes will further Human Rights in the Muslim world, another issue that he likes to talk about.

Maajid, in several of his talks, has promoted the idea that Shariah needs to be deconstructed and rebuilt under the rubric of contemporary human rights. This view states that Maajid himself believes that Islam itself isn’t compatible with human rights even though Human rights in theory tries to protect the dignity of human beings which is compatible with Islamic teachings as there are several verses in the Qur’an which highlight the reality of human dignity and the need for its protection. In theory, I don’t think there is any conflict with human rights theory and Islamic principles, the conflict comes in in relation to its implementation in non-western countries. Human Rights in its essence, though noble, is a political project. It was conceived in the west, under western ideas of liberalism and it needs the backing of a major political power to ensure its implementation throughout the world, in this case the United States. This has ensured that the Human Rights project is viewed through a particular lens by many human rights critics. In his book Human Rights: A Political and Cultural Critique, Makau Mutua, then director of the Human Rights Centre at the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School, states

“The second difficulty, which is an extension of the first, is the implied duty on Westerners to impose the concept of Human Rights on non-European cultures and societies because it is a universal concept that all societies must accept for their own good. Seen from other cultural perspectives, such a view barely masks the historical pattern by the West – first realized through colonialism – to dominate the world by remaking it for the benefit, and in the image, of Europe”[1]

My argument here is not to argue the need for an ethical multicultural human rights approach (one that gives parity to all cultures, religions and societies and not just the dominating western standard) to protect the dignity of human beings because human beings are being abused and so there is a need, my point here is to argue that by stating that they are a secular human rights organisation, under the current mainstream understanding of the term, the Quilliam Foundation have ideologically and politically positioned themselves with the status quo and those that seek to maintain it. Maajid Nawaaz himself states his belief in this position when he said

“On the contrary, what can unite us is a set of religion-neutral values. By focussing on the universality of human, democratic, and secular (in the British and American sense of the word) values, we can arrive at some common ground”[2]

Along with this political positioning comes another favourite pastime of Maajid, his constant attack on the “regressive” left, by which he means leftist organisations that work with ‘Islamists.’ I consider myself to be part of the left and I can confidently say that the majority of the muslim leftist organisations have no intention to instil sharia law but rather to call for a real democratic governance in this war on terror era. But there is something else that is more troubling about maajid’s views on the left. He states in the book

“This is why I don’t like the “fellow-travellers” who hold hands with extreme islamists and walk along the path with them to entirely illiberal ends, believing that they’re doing muslims a favour when in fact they’re surrendering all those muslims who seek reform – to their deaths, in many instances – by quietly acquiescing to regimes and principles that would aspire to have them killed”[3]

In other words, he believes that by working with muslim activist groups, the left is contributing towards the islamization process and therefore playing a critical role in destabilizing secular and democratic values. What is astonishing is that Anders Behring Breivik had similar views which inspired him to go on a mass shooting spree, killing 77 leftist/multiculturalist teenagers in July 2011. At first, the media saw this as a muslim trait and instead of calming the islamophobic atmosphere, the Quilliam foundation freely indulged in it. Blaming leftist organisations for quietly acquiescing to different regimes, which in some cases may be correct, serves to obscure the greater fact that many of the individuals involved in these leftist organisations are expats of those very countries and have politically aligned themselves in the way they have due to the fact that many of these dictatorships that exist in the Muslim world are supported by the dominant world superpowers – and they believe that in order to topple the dictatorships, one must also oppose and challenge those that support them.

This regressive view of the left is also shared by Sam Harris who was questioning maajid. He states that by taking the position the left has, they have abandoned those that are ex-muslims, homosexuals, women and other individuals while forgetting the fact that the left itself consists of ex-muslims, non-muslims, women, homosexuals and other members and see their opposition to western imperialism as  stepping stone to free the middle east from these dictatorships like Saudi Arabia.

For me, what was interesting about Sam Harris was how engaged and amazed he was with Maajid’s simplistic answers. One could wonder how a rational neuroscientist and philosopher like Sam Harris would come to believe that islam promotes the notion of ‘Holy war’. Just out of interest, if you are wondering that, CJ Werleman’s the New Athiest Threat: The Dangerous Rise of Secular Extremists provides an in depth analysis of the new atheist movement and how scientists and atheist leaders like Sam Harris came to believe some of the most racist, xenophobic views about Muslims and the Middle East.

But as stated above, the books unique selling point is that this is a debate between a leading atheist leader/thinker and a muslim on issues relating to Islam in the contemporary world. The fact that critical issues are discussed is the very reason why it is receiving rave reviews in the academic liberal circuit which is sad to say because within the western muslim communities, this isn’t so unique. We have muslim preachers such as Hamza Andreas Tzortzis who have been travelling around the world debating leading atheist thinkers such as professor Lawrence Krauss. The organisation that he belongs to, the Islamic Education and Research Academy, regularly hosts debates and panel discussions with muslim theologians and members of others faiths and none on important contemporary issues under their ‘Don’t Hate, Debate’ campaign. The idea of muslims and athiests debating about islam isn’t a new phenomenon in the Muslim tradition as this is something that has been going on for decades.

Due to the times that we are living in and the issues that we, as mankind, are facing, debates around the role of religion are crucial to have. Due to this pressing need, I can understand why some people will look at religion critically or fail to see how religion fits in the contemporary modern world.

For people looking for answers to these types of questions, I would urge you to read Radical Reform: Islamic Ethics and Liberationby Tariq Ramadan as it contributes significantly to the discussion of Islam, Human rights and other contemporary issues by someone who has studied in the Islamic Sciences. This book however, Islam and the Future of Tolerance, adds absolutely nothing worthy of value to the debate and after reading about 90% of the book, I can honestly say that watching paint dry would have been a more intellectually stimulating experience.

Mizan the Poet

Twitter: @Mizanthepoet

Facebook: Facebook.com/Mizanthepoet

[1] Mutua; Makau, Human Rights: A Political and Cultural Critique, pg 80

[2] Harris; Sam, Nawaz; Maajid, Islam and the Future of Tolerance: A Dialogue, pg 4

[3] Ibig pg 52