It is almost as if Iran and its Shi’ite religious establishment are rubbing their hands in glee at the prevailing discourse taking place in the world today, a discourse which holds “Wahhabism” responsible for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and its terrorist acts.
I personally had not expected the intellectual rivalry among our scholars and intellectuals to reach this level of ideological division. Some of our intellectuals would like to tell us that religions, like ideology and political systems, are open to negotiation, interpretation, change and revision, and sometimes need to be completely overhauled because what is suitable for a certain era is not suitable for another.
These people view Islamic scholar Muhammad Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab, the founder of “Wahhabism,” as an innovator for introducing new ideas. However, they have confused fiqh (jurisprudence), which can be modified and changed, with fixed and established religious doctrines. For them, the boundaries between what is changeable in religion and what is immutable have become increasingly blurred.
I personally challenge those who promote this bid’ah (innovation) that seeks to cancel all that went before. This ideology claims that we are not obliged to follow the decrees and approach put forward by religious scholars and imams and should only follow the guidelines set forth in the Qur’an and Sunnah. They claim that everything that came after the Prophet is null and void, including the first caliphs of Islam, the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates, the Ottoman caliphate, as well as the various incarnations of the Saudi state.
Some of these intellectuals, in the name of fighting ISIS and terrorism, want belief to remain limited to faith that there is no God but God and that Muhammad is the messenger of God, as put forward in the shahada. After that, they are not concerned with the details of jurisprudence or legislation.
Here, I am not talking about the religious scholars who refer to renowned Islamist scholars such as Ibn Taymiyyah, Ibn Qayyim, and Ibn Abd Al-Wahab. Their ideology and madhabs (Islamic legal schools of thought) are based on correct interpretation of the Qur’an and Hadith. Rather, I am talking about the intellectuals who, in the name of combating ISIS and terrorism, want the state to give up the application of Islamic Shari’a law. They believe that it is all or nothing; and so there should be no Shari’a punishments, no promoting virtue and preventing vice, no restrictions on alcohol and gambling. They believe that all these issues are personal matters that have nothing to do with religion or the ruler.
They want, in the name of fighting ISIS and terrorism, to liberalize anything and everything across the Islamic world, despite the fact that some of these restrictions represent the few things that all Muslims can agree on. They want, in the name of fighting ISIS and terrorism, to forcibly remove the differences between all sects, so there are no Sunnis or Shi’ites, no Salafists or Sufis, no Hanafis or Hanbalis. In their eyes, all the wealth of religious books and scholarship is worthless because religion is the same, the Prophet is the same, and each Muslim should worship God as they see fit.
However these intellects forget that doctrinal and religious affiliation is a universal way of life, and this is confirmed by the Qur’an itself: “And if your Lord had willed, He could have made mankind one community; but they will not cease to differ.” (Surat Hud 11. 118).
Religious belief does not force one to fight and kill those who believe in something else. Such practices cannot be blamed on religion itself, but rather those who are responsible for this and claim to be religious. Moreover, religious scholarship is, like any other form of expertise or scholarship, not open to all. Only those who are qualified have the right to put forward their views. Would you allow a farmer to hold forth on astrophysics? But on the subject of religion, it is as if there are no boundaries; everyone acts like an expert.
The war on ISIS, and every other terrorist group, is a religious duty and national demand, but this does not mean that we must give up our religious beliefs.