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Islamic Scholars and the Culture of Extremism - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Mauritania, in the past week, became the latest Arab and Muslim country to fall victim to the violence of terrorism, as a military unit in the North of the African country was attacked by the fundamentalist Algerian group the Salafi Group for Da”wa and

Fighting (Al Jamah Al Salafiyyah Lil Da”wa Wal Qital) which had terrorized Algeria for over a decade. The attack claimed the lives of several innocent people.

Despite disliking the cultural explanation of terrorism, which states that its roots are essentially cultural, I have to admit that the false religious cloak terrorism protects itself with leads me to believe that the ensuing violence wouldn”t have been popular and attractive to a large number of young people, including the educated and socially integrated, without the availability of a suitable cultural foundation that breeds extremism and cements hostility and exclusion to &#34otherness&#34.

This viewpoint is supported further by examining the writings and sayings of the extremist Islamic groups. Their discourse is based on interpretations and exchanges not exclusively their own. Rather, their ideas and beliefs are part of our common Islamic culture, without belonging to the mainstream or serving the interest of country or religion.

Without wishing to blame Islamic scholars for the spread of these ideas, I feel obliged to ask them to clarify the position of Islam with regard to these misconceptions that constitute the frame of reference of various terrorist groups. In the following discussion, I present four important uses for Islamic scholars to address.

First: What is the religious legitimacy for the so-called &#34martyrdom

operations&#34 that target public places and civilians, and are usually

considered as the only way to harm the enemy, due to the discrepancy in power between the resistance and the occupier, as well as the limited choices at their disposal?

I know already that the majority of the religious scholars will prohibit these operations if the victims are Muslim but permit them in Israeli territory, where the majority are settlers and occupiers and in Iraq, since the majority of US and British civilians are affiliated with the military occupation. One question remains: don”t these operations violate the ethics and laws of war in Islam? Don”t they, in addition, present a morbid and defective image of Muslims who are engaged in killing and maiming women and children in cafes, schools, and places of worship? Undoubtedly, this support for suicide operations has greatly harmed the Iraqi and Palestinian causes.

There is a need, therefore, for a firm religious position which is both clear and uncompromising to be formulated.

Second: What is the religious viewpoint toward governments that do not apply Islamic laws and regulations? Are they to be deemed un-Islamic and fought, because they do not apply the word of God? I am aware that my questions carry provocative undertones. The truth is, however, that many Islamic thinkers follow this logic when they discuss the issue of a state legitimacy. According to them, a state is legitimate only if it applies the religious, legal, and criminal penalties and religious edicts and principles of Islam. The adoption of positive laws, from this viewpoint, is a departure from the Islamic frame of reference.

With extremist terrorist groups following this perspective, it is imperative for Muslim scholars to clarify it and throw light on its assumptions and conclusions. Instead, they shy way from debate through a jurisprudence subterfuge whereby the state that armed action is only acceptable in situations where the ruler blatantly encourages kifr (disbelief). In fact, the problem relates to the legitimacy of the system of government and not

the legitimacy of armed action because if a state were deemed unlawful, rejecting it and fighting it becomes implicitly sanctioned.

It seems as if Muslim religious scholars are abstaining from addressing theoretical issues and concrete problems that are raised by the application of the legal and criminal Islamic penalties in our modern world. When the Swiss intellectual of Egyptian origin, Tariq Ramadan called Muslim scholars to start a bold and responsible debate of the issue, he was shunned and condemned by many.

Third: What is Islamic opinion of those who do not share its faith? Is it based on cordiality, fairness and cooperation, or exclusion, war, and expulsion? I am aware that scholars will chose the second course of action.

Yet matters become complicated when we go into more detail. On of the problems relates to the concept of jihad or Holy War. Is jihad to be practiced in self-defense only, or in cases of defense and expansion? Most of the medieval Islamic scholars considered jihad to protect the Umma, or Muslim nation, and religion, as is mentioned in the sacred texts. In modern times, the more common perspective is otherwise, shaped by the concept of Hakimiyyah or divine governance, implying the necessity of jihad to impose the rule of god on earth.

Fourth: What are the limits and the framework of Islamic identity within the Islamic nation with regard to doctrinal, factional, and confessional differences?

The Islamic nation, as some might know, is not a monolithic entity. Instead, it is divided into small groups and sects, with hostility still taught in education curricula, featured in the media, and further validated by the religious authorities. The situation is such that an inter-Islamic civil war might break out at any moment, with warnings already coming from Iraq, Pakistan, and other countries.

It is time the Muslim World got rid of these verdicts that only serve to promote fratricide among Muslims. Religious scholars ought to present us with a clear picture of an open Islamic framework that is able to accept difference and incorporate the variety we”ve mentioned. This frame should also reflect the richness and tolerance of the common denominator, the Holy Quran and the Prophet”s sayings.

In sum, simply stated, we urgently need to combat the culture of violence and hate that forms the backbone of terrorism and supports it. It is the responsibility of all Islamic scholars to do so, because it is only they who have the power to face religious fanaticism.