- Our religious scholars have not educated themselves enough to pass on the message to their flock
- Ministry of Muslim Affairs must ensure that such preachers don’t have a say in the first place
- Easter Sunday massacre showed, youth from educated, well-to-do families were also involved
As recent events have shown, religious extremism is going to be the biggest challenge of our times. In every part of the world, extremists hijack religion to push their evil agendas, be it ISIS in the Middle East, Shiv Sena in India or the Bodu Bala Sena in Sri Lanka. Nor is the danger localized, as the Easter Sunday carnage showed, extremism is insidious and far-reaching with groups like ISIS spreading their menacing tentacles to other parts of the world including our island.
Extremism very often leads to terrorism because it knows no love or compassion for the other. It is a cult based purely on hate for the other and extreme pride in one’s race or religion at the expense of the other. It flourishes because it has a foolish flock willing to follow it and is fed by extremists from the other.
What we can do about it?
Extremism is incompatible with the Islamic faith, and many were the occasions when the Prophet (PBUH) spoke against it. But there are Muslims who are certainly extremists. There is a saying that you shall know a faith by its fruit, but the truth is there are rotten fruit as well, and the fringe extremists in our community belong to this lot. The majority don’t.
However there is a big problem they have.
They don’t speak out their mind in public or in social media forums. They are very reluctant to confront a firebrand hate preacher even if he engages in an utterly nonsensical, ear-splitting cacophonic verbal barrage like many of them do from the all important position of the mimbar or pulpit of the mosque during Friday service. Well surely, you don’t have to shout at him when he’s at it in the pulpit, but you can speak your mind to him after it’s over and you can tell the trustees he’s a misfit and need not be there.
The fact is that our religious scholars have not educated themselves enough to pass on the message to their flock and those of other faiths – that Islam is a religion of love and compassion that even values the life of a tiny ant. Nor can they handle the many questions that need answers today, with the result that a few lay persons have had to fill that lacuna. Thus, it is high time Muslims understood that we have a problem in the community and addressed it. Even one extremist preacher is enough to do all the damage it takes to destroy a community or nation. For starters we need to:
"Extremism very often leads to terrorism because it knows no love or compassion for the other. It is a cult based purely on hate for the other and extreme pride in one’s race or religion at the expense of the other"
1) Promote broad-minded religious teachers
Believe it or not, good religious teachers are few and far between. This holds true of Islamic preachers more than those of other faiths.
Ever heard a preacher saying how our beloved Prophet welcomed Christians to his mosque in Medina and allowed them to lodge and pray there, or how he let women visit mosques and even shortened his prayer because he heard an infant crying so as to not inconvenience its mother? Chances are you haven’t.
As such it’s imperative to breed a new generation of preachers who understand Islam in its true spirit, who can win the hearts and minds of people including those of other faiths by just talking to them. By the way, ever heard a Christian priest speak? Visit a church and listen to him, he’s following the Prophet to the word, speaking the language of mercy and humility, so soft and soothing and so very pleasing to the ear. This is exactly what we should look for in our preachers. But why look to the priest when the Prophet showed us the way!
2) Eliminate hate preachers
Just as we need to promote good preachers, we need to eliminate the bad ones. There are certainly misguided preachers among us. One has only to attend our Friday sermons to realize this. Chances are you’ll find at least one in ten, probably more, ranting and raving against people who don’t measure up to their warped ideal of a religious person, speaking ill of other faiths or busy commenting about how women are not covered up nowadays, stressing on the mundane, rather than the spiritual aspects of Islam. The state through the Ministry of Muslim Affairs must ensure that such preachers don’t have a say in the first place. Monitor them and if they overstep the bounds prohibit them from giving sermons.
"The fact is that our madrasas have become breeding grounds for extremist ideas and as such need to be controlled"
3) Supervise madrasas strictly
Bad preachers are of course the product of bad madrasas, usually half-baked ones who believe that teaching students to simply recite the Qur’an or that women should go out fully covering their faces is all they need to know about Islam. I have on more than one occasion interviewed the products of these seminaries to find one suitable for outreach work for an organization I serve, only to have them say that they believed the niqab or face veil is compulsory for women, despite so much evidence in both the Qur’an and hadith literature to the contrary.
Yes, the fact is that our madrasas have become breeding grounds for extremist ideas and as such need to be controlled. It is only the strong arm of state authority that can do this. After all, how can one expect the religious authority to do this when they themselves are largely the products of such madrasas? The state must not only supervise the teachers but also draft a new set of curricula incorporating all positive teachings of Islam and eliminating sectarian and misogynist interpretations.
4) Ensure the weak-minded don’t get into our madrasas
Yes, sad to say, this is another grave problem we in the Muslim world face. Parents are only too happy to put their weak-minded offspring into these madrasas which don’t require much intelligence. Their bright ones they induce to go out to the world and make it big in lucrative, well paying jobs. This is the kind of shabby treatment we give our faith. Why not put our best minds to the madrasas, like the Christians do theirs. Did you know that the churches, both Catholic and Protestant admit only their best minds, while we persist in putting our worst to these sacred institutions.
5) Give young people the tools to think
But hold on, it’s not only the weak-minded who are the problem. As the Easter Sunday massacre showed, youth from educated, well-to-do families were also involved. What is surprising is how these boys who should have known better, were induced into joining a hate cult led by uneducated, ill-bred bumpkins. The problem is, whatever formal education one receives, there is no use if one does not have a proper family environment where true religious values are taught. We find many such people hailing from new rich families that have no proper grounding in the true spirit of Islam but rather obsessed with an overkill of ritual.
Young people also need to be encouraged to think for themselves and not be misled by extremist scholars. They need to understand that Islam is written not by the talks and doings of extremists, but already revealed to us in the Qur’an, which is the Word of God, and the exemplary conduct of His Messenger Muhammad. They need to study these sources of the faith rather than depend on preachers for their religious knowledge.
"Anybody having membership in any terror outfit or collaborating with these should be given the harshest possible sentence bearing in mind that even a simple death by hanging is too good for them!"
6) Don’t let extremism evolve into terrorism
The problem with extremism is it can evolve into terrorism. This is its natural course if allowed to go unchecked. So what do we do about it? Simple, we discourage extremism in its all its forms. As we all know, terrorism has no basis in Islam, but still we have extremists twisting certain Quranic verses to suit their agenda, like the so-called verse of the sword. Verses such as this are actually contextual, revealed at a time when the Pagan enemies of Islam were all out to annihilate the new faith and were revealed only as a means of accommodating a war situation. Even then, in subsequent verses toleration, security and protection of non-believers is stressed. Further, these verses can come nowhere near those verses that speak of tolerance of others and are not contextual, but perpetual.
However, extremist preachers often quote such verses out of context to propagate their evil designs, notwithstanding the fact that the Prophet of Islam and the rightly guided caliphs who followed him never forced Islam with the sword and even gave people of other faiths covenants guaranteeing their right to life, liberty and freedom of religion. So what’s important is to muzzle any preacher who shows signs of hate against others.
7) Crush terrorism ruthlessly
Terrorism has no religion and no terrorist follows a particular religion because every religion preaches against terror and harming our fellow beings. Even animals kill for a reason, but terrorists kill only for the joy of it. Therefore they cannot be human, human rights should certainly not apply to them. To put it simply, those who show no mercy should be shown no mercy.
Government must do everything in its power to wipe out this scourge, knowing well that the vast majority of Muslims, well over 99% are with them. Anybody having membership in any terror outfit or collaborating with these should be given the harshest possible sentence bearing in mind that even a simple death by hanging is too good for them. Their families if found complicit should also be penalized, given harsh jail sentences and deprived of their properties.
To start with, our authorities do have a list of names of terror suspects. These radicalised youth had been freely moving about in the community, but have now probably gone into hiding. Everything must now be done to take them into custody, interrogate them and if needs be incarcerate them and penalize them if found guilty of aiding or abetting terror. Some might say that such a course of action might ruin their future and prevent any hope of rehabilitation. However, one could counter argue that their future is already over as they have been radicalized beyond redemption and what is important now is not their future, but the future of the country as a whole.
Our image suffered badly in how we handled the Easter Sunday carnage. The past cannot be undone but we can learn lessons from it, and we can do something about it. Sri Lanka can prove to the world how the international war on terror can be won now that it has come to our shores. We won our civil war, now we can show how to win the bigger war against international terrorism.
"Just as we need to promote good preachers, we need to eliminate the bad ones. There are certainly misguided preachers among us. One has only to attend our Friday sermons to realize this. Chances are you’ll find at least one in ten"
8) Don’t ostracize Muslims, play the blame game
Last, but not least, members of other communities need to be told not to look at Muslims with a jaundiced eye or discriminate against them. This is exactly what the extremists want. They want to brainwash Muslims into believing that they have no place in a multi-cultural nation such as ours, and isolate and marginalize them, so they can easily feed our youth with their poison.
As I said earlier, one extremism feeds the other and this is what we always have to bear in mind. Muslims too are only human and have feelings and very sensitive in these times. They are angry about a crime which they had nothing to do with and are violently angry about it. The last thing we need to do is drive an innocent and impressionable boy or girl to the arms of a hate preacher.