Sri Lankan Muslims gather after Friday noon prayers to remember the victims and to protest against the terrorist group who was responsible for Easter Sunday suicide attacks (AFP)
- The identification of a “moderate” Muslim is not just an academic question
- The sad part is that ISIS followers truly believe they have the right interpretation of Islam
- The stark reality is that ISIS and other breakaways will continue to attract Muslim youth
On October 4, 2018, the White House in the USA issued its new National Strategy for Counter-terrorism. At one point it says “We will undermine the ability of terrorist ideologies, particularly radical Islamist terrorist ideologies, to create a common identity and sense of purpose among potential recruits. We must combat the resilience of terrorist narratives by acknowledging that their ideologies contain elements that have enduring appeal among their audiences.”
This is an important statement, because it shows that the Donald Trump regime views the fight against terror as going far beyond military action. It is also something we, in Sri Lanka, should also give serious thought to.
According to Global Terrorism Index 2018, compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), 18,814 deaths were caused by terrorists around the world last year and well over half were due to the actions of just four groups: Islamic State (ISIS), the Taliban, Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram. A new report dated September 13, 2018, tracking the roots, found that 121 violent Islamist extremist groups that share elements from a common ideology are now operating worldwide.
That is why the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said a few months ago that Islamist extremism is global and growing and it didn’t begin with Al Qaeda; nor would it end with the defeat of ISIS.
In recent decades, terrorist incidents have occurred on a global scale, affecting not only Muslim-majority states in Africa and Asia, but also several other countries, including those within the EU,Russia, Australia, Canada, Israel, India, the UK and the USA. And, now Sri Lanka is added to the list. Such attacks have targeted both Muslims and non-Muslims.
Today, Islam is facing a major branding problem. Islamic extremism is damaging and endangering the place of Islam and Muslims in the world. Most political analysts now believe that if militant Islam is the problem, moderate Islam is the solution. They believe that “moderate Muslims” all over the world must speak out more to condemn jihadist ideology and issue fatwas against extremism.
There is a valid point in that argument but the problem is the definition of “moderate Muslim.” The identification of a “moderate” Muslim is not just an academic question. Who really is a “moderate” Muslim? Is it one who does not seek to impose sharia on non-Muslims? Or, one who would say that he practises ‘moderation of belief’? Or, one who does not want to use force believers to practise Islam?
At the same time, some academics consider the “moderate” Muslim label offensive. They believe that it implies ordinary Islam is not inherently peaceful. Some others believe that it implies that “moderate” Muslims are not “genuine” Muslims. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, rejects this term as a Western notion stating that there is only one Islam. Maybe the answer to the question lies largely outside Quran and who can claim genuinely that he (or she) is a firm believer of the universal core values.
Research and review
Then again, what are these universal core values? Essentially, they are the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations – values to which in 1948, Muslim and non-Muslim states subscribed – values like freedom of religion, freedom of thought and freedom of speech, religious tolerance, gender equality, rule of law, democracy, and more. These are the core principles of Islam as well.
However, the buck stops there. The responsibility of finding a lasting solution to the extremist ISIS group who are posing a direct challenge to the principles and vision of Islam lies with the moderate Muslims.
They need to research, review and identify the elements which have created a fertile environment for ISIS and its counterparts for their senseless atrocities. If this important process is overlooked, but merely claims moderation, does not adequately demonstrate their commitment to solve this major issue.
The sad part is that ISIS followers truly believe they have the right interpretation of Islam. Thus, they have created some delusional reality where they ignore tolerance, acceptance, inclusion and coexistence - the basic principles of Islam.
Finally, the stark reality is that ISIS and other breakaways will continue to attract Muslim youth. It doesn’t mean that all of them would join the extremist groups or proclaim jihads, but some of their ideas around religion and politics would gain attention. An European research team examined the leaders of these extremist movements during the last two decades, and they found that a fair segment of them came from elite families and they behaved more authentically Islamic. This is another aspect moderate Muslims need to be concerned with.
Two years ago, The Brookings Institution, a reputed non-profit public policy organization in Washington conducted a series of lectures under the theme “Islamists on Islamism Today.” In that series, a number of Islamist activists and independent leaders delivered lectures and engaged in debate with the audience and offered their own perspectives on the future of their movements.
Rabhi Dandachli, former leader in Lebanon’s Gamaa al-Islamiyya, made a presentation on “Fighting ideology with ideology: Islamism and the challenges of ISIS”
He said, “If we want to suggest practical steps to address the current issues facing the Islamic movement regarding extremist groups, we have to be willing to scrutinize how we came to where we are now and build on that assessment. Only then will we be able to come up with the appropriate interim solutions for the current period.
“The real role of the moderate Islamic movement - which believes in the universality of Islam - is to journey along this path of purging religion from the impurities of past ages using modern tools in the review and revision process. This should be carried out on several fronts, especially those of scientific studies. The tools can help in investigating certain historic accounts and stories, reviewing hadith, Qur’anic exegesis (tafsir), and traditional Islamic legal manuscripts more generally.”
“After that, a review process should be conducted on those issues where contradictions emerge – those areas where society gets lost when it notices the discrepancies between some texts and their corresponding applications.”
“The tragic outcomes we see with ISIS and other jihadist movements today are not related to a recent past or to the present, but rather to a certain strand of Islamic thought that exists even in the books adopted by mainstream Islamist movements. The call here is not to demean the work of religious scholars or erase any jury’s prudential (fiqhi) legacy. It is an invitation to review and scrutinize ideas on a scientific basis, and to put them to the test at a time when extremist ideologies and terrorism have spread in the name of religion.”
“This will contribute to reform and the representation of the proper understanding of Islam not only in the face of anything that goes against its values but also against anything that tries to tarnish its image, thus completing what the early scholars (fuqaha’) strove for. In so doing, Islamist movements would then truly be Islamic: by fighting action with action and ideas with ideas, and not simply with denunciation and disavowal.”
“There has to be a serious, systematic endeavour, a large-scale collaboration among like-minded groups and individuals, and an allocation of resources in order to arrive at certain intellectual and ideological conclusions. This should be undertaken by trusted Islamic organizations and entities, and then published as part of a new awareness campaign that matches the degree of ideological awareness with which the Islamist movement began its initial journey.”
Leading the way
There are more than 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. In Sri Lanka, their population is around 2.1 million. The vast majority of them are peace-loving. The “moderate” Muslims will represent the majority of peace-loving group. They should first understand that due to the barbarity of their extremist group, the term “moderate” has lost its standing in the Islamic world and “moderate” Muslim voices are often drowned out by the extremists.
Military successes would not stop ISIS terrorism over the long term; there are always more recruits to fill the ranks and there only needs to be a few terrorists to inflict massive destruction. It’s time the moderate Muslims wake up and lead the way in promoting counter-narratives to the extremist ideologies.