In my column last week, I highlighted the dangers of extremism through the forceful application of Islamic values based on personal interpretations. The Islam of peace becomes an Islam of compulsion in the minds and acts of power-hungry deviants who manipulate religious mores with their own sets of beliefs which have little to do with the religion.
A Swiss diplomat wrote to me the following: “Once more a very true article. How can we be called to join the faith of Islam, when so much of hurtful actions happen in the name of this religion? How can an outsider believe in the compassion of Islam and its teachings, when almost every day we read about dogmatic practices?
“As an observer for many years, I see that such extremism is denounced by many writers. But to my surprise, these writers are all laymen/laywomen. By this, I mean that it is not by religious persons, not by persons who have studied the Quran and its teachings who could say with religious authority that this or that interpretation is not acceptable and as such condemn it. Look at the case of the girl in Pakistan. Only journalists have written that it was not acceptable to try to kill her, so much that now journalists are threatened by the Taliban.
“Key religious leaders, Islamic Institutions and organisations should have to come out and denounce such acts as much as private individuals do. The absence of such clear and repeated statements nourish an underlying feeling that religious authorities are not unhappy with an extreme interpretation of the script. By their silence, they seem to be condoning such vile acts. This absence of clear positioning makes a dialogue between the cultures very difficult. If we have something that we denounce on both sides, then we should jointly state it again and again and with each case renew our bond for better understanding of faiths and cultures.”
How true this diplomat’s words are.
Indeed, if one looks around at the abominable acts carried out in the name of Islam today, one would not be short of material. In many parts of the world, criminals are shielding themselves behind this religion to mask their evil intent. Usually, it involves the quest for power and the subjugation of personal rights, something far removed from the spirit of Islam.
But what is indeed disturbing is the absence of forceful rejection by established Islamic religious institutions and figures of such twisted practices and values and a public denouncement that is carried far and wide to indicate their disagreement and displeasure.
One can begin with the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the second largest inter-governmental organisation after the United Nations with a membership of 57 Islamic countries spanning over four continents.
Although it has condemned acts of violence such as the shooting of the young girl, Malala Yousufzai, in Pakistan, many question whether it has been public enough or emphatic enough in its indignation. This is a powerful organisation and yet a condemnation through a press release is too little in the eyes of many. It could use its offices in many countries of the world to highlight the dangers of such extremists and employ the local media in those countries towards that effort as well. Their relative silence beyond simple condemnations is not worthy of such a multi-state Islamic organisation.
Then we turn to Islamic institutions like Al Azhar in Egypt or the Council of Ulema in Saudi Arabia. Al Azhar is more than a thousand years old and an established centre for great scholars of Islam. Yet, in recent times, many feel that it has not taken the lead in publicly calling for the preservation of rights of those who suffer under the hands of deviants employing a twisted ideology.
As for the Saudi clerics, many of them have been vociferous on some issues but silent on others. There have been several fatwas issued that were considered frivolous at best. Public condemnation of such extremism beyond their borders has been wanting. Housing the two Holy cities of Islam, many feel that the Saudi Ulema should take the lead in denouncing each and every vile act committed in the guise of Islam, regardless of its location. The message must be loud and clear. Silence will only encourage future criminals. Even clerics who deliver the Friday sermons at mosques must be utilised to broadcast the message of rejection of such extremist acts. This grass roots approach works best in towns and villages and its value should not be underestimated.
Islam is being abused in front of our eyes and more often than not by those who claim to be Muslims. It is essential that, as the Swiss diplomat suggested, established Islamic organisations and institutions publicly denounce acts of extremism carried out by these thugs. Otherwise, the chasm between civilisations will continue to widen.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.