There is a rule in Islam that some obligations are generic (fard kefaya), so some Muslims can carry them out on behalf of the rest (the Muslim ummah). And others are personal, so every Muslim is required to carry out the duty (fard ain). Jihadists, leading a fight even against Muslims, wrongly claim that they are heeding the former — fighting on behalf of all Muslims, though nobody gave them that mandate. They revert to their dogmatically dangerous interpretation of religion supported by fanatical so-called scholars. Personal duties are simply religious rituals, like prayers, as in any other religion. This is one of the main roots of the current fight against Daesh (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). Although this is being led by the US and other western powers, it is more of a fight to reclaim the peaceful and humane religion of Islam. More than 1.5 billion Muslims have been trapped by a few thousand terrorists, claiming to be performing fard kefaya for them.
Muslims, especially in the Arab world, may resent a western leader telling them about their ‘true’ religion and how terrorists are hijacking it. But if Muslims led that approach and fought for their religion, it would be different. Hence the role of Arab and Muslim countries in the US-led alliance against Daesh goes beyond just taking part in air strikes. It is another fard kefaya on Muslims to denounce those mavericks defaming Islam. That is not only a religious issue for Muslims to sort out and save the world from the danger of terrorism. It is political and international as well, since the CIA-trained and Arab-financed jihadists in Afghanistan turned against their patrons. Americans, and westerners in general, may not link the attacks on New York and Washington on 9/11 and on the London underground on 7/7 to explosions and suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Algeria etc, but the fact is that all these terror acts are committed by the same groups that were once ‘freedom fighters’ in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya etc. Whether we like it or not, we all helped in the rise of this terrorism by manipulating religion. And here comes the simple conclusion: Religion in politics leads only to ills.
So, the debate about an unprecedented, proactive approach of the UAE foreign policy, by taking a strong stance against Daesh in Iraq and Syria, is understandable and easily explainable. Saudi Arabia led a campaign after 9/11 to help change the stereotypical perception that Islam is a violent religion that instigates terrorism. But it had to pay a price in terms of security. Now, propagating the true essence of Islam is more than a PR campaign; it is an extistential struggle between Muslims and groups hijacking their religion for political ends and aiming to change the region and lead a sectarian struggle. Even if the Americans, the French or the British had not come to fight Daesh, Arab and Muslim countries should have done so. Of course not every party is taking part in the struggle for purely religious reasons — not even Saudi Arabia and the UAE. But both countries are leading in reclaiming the image of Islam as peaceful and tolerant religion.
Yes, there is a pragmatic goal in depriving the main group, the Muslim Brotherhood, from gaining any leverage in the region, as most of these militant groups sprang from it. But that is what makes Saudi Arabia and the UAE different from the rest in the alliance and outside it and puts their endeavour on the right path of separating politics from religion. That may not be the case with others like Turkey, which has been calculating its moves to calibrate it with gains for the Brotherhood — whether in Syria, Libya or elsewhere in the region. The most intriguing stance is that of Iran. While Tehran accepts the fight against Daesh, it will not help in eradicating the militant trend among Sunnis, as that is the main pretext for its influence in the region. Iran is too pragmatic to work mainly for religious ends — though it is the leader of the Shiite camp and calls itself an Islamic Republic — and calculates territorial and strategic ambitions, just as Turkey does.
The fight for Islam will not be won unless the current alliance partners, and the rest of regional and international powers, come to an agreement on freeing politics from religion. That may be difficult with a Jewish state (Israel legally became that), a Shiite state (Iran) and a Sunni — Brotherhood — state (Turkey) dominating the regional scene. Proactive Emirati and Saudi foreign policy, with Egypt and Algeria, could be the only hope not only to reclaim Islam by separating it from politics but also by stopping the trend of the region getting into a Protracted Low-Intensity Conflict (PLIC) of a religious nature: Sunni-Shiite-Jewish. Those in favour of a Brotherhood comeback into politics in the region are fuelling that PLIC prospect.
Dr Ahmad Mustafa is an Abu Dhabi-based journalist.