We Need a Re-Reading of Islam if We Are to Rid the World of Islamism

dicembre 2, 2015


Pubblicato In: Articoli Correlati


articolo collegato di Balsam Mustafa

Since capturing swaths of Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) has embarked on a cyberoffensive to spread its message through social media. A great effort has been made to block and remove the content, to understand how this information spreads—and to understand why some find it so convincing.

But it is also important to look at the message itself. ISIS’s claims are not plucked out of the sky. As unpalatable as they may be, they are framed by religious narratives and debates about Islam that have spanned centuries.

A look at ISIS’s online magazine, Dabiq, reveals arguments built on Wahabbism, a fundamentalist branch of the Sunni sect. There are invocations of founder Ibn Taimaya, “Sheik al Islam” and references to Ibn Abbas, Ibn Masood, Ibn al-Qayyim, Ibn Hajar, Muhammad Ibn Abdil-Wahhab, Bukhari and Sahih Muslim—Muslim scholars either collecting, interpreting or narrating Hadith (the words of the prophet). The broader message is blunt: “Kill whoever changes his religion [Sahīh al-Bukhārī].”

To claim that ISIS is not related to Islam is therefore naive, even willfully dismissive. It ignores the interpretations of Islam that ISIS presents in its videos, statements and other communication.

Arguing that ISIS is comprehensively Islamic, on the other hand, is simplistic too. That is, to see the group as representing all Muslims and the different and competing readings and interpretations of Islam around the world. Clearly, it does not.

Grabbing either of these easy, polar explanations for what ISIS represents will not provide a solution to the problem. We need to consider some controversial issues upon which most of the varying sects of Islam agree in order to understand ISIS and subvert its narratives.

Selective Reading

For example, ISIS invoked Sabi—the Arabic term for the enslavement of women—when it kidnapped Yazidi women in northwest Iraq in August 2014. It argued that this was justifiable because the Yazidi are “infidels.”

When reporting on what had happened to the Yazidi women, Arabic media shied away from having an honest discussion about Sabi. Questions were asked about whether it was justifiable to call the Yazidi infidels, but less about whether the practice of Sabi itself was justifiable.

Later, the question of Sabi was raised among Muslim scholars who generally agree that the practice existed before Islam and continued during the religion’s early stages. The debate was about whether Sabi can justifiably be revived as a practice if a caliphate is created, as ISIS would argue.

Some Muslim scholars tried to contest this by undermining the legitimacy of ISIS and its self-proclaimed caliphate. Some went further to stress that Sabi is not legitimate in our age, but they were few and far between. They failed to provide a strong counter-narrative to ISIS.

ISIS’s demand that Christians should either convert to Islam or pay jizya, a tax imposed on non-Muslims in return for protection and services, has also caused problems.

OPINION
We Need a Re-Reading of Islam if We Are to Rid the World of Islamism
By Balsam Mustafa 12/2/15 at 3:05 PM

FILED UNDER: Opinion
11_30_ISIS_Islam
An ISIS billboard reads, “We will win despite the global coalition,” along a street in Raqqa, Syria, on October 29, 2014. To understand ISIS and subvert its narratives, we need to consider some controversial issues which most of the varying sects of Islam agree on, the author writes.Nour Fourat/Reuters
This article first appeared on The Conversation.

The ConversationSince capturing swaths of Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) has embarked on a cyberoffensive to spread its message through social media. A great effort has been made to block and remove the content, to understand how this information spreads—and to understand why some find it so convincing.

But it is also important to look at the message itself. ISIS’s claims are not plucked out of the sky. As unpalatable as they may be, they are framed by religious narratives and debates about Islam that have spanned centuries.

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A look at ISIS’s online magazine, Dabiq, reveals arguments built on Wahabbism, a fundamentalist branch of the Sunni sect. There are invocations of founder Ibn Taimaya, “Sheik al Islam” and references to Ibn Abbas, Ibn Masood, Ibn al-Qayyim, Ibn Hajar, Muhammad Ibn Abdil-Wahhab, Bukhari and Sahih Muslim—Muslim scholars either collecting, interpreting or narrating Hadith (the words of the prophet). The broader message is blunt: “Kill whoever changes his religion [Sahīh al-Bukhārī].”

To claim that ISIS is not related to Islam is therefore naive, even willfully dismissive. It ignores the interpretations of Islam that ISIS presents in its videos, statements and other communication.

Arguing that ISIS is comprehensively Islamic, on the other hand, is simplistic too. That is, to see the group as representing all Muslims and the different and competing readings and interpretations of Islam around the world. Clearly, it does not.

Grabbing either of these easy, polar explanations for what ISIS represents will not provide a solution to the problem. We need to consider some controversial issues upon which most of the varying sects of Islam agree in order to understand ISIS and subvert its narratives.

Selective Reading

For example, ISIS invoked Sabi—the Arabic term for the enslavement of women—when it kidnapped Yazidi women in northwest Iraq in August 2014. It argued that this was justifiable because the Yazidi are “infidels.”

When reporting on what had happened to the Yazidi women, Arabic media shied away from having an honest discussion about Sabi. Questions were asked about whether it was justifiable to call the Yazidi infidels, but less about whether the practice of Sabi itself was justifiable.

Later, the question of Sabi was raised among Muslim scholars who generally agree that the practice existed before Islam and continued during the religion’s early stages. The debate was about whether Sabi can justifiably be revived as a practice if a caliphate is created, as ISIS would argue.

Some Muslim scholars tried to contest this by undermining the legitimacy of ISIS and its self-proclaimed caliphate. Some went further to stress that Sabi is not legitimate in our age, but they were few and far between. They failed to provide a strong counter-narrative to ISIS.

ISIS’s demand that Christians should either convert to Islam or pay jizya, a tax imposed on non-Muslims in return for protection and services, has also caused problems.

In an open letter to leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, 120 Sunni scholars criticized how ISIS was interpreting Islam but failed effectively to respond to its claims. Instead, their comments about whether jizya is still applicable in the modern world were vague and contradictory.

They first described Christians as “Arabs” and “friends” who should not be subject to jizya, but then the tax was put into two categories: one against groups who waged war against Muslims and the other—described as similar to zakat (a tax paid by Muslims)—imposed on Christians who did not wage war. Having tried to establish that jizya was illegitimate, the scholars had failed to offer a coherent religious argument against it.

There are plenty of other problematic cases that arise from ISIS activities. Can atheists or apostates be killed, for example, as some extreme interpretations of Islam suggest?

An Honest Debate

There is no immediate, magical solution to this problem. A comprehensive, constructive and critical reading of Islamic fiqh (the human understanding of Sharia law) and history in all its stages requires a huge collective effort. That effort needs to include governments, religious authorities and other institutions, such as academia and the media.

Such effort needs to start with challenging religious messages that incite hatred or violence. That should include TV channels that support sectarian and ethnic division. These are broadcast not only from Arabic countries but also from Western countries, including the U.S. and Britain.

Given the political conflict that feeds religious and sectarian conflict—often supporting and funding extremist voices delivering the message of hatred among and beyond Muslims—this might be difficult to achieve in the foreseeable future. Still, steps need to be taken to pave the way for this ultimate goal.

People are already creatively trying to shift the extremist language and narratives through comedy and factual programs. These efforts often emphasize the human over religion or ethnicity.

And messages of this kind can be found in religious texts too, even if they are largely overlooked by extremists. Take the Quranic verse: “There is no obligation in religion”; the Hadith by the Prophet Muhammad: “Religion is how you treat others”; and the saying by Ali Ibn Abi Talib, cousin of the Prophet Muhammad, “People are two types: your brothers in religion or your human counterparts, otherwise.”

We need to listen to these messages and use them to confront violence. It will be a long journey, but it is worth all our efforts. If we defeat ISIS but do not have an honest, critical re-reading of Islam, another group will only come along to replace it.

As the debate among Islamic scholars has shown, it has been difficult to establish the consensus that, even if sabi and jizya were once considered valid, they are no longer legitimate. But that very difficulty reinforces the need to undertake the task.

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