Tariq A. Al-Maeena
IN one of my columns recently, I brought up the dangers of extremism through the forceful application of Islamic values based on personal interpretation. The Islam of peace becomes an Islam of compulsion in the minds and acts of some who can manipulate religious mores with their own sets of beliefs which may have little to do with the religion.
I received a very provoking response from a Westerner which deserves mentioning in its entirety: “A very true article. How can we be called to join the faith of Islam, when so many 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 Qur’an 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 so that now journalists are threatened by the Taliban.
“Key religious leaders, Islamic institutions and organizations should come out to denounce such acts as much as private individuals do. The absence of such clear and repeated statements nourishes 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 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.”
This gentleman speaks from the experience of one who has lived in this country for several years. His comments are not so far off. 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 wicked intent.
Such forceful acts often disguise the quest for power and the subjugation of personal rights, something intolerable in Islam. Acts that threaten Islam through deviate practices by Muslims are far more dangerous than threats from other quarters.
But what seems disturbing is the dearth of universal concern and 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.
Take the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the second largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations which has a membership of 57 Islamic countries spread over four continents.
Although it has condemned acts of religiously motivated violence such as the shooting of the young girl in Pakistan, some question whether it has been public enough or emphatic enough in its indignation.
This is a powerful organization and yet a condemnation through a press release is seen as too little.
The organization should use its offices in many countries of the world to highlight the dangers of extremism and recruit local media in those countries toward that effort as well.
Then we turn to Islamic institutions like Al-Azhar in Egypt or our clerics in Saudi Arabia. Al-Azhar is over a thousand years old and an established center 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 the rights of those who suffer at the hands of deviants employing a twisted ideology.
As for our clerics, many of them have been seen as vociferous on some issues and not so much on others. While acts of terrorism are repeatedly denounced through fatwas and edicts, public condemnation of extremism carried out by Muslims beyond their borders has been somewhat wanting.
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, as silence will only encourage such acts.
Even clerics who deliver the Friday sermon at mosques must be utilized to broadcast the message of rejection of such extremist acts. This grassroots approach works best in towns and villages, and its value should not be underestimated.
Islam is being abused through deviant practices by some who claim to be Muslims. It is essential that, as the Westerner suggested, the right message goes out through established Islamic organizations and institutions which publicly denounce such acts regardless of where they occur. Otherwise the divide between civilizations will continue to widen.
— The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org