Islam - muligheder for reformer:
Terrorism, Islam, Reform:
Thinking the Unthinkable
Maruf Khwaja, 28. juli 2005
The atrocity of 7 July in London is the latest manifestation of a rooted culture of ignorance and intolerance in the Muslim world. Only reform can save Islam from itself, says Maruf Khwaja.
For most British citizens, life has returned to a wary normality after the
London bomb outrage of 7 July and its abortive repeat two weeks later. But the
aftermath of the most devastating man-made catastrophe in Britain since 1945 (after
Lockerbie in 1988
and leaving aside the question of whether disasters like Aberfan
in 1967 qualify as such) will linger for a long time. The wounds are deep and
may never fully heal.
Life will never be the same for those touched by the disaster: the maimed,
those with psychological scars, the bereaved. The trauma will be with them
British Muslims and non-Muslims alike agonize over the question raised by the
“homegrown” attackers of 7
in particular: why did a group of apparently normal, well-adjusted
young men, born and brought up in Britain, products of an education that imparts
(if nothing else) liberal values, commit such a horrendous crime?
One answer is that the liberal values were cancelled by the illiberal, indeed
fanatical values the bombers acquired elsewhere. But was there nothing
in the “Britishness” of their lives that they felt worth preserving? British
Muslims, nourished by the salt of this land, must ask themselves these questions.
Islam places a man’s duty to his loved ones on the same plane as his duty to
Allah. Why was that Islamic duty so easily erased for these fanatics?
Some discussion has focused on the most likely source of the bombers’
fanaticism – the book and traditions of Islam itself. The Qur’an figures
prominently, both among those who claim justification on the bombers’ behalf
and those who link their lethal inspirations to its injunctions. But both Muslim
and non-Muslim commentators have also pointed out that such acts of terrorism
are not sanctioned, either through the Qur’an or the hadith
(the recorded traditions of Mohammed, its founder). They say the teachings of
Islam were twisted to suit the political ends of the terrorists’ masterminds.
Journeys of faith and illusion
The first difficulty in assessing claims of a direct link between acts of
extremism and Islam is that (as in the other two “religions of the book,”
Judaism and Christianity) there is enough breadth and elasticity in its
scriptures to enable both sides to draw whatever supporting meaning they wish.
But most British-based Islamic scholars agree that all Quranic references to
martyrdom and jihad
need to be understood in the context in which they
were made – the two wars imposed on the early Muslims before the hijra
(the flight from Mecca to Medina) in 622 CE, when 303 poorly-equipped Muslims
faced annihilation against 10,000 well-armed Meccans.
The reward for martyrdom – a guaranteed place in paradise – was perhaps
the only inducement available to the first Islamic army. Not quite enough
Muslims took up the offer, though some of those who “absconded without
official leave” later offered penance by chaining themselves to the pillars
around the ka’aba
to await the prophet’s judgment. (They were all forgiven.)
Later, as they grew stronger and inaugurated the age of Arab expansionism,
many more Muslims died in conflicts. Some of these were internecine (for example,
the army of the prophet’s son-in-law Ali against that of his widow Ayesha).
There were – though scholars dispute the point – no martyrs in those battles,
or in subsequent expansionist wars.
Half a millennium later, the popes of the time gave thousands of Crusaders
similar guarantees of a place in paradise for suicidal leaps onto or off the
well-defended walls of Jerusalem. But these suicides could hope to take, at best,
one or two of the enemy with them. Mass murder in one blow is a modern
This is the problem. Contemporary Islam
has produced more suicidal extremists than all other creeds, modern or ancient.
In addition to real or imagined grievances, there are growth factors peculiar to
Islam. An unshakeable belief that “life after life” is preferable to the
earthly one; the mental discipline inculcated by rigid prayer rituals and the
suppression of earthly desire through fasting and privation make vulnerable
young minds especially receptive to brainwashing.
The ideal breeding-ground for uncompromising fanaticism is unquestioning
belief in the “holy” writ and the resistance to rational thought that it
provides. This can be found in other “faiths”: Marxist-Leninist (Cambodia’s
Pol Pot, Peru’s Alberto Fujimori, or Italy’s Red Brigades) who dreamed of
the “perfect” communist revolution, Japanese seppuku who
dive-bombed their planes in fealty to the emperor. Muslim suicide-bombers do it
to enter a paradise of unimaginable pleasures.
They do it in vain. The verses of the Qur’an that condemn suicide as one of
the gravest sins are unequivocal. Bukhari
and Abu Muslim (considered the most reliable compilers of the hadith
cite the prophet’s companion, Abu
, as repeating his words: “He who kills himself will be awarded the
same torment on the day of judgment: that he should continue to kill himself in
Hell, in the same manner as he killed himself in the mortal world.” For an
unsuccessful suicide, Abu Huraira quotes Mohammed: “He who wounds himself (with
suicidal intent) will spend eternity in the infernal world inflicting the same
wound on himself.”
Among the fifteen people killed on the number 30 bus at Tavistock
was a Muslim woman of Bangladeshi origin. On the murder of an
innocent Muslim, the prophet’s companion Abu Saeed quotes the prophet: “Even
if all the creatures of heaven and earth were to join together in murdering an
innocent Muslim, on the day of judgment, He will throw them into hellfire with
their faces down”.
The madrasa problem
It is clear that the London bombers – hypnotised, brainwashed or just
demented – had no sanction from Islamic scripture and may now be sitting in
hell, rather than enjoying the fabled 72 virgins in paradise. What is of greater
interest to the rest of us, their would-be victims, is to seal off the British
end of the terrorist supply-line. This has several tentacles, of which the most
obvious is the network of mosques and Islamic guidance centres operated by the
, to which the Taliban and Osama bin Laden belong. This sect, referred
to in south Asia as Deobandi, runs most of Pakistan’s 10,000 religious schools
). The Pakistani regime of Pervez Musharraf has long promised
to curtail those cultivating young jihadis
– and the flow between
them and radical mosques and madrasas
in Britain needs urgent
A British Home
research paper has proposed that unqualified imams
officials) – imported on the cheap by Muslim communities – could be deported,
along with radicals of foreign origin and training. The report suggests
replacing them with “locally qualified” English-speaking imams
the authorities need to be careful here, too. The local imams
from dozens of Wahhabi
-operated Dar-al-Alums (religious universities)
that produced firebrands like the ex-jihadi
Abu Hamza, now awaiting
trial on terrorism-related charges. The two most prominent Dar-al-Alums are in Dewsbury
and Blackburn, northern England.
As a volunteer training adviser in northwest England, I tried unsuccessfully
to secure employment for two such graduates, one burqa
who had wasted three years on a worthless degree (in “Islamic studies”) that
no employer – including mosques – recognised. Indeed, most British
Dar-al-Alum acquire their syllabuses from radical counterparts abroad, and often
contain inflammatory material incompatible with a multifaith, multicultural
society. The need for reform, involving examinations of imams
languages, cultures and religions practiced in Britain is evident; ideally, all
Dar-al-Alums should be closed, and reopened only after submitting to the
inspection and regulation process imposed on British universities.
The costs of sclerosis
The rise of fundamentalism
in the Islamic world, and the inability of Muslim societies to contain it, carry
huge costs: from sectarian riots and pogroms against religious minorities to the
entrapment of minds in impoverishing dogma.
Unreformed Islam’s relationship to the Muslim world is equivalent to
pre-Reformation Christianity in Europe. The Reformation allowed the west to
liberate itself from religious thinking and set free forces of progress;
meanwhile, Islamic empires shrank into their shell, refusing reality, rejecting
change and resisting “infidel” knowledge. Stupefied by ignorance, they
submitted to western conquerors with scarcely a whimper. If today’s Muslim
bomb-throwers want someone to blame for their mindless rage, they should look at
their own ancestors.
The long-term answer to terrorism in its Islamic guise can only lie in
reform. Islamic reformers must re-examine pre-modern practices and concepts (such
as the hudood
laws that allow men “non-reciprocal” rights over women); repudiate Islamic
radicals who wish (as in Canada
to apply sharia
laws to Muslims in the democratic west; shed sectarian
dogmas that perpetuate intra-communal conflict; consign the theological disputes
of early Islam to the past; and update or discard rigid rules (often deriving
from pre-Islamic rituals) that have no relevance today.
The path to enlightenment
Only Muslims themselves can undertake such a project. But to whom would it be
addressed? The Shi’a in Iran and elsewhere and some sub-sects
recognise spiritual leaders, but Islam as a whole has no pope, nor indeed any
temporal or spiritual head. The only claimant to an Islamic papacy in modern
times is a mass murderer hiding in the Tora Bora mountains.
and prospects for reform are not promising. For centuries, reactionary Islamic
scholars and clerics have used threats, intimidation and outright murder to
resist it. Islamic graveyards are full of unsuccessful reformers. Ijtihad
the practice of knowledge-seeking by consensual discussion, once enabled Muslims
to resolve issues not covered in the Qur’an or hadith
; but founders
of the Sunni
schools of thought replaced it six centuries ago with the
word of a single mufti
A mufti can issue a fatwa declaring the mildest dissenter a
murtid (apostate), whom a Muslim is obliged to slay. I received my
first apostasy fatwa thirty-five years ago, in the run-up to
Pakistan’s first democratic election. In this I was in the good company of all
Pakistan’s progressive journalists. Fortunately for us, for every reactionary mullah
there was an enlightened one; for every fatwa, there was a
counter-edict. When the election was over, three-quarters of Pakistan’s
population had been placed beyond the pale of Islam, by virtue of their support
for secular parties.
retired to lick their wounds, but returned when the
Americans put General
into power. During the Zia decade, democratic forces were
systemically crushed and rational clergy driven out of mosques and madrasas
This rooted culture of ignorance and intolerance was further emboldened by the
emergence of people like Osama bin Laden.
The extremist ideologies holding modern Muslim societies to ransom have been exported
across the western world by globalisation, the electronic revolution, migration,
abuse of refugee and asylum-seeking status, and arranged marriages.
The outlook for reform in the Muslim heartlands is bleak, but a ray of hope
comes from European Islam. A new
of Muslim thinkers is emerging, free of the fetters of the
thought-police that bind its predecessors. The moderate tone of their Islamic
polemics suggests that an updating of outdated theory and practice might be
possible. Progressive Muslims
and elsewhere must be encouraged to support, protect and
encourage this movement. Their work offers some hope that Islam will survive the
even greater tribulations this century is bound to bring.
This article is published by Maruf Khwaja, and appeared originally on openDemocracy.net
under a Creative Commons licence. To view the original article, please click here