SHAFAQNA-A Ph.D Arabist-Islamologist, Dr Kevin Barrett has both a scholarly and personal interest in Islamic spirituality. He wrote a Ph.D. dissertation comparing medieval North African saints’ legends to contemporary personal experience narratives from the Fes and Oujda regions of Morocco. He is also the co-founder of the Muslim-Jewish-Christian Alliance for 9/11 Truth and Muslims for 9/11 Truth.
Moreover, Dr Barrett has lectured widely throughout the U.S. as well as in Canada and Morocco.
A prolific writer and a keen political analyst Dr Barrett has contributed his writings to world renown news organizations.
Dr. Barrett has appeared many times on Fox, CNN, PBS and other broadcast outlets, and has inspired feature stories and op-eds in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the Chicago Tribune, and other leading publications. Dr. Barrett has taught at colleges and universities in San Francisco, Paris, and Wisconsin, where he ran for Congress in 2008. He currently works as a nonprofit organizer, author, and talk radio host. His website is http://www.truthjihad.com
Dr Barrett thank you for taking the time to answer our questions today!
If I may I’d like to begin with an issue which has sadly plagued the Islamic world – sectarianism.
1-Although Muslims have clearly been instructed to love, support and respect one another, in keeping with the teaching of the Holy Quran, enmities, discord and violence have torn communities apart, pitting brothers against brothers. Where do you think such hatred stem from and most importantly why?
Without putting the accent too much on politics, it is nevertheless difficult to speak of Islam and sectarianism without going back to the structure of Islam, which is the alliance of faith and social order – by that I mean the fact that Islam defines how society should be organized and within which perimeters.
Islam is the alliance of faith and social order according to God’s design.
They both work together. Islam provisions for Men’ spiritual fulfillment and enlightenment while providing a clear social and political structure for the community.
And given that ambitious people, power-hungry people have used this element, this aspect of religion to serve their own ambitions. Individuals and organizations – whether or not Muslim by the way – have used religion to further their agenda. Preying on people’s vulnerability and inner discords to feed sectarianism.
I think that the vulnerability of the Islamic Ummah [community] to sectarianism is partly the result of a gradual loss of a certain spiritual essence. And I think this actually happens with all religion … Time eroded people’s understanding and perception of Islam. Knowledge got distorted over the centuries and as we lost information, as we strayed from the path set out before us by Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) Muslims somehow got lost in the maze of their own imperfections.
The Quran is the perfected expression of God’s religion. It was declared that the Quran will remain protected and true and therefore it has acted a unifying force to the Islamic Ummah … and yet we have allowed interpretations and politics to stand in between us.
We have become vulnerable as a community because we strayed from the path. Our egos meant we disconnected ourselves from God’s revelation, allowing our own desires to take over when we should have submitted. Time chipped away at our unity and we became separated.
As time went by and as communities begun to understand and think themselves as different from the rest of the Ummah, the seeds of discord and enmities took root, leading us to where we are today – which is intra-Muslim sectarianism.
Even though the Holy Quran has been miraculously preserve for us, it is one thing to have God’s will and another to understand it and implement it. There have been so many different interpretations and conflicted politico-religious interests overlapping each other that people have gotten lost.
This has manifested through wars and opposing ideologies. Sectarianism is an evil which has prevented the Ummah to really come together.
While Islam will forever remain perfect and unchanged, Muslims are at a crisis. After centuries of transgressions, political manipulations and so on we stand in need of spiritual guidance.
Everybody nowadays has access to technology and information travels faster than ever, yet we lack cohesive leadership.
This is I think our main issue, too many Muslims feel they can themselves understand and interpret Islam without paying heed to scholars and clerics’ advices. We have become blind and deaf to the truth.
As a community we need to take a long hard look at ourselves and seek refuge in the Quran.
Religious matters are complicated matters and the interpretation of religious texts should be left to those who have dedicated their lives to studying it. Our arrogance towards the Quran and Islam in general is what created divisions in the first place. Centuries later we stand a shadow of our former self.
This is what I think has created so much chaos and led communities to stand divided.
Islam is about unity … sectarianism stands in opposition of that.
2-There have been countless mentions made of the infamous Shia-Sunni divide, but while the political aspect of this divide has monopolized many discussions we seldom hear of the religious root of this shiism. How do you understand the divide? And how has it carried through Islam’s expression of faith?
I really think that this divide we have seen play up throughout the centuries and more specifically the past decades is political and not so much religious.
Again there is only one Islam and therefore all Muslims are inherently and fundamentally brothers.
That being said there are some differences in how Sunnis and Shia express and live their faith.
Sunni Muslims tend to be more divided and open to inner-fighting than Shia Muslims due a lack of theological cohesion.
Sunni Muslims have left the interpretation of the holy Scriptures open to personal interpretation whereas Shia Islam has put the focus on its scholars and men of letters.
This I think has played a tremendous role in making Shia Islam a cohesive and strong unit, where disparities and disagreements did not lead to division but rather spiritual enrichment.
Shia Muslims have always entrusted their religious affairs to well-versed scholars, emphasizing on the role of emulation rather than self-interpretation. This has contributed to the creation of a powerful religious tradition and helped communities overcome their respective cultural differences by way of a powerful religious commonality.
This unity is lacking in Sunni Islam.
This is not to be understood as a critic, merely an observation.
For example, this lack of religious unity in the interpretation of the Quran and the Hadiths has left Sunni Islam open to nefarious forces. The Salafis for example.
The Salafis have turned Islam into a radical and extreme doctrine. The Salafi movement has opened up the gate to a flurry of radical views and radical interpretations, leaving the Ummah vulnerable.
One need to proceed with extreme caution when it comes to religious matters. Arrogance can mislead us into believing that we understand what we do not.
Disunity comes a lot from a lack of leadership. As a community we might have looked up to politicians when really we were in need of spiritual and religious guidance.
I think we all have a lot to learn from each other. And I think we should not be as quick to judge each other; especially since we all have faltered at one point or another.
But I will say this – The spirit of Shia tradition , is, I think, more engaged toward opposing tyranny and therefore Shia Muslims have been able to sustain greater religious and spiritual integrity.
Shia Islam’s identity has developed around the emulation of Imam Ali’s philosophy (AS) – social justice and equality.
Unfortunately for the Sunni world this disconnect with Islam’s intrinsic values has meant that communities have suffered tremendously under authoritarian regimes. Nations have lost themselves to regimes which have sought only the benefits of the ruling class.
The Shia world has been blessed with comparably greater leadership.
Although not perfect Iran has offered Muslims an alternative which does not exist in the Sunni world. The Hezbollah in Lebanon has also proven to be a benevolent, responsible and capable force. Unlike their Sunni counterparts, Shia movements have always put the accent on social-inclusion and equality among all religions.
3-What do you make of the demonization of Shia Islam? and why Shia Islam?
I think that this element of Shia Islam which honors resistance to oppressive rulers is really coming into its own nowadays and this is something of course which poses a threat to many powers within and without the Islamic world.
There is a power and truth to Shia Islam which is increasingly appealing. Amid so much disharmony and disunity people are naturally drawn towards stability. There is a strong echo to Shia Islam and its gravitational pull has a lot of people scared!
A lot of Sunnis are increasingly frustrated and disillusioned with their leaders. They do not want to leave under the thumb of imperialism. They are desperate for an alternative.
Therefore groups such as Salafis have worked hard to discredit and demonize Shia Islam to the Sunni world, hoping by doing so to distract people from the truth – that only together we stand stronger.
Politics has a lot to do, if not everything to do with the demonization of Shia Islam.
Looking at Lebanon and the Hezbollah for example, many Sunnis found themselves rooting and cheering for the resistance movement as it opposes Zionists. This absolutely terrified Salafis in Saudi Arabia as they saw such phenomenon as the rise of Shia Islam against Sunni Islam.
The idea that Sunni and Shia Muslims could unite stand a great threat to western powers.
4-I’d like now to discuss Islam as the world’s fastest growing religion. At such a time when Islam has been widely associated to terrorism, bloodshed and violence, an increasing number of people have nevertheless turned towards the Quran for answers. Why do you think that is, especially since becoming Muslims entails such a drastic lifestyle change – at least from a western point of view?
Our world … Western civilization to be precise, lacks spiritual dimension. People have been taught that successes are measured by one’s ability to fulfill one’s desire — money, power etc … —
The world we live in revolves around the idea of the now over the after-life. This world and the pleasures of this world are all people strive for.
But somewhere down the line, such ambitions ring hollow to the soul.
Islam offers salvation, it offers structure and the only real freedom we can ever really exercise – complete submission to God.
More importantly there is a truth about Islam which calls to people. For many converts Islam has offered more than just redemption, it has become their axis.
Through Islam they eventually find themselves.
The rules imposed upon us by Islam are there for our benefit, to protect us from ourselves and our own misgivings.
Embracing Islam is actually a freeing experience. It offers clarity and a sense of inner accomplishment.
I think that a lot of people throughout the world are coming to terms with the fact that there is more to life than carnal and fleeting pleasures.
After all the truth requires no justification!
By Catherine Shakdam