SHAFAQNA – “There will come a time when nothing will be hidden except truth, and nothing will be revealed except falsehood.” Imam Ali
The following article is part of a series on ‘Islamic terrorism’, looking at the theological deviance a certain religious tradition – such as that promoted by Saudi Arabia, ambitions to establish as normative Islam.
A lot can be said of our refusal to discuss History if we consider that much of what ails us today is rooted in our past. Unless we admit to the fact that we stand a product of our environment – an echo of what was before we can commit to our future, we are indeed bound to repeat what we refuse to own.
History needs not be a source of shame if we are to learn not to repeat in our perversions. We have been so consumed by our desire to idealise our past that we have committed the greatest crime of all – the promotion of falsehood through not just omission, but rationalisation. In this particular case we have collectively allowed for falsehood to be proclaimed true on account lies were carried by men of power.
Much of the criticism Muslims face today – however disjointed it may now appear, however magnified and exaggerated to the point of caricature it may look and sound, is rooted in some truth. Only rather than see the failures of a community, many have chosen to blame a faith. Islam, I need to make clear is not, and never was the source of any violence, misguidance, injustice or infamy … rather those who worked to decontextualise its teachings through theological fragmentation and deviance.
It is my belief that for Terror to be out-rooted we must first testify to that which gave it life … Terror I have written before, had to be thought out before it could be architected and then implemented. If only we had the courage to face to those names, innocent lives might have been spared … but political correctness prevents us still to do so.
Islamic terrorism, that violence we have been taught is inherent to Islam, was born in the desert sands of Arabia, a challenge to the tenets of the Quran. It is because an elite defined it as normative that for centuries, communities of man have lived under the misguided belief of Takfir (1) – the seed upon which Terror was raised a tree.
What we are witnessing today is merely the latest expression of a hatred born in rejection of Islam true tradition some 14 centuries ago – the same hatred that commanded communities to be struck down, disappeared or coerced into obedience by militants’ swords. (2)
If we were to reduce Terror’s ideology down to a single notion it would be that of Takfir. Readers will note that Takfir stands in negation of Islam’s most basic articles of faith.
Takfir refers to the declaration by one individual or group of Muslims that another individual or group of Muslims are no longer believers, but apostates from the faith. It differs from the concept of excommunication or anathematization in a medieval Christian context only in the sense that Islam (arguably) recognizes no official ecclesiastical hierarchy or body that can enforce such a declaration, although in some cases the political authorities took this role upon themselves.
Takfir is strictly prohibited in the Quran (3), the Hadith, and the writings of many eminent Muslim authorities – might they be Sunni or Shia. However, and this is of utmost importance, Wahhabism and those variants that hail from it: Salafism and Deobandism, not only abide by the rules of takfir, but actually strive on its principles to both assert and justify their hegemonic ambitions, conflating jihad with takfir.
To the risk of running against the grain of common belief, jihad [holy war] does not refer to arm combat – never in aggression anyway, but the need to educate communities in the way of God within the confine of Islamic ethic and moral.
Jihad I would say is a perfect example of decontextualisation. Tyrants have long used the concept of jihad to justify their thirst for military expansion, thus sullying the flag that once offered protection and liberation.
Such perverse re-appropriation is sadly the basis of Terror’s rationale. How many today recoil in disgust as they hear the words: “Allah akbar” [God is great] now that ISIS and other radical militants have used them as their war cry?
Once a declaration of piety, such words now inspire fear.
Within this context, Islam has not been just misunderstood but quite simply occupied by another theological rationale – that of takfir.
Within this context we must admit that many Muslims have been made to abide by the rules of a tradition that is not that of the prophet – to various degree of indoctrination.
And yet takfir is strictly forbidden (4). Such dissonance however has done little by way of assuaging radicals’ propensity to declare themselves most righteous over those they so emphatically view as ‘infidels’. But then again there too, one does not wash away centuries of psychological conditioning.
During the period of Muslim rule in Spain, Imam Abu Muhammad ibn Hazm (5) would often debate with the Catholic priests about their religious texts. He brought before them evidence of textual distortions in the Bible and the loss of the original manuscripts. When they replied by pointing out the Shia claims that the Quran has been distorted and altered, Ibn Hazm informed them that Shia claims were not valid evidence because the Shia were not themselves Muslims.
Imam Abu Hanifah (6,) a prominent Sunni scholar used to repeat the following statement about Shia Muslims: “Whoever doubts whether they are disbelievers has himself committed disbelief.”
ISIS is the child of a long-drawn-out tradition which anchors are both the sword and apostasy.
It is often that Islam’s critics have accused Muslims to have spread the teachings of the Quran by wielding their swords, and in the process carved an empire to be reckoned with (7) … sadly such criticism is valid, even though it offers no insight into Islam itself since the Scriptures strictly forbid any form of aggression.
The first major conquest, renowned for its brutality, occurred in Arabia itself, immediately after the prophet’s death in 632. Many tribes which had only nominally accepted Islam’s authority, upon the Prophet Muhammad’s death, figured they could break away; however, the first caliph: Abu Bakr, would have none of that, and proclaimed a jihad against these apostates, known in Arabic as the “Ridda Wars” (or Apostasy Wars). According to historians (8), tens of thousands of Arabs were put to the sword until their tribes re-submitted to Islam.
The Ridda Wars ended around 634. To keep the Arab Muslims from quarreling, the next caliph, Omar, launched the Muslim conquests: Syria was conquered around 636, Egypt 641, Mesopotamia and the Persian Empire, 650. By the early 8th century, all of north Africa and Spain to the west, and the lands of central Asia and India to the east, were also brought under Islamic suzerainty.
Again, I need to stress that Islam does not justify violence unless exercised in self-defense.
I would refer readers here to an article penned by Qasim Rashid for the Independent as he very eloquently put that point across. He wrote: “Anyone who says the Quran advocates terrorism obviously hasn’t read its lessons on violence.”
And: “The Quran requires that you read it in full. No “cafeteria Quran” here. As Quran 3:8 says, “We believe in it, the whole is from our Lord.” Isis and Islamophobes instead cherry pick. Quran 3:8 pre-emptively calls out people who cherry pick as “perverse” people, declaring, “…those in whose hearts is perversity seek discord and wrong interpretation of [the Quran].””
To the risk of upsetting many I will say this: that version of Islam ISIS and its kind advocate hails not from the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, but that of an elite, whose deviance is sadly as old as Islam itself since it was meant as its contender.
Maybe now would be a good time to face to a few hard truths and own up to our misguidance so that violence could be stemmed out of our collective discourse.
1- Accusations of Unbelief in Islam: A Diachronic Perspective on Takfīr. Edited by Camilla Adang, Hassan Ansari, Maribel Fierro, Sabine Schmidtke
2- Khatab, Sayed. Understanding Islamic Fundamentalism: The Theological and Ideological Basis of Al-Qa’ida’s Political Tactics. Oxford University Press.
3- if a person says assalamu alaikum to us to indicate that he is a Muslim, we cannot say to him “you are not a believer.” (Quran 4:94)
4- “Whoever attributes kufr [unbelief] to a believer, he is like his murderer.” (Tirmizi, ch. Iman (Faith); see Arabic-Urdu edition cited earlier, vol. ii, p. 213. See also Bukhari, Book of Ethics; Book 78, ch. 44)
5- Andalusian poet, polymath, historian, jurist, philosopher and theologian, born in Córdoba, present-day Spain
6- 8th-century Kufan Sunni Muslim theologian and jurist – 11th century.
7- The writings of the Christian bishop of Jerusalem Sophronius (d.638), for instance, or the chronicles of the Byzantine historian Theophanes (d.758), to name a couple, make clear that Muslims conquered much of what is today called the “Muslim world.”
8- Ibn Ishaq’s (d. 767) Sira (“Life of Muhammad”), the oldest biography of Muhammad; Waqidi’s (d. circa. 820) Maghazi(“Military Campaigns [of the Prophet]”); Baladhuri’s (d. 892) Futuh al-Buldan (“Conquests of the Nations”); and Tabari’s (d.923) multi-volume Tarikh al-Rusul wa al-Muluk, (“History of Prophets and Kings”)
By Catherine Shakdam – Director Shafaqna Institute of Middle Eastern Studies