This post might end up becoming a bit of rant but here goes.
Lately, there’s been a lot of articles calling for “moderate” Muslims to denounce their extermist counterparts and to side with the “forces of freedom”. This presupposes a couple of things that really get under my skin.
First of all, there’s the assumption that Islam is something like alcohol. Taken in moderation, it’s okay. But take too much of it, it’s harmful. ie. It’s intrinisically a bad thing but if taken in small amounts, it’s acceptable. I don’t think any serious Muslim subscribes to this view. They profess and practice the religion becuase they believe in it’s tenets and believe it to be a path to salvation. The peddling of moderate Islam as some kind of socially and culturally acceptable variant of the faith these days is mistaken. Although I don’t have poll results to back my assertions, I have seen on forums people calling Muslims who abstain from alcohol and who pray five times a day both of which are part and parcel of the faith extreme. This would mean that if you give up some parts of your faith and go along with the crowd, you’re okay - a moderate. But if you follow the religion completely, you’re an extermist who’s predisposed to blowing himself up.
That brings me to my second point. A lot of blogs and “intellectuals” (the one that I’m most familiar with is Sam Harris) out there like to pretend that they know Islam inside out. Then they go on to discuss how “hatred of the infidel” and “violent Jihad” are at the core of the religion. They even quote Islamic scripture to support their claims. This is untrue on a number of levels. The facts are wrong but what is more annoying is how many of these people assume that a cursory reading of a translation of the Quran and some hadith makes them completely aware of the deepest and innermost aspects of the second largest faith in the world. The “I’ve read the Quran and it extolls terrorism” variety of speakers don’t have any idea how Islamic law is formulated, they have no idea how and where Muslims study religion and they have no clue of actual Islamic law. They’re as deluded as the misguided people out there who think that killing innocent non-combatants and suicide bombing are okay. Both of them are embarassinly ignorant of the facts - one chooses to act on their understanding and the other to criticise their understanding.
Orthodox Islamic scholars spend years studying the religion and it transforms them. These are not “moderates” who “cherry pick” (another favourite phrase) scripture but learned people who act on what they’ve learnt. I’ve met many such people personally and their maturity and large heartedness is the reason I got out of the agnostic rut I was wallowing in a couple of years ago.
The next point is not a core problem but it’s prevalent anyway. It’s the idea that Islam in a vaccum isolated from all external factors can and almost surely will radicalise an otherwise sane human being into becoming a rabid fanatic calling for the death of the non believer. This is sadly out of touch with reality and theres even emperical data to support this. Economic strangulation, social oppression and years of being trodden on have turned a lot of people to mindless violence to achieve their aims. I saw a couple of videos of Sam Harris debating Reza Aslan. He quotes polls to show how even educated Muslims worldwide support suicide bombing and then goes on to say how this is because of the tenets of the religion. A Gallup Poll says the opposite. Some of the interesting points are noted below
- After analyzing survey data representing more than 90% of the global Muslim population, Gallup found that despite widespread anti-American sentiment, only a small minority saw the 9/11 attacks as morally justified.
- Muslims do not hold a monopoly on extremist views. While 6% of Americans think attacks in which civilians are targets are “completely justified,” in both Lebanon and Iran, this figure is 2%, and in Saudi Arabia, it’s 4%. In Europe, Muslims in Paris and London were no more likely than were their counterparts in the general public to believe attacks on civilians are ever justified and at least as likely to reject violence, even for a “noble cause.”
- On the other hand, not a single respondent in Indonesia who condoned the attacks of 9/11 cited the Quran for justification. Instead, this group’s responses were markedly secular and worldly. For example, one Indonesian respondent said, “The U.S. government is too controlling toward other countries, seems like colonizing.”
Fourthly, there’s this assumption that several western ideas like nation states, democracy etc. are all by definion “good” and that the Muslim world hasn’t come to grips with the beauty of these ideas making them somehow backward. There’s an interview with Syed Hossein Nasr in which he talks about this idea. Societies are different, people are different. What might be a good idea in one society might not be the best thing for another. I’m not saying that all these things are bad outright. I’m just saying that they need not be assumed as good just because they’re coming from the west.
The breeding ground for terrorism is the situation that many western countries have created in these parts (eg. Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine etc.). Unless, these things stop, violence is going to go on even if the whole of Islam - lock, stock and barrell were magically spirited away.
All this being said, Muslims themselves have a lot of fixing to do. J. Random Muslim these days doesn’t really pray, he doesn’t really come to the mosque on Friday, he doesn’t dress, speak or behave as Islam prescribes. He doesn’t fast in Ramadhan and he doesn’t spend any time or energy on studying his religion properly and practising it. Unless this is fixed, Muslims are going to have a hard time.