By Irfan Khan
Reading, listening or watching the latest news headlines it seems to me that there is always yet another brand that I as a Muslim can fall into. Apart from fundamentalism, terrorism, Islamism (which genius came up with that one?!) etc.
I can also fall in to the wider category of 'Moderate' or 'Extremist'. The media has attached so many labels to Muslims that I myself am beginning to wonder what type of Muslim I am.
Am I not just a Muslim? Are not all Muslims the same and don't we believe in the same message and read the same Quran?
But, wait a minute I am appalled by the terrorist bombings that kill innocent people. I can't stand these so called representatives of Islam that promote violence and murder and I disagree with their interpretations and teachings. So that doesn't make me an extremist, so am I a moderate?
Why is it that we read the same Quran and books of Hadith yet a minority of Muslims choose to interpret it so as to justify their wrong actions? Who has given them the right to think what they say is correct, who has given them the right to represent me- where is my voice?
Why am I and millions of Muslims like me not heard? I guess the first answer to that would be we don't sell newspapers and don't make for particularly good reading or television.
Who wants to hear about a boring married Muslim who works 9-5, struggles like every one else to pay bills, loves watching football and lives an average life like the rest of the British public. By the sounds of things not even I would read about me.
So what is extremism?
According to dictionary.com it is 'any political theory favouring immoderate uncompromising policies.' So if extremism is to do with immoderate policies then this is against Islam because Islam teaches you the middle way and the moderate way. So if you are a true Muslim and follow the Quran and the Sunnah and follow the example of the Prophet (pbuh) then you will not and cannot be an extremist.
No Extremism in Islam
In Islam, extremism in any aspect of life is strongly discouraged, be it in our businesses, our education, our social relations or our religious practices. No one likes a person who is either too serious, or is constantly joking about. The Prophet of Allah (pbuh) said:
"Destroyed are those who are extreme." And he repeated it three times.(1)
In another hadith, he (pbuh) said,
"I warn you of extremism in the religion for indeed those that came before you were destroyed due to their extremism in the religion." (2)
Again, the Prophet (pbuh) repeated his words three times in order to emphasise their importance. So there is a clear warning to the Ummah against extremism in all things, particularly in matters of religion which have been prescribed by Allah (pbuh).
Why do some Muslims turn to Extremism?
So why is it that we have these extremists among us? They were brought up like us, went to the same schools as us, went to the same mosques as us, eat the same food, read the same books and wore the same clothes as us.
Why is it they can kill and have these extremist views and we don't?
Could it be that some Muslims turn to alcohol, drugs, sex and crime out of lack of jobs, education, anger and frustration against the state of their lives?
They feel empty, and unfulfilled. They see their family culture and background and feel alienated from it; then they see the western culture and also feel alienated by it, wouldn't you if you were called 'Paki' and told to go home?
However, when they realise that alcohol, drugs, sex, crime and even their culture do not provide them with a solution to their problems, they look for alternatives- and find Islam as another way to vent their anger and frustration.
So they start to read their prayers, attend the mosque and read about the teachings of Islam. The more they read the more they fall in love with Islam. They are like sheep without a Shepard; they don't know where or which way to go.
They want to know more and more, they need to make up for all the wrong they have done, but without a guide they almost immediately adopt other extreme practices, which they see as being associated to Islam.
Young, angry and Muslim
These young, angry Muslims become ultra-serious, committed, ritualistic type of Muslim, who judge others and themselves by the ability to memorise Arabic passages (with or without understanding), or the growth of beard, length of trousers or the number of hours spent in prayer or in a study circle.
They're convinced that they are "guided" whilst everyone else is astray. According to them everyone (including their parents) is "ignorant". They become strict in the rituals of Islam but fail to embrace the love, patience, mercy, humility and compassion that the Prophet (pbuh) stressed towards others.
This harsh and rigid understanding of Islam harms themselves as well as the wider community. According to Abdul Hakim Murad, this initial enthusiasm, gained usually in one's early twenties, loses steam some seven to ten years later.(3)
Scholars of Hate
Some Muslims may adopt an extreme understanding of Islam because of crazy 'scholars' who go around encouraging hatred of the West and charging up young, impressionable Muslims to carry out acts of violence.
These so-called preachers are known to target schools and colleges, where young people who have lots of questions, are less challenging and more susceptible to extremism (so watch out!). The young Muslims with an identity crisis who have little knowledge about Islam, can be ideal recruits for these fanatical scholar-wannabes.
Foreign Policy - A Big Issue!
Obviously, the foreign policy of most Western countries does not help. The unjustified war in Iraq, the suffering of Muslims in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir, Palestine, the occupation of Muslim lands angers young British Muslims.
The fact that numerous protests and rallies against foreign policy have been ignored frustrates them, and to the few who are already on the slippery slope to extremism, it provides justification for their acts of violence.
Their actions contradict the teachings of Islam – in Islam the end never justifies the means. However, even "moderate" Muslims can empathize with their sentiments.
According to a top secret report by the Joint Intelligence Committee which was leaked : "Iraq is likely to be an important motivating factor for some time to come in the radicalisation of British Muslims and for those extremists who view attacks against the UK as legitimate." (4)
It goes on to say that the war in Iraq contributed to the radicalisation of the July 7 London bombers and is likely to continue to provoke extremism among British Muslims.
How do we tame this beast?
We know the basic reasoning behind why a normal chap may turn to Extremism, and even Terrorism. So why is nothing being done to bring an end to it?
This is what can be done to kill this beast of extremism:
- Muslim parents have a responsibility to educate their children about the true spirit of the religion. Parents should be aware of the activities of their children and the company they keep.
- Muslim youth need to educate themselves by following renowned Muslim scholars so they are not easily brainwashed by narrow-minded preachers who provoke hatred towards the West. Do not allow yourself to be brainwashed by narrow-minded preachers who provoke hatred towards the West.
- Mosques need to tackle the root causes of extremism. Imams need to encourage Muslims in the political process and to become politically active so that they can have a say in political and international issues that concern Muslims. This way they can release their frustration through the ballot box and lobbying and not by blowing themselves and others up!
- Imams need to openly denounce acts of extremism, and define what it is and give social, spiritual, political and relevant advice and solutions to young Muslims.
- Regular courses across the UK which provide a clear cut and easy to understand explanation of what Jihad is and isn't by scholars of high calibre. Emphasis needs to be put on the life and example of the Prophet (pbuh)
- Mosques need to be the centre point for young Muslims today, so most of their religious, social and cultural needs and activities should be catered by the mosque.
"Extremist" Muslims do not represent all Muslims any more than white supremacists represent all Christians. "Extremism" can exist in every religion, culture or nation. Most Muslims are not violent and do not carry out acts of terrorism.
So it's up to the Muslim community to open interfaith dialogue with non-Muslims and be positive role models for Islam.
Also, non-Muslims need to realise that they can't judge Islam by the actions of a few misguided Muslims. Islam has got nothing to do with terrorism and any Muslim who carries out acts of terror is totally contradicting the teachings of Islam.
I will leave you with the words of a highly respectable scholar of Islam:
Shaykh Hamza Yusuf says:
"The Prophet Mohammed (s) over fourteen hundred years ago said "beware of extremism, for it is that which destroyed the peoples before you." In the light of the present situation it is indeed wise advice. He also said. "My way is the middle way." Moderation is in fact the way of thinking people everywhere. The vast majority of humanity is not extremist but in key times can easily be driven so." (5)