On his inauguration day Trump vowed to eradicate: “radical Islamic extremist”. However, Mr. Trump is not fit to conduct such a mission. Of course he can bomb and kill terrorists but he cannot eradicate their ideology. The US and the West can of course dismantle the political incubator or conditions that can lead to extremism. However, when it comes to ideology we (Muslims) have to do it ourselves.
Religious extremism emerges when the ideology find a good fit with the political situation. Isis is a prime example, it is the marriage of convince between the fugitive members of disbanded Baath and the ideology of Al Qaeda. It is important to note that Isis relies on interpretations that the average Muslim does not give importance to, however they apply it literally.
Isis is not the only fundamentalist group using religious interpretation to legitimize its criminality. The Janjaweed in Sudan, for example, conducted rapes in Darfur and slaved women, similarly to Daesh, taking as a pretext the concept of “Milk Al Yamin”.The percept is explained as the right of Muslims when they conquer “Kuffar” or infidels to slave their women. This interpretation is based on two outdated practices. Firstly slavery is abolished from all over the world. The second matter lies on the fact that in the past the norm was for people to follow the religion of the state however today people are free to choose their faith. No state segregates people as believers and infidels. Christians, Buddhist and Hindus, when they fill in their data in an Islamic state they register as non- Muslims and not as infidels or “kuffar”. The problem with many of the interpretations still use is that they are founded on outdated social norms such as slavery…
There are many existing concepts to which we do not give importance; nonetheless fundamentalists use it to recruit new elements. For example, the idea of Kuffar, while it generally does not affect our lives or our daily dealings, however, since it is part of our realm of our religious concepts; it is saved in our subconscious. To brainwash a person, terrorists trigger this percept and build on it an entire narrative .They link the political situation to the faith and ask him to join the fight against the infidels that are causing his misery. They convince him that their holy fight will recover the past glory of the Islamic state and bring back dignity to all Muslims
This is why the expression of “Kuffar” should be abolished from our religious culture. Islam acknowledges the freedom of faith: “You have your faith and I have my faith”. The ethnic cleansing that Isis has conducted against the Christians and Yazidis minorities is based on the fact they are Kuffar and it is legitimate to kill them. Therefore we have to redefine past percepts: What does being an infidel means? Who are the infidels? What stand should the Muslim take from infidels? It is not enough for Muslim countries to follow Tunisia and enact a law that criminalizes “Takfir”, or calling someone an infidel. Religious authorities should give a clear and a decisive interpretation that blocks the way for fundamentalists trying to manipulate the faith to suit their political agenda. We will not be able to overcome terrorism unless we abolish obsolete concepts and replace them with contemporary ones that are open minded and that encourage the overture on the “other”.
The crisis Islam is facing today is due to stagnation in interpretations. Islam will not be safeguarded from the manipulation of extremists nor properly defended in the West unless there is a modernization of interpretations. An eloquent speech by Adel Al Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, defending Islam at the Munich Security Conference is not sufficient, proper jurisprudential arguments are needed. When I watch Fox news, the most anti-Islam channel in America, I realize how badly Islam is defended. The channel would evoke a statement by some fundamentalist Islamic sheik and then hosts either Reza Aslan or a member of CAIR (Council of American Islamic Relation) to defend it. The later tries to defend Islam; however the TV host brings in the interpretation on which the fundamentalist is relying and hence puts the defender in an indefensible position. If contemporary interpretations are put in place, Aslan or others can simply say that what the fundamentalist is referring to is outdated. Similarly, to Christians and others, who had practices in the past that today are unacceptable, Islam had practices that today are no longer valid and what the sheik is referring to has no relation to today’s Islam. The defender can clearly and simply refute the claim of the channel and of the fundamentalist sheik by revealing the new formal interpretation of the issue at stake.
Change requires a lot of courage and the break with past interpretations will generate an initial reaction among scholars as well as the general public; however it is a mandatory step in order to safeguard the faith from the manipulation of fundamentalists. It is also needed in order defend our cherished faith from those who constantly try to ridicule it. The real fight with extremism is not in the battlefield but in jurisprudential universities. The religious elite not army generals will be the ones capable defeating terrorism and mosques’ minarets not fighter jets are the best machines to destroy the fundamentalist indoctrination.
In order for the new interpretations to gain legitimacy, they have to come from a well reputed council of scholars and they have to be generalized in Islamic curriculums all over the world. Since Islam is a religion for every time and place, Islamic scholars should revisit all past interpretations and examine their contexts at the time and compare them to current circumstances in order to rewrite them in a manner that is apt to our contemporary times and that encourages the overture on the “other”.
Islam is facing today what Christianity faced in the middle ages. Only through enlightened ideas of the “renaissance” and “humanism” Christianity was able to go out from its gutter. We will not able to overcome this difficult period of our history, unless we reread our faith and give it its rightful place as a religion of tolerance. Islam is a religion of peace, salutation start and end in Islam by “Salam Alaykum”, which means “May peace be on you”.