Muslims should stand up and denounce al-Qaeda
The recent wide distribution of a DVD, Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West, by a New York-based tax-exempt organization has provoked an angry response from Muslims and non-Muslims. Now a second wave of distribution via direct mailings to households in swing states is taking place. The politics of this distribution so close to the presidential election aside, it is the Muslim response to the DVD that raises some interesting and intriguing questions.
There is no denying that the film leaves a residue of bad taste, not only against the perpetrators of violence but also, as I explained in my last column two weeks ago, against the whole body of Islam.
The DVD contends that radical Islam – read Islam – is on the warpath to destroy Western civilization. While one could and should point out the superimposition and juxtaposition of historic images from Nazi Germany with contemporary footage from suicide bombers to equate Islam with Nazism, this is not my purpose here. I want to focus on the Muslim response to such provocation and argue that they could do better than a now-familiar knee-jerk response. To put it bluntly, moderate and peace-loving Muslims are also to blame for the confusion between radical and mainstream Islam.
Anyone with more than a cursory knowledge of Islam knows that Islam, just as other great religions of the world, is not a monolith. It has hundreds of sects and groups based on varying interpretations of Islamic sacred texts and Islamic cultural traditions. So why doesn’t the peaceful majority become enraged and denounce the fanatic murderers who claim to be pious Muslims, but in their deeds and actions are anything but? Why can’t the majority declare them outside the pale of Islam and shut off their oxygen?
A bit of history might explain the reasons.
The roots of present-day Islamic militancy can be traced to 18th-century Arabia when a preacher by the name of Abdul Wahab took the peninsula by storm when he started a revival movement to rid Islam of its cultural trappings and return to the pristine teachings of the eighth century. A political accommodation with Ibn Saud, a tribal chief, resulted in the establishment of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia where the House of Saud ruled the country and all matters religious were left to the followers of Abdul Wahab.
However, somewhere in the course of history, the pristine and sublime turned into a coarse and uncompromising dogma.
Using petrodollars and encouragement by the West, this bizarre mind-set was exported to Pakistan – and many other Muslim countries – and used unabashedly to wage jihad against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Since the majority of Muslims do not subscribe to the extreme Wahhabi philosophy of al-Qaeda, why don’t they stand up in defiance?
Muslims have always taken solace and pride in the mostly hypothetical and metaphysical concept of Ummah, or the worldwide community of believers. This prevents them from declaring other Muslims outside the pale of Islam.
They have been, in all fairness, shouting condemnations of al-Qaeda from the minarets and rooftops and have labeled their actions un-Islamic. But they have not – and they should – cross the threshold and declare them outside the circle of the religion. In this, they are no different than other world religions where there is always hesitation to kick people out.
Another hurdle in the way of such a pronouncement is the lack of a central authority in Sunni Islam. Unlike the Shias, where a strong religious hierarchy speaks for them, the Sunnis have traditionally relied on individual scholars to issue edicts to interpret religion.
A divide between those Muslims who believe Islam is a peaceful religion and can co-exist with other religions and philosophies and those who believe violence is the only way to achieve their objective of dominance is beginning to surface. But it needs to be strengthened.
If the Muslims in the West wish to be understood and respected, and if they wish to counter the toxic propaganda put forth in films like Obsession, then they ought to be doing more than just giving public statements and addressing church groups. They should publicly reject the brand of Islam championed by al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
For a great majority of Muslims in the world, and particularly those living in the West, the al-Qaeda philosophy is a bizarre chimera conceived through the amalgamation of historic grievances, politics, and a selective and self-serving interpretation of religion with an eye toward domination. For their own sakes, Muslims should reject this monster.
Dr. S. Amjad Hussain is a Toledo surgeon whose column appears every other week in The Blade.
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