The extremists – by Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

The extremists

Quantum note

Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Dr Muzaffar Iqbal

The oxymoron “Muslim extremists” was obviously coined by those who have no idea of who a Muslim is. By definition, a Muslim is someone who follows the middle path, the one who has proclaimed that there is no one worthy of worshipping except Allah, the Most High, and that Muhammad–upon him be peace–is His Messenger.
This proclamation establishes a covenant between a Muslim and his or her Creator. By definition, a covenant is a formal agreement and a promise of legal validity. It is a volitional act; that is, there is no compulsion on any human being to declare the Shahadah. But anyone who declares the proclamation of faith simultaneously agrees to follow the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the most Noble Messenger, upon him be peace, both of which prescribe the golden middle path as the path of Islam.

These two primary sources of Islam contain a very detailed and elaborate set of instructions, guiding Muslims to the path that leads to ultimate success in the Hereafter. These two sources are stable, accessible, and totally transparent. They outline a clear code of conduct, provide examples of moral behavior in all situations one can think of, describe legal boundaries and consequences of following or not following the path of Islam. The foremost obligation of a Muslim is to remain within the boundaries established by Allah, for these boundaries of Allah (Hudud Allah) cannot be transgressed without severe retribution.

To protect life at all costs and to keep others safe from one’s hands and one’s tongue is one of the most important obligations of a Muslim.
A Muslim, by definition, is one from whom no harm proceeds. This means that no Muslim can think of taking another life, for such an act will clearly push him or her beyond the sanctified boundary. Furthermore, the Qur’an describes the collective body of Muslims as the “Ummah of the Middle Path” (Ummatun Wusta), a collective body of human beings committed to the middle path.

These are not merely abstract ideals; they have been exemplified in the full light of history during the twenty-three year period of the Prophetic life of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in Makkah and Madinah. A detailed record of this period exists for all to examine. Obviously this historical record contains incidents where a Muslim failed to remain on the Middle Path of the Qur’anic teachings and the Sunnah of the Prophet. But these exceptions do not change the rule; they merely underscore human frailty and since the Creator in all His Mercy knows human nature, He has provided recourse to the repentant soul, and warned the transgressors who do not repent of dire consequences.

Given the clearly outlined Middle Path of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, one cannot be a Muslim and an extremist at the same time. Since the Qur’an and the Sunnah are unalterable sources, there is no possibility of anyone inserting personal opinions into these two primary sources of Islam. Thus, extremism can only be the result of misunderstanding the message, or of a conscious and willful distortion, or rejection of the teachings of Islam. This is how Muslims have traditionally understood all acts of violence and extremism. Since there are known and well-documented examples of individuals as well as groups who have behaved in extremist fashion, Muslim scholars have developed a complete schema of such behaviour and prescribed solutions.

Those who proclaim to be Muslim but fail to remain within the boundaries established by the two primary sources of Islam–the Qur’an and the Sunnah–are not called extremists, but Khwarij. That is, those who have left, gone beyond the limits. This is not merely a semantic distinction, it is a distinction of fundamental nature including all aspects of life. Furthermore, it is a legal distinction. The Law differentiates between a behaviour that is accidental and one that is the result of a distortion of beliefs. The distortion in beliefs (and hence in deeds) entails consequences for both this and the next world. The distortion in beliefs can take place even “in the name of Islam,” as in the case of the Kharajites who rebelled against the Muslim Ummah and state during 690-730. Such movements are not common in Muslim history, but there have been examples of individuals and groups who have been afflicted with this terrible disease.

What Muslims face now, however, is a disease of another order. There has never been a time in their history when Khwarij have dominated the scene as they now do. And there has never been a time in the past 1,430 years of Muslim history when such an internal revolt was so widespread. What Muslims have today is a global movement of Khwarij of two types: there are those whose beliefs have been corrupted “in the name of Islam,” and there are those who have become Kharajites because they have become “secular Muslims”–another oxymoron.

Both cases have produced the same result: extremists. Thus, there are two kinds of extremists: those who have left the Middle Path of the Qur’an and Sunnah, through a self-delusion they call “in the name of Islam,” and those who have chosen to abandon it as a reaction to what they see in their societies, or because their belief has eroded through what they received as education. These two kinds of extremists now fill the foreground of Pakistan’s national life, just as they are the prime focus of a global crusade launched by the United States of America to reshape the Muslim world according to its own needs and priorities and to secure its global hegemony.

Whether national or global, individuals in both camps of extremists now face each other in a clash that invariably results in violence. It is a random and undifferentiating violence that engulfs everyone who happens to be within its range. Innocent lives are thus lost in a conflict that has now become like a simmering war between two sets of modern-day kharajites. There are global shifts in the intensity of this conflict: at times it emerges in Algeria, at others, it dominates FATA or the Swat valley in Pakistan, or raises its ugly head in Iraq. But wherever it emerges, it has the same underlying source: a distortion of beliefs. It is, therefore, important to understand the roots and varieties of both kinds of extremism and explore ways to deal with them. (The News, 3 Feb 2009)

(This is the first of a three-part series of articles.)

The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: