The battle we must win

Sunday 25/09/2016

A tumultuous crisis has engulfed contemporary Islam. Daily acts of bloodshed and killing of Muslims and non-Muslims alike are being committed by Islamist extrem­ists justifying their actions in the “name of Islam”. Many Muslims stress that such actions are an abhorrent violation of their faith; other Muslims disagree.

Although an uncomfortable truth for some, Salafi-jihadist groups use Islam’s religious scrip­ture to defend atrocities they carry out. In this polarised and divisive climate, what can be agreed on is that never before has the battle for the heart and soul of Islam been more critical.

Despite making up just less than 5% of the British population, Mus­lims in the United Kingdom are involved in this battle on both sides. More than 850 British Muslims, including A-grade schoolgirls, have travelled to Syria, leaving Britain and their families to join the Islamic State (ISIS). They were said to believe that, as Muslims, they were required to live in a caliphate and that Britain — the same country that opened its doors to their parents — is the enemy to Islam and to them.

The growing extremism and intolerance brewing in Britain’s Muslim communities have spilled over into violence. Tensions between Sunni and Shia commu­nities are rising. In April, Ahmadi Muslim Asad Shah, a 40-year-old Glasgow shopkeeper, was killed in an attack by a Sunni Muslim, Tan­veer Ahmed, 32. Shah, well-liked by his neighbours and his local Scottish community, was repeat­edly stabbed in a frenzied and unprovoked attack.

ISIS supporter Mohammed Syeedy, 21, was found guilty of killing Imam Jalal Uddin, 71, in northern England. Consumed by the extremist and violent takfiri ideology of Salafi-Islamism, Sy­eedy disagreed with Jalal Uddin’s Sufi-inclined beliefs.

Highlighting the slow death of cultural and religious diversity that once was the foundation of Islam’s teachings, Syeedy and Ahmed attacked their victims be­cause they could not accept their religious beliefs and practices. The victims were not Muslim enough in their eyes. Ironically, at the time of the killings, many Muslim groups perceived both killings to be motivated by Islamophobia.

While there is growing anti- Muslim abuse in Britain, the sorry truth was that these deaths rep­resent the tip of the iceberg: The growing intolerant takfiri mindset and extreme interpretations of Islam that continue to influence many young Muslims, particu­larly in an era of social media and globalisation.

As Muslims themselves acknowl­edge, these are worrying times and there is no room for complacency. The rise of Islamist extremism is a phenomenon that engulfs us all and the unfortunate truth is Islamist-inspired violence is here to stay. The killing of ISIS spokes­man Abu Muhammad al-Adnani may be a short-term victory but his death does little to dent the far more serious long-term challenge: Emancipating Islam from the Salafi-Wahhabi-Islamist ideology that has come to dominate large sections of contemporary Islam across the world.

Part of this struggle is fun­damentally a battle of ideas. A responsibility inevitably lies on Muslims to decide what kind of an Islam they would like to champion. Islam can be used to justify intoler­ance, hatred and violence. Alter­natively, it can stand for morality, justice, compassion, human dig­nity and universal human rights. Each and every Muslim — from the layman to the theologian — has a stake in shaping and defining what the values of Islam should repre­sent.

Many theologians are making such a stand. Scholars such as Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, who leads the Abu Dhabi-based Forum for Peace, have argued that the values of equality, human rights, freedom, democracy and even neu­tral secularism are fully reconcil­able with Islamic teachings. What is desperately needed is to amplify such messages to the masses, especially on social media. This is, after all, the same medium by which ISIS spreads its hate-filled messages to young Muslims.

Responsibility also falls on non-Muslims to stand in solidarity with Muslims who are on the front line battling Islamist extremism, to speak out against anti-Muslim bigots whose hate speech incites violence against Muslims; to sup­port the struggle of those Muslims across the world who are brave enough to challenge intolerant and extreme religious clerics or politi­cal leaders who turn a blind eye to human rights and instead clamp down on freedom and individual liberty. To do so will place us all on the side of human rights and plu­ralism in recognition of our shared humanity.

This requires bravery, resil­ience, ethical principles and a commitment to what can only be described as the generational struggle of our time. There is a bat­tle taking place and it is one that we must win for all our sakes.