Radical Islam Conflicts with Tradition

Article excerpt

Radical Islam has been called by many in the West one of the gravest threats facing the world. Experts at a recent Washington conference, however, said that most of the precepts espoused by radical Islam conflict with that faith's ancient teachings.

For years now, news reports documenting the terrors of extreme, militant Islam have been a mainstay of U.S. and Western media. This has focused attention on one subgroup of the faithful, often to the neglect of the thousands of peace-loving, tolerant Muslims who abide by the true teachings of their faith, said Sheik Hisham Kabbani, chairman of the Islamic Supreme Council of America, an organization of moderate Muslims.

The conference, sponsored by the Supreme Council and Johns Hopkins University's School for Advanced International Studies, featured scholars, anthropologists, diplomats and Muslim leaders.

Participants analyzed the nature of modern-day radical Islamic movements, from their origins in Iran and Afghanistan to their more recent infiltration of Central Asian regions such as Dagestan and Chechnya.

ISLAM MISUNDERSTOOD IN WEST

Mr. Kabbani, who acts as the khalifa, or deputy, for the North American branch of Sheik Nazim, spoke from the first word about what he called misperceptions in the West about the true nature of Islam.

Sheik Nazim heads the worldwide Naqshbandi-Hakkani Sufi order. The Naqshbadiyya was founded in Central Asia and has been the dominant Sufi order in Central Asia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, North Cyprus, Turkey and the North Caucasus for the past 100 years.

The radical Islam of the late 20th century is not really Islam, Mr. Kabbani contends. "There is no radical Islam," he said. "Radical Islam is something that is created. Islam is not created."

Mr. Kabbani opened his remarks by quoting Islam's holiest scripture, the Koran: " `To each among you we have prescribed a law and an open way. If God had willed, he would have made you all a single people,' " he read.

The politicization of Islam is the primary factor in the development of radical factions of the faith, experts at the conference said.

The powerful forces of modernization and globalization have caused the proliferation of extremist strains of the religion, Mr. Kabbani said.

"With the growth of Islam, we see the birth of different schools of thought within Islam," he explained. "As previously isolated races and nations converge through the process of globalization and technical advancement, there are more opportunities for differences to arise."

CORE TEACHING IS UNCHANGED

For Mr. Kabbani, however, despite what he acknowledged to be the natural process of a growth of interpretation, the core Islamic teaching is essentially unchanged since the days of the Prophet Mohammed.

"As we consider traditional Islam versus radical Islam - in Central Asia or anywhere else - we see that the difference between them lies not in the basic beliefs of the religion, such as the oneness of God, the message of the Prophet . . . the differences arise from love of authority and misguidance by people who don't fully understand the religion," he said.

The early Muslims developed a democracy of their own, he said. In the early days of the religion, the Prophet Mohammed left the leaders to decide amongst themselves who should take over the religion.

"Sultans and kings appoint their elder sons as their successors, but the Prophet didn't appoint anyone, and left it for the Muslims to decide," Mr. Kabbani said.

Much of the discussion centered around the Wahhabi movement founded by Mohammed ibn Abd al Wahhab (1703-92) - which is dominant in Saudi Arabia and was historically influential in India and Indonesia - a strict sect often criticized in other Islamic countries as un-Islamic and backward.

U.S. BACKED MUJAHIDEEN

Saudi Arabia and the United States were main sources of financing, training and arms of the mujahideen, Islamic holy warriors who fought to expel the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in the 1970s and '80s with arms shipped through Pakistan and volunteers from throughout the Islamic world. …