The Struggle for Islam's Soul: Most Muslims Abhor Violence, Yet the Terrorists Are a Product of a Specific Mindset That Has Deep Roots in Islamic History. If Muslims Refuse to Confront This, We Will All Be Prey to More Terror, Writes Ziauddin Sardar
Sardar, Ziauddin, New Statesman (1996)
At about the time the bombs were going off in London, bulldozers were demolishing sacred historic sites in Mecca and, in Delhi, a group of women was demonstrating against an "inhuman" fatwa ordering a rape victim to renounce her husband. Three seemingly unconnected violent acts. But they weave a thread highlighting a question we Muslims just cannot ignore: why have we made Islam so violent?
Within hours of the London atrocity, Muslim groups throughout Britain condemned the bombing, declaring in unequivocal terms that such acts had nothing to do with Islam. "Religious precepts," declared the Muslim Council of Britain, "cannot be used to justify such crimes, which are completely contrary to our teaching and practice." The eminently sensible Imam Abdul Jalil Sajid, chairman of the Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony UK, announced: "No school of Islam allows the targeting of civilians or the killing of innocents. Indiscriminate, senseless and targeted killing has no justification in Islam." The tenor of these statements is: these are the acts of pathologically mad people; Islam has nothing to do with it.
But Islam has everything to do with it. As Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, director of the Muslim Institute, points out: "The terrorists are using Islamic sources to justify their actions. How can one then say it has nothing to do with Islam?"
It is true that the vast majority of Muslims abhor violence and terrorism, and that the Koran and various schools of Islamic law forbid the killing of innocent civilians. It is true, as the vast majority of Muslims believe, that the main message of Islam is peace. Nevertheless, it is false to assume that the Koran or Islamic law cannot be used to justify barbaric acts. The terrorists are a product of a specific mindset that has deep roots in Islamic history. They are nourished by an Islamic tradition that is intrinsically inhuman and violent in its rhetoric, thought and practice. They are provided solace and spiritual comfort by scholars, who use the Koran and Islamic law to justify their actions and fan the hatred.
As a Muslim, I am deeply upset by the attacks, the more so now I know they were the work of British Muslims. But, as a Muslim, I also have a duty to recognise the Islamic nature of the problem that the terrorists have thrown up. They are acting in the name of my religion; it thus becomes my responsibility critically to examine the tradition that sustains them. The question of violence per se is not unique to Islam. All those who define themselves as the totality of a religion or an ideology have an innate tolerance for and tendency towards violence. It is the case in all religions and all ideologies down through every age. But this does not lessen the responsibility on Muslims in Britain, or around the world, to be judicious, to examine themselves, their history and all it contains to redeem Islam from the pathology of this tradition. The terrorists place a unique burden on Muslims. To deny that they are a product of Islamic history and tradition is more than complacency. It is a denial of responsibility, a denial of what is really happening in our communities. It is a refusal to live in the real world.
The tradition that nourishes the mentality of the extremists has three inherent characteristics. First, it is ahistoric. It abhors history and drains it of all humanity and human content. Islam, as a religion interpreted in the lives and thoughts of people called Muslims, is not something that unfolded in history with all its human strengths and weaknesses, but is a utopia that exists outside time. Hence it has no notion of progress, moral development or human evolution. What happened in Mecca earlier this month illustrates this point well.
During the past 50 years the holy cities of Mecca and Medina have suffered incalculable violence. More than 300 historical sites have been levelled systematically. …