Like all the Abrahamic religions, Islam is founded on tolerance.
So why are droves of Islamic militants able to practise such brutality, asks Ahmed
Ahmed Naguib Roushdy
1 Nov 2014
Once upon a time Iraq was a united
country, largely by the efforts of Gertrude Bell, a British diplomat and spy,
after World War I. She brought Iraqis together in order to bring stability and
allow her country to siphon the abundance of Iraqi oil. But her legacy is about
to fade amid the sectarian violence between Sunni militants of the Islamic
State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Shia-led government, and the Kurds.
It has been a puzzling question asked
by scholars and writers, why religious intolerance became the flagship
tradition of certain Islamic groups when Islam, like Judaism and Christianity,
calls for tolerance, forgiveness, peace and liberating people from the
atrocities of tyrants. Why are Muslims in Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Nigeria
killing each other and killing Christians? Why has the Muslim Brotherhood in
Egypt been using violence against civilians and government personnel in the
name of Islam, even during the Holy month of Ramadan, in order to reinstate
their leader, former president Mohamed Morsi, who was himself un-Islamic in his
ruling of the country?
Why after ISIS established their
Islamic caliphate in Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, is the group
killing Iraqi Christians, forbidding them from praying in their churches and
removing the cross from tops of the churches and replacing them with their
black flags, expelling them from Mosul and trying to force them to convert to
Islam? Not only that, ISIS after establishing its Islamic caliphate applied its
strict interpretation of Sharia. There is news that ISIS has been beheading
Muslim men in public for the least offence and without a fair trial. It forced
all women in Mosul to wear the niqab to cover their faces. ISIS ordered women
to stay in the home with no access to education or jobs. All of these killings
and atrocities were made in the name of God.
Sectarian conflicts have virtually
divided Iraq into two states: one governed by the Shia-led regime with a
minority of Sunnis onboard; the second in Mosul headed by the leader of ISIS,
Abu-Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who declared himself the Caliph Abraham (Al-Khalifa
Ibrahim in Arabic). The Kurds have had semi-autonomy since former president
Saddam Hussein was overthrown by the Americans. Now the Kurds are demanding
ISIS, which also controls large
swathes of Syria, is now fighting ill-trained Iraqi forces and pressing to
enter Baghdad. It also invaded Kurdish territories to prevent them from gaining
independence and managed to take over a dam there. It is planning to fight to
extend the new caliphate to other countries in the Middle East, to keep them in
embroiled in strife through acts of terrorism like those unfolding now in
Lebanon, which has a majority of Christians and a minority of Muslims. ISIS
militants affiliated with Al-Qaeda in Syria joined ISIS troops from Iraq in
attacking the Lebanese army and seized control of Arsal, a Lebanese border town
linked with Syria.
ISIS has resorted to the Internet to
recruit young people from Islamic countries to fight for its cause. But no one
would have imagined that ISIS could attract unsatisfied young men from India,
home to the second largest Muslim population. In a news report article in The
New York Times on 5 August, Ellen Barry and Mansi Choksi surprised readers with
this new development in India: that four well educated young men from rising
middle class families left their homes on the outskirts of Mumbai to join ISIS
in Mosul, Iraq. The procedure, “relatively well known in the West, has not been
documented in India”, the writers said. They predicted this development would
be turned against India when Indian jihadists bring terrorism back when they
return home. Young men in Kashmir and Tamil Nado were seen displaying ISIS
banners and insignia.
Young religious men become zealous
about being heroes and ready to die in return for a place in paradise. As
happened with the Muslim Brotherhood and other ultra-conservatives in Egypt,
like the Salafis, many well-educated young Muslims in India refuse to allow television
in their homes and get violent when they see young men and women chatting in
public. They refuse to participate in voting or running for elections in India,
although the Muslim Brotherhood changed its mind about that in order to seize
power in Egypt, as their offshoot — Hamas — did in Gaza.
Tolerance is a basic element in Islam,
Christianity and Judaism. In his 2006 book, The Jesus Dynasty, James Tabor
illustrated what Muslims believe — that Islam began with the Prophet Abraham.
“Islam insists that neither Moses, Jesus nor Mohamed brought a new religion.
All ought to call people back to what might be called ‘Abrahamic faith’,” said
Tabor. He further found in Christianity a confirmation of that Muslim belief.
“Like Islam, the book of James, and the teachings of Jesus … emphasise doing
the will of God as a demonstration of one’s faith,” he said. Tabor is right. It
all started with the Prophet Abraham and was extended by the prophets Moses,
Jesus and Mohamed.
The sectarian civil war in Iraq
between the Sunni minority and the Shia majority, and between both and the
Sunni Kurds who enjoy semi-autonomy but aspire to full independence, and the
acts of terrorism and demeaning of women by the Muslim Brotherhood and the
Salafis in Egypt, Sudan and Nigeria are giving Islam a bad name.
Nicolas Kristof in his recent column
in The New York Times affirmed that, “Islam was historically tolerant”. He gave
an example of a document issued by the Prophet Mohamed in 628 AD protecting the
monks of St Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai. But he missed to mention that
the Prophet Moses entered the monastery as a path to climb the mount of Sinai
to speak to God. That is why the whole area is holy for Muslims and it is
required that anyone who enters the room where St Catherine is buried should
take off his or her shoes.
Adding to the complicity in
understanding Islam is that Islamic ulema (scholars) are hesitant to add new
interpretations of Sharia after closing that door (Bab Al-Ijtihad) in the 14th
century. Al-Ijtihad is complementary to the Quran and the Sunna (the prophet’s
sayings and deeds): the two are the original sources of Sharia. Conservative
Muslims led by Ibn Taymia, along with Islamic scholars, recognise only those
two sources and resort to a strict interpretation of Sharia. Al-Ijtihad was
closed in order to monopolise the interpretation of Sharia and stop others from
competing with the then ulema. But those ulema ignored the fact that ijtihad
was approved and encouraged by the Prophet Muhammad. It is time ijtihad was
opened, as I have called for in an earlier article in Al-Ahram Weekly.
The division of Muslims into sects,
Sunnis and Shias, and the division of the Sunnis into four sub-sects, adds to
the misunderstanding of the real Sharia. In Egypt, the Sunni Hanafi sub-sect is
the official one. But sects are not relevant to Sharia. In fact, I consider the
Egyptian law requiring that all court judgments follow the Hanafi sub-sect an
imposition on Muslims to follow one sub-sect, when the Quran says, “la ikraha
fi eddeen” (there is no compulsion in religion).
The writer is an