By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
14 March 2017
Due to the international crisis confronting
Islam and Muslims, figures from across the world concerned over the state of
affairs gathered for a meeting in Al-Azhar in Egypt’s Cairo. These figures
include muftis, preachers, scholars and politicians from China, Uganda and
North and South America. They agree that extremism is a major threat and must
be confronted by all means.
At the international conference of the
Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, the best and most direct address came from
Tawfiq al-Sudairi, the Saudi deputy minister for Islamic Affairs, Endowment,
Dawa and Guidance. He called for wresting the religious discourse from
extremists and half-educated people “who harmed the religion’s tolerant
teachings and who’ve been directed by opportunists.” He also called for
“unifying efforts on the political, intellectual, security and religious fronts
to confront deviant ideologies.”
There is no controversy over their
consensus against terrorism. This is a settled matter and perhaps no longer
requires reiteration. The more important matter, which requires consensus and a
plan of action, is extremism, which has developed into a broad challenge. No
one can say that terrorism exists without any form of extremism embracing it.
It is impossible for a terrorist to be born
in a moderate and centrist environment. Even terrorists who came out of liberal
or tolerant societies are the victims of extremist ideology that surrounds them
in their virtual environment, like chat rooms and social networking websites.
Tens of thousands have joined terrorist groups and all of them are graduates of
Challenge of Extremism
Truth be told, terrorists, despite their
threat to the world, are less threatening than extremists as the harm caused by
the latter is graver on Muslim societies as well as other communities. What
extremists do is worse than the acts of organizations like ISIS and al-Nusra
Front whose members are few among a sea of extremists.
Terrorism is the final step in the ladder
of extremism. It is not possible to neutralize terrorism without fighting
extremism. Those concerned must keep this in mind.
When we talk of extremism, we must not
confuse it with extremist tendencies of some individual Muslims. Conservatives
have the right to their beliefs within the capacity they see as appropriate.
This is their right, and this is the case in all religions. However, this
becomes extremism when they try to impose what they want on everyone.
Most dangerous extremist activities are
generally based on exploiting religious activities that had no political
purpose in the past. These are related to collecting of funds, education, Dawa,
media and charity. They hijack them and even expand their operations to include
students, women and foreigners. These extremist movements even have organized
activities, which include travelling across the world to poor and progressive
countries to exploit wars and famine.
They also use the injustice being done to
some Muslims and use it to plant the seeds of extremism, which stays for a long
time and eventually becomes a local culture. If you can imagine this, you can
understand how extremism spreads and how terrorism emerged. You will also
realize that fighting extremism is more important than fighting terrorism.
Sudairi’s statements at the conference in
Cairo lead us to the core of this crisis. A plan of action, which requires
collective efforts, must be devised to achieve what he called for.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News
Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former
editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where
he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor
of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career,
Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering
worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly
regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.