Islam was founded on the noble principles of love, peace and brotherhood, the
unfortunate fact is that it has had a bloody history. Three of its four Caliphs
– Hazrat Umar, Hazrat Uthman and Hazrat Ali – were assassinated in a series of
violent feuds after Prophet Mohammad’s death. Ziauddin Sardar, noted
British-Pakistani Islamic scholar, has written that Islam’s history has been
the contrary are based on a cherry-picked reading of Islam’s chequered history
– just as the extremists’ defence of their actions are based on a selective
interpretation of Quran and Hadith, the two main sources of Islamic theology.
It ignores the arc of intolerance and repression that dogged Islam as rival
schools of thought competed for supremacy and patronage of the ruler of the
towards revisionism and to make the past look good by not allowing facts to
come in the way of a good story, is not unique to Muslims (the idea of a Hindu
“golden age” is as much an exercise in revisionism) and the temptation becomes
the greater when a culture or community feels it is being “targeted”.
Muslims face relentless pressure to answer for the actions of their rogue
co-religionists and their instinctive reaction is to defend Islam, glossing
over the historical warts and presenting a prettified picture of its chequered
past. Admittedly, there have been moments when I too have been sufficiently
riled to react in a defensive way. So, I can see where the apologists are
coming from: “Islam is under attack, we must defend it.” But the problem arises
when denial becomes the official narrative and is touted as the only truth in
problem is this: a vast majority of ordinary Muslims – like their Hindu,
Christian and Sikh peers – are not exactly up to speed about their faith’s
history, and therefore are unable to challenge either the moderates’ prettified
version or the extremists’ cherry-picked interpretation. So, whichever
narrative they choose to accept, they end up with a skewed understanding of
Islam. The result is a dangerously polarised global Muslim ummah.
on the gulf between British and American understanding of English, George
Bernard Shaw apocryphally joked that Britons and Americans are two peoples
divided by a common language. The same can be said about the contrasting
narratives around Islam: the global Muslim ummah are two peoples divided by a
common faith. Except that Americans and Brits still try and manage to
communicate, whereas the two polarised Muslim groups are not even trying to
But the crisis
facing moderate Islam is no joking matter; and what is often ignored is that
this crisis precedes al-Qaeda and IS. And the crisis will only deepen if there
is no acknowledgement that Islam has had an extremism problem through much of
its history. The “Islam-has-always-been-peaceful-and-consensual” narrative is
problematic not only because it is historically not true, but because it
generates complacency by suggesting that the current wave of extremism is
simply an aberration which will pass, and in due course Islam will be restored
to its old peaceful and consensual glory.
the message is: No need to do anything, just sit back, and it will pass.
That is why
most Muslims appear simply bored by all the fuss; their concern is limited to
extremist violence and acts of Islamist terror because it has personal
consequences for them: every new terror attack in the name of Islam means
another anti-Muslim backlash, more Islamophobia, more Muslim bans, and more
negative perception of Muslims and Islam.
Muslim hears of a terror attack, the first reaction is: “Hope there is no
Muslim behind it.” Their condemnation of violence committed by Muslims in the
name of Islam is generally prompted by the fear of anti-Muslim reprisals as a
result of such violence rather than a concern about the broader crisis of
extremism in Islam. Take out the violence bit, and few Muslims are interested
in addressing the central issue: the gradual erosion of moderate Islam and its
regression into intolerance and parochialism.
that even liberal Muslims think they need to defend such obviously regressive
“symbols of Muslim identity” as burqa and skullcaps doesn’t bode well for
progressive Islam. Reclaiming black identity – Black is Beautiful – as a
riposte to racism is one thing; reclaiming discarded symbols of patriarchy and
oppression in response to Islamophobia, which itself is a reaction to Muslim
extremism is quite another.
British rights activist Sarah Khan writes:
within Islam, however, encompasses much more than just the challenge of
terrorism. At its heart is a conflict of ideas and a question as to whether
Muslims believe Islam is reconcilable with pluralism and human rights.”
Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism”, Sarah
As I write,
the world is cheering the defeat of IS just as it cheered the “collapse” of
al-Qaeda a few years ago. One, claims of a sweeping military victory are
exaggerated as they were in the case of al-Qaeda as we saw subsequently. But
even if the last IS/al-Qaeda/Boko Haram militant was killed, it would not
magically usher in moderate Islam. Only violence will end; that too only until
such time as the remnants of these groups are able to reorganise themselves and
emerge under a new management.
nothing will change so long as millions of Muslims around the world continue to
buy – as they do across the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe – into the
extremists’ interpretation of Islam, even if they condemn their violent methods.
Wahhabi/Salafi Islam practised in Saudi Arabia – the self-appointed custodian
of global ummah – which is exported abroad, is just another version of
extremist Islam minus its violent strain; as is Iran’s brand of Shia Islam.
Between them, the two rival Muslim “super powers” follow the most regressive
versions of Sunni and Shia Islam respectively, and have invested heavily in
propagating them. And these versions are closer to the extremists’ version
(minus the violence) than the tolerant and benign Islam of our ideals.
There is no
point to keep denying that the extremists’ version is “not Islam” or a
“travesty” of Islam. It is as disingenuous as the claims that the lynch mobs
going around India attacking suspected beef-eaters are “not Hindus”.
not represent the mainstream Islam but... they are very much in a long line of
Islam’s militant tendency. Their cherry-picking of obscure and ambiguous
Islamic scriptures to justify their actions is no doubt opportunistic, but
doesn’t wholly negate the basis of their claims. Islamic scriptures are a
minefield of ambiguity and a god-send for anyone wanting to exploit them for
their own ends.
jihadis have been quick to do exactly that, the moderates’ response has been
slow, half-hearted, confused and patronising, dismissing the Islamists as a
bunch of thugs who have nothing to do with Islam and doomed to fail. Thanks to
this sort of complacency (“let us just wait it out and everything will be
fine”) there has been no reformist movement for almost a hundred years, while
the fundamentalists have been expanding their influence.
Headline: Slow, half-hearted, confused: How the moderates’ response made
liberal Islam lose the battle
Source: Scroll in