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Muslim Liberals Vs ISIS

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The Oxford dictionary defines barbarism as a condition of society characterised by “the collapse of civilization”. In recent months, the jihadist group Islamic State, or ISIS, has carried out acts of savagery whose purpose seem to be to taunt the modern world, expose the uselessness of Western military might, and to reverse the secular global order back to the 7th century. The ISIS butchered hundreds of Iraq’s soldiers because they were Shias, beheaded Coptic Christians much like Saudi Arabia beheads humans regularly, poured acid over Christian women for not wearing burqa, cut off hands of thieves, lashed musicians and threw individuals from tall buildings as punishment for “homosexual” affairs. It captures and sells Yazidi women into sexual slavery.

Since mainstream journalism is essentially negative, such barbaric acts create an impression that Muslims are silent about ISIS and other jihadist outfits. This view is incorrect, as Muslims have been speaking out against the ISIS loudly and at risk to their lives. This is testified from articles and TV interviews of liberal Muslim writers and reformist clerics translated from Arabic and published by the Middle East Media Research Institute (where this writer works). Writing in Saudi daily Al-Watan, columnist Ali Al-Sharimi questioned apologists who fail to condemn ISIS clearly. “Have you ever heard of the ‘but’ gang?” he asked, adding, “This gang contradicts itself: It supports (jihadists), but it doesn’t support; it opposes, but it doesn’t oppose; it condemns, but it doesn’t condemn.”

On Al-Iraqiya TV channel, former Iraqi lawmaker Ayad Jamal Al-Din urged Islamic countries to evolve a civil state—as different from a sharia-based state—in which Muslims and non-Muslims could live together. He noted: “ISIS is based upon a certain ideology, upon a certain fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). Unfortunately, what happened to the Yazidis… is to be found in the fiqh of Shias and Sunnis alike.” Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, the director of Al-Arabiya TV, called for fighting jihadists on the ideological plane, arguing extremism cannot be eliminated by security measures. He added: “The extremist thought will end and will not be reborn for another 100 years if its sources of education, media and funding are dried out.” Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi argued that for Muslim countries, “democracy is not a choice, but necessity”.

Egypt’s TV channel Al-Kahera Wal-Nas aired an interview of human rights activist Ahmad Harqan who noted that ISIS is doing what Prophet Muhammad did. Harqan said he left Islam because it is “a very harsh religion” and what ISIS is now doing is its “physical manifestation”; “The Quranic texts are crystal clear. When the Quran says ‘strike their necks’, it is very clear”; “Boko Haram are also implementing this when they capture women”. Lebanese scribe Hisham Melhem denounced jihadism, saying: “ISIS may be the reject of Al-Qaeda, but like Al-Qaeda, it is the illegitimate child of modern political Islam that grew and expanded in…an embracing environment” fed by conspiracy theories.

Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor, an influential trader of UAE, questioned the West for its failure to act against ISIS and then asked: “Where are the Arabs? This madness is playing out on our doorstep… Forget the Arab world as an entity; it’s disunited and in disarray! The Gulf Cooperation Council has the firepower and expertise to militarily intervene on its own.” He suggested that governments could hire the Italian mafia to eliminate the ISIS. On Saudi TV channel Al-Majd, Saudi cleric Saad Al-Shathri declared ISIS fighters as apostates, noting, “An oath of allegiance pledged to ISIS is null and void” and anyone who died while fighting ISIS is “a martyr”.

After the January 7 attack on French weekly Charlie Hebdo, Imam Tareq Yousef Al-Masri delivered a Friday sermon in New York, where he named early Islamic jurists whose writings teach hate against other religions. “Let us admit something else. The majority of us Muslims hate the Christians,” he told the worshippers, adding: “If you have cancer, it won’t help you if I tell you that you have the flu.” During a Friday sermon in Birmingham, Imam Abu Usamah At-Thahabi urged British Muslims to talk to their children so they are not trapped by ISIS. Imam Hassan Chalghoumi of Paris-based Drancy mosque, speaking on Al-Arabiya TV, noted that about 1,000 French jihadists did not go to Syria “as tourists” and argued for deterrence. Saudi Arabia has deterrence, he reminded, in the form of 15 years in prison.

Jordanian columnist Zaid Nabulsi called for recognising the problem with Islam, saying: “It is time to speak out. ‘Islam is innocent’ is an incomplete sentence.” He reminded that 120 Islamic scholars sent congratulatory letters to ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. Indian cleric Syed Salman Husaini Nadwi was among them. “To understand the crisis of Muslims today, one has to remember that Wahhabism exists in several textbooks containing the alleged sayings of the Prophet Muhammad,” said Nabulsi, urging clerics to reform Islamic texts. Iraqi columnist Aziz Al-Hajj touched on the crux of the Muslim problem. “It is not enough for some Muslim religious leader to appear on the (television) screens in France and condemn (the Paris attacks), for it is quite possible that, a few years ago, he was one of those who encouraged the attack on Charlie Hebdo.”

In Iraq where ISIS has risen, an identical force of pious Muslims known as Kharijites emerged during the rule of Islam’s fourth caliph Hazrat Ali. Like the ISIS, the Kharijites butchered Muslims in thousands by declaring them apostates. In those times, Islamic jurist Imam Abu Hanifa challenged Kharijite commander Zahhak in the Iraqi city of Kufa on his interpretation of Islam’s apostasy law. The punishments by ISIS are as per Islamic precedents. Muslims will follow Islam, but the Islamic criminal law must be declared null and void; otherwise, Muslim voices against jihadists will remain ineffective. While liberal Muslims may condemn ISIS, a conscientious Islamic cleric must rise and evolve a critique of Islam’s criminal legal code if we are to see true progress towards reform of Islam.

*Director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC.

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