In seeking to defend Islam against the claim that it promotes violence many Muslims have said that ‘Islam’ means peace, or that Islam is a religion of peace. Unfortunately this is just plain wrong.
Islam is derived from the Arabic aslama, which means ‘surrender’ (to the will of Allah). Muslim means ‘one who has surrendered to the will of Allah’. And unfortunately, violence, under certain conditions, is a legitimate means to affect that surrender.
The argument that Islam means peace is based on a three-fold interpretive error.
- Arabic is based on consonantal roots. Islam is derived from the root SLM. Arabic is also a poetic language that uses words derived from the same root as similes that are used to deepen the meaning of other words. SLM is also the root for the words salim, which means ‘safe’, saleem, ‘perfection’, sallama, ‘salvation’, salama, ‘blameless’ and salaam, ‘wellbeing’. Using all of these words gives an expanded meaning to the word Islam: ‘when one surrenders to the will of Allah (as revealed by His Prophet) one will find salvation, perfection, safety and wellbeing.’
- The word salaam is often translated as ‘peace’, but this is only one of several meanings. It’s primary meaning is actually ‘wellbeing’. It can also mean health, soundness, wholeness, safety and serenity. A common Arabic greeting is as-sallam alaykum, which is usually translated as ‘peace be upon you’, but it’s extended meaning is ‘may wellbeing, wholeness and tranquility be upon you’.
- The English word ‘peace’ has two meanings. The first and primary meaning is derived from its Latin root pax. This is translated as ‘cessation of conflict’. The term pax Romana described the peace secured by surrendering to Roman law. The second meaning of peace is derived from the Latin serenus, meaning serenity/tranquility – when one is serene one can also be said to be peaceful. The word salaam is actually synonymous with the second meaning of peace, serenity. The first meaning is better served by the Arabic word sulh (root SLH), from salaha, meaning; reconciliation, to make peace, or peace treaty.
In saying that Islam means peace Islamic apologists are simply indulging in word play in order to put as positive a spin on things as they can. It is an attempt to argue that Islam promotes non-violence. As we will see such a peace is only available to one who has first surrendered to Allah and it is denied to those who refuse to surrender. Mohammed would sign his treaty offers with the words, aslem taslam, ‘surrender and you will be safe’.
The key problem now revolves around what it means to surrender to Allah’s will. Here we need to introduce another controversial Arabic word, jihad. Jihad is derived from the root JHD. Many of the words derived from this root connote the idea of effort, exertion and struggle. Jihad is a derivative of jahada, to struggle or strive. Thus jihad is taken to mean the struggle to surrender to Allah’s will. The word mujahidmeans ‘one who struggles’, mujahideen is the plural. The root JHD also creates the word ijtihad, which means intellectual struggle.
Jihad is sometimes translated as ‘holy war’. Again apologists indulge in word play by arguing that the literal translation of holy war into Arabic, harb muqaddasah, gives a different meaning. This is perhaps true in Arabic but not true in English, where holy war is a reasonable translation of ‘spiritual struggle’.
There have been two meanings given to jihad. The original concept has been called the ‘lesser’ (asghar) jihad. This is the use of violence to defend Islam. We will have cause to examine this further. However many Muslim apologists now argue that the ‘real’ jihad is the ‘greater’ (akbar) jihad, an inner, or spiritual struggle to purify oneself. David Cook, author of Understanding Jihad says this:
Others have fallen into this error as well. They comprise two basic groups: Western scholars who want to present Islam in the most innocuous terms possible, and Muslim apologists, who rediscovered the internal jihad in the nineteenth century and have been emphasizing it ever since as the normative expression of jihad – in defiance of all the religious and historical evidence to the contrary. (my emphasis)
The idea of the greater jihad is linked to Sufism, which emphasizes the mystical or inner identification with Allah. However, mainstream Islam has often been hostile to Sufism and it prefers a literal and legalistic interpretation of the Koran and hadith (the collected saying of Mohammed). It is therefore somewhat intriguing to see orthodox clerics now argue that a Sufi concept is the real meaning. David Cook goes on to say:
There is no lack of evidence concerning the Muslim practice of jihad. The classical and modern works on the subject are voluminous, and they are documented by an examination of Muslim actions as recorded by historians. There can be no reasonable doubt that jihad is a major theme running through the entirety of Muslim civilization and is at least one of the major factors in the astounding success of the faith of Islam.
….after surveying the evidence from classical until contemporary times, one must conclude that today’s jihad movements are as legitimate as any that have ever existed in classical Islam…
One such piece of evidence is the writing of Ibn Taymiyya who is favoured by many mujahideen. The scriptural authority of the concept of the greater jihad is supposedly based on a particular hadith. It is not based on the Koran. Ibn Taymiyya says:
“There is a hadith related by a group of people which states that the Prophet…said after the battle of Tabuk: ‘We have returned from jihad asghar to jihad akbar.’ This hadith has no source, nobody whomsoever in the field of Islamic knowledge has narrated it. Jihad against the unbelievers is the most noble of actions, and moreover it is the most important action for mankind.”
Thus Ibn Taymiyya rejects the tradition of the greater jihad in its entirety. So who are we to believe? This question is actually irrelevant for it is sufficient that enough Muslims follow the tradition of Ibn Taymiyya to challenge the Sufi tradition. In fact the four schools (madhhab) of Sunni jurisprudence as well as the Shia tradition only refer to the lesser jihad. This means that for many Muslims the concept of the greater jihad is unorthodox and heretical.
The language of the Koran separates the world into Muslims and kufir (infidels, unbelievers). It is quite clear about the fate of infidels, they will burn for eternity in Hell.
…then guard yourself against the Fire whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for the unbelievers. 2:23
This language clearly splits the world into two, the world of the righteous and the world of the infidel. The terms commonly used to describe this duality are dar al’Islam and dar al’harb. Dar al’Islam, following from above, means the ‘abode of safety, perfection, salvation, wellbeing and peace’. It is often translated simply as the ‘abode of peace’. Dar al’harb is the opposite. It means ‘abode of war’. It is everything that Dar al’Islam is not. It is danger, chaos, punishment, disease and conflict.
This dichotomy clearly argues that Islam is superior and the unbelievers are therefore inferior. It allows Muslims to look down on non-Muslims with derision and contempt. This has found modern expression in many a Friday night sermon. Evidence of this line of reasoning can be found in the writings of the influential radical Sayyid Qutbwho said:
Humanity today is living in a large brothel! One only has to glance at its press, films, fashion shows, beauty contests, ballrooms, wine bars and broadcasting stations! Or observe its mad lust for naked flesh, provocative postures, and sick, suggestive statements in literature, the arts and mass media!
To Qutb the world had fallen into a state of jahiliyya, or ignorance of the word of Allah. The main source of this ignorance is the West which is seen in wholly negative terms. He argued that it was the duty of Muslims to wage a jihad to rid the world ofjahiliyya.
There is an argument that jihad should only be declared in order to defend Muslims from attack. However, much depends on the definition of attack and defence. Qutb argued that the notion of defence should be expanded.
If we insist in calling Islamic jihad a defensive movement, then we must change the meaning of the word ‘defence’ to mean the defence of man against all those forces that limit his freedom. These forces may take the form of beliefs and concepts, as well as political systems, based on economic, racial and class distinctions. (From Tomorrow’s Islam)
To Qutb the beliefs and practices of dar al’Harb were a threat to dar al’Islam, they were responsible for corrupting Muslims. The freedom he speaks of is a specific freedom, it is the freedom to choose Islam. It is based on the idea that the freedom to choose is limited by the lies of the infidels, when the lies are exposed people will naturally convert to the one, true religion, Islam. Therefore Islam is fully justified in defending itself from aggressive and corrosive ideas by waging jihad.
Another influential thinker is Sayyid Mawdudi, a scholar of Deobandism and founder of the Pakistan party Jemaat e-Islamiya (party of Islam). He puts it this way:
Islam wants the whole earth and does not content itself with only a part thereof. It wants and requires the entire inhabited world. It does not want this in order that one nation dominates the earth and monopolizes its sources of wealth, after having taken them away from one or more other nations. No, Islam wants and requires the earth in order that the human race altogether can enjoy the concept and practical program of human happiness, by means of which God has honoured Islam and put it above the other religions and laws. In order to realize this lofty desire, Islam wants to employ all forces and means that can be employed for bringing about a universal all-embracing revolution. It will spare no efforts for the achievement of this supreme objective. This far-reaching struggle that continuously exhausts all forces and this employment of all possible means are called jihad.
THE EXEMPLARS: MOHAMMED AND HIS COMPANIONS
One of the enormous difficulties apologists have in trying to depict Islam as a religion of peace is the fact that the new religion was born in violence and that its prophet actually fought and killed.
The Koran is divided into two periods, the revelations in Mecca and the revelations in exile, in Medina. The Meccan revelations are often more peaceful and tolerant. The Medinite revelations indicate a shift towards belligerence. Qutb explains it this way:
For thirteen years after the beginning of his Messengership, he called people to God through preaching, without fighting or Jizyah, and was commanded to restrain himself and to practice patience and forbearance. Then he was commanded to migrate, and later permission was given to fight. Then he was commanded to fight those who fought him, and to restrain himself from those who did not make war with him. Later he was commanded to fight the polytheists until God’s religion was fully established.
There is a common argument that the later passages ‘abrogate’ (naskh) the earlier passages. That is, when trying to interpret apparently contradictory passages the later passages inform the earlier passages. Unfortunately the later passages are the most violent and the law of abrogation demands the peaceful passages be tempered by the belligerent passages, not the other way around. Many radical Muslims believe that the final command of Mohammed, to ‘fully’ establish Islam, has yet to be achieved.
Many apologists will however, argue that Mohammed only ever used violence in order to defend his people. This argument is based on the evidence that Mohammed made a treaty with the tribes of Medina which they later betrayed, thus he was fully justified in waging a war. And according to the traditional tribal rules of Arabia this makes perfect sense. Except that it only tells one side of the story. It ignores the fact that the tribes might have had very good reasons to break the treaty.
Mohammed had been disowned by his own tribe. He was given refuge in Medina and he made a pact with the tribes of the region, three of whom were Jewish. However Mohammed continued to claim that he was a prophet of God in the line of Abraham and that his teachings superseded the previous teachings of Judaism. This was something the rabbis of Medina could not accept and it is clear that the teachings of Mohammed became increasingly problematic. Of course, from Mohammed’s view the Jewish tribes were simply rejecting the word of God. In any case the Jewish tribes decided to rid themselves of Mohammed, who they now regarded as a false prophet, so they formed an alliance with his own tribe, the Bani Quraysh. This new alliance negated the previous treaty and so Mohammed declared war on the tribes of Medina.
The rest is well recorded history. There are a number of Islamic accounts of the various assassinations, campaigns and battles. However, there is one in particular that is often glossed over. This is the massacre of the Bani Qurayzah, one of the Jewish tribes. Most accounts agree that Mohammed’s men dug a long trench, then lined up all the males of fighting age (around 700) and then systematically beheaded them. The women and children were then handed to the victors as slaves. Now this was rather normal behaviour at the time, but it certainly challenges the idea that Mohammed was a man of peace and compassion.
Mohammed’s army went on to conquer Mecca and the defeated infidels were given a simple choice, convert or die. The atmosphere of the final revelations are the most violent. These are sometimes called the ‘sword verses’.
Fight and slay the unbelievers wherever you find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem of war. 9:5
Make war on them: God will chastise them at your hands and humble them. He will grant you victory over them and heal the spirit of the faithful. 9:14
Here we return to the translation of Islam as ‘surrender’
If they repent and take to prayer and render the alms levy, they shall become your brothers in the Faith. 9:11
And it was not confined to unbelievers but also to Jews and Christians, the People of the Book (Ahl al-Qitab):
Fight those among the People of the Book who do not believe in God and the Last Days, do not forbid what God and His Prophet have forbidden, and do not profess the true religion until they pay the poll tax (jizya) out of hand and feel themselves subdued 9:29
After the death of Mohammed there was a period of uncertainty because he had not left a clear successor. Eventually it was agreed that authority would pass to one of his deputies (Caliph). During this period of uncertainty a number of tribes returned to the old ways. The first Caliph Abu Bakr attacked them and forced them to recant, this has been called the ‘War of the Apostates’.
This early period was marked by a number of expansionary wars and internal civil wars. It was also marked by the assassination of two of the Caliphs, Uthman and Ali. This last civil war (Kharijites) created the schism between the Sunni and the Shia. So it can be seen that the birth of Islam was actually quite violent.
It is also interesting to note that much is made of the claim that Islam only engages in defensive war. Yet neither the Byzantine or Sasanian empires had declared war on Islam, rather the Muslims declared war on them. There is a tradition that says:
Abu Hurayra would say after these amsar (cities founded by Muslims) were conquered during the time of Umar, Uthman and afterwards, “Conquer whatever you wish, because by the One who holds the soul of Aby Hurayra in His hands, you have never conquered nor will you ever conquer any city until the Day of Resurrection without Allah having already given its keys into the hands of Mohammed previously”. (FromJihad: From Qu’ran to bin Laden )
What this means is that the success of the Muslim wars of expansion were considered to be preordained. And so the idea of the purely defensive war was quickly overturned and a tradition created to justify offensive war. Within a short time Islam had taken over the former Christian Byzantine empire and converted it’s most holiest church into a Mosque. The Muslim empire then went on to expand into Europe, Russia and Asia, to see the rise and fall of several ruling elites and periods of sectarian violence.
Perhaps the final word should go to the jurist al-Shaybani:
Allah gave the Prophet four swords (for fighting the infidels): the first against the polytheists, which Mohammed himself fought with; the second against apostates, which Caliph Abu Bakr fought with; the third against the People of the Book, which Caliph Umar fought with; and the fourth against dissenters, which Caliph Ali fought with.
DHIMMI AND MURTADD
One of the claims of apologists is that Islam is a tolerant religion. In many ways, in comparison to some other cultures of the time, it was somewhat more tolerant. However, it was a highly qualified tolerance. There is a famous ayat that says “there shall be no compulsion in religion.” There are also a number of ayat that claim that the People of the Book, that is, fellow Abrahamites and monotheists, should be free to practice their beliefs. Again such tolerance is a qualified tolerance.
However, all such acts of tolerance are denied to unbelievers, those who do not accept the god of Abraham. This caused some problems as Islam expanded and encountered Zoroastrian, Hindu and Buddhist communities. Scholars adapted the term People of the Book to include any religion that claimed to be based on revealed scripture. In the case of Zoroastrianism this was the Zend Avesta and in the case of Hinduism the Vedas. These two faiths were also called the People of the Flame. However Buddhism has never really been accepted as a legitimate faith. There have been some scholars who have developed a rather convoluted argument to accept Buddhism, but the majority opinion is that Buddhists are infidels. The principle stumbling blocks are that Buddhists worship a man, which is idolatry and that they are declared atheists (for an example of anti-Buddhist propaganda see this http://www.islamandbuddhism.com – now offline)
Yet, regardless of their special status, the People of the Book were still discriminated against. To begin with the Caliph Umar expelled all non-Muslims from Arabia. He also developed a code of behaviour detailed in the Pact of Umar, this relegated the People of the Book to second-class status who had to abide a set of humiliating rules. They were considered to be ‘protected people’ or dhimmi. Some of the restrictions placed on dhimmis were:
- To pay a special tax (the jizya)
- Not allowed to build new places of worship (but Muslims were allowed to destroy any place of worship they wished)
- Not allowed to recite prayers aloud, least Muslims hear them.
- Not allowed to publicly display their religious literature.
- Not allowed to publicly display religious symbols
- Had to always walk to the left of Muslims
- Had to stand and give a Muslim their seat
- Wear special clothes
- Remove their shoes whilst walking near a Mosque
- Never hit a Muslim (though a Muslim could hit them)
- Never build their houses higher than a Muslim house
- Not ride a horse
- Not bear arms
- Could not testify against a Muslim
If these dhimmi laws were broken the offender was regarded as no longer a protected person and they reverted to the status of infidel, which meant they lost all legal rights, could have their property confiscated and might be summarily killed.
These laws were in effect in varying degrees of severity in every Muslim controlled area. They were even enforced in the supposedly tolerant society of Moorish Spain which still applied the jizya tax – and as far as Moghul controlled India. Some lenient rulers neglected to enforce them only to have the rulers who followed them reinstitute them. Many of these restrictions are a part of sharia law and some are enforced even today. In Aceh, Indonesia, there are restrictions placed on the construction of churches under sharia law.
Many apologists have argued that Islam did not use force to convert people to Islam. This is a distortion. To begin with infidels must convert or die, atheism or polytheism is not tolerated at all. The People of the Book are able to continue to practice their faith provided they adhere to the dhimmi laws. These laws were often so restrictive that many ordinary Jews and Christians converted simply to make their lives easier. It was only the most devout who resisted. However, in some instances particular communities, such as Egyptian Copts, were set aside for particular discrimination. The dhimmi laws could be applied harshly and even the smallest infringement could have the offender declared an infidel and their property seized. Unscrupulous Muslims could manipulate the dhimmi laws to destroy economic rivals amongst Jews and Christians. It is also fair to say that other Muslim communities were rather more lenient and provided they kept quiet some Jewish and Christian communities were able to thrive. However, it all depended on the whim of the ruling elites who could interpret the dhimmi laws as they saw fit.
Once you had converted to Islam you were forbidden to convert to another religion. Conversion, murtadd, or apostasy, is forbidden under sharia and the punishment is death. In Islam there are two types of apostasy, murtadd fitri, where someone born a Muslim converts and murtadd milli, where a convert to Islam reconverts. The rules defining apostasy can be strict. According to some jurists even to enter a church, synagogue or temple is an act of apostasy, as is questioning any aspect of Islam. It is this latter offence that allows hardliners to declare other Muslims to be apostates for daring to disagree with their interpretation. And given that the penalty for apostasy under sharia is death it is permissible to kill apostates. This excuse has been used to argue that the Muslim victims of terrorist attacks were engaged in un-Muslim activities and were therefore apostates.
So if Islam is the religion of peace and if there should be “no compulsion in religion” why is it permissible to kill atheists and polytheists, kill dhimmi as infidels if they break the dhimmi laws and kill apostates? It takes a considerable amount of rhetorical contortion to argue that Islam is a tolerant religion when these rules apply.
WHAT DO ISLAMISTS WANT?
According to orthodox Muslims Islam is the perfect system. They are idealists who believe they have a utopian solution. The answer to the world’s problems is Islam.
The tern ‘Islamist’ has been used to mean anyone who supports Islam as a political solution. There are many Islamist groups and they fall into two broad categories; nationalist groups and internationalists. Nationalist groups are primarily concerned with overthrowing their own government and replacing it with a government based on Islamic principles and sharia law.
The internationalist groups would prefer to see all Muslim countries united under the traditional system of the Caliphate and the Caliphate to enforce Islamic principles and of course, sharia law. The most extreme internationalists want to restore the Islamic empire including Spain, the Balkans and India, and then to continue to expand Islam.
There are too many of these groups to name, save to mention that the ideology of Islamism has reached every Muslim community. There are five major sources of the Islamist ideology.
- Wahhabism (also called Salafi). Founded in 1745 by Mohammed Ibn Wahhab. This is the state doctrine of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, it is highly influential in the Arab states. The Saudis have funded an extensive program of expansion and have funded the construction of Mosques and Islamic schools throughout the world through a network of charitable organisations (in my own city of Melbourne a prominent Islamic school, the King Khalid College, received funding from Saudi Arabia). The Wahhabi doctrine is strict and condemns Sufism and moderate interpretations as apostasy. A proportion of this charitable money has gone to fund Salafi jihadist groups, some of it to bin Laden and al Qaeda.
- Deobandism. Founded in the Indian city of Deoband in 1866 as a rejection of Sufism and syncretism, its aim was to overthrow the British and restore Muslim rule. It is highly influential in Pakistan where they control around 65% of the Mosques and madari (religious schools). The Taliban were the students of Deobandi madari. Salafi money has gone to support the madari and the war in Afghanistan saw a coalition of Salafi and Deobandi jihadi.
- Muslim Brotherhood (Ikwhan). Founded in Egypt by Hasan al-Banna. Sayyid Qutb was influenced by the Ikwhan. The Deobandi scholar Mawdudi was an important influence on the Ikwhan and Osama bin Laden is regarded as a follower of Qutb.
- The Shia under the influence of the revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini. The Iranian revolution inspired both Shia and Sunni fundamentalists with the hope that Islamic states could be created elsewhere.
- A loose coalition of fundamentalist Sufi and minority sects. The Naqshbandiya in Central Asia have formed a loose coalition with Salafi and Deobandi jihadis (see link), particularly in the war in Chechnya. Fundamentalist jihadi Sufis are influential in North Africa, particularly Sudan.
All of these groups provide a ready pool of mujahideen who are prepared to travel in order to fight the global jihad. The Indonesian group Jemaah Islamiya is a Salafi group that was funded with Saudi money and supported by members of bin Laden’s al Qaeda group. The bombings in Madrid were committed by Moroccan mujahideen operating in support of the mujahideen under Zaqarwi in Iraq. The London suicide bombers had links with Deobandi radicals in Pakistan, and so forth.
‘BUT THIS IS NOT THE REAL ISLAM!’
When confronted with the above moderate Muslims will often reply by arguing that these groups do not represent the real Islam. This is a nonsense. There is no such thing as a real Islam. Rather, there are multiple Islams. In fact the situation is quite absurd. There is no central authority in Islam and rival groups compete with each other to attract followers. As I write this a council of American Muslim scholars has issued afatwa condemning terrorism. Yet, at the same time a council of orthodox scholars in Indonesia has issued a fatwa condemning moderates. Fatwa at twenty paces!
Authority for interpretation and judgement is usually given to the ulemma, a council of recognised imams or mullahs. However their judgements are only binding on their community. Each sect and each country can have its own ulemma. This means that there can be a range of judgements made, some of them contradictory, with rival ulemma in the same country issuing fatwa against each other .
It is also possible for charismatic teachers to arise and to create their own following. There is actually no formal process by which teachers and clerics can be officially recognised. Some modern sects were created by a single charismatic figure.
The fact is that there are many rival interpretations of Islam. These rival interpretations are in a state of civil war. The Islamists believe that moderates are apostates who have betrayed Islam and have been corrupted by the Western doctrines of democracy, capitalism and also, socialism. A great many bombings and assassinations have actually been directed at moderate Muslims and those governments that have adopted non-Muslim political principles. The West has become a target because they are seen to support the moderates.
The cry that this is not the ‘real’ Islam is actually completely and dramatically irrelevant. What matters is that sufficient numbers of Muslims continue to choose to follow the radical fundamentalist interpretation.
Nor is it a question of the radicals being a minority, for even if they are a minority they are an influential minority. In fact they are actually a majority in some countries (the majority of any population are usually not involved in politics anyway and tend to passively follow political groups who promise a better future). They are able to punch above their weight because they have financial and ideological support from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Perhaps the question that should be asked of moderates is this, if the radicals are a minority and if they do not represent the ‘real’ Islam how is it they have been able to carry on a global jihad on several fronts, jihads that include civil wars, secessionist movements, revolutions, assassinations and global terrorism? The list of countries that have been affected by this global jihad is quite long. As I write this incidents have occurred in England, Egypt, Sudan, Somalia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Kashmir and Bangladesh. The simple fact is that there is broader private support for the Islamists objectives than is ever admitted to publicly and a number are sitting on the fence, waiting to see which way things turn out.
A FINAL NOTE ON IRAQ
Iraq has now descended into a civil war. This is sadly something I warned about in a previous article. The Iraq war has allowed radical Islamist mujahideen to set up operations. One of the aims of Islamism is to overthrow secular and corrupt governments in the Middle East. Saddam, as a Ba’athist was always a target. The US-led war has simply done the job for them. They are now waging an insurgent war with the primary goal of taking control of Iraq. Of course they want to defeat the US, but that is only the first step. They will not stop if the US withdraws. If they can control Iraq they can control substantial oil revenue and then have a geographical and financial base from which to wage jihad on the other countries in the region. The final goal is to set up a regional Caliphate.
Islam was never a religion of peace. It is a religion based on a warrior code. The evidence is clear, it was made evident in the actions of Mohammed and his Companions. Islam means ‘surrender’. It is entirely legitimate to interpret the tradition of Islam as a state of perpetual jihad with the final aim being the defeat of unbelief and the surrender of all to the word of Allah as revealed by His Prophet, Mohammed. It is only when that surrender has been completed that the world will abide in a state of perfection and peace. Many jihadi see themselves as simply following the example set by Mohammed.
Moderate Islam realises that this goal is impossible. However, what the moderates have not yet fully realised is that it is up to them to defeat the radicals. This cannot be done until the power centres of fundamentalism are isolated and choked of support. This is not something that infidels can hope to achieve. What it calls for is a jihad of another kind, a complete reformation of Islam that reinterprets Islam in light of modern history. A reformation that demands the overthrow of sharia law and the discrediting of supremacist and fundamentalist interpretations of Islam.
There are encouraging signs that after the London bombings moderate Muslims are beginning to wake up from their state of denial. This must be carried forward to the heartlands of orthodoxy.
The West can assist this process by isolating Saudi Arabia and demanding that the Saud’s end their support of the Wahhabi doctrine. Iraq was never the problem, it was always Saudi Arabia. This will then have the effect of cutting off important sources of funding to other jihadist groups. It will then be up to the moderates in each community to name and shame the radicals.
Radical Islamism is doomed to failure, but it will sadly be a bloody fight that will take decades to complete. It may take a violent revolution in both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan that may initially favour the extremists but will cause a final backlash. In many ways Islamism is the last rallying cry of a defeated cause. Islam reached it’s limit. It met infidels from east, west, north and south who refused to surrender and who fought back. Over time it began to lose territory, Spain, India, Greece, the Balkans. In many ways the defeat of the Ottoman empire in WW1 was the final defeat. Since then Islam has been struggling to find its way in a new world, a world not of all-embracing Islamic Caliphates but of independent nation-states, a world that can survive quite happily without it. This is not just a struggle against the Western enlightenment and modernity, but also a struggle against Asian values, a struggle against all that is not Islam. And perhaps this is the final humiliation – that Allah seems to have deserted Islam and the infidels are ascendant. The current violence is a futile protest against the inevitable, a protest against that those who would dare challenge Islam’s natural pre-eminence by those who believe it is they who should rule the world.
And what should we do? We should articulate a fair, free and fearless critique of Islam. We must identify those progressive Muslim voices that are calling for a reformation. And we should continue to refuse to ‘surrender’.
A note on transliteration: There are no set rules on how to spell Arabic words so any reader will inevitably come across a wide variety of spellings. Qutb is sometimes spelt Kutb and Koran as Qur’an, and so forth. I have kept the spellings as originally used in quotes but have otherwise used the spellings I am used to.
Ray Harris, August, 2005