By Afis A. Oladosu
05 December 2014
In the name of the Almighty, the Beneficent the Merciful
“… and you will hear from those who received the scripture... a lot of insult. If you steadfastly persevere and lead a righteous life, this will prove the strength of your faith. (Q3:186)
BRETHREN, the very first statement in our compatriot’s essay which reads “Islamic world view today is a destabilizing factor in world politics”, reminds me of what our teachers taught us years ago in Ibadan on writing for academic purposes. We were told and taught that every intellectual exercise must be tempered by circumspection. In other words, the gravitas of intellectuality does not inhere in satiating emotion or passion. Rather it consists of that brutal consciousness and awareness that that which “is” usually does not represent that which ‘ought to be”. But the essay written by Dr Cole appears not to have taken all of the above into consideration. It was written, so it seems, with a target- the deprecation of Islam and Muslims. The essay had a focus: that of indiscriminate throwing of “rocks” into a crowd in the hope that it would hit somebody who deserves it.
In other words, most Muslim readers of the Guardian were of the opinion that Dr Cole’s essay was loaded with blitzkrieg and defilement of everything Islam stands for. But I thought one way to engage the whole essay is to ponder the following questions: why is it that Islam and Muslims continue to be subject of such vilifications and negative representations? Put differently, why is it that for some non-Muslims, the negative representation and portrayal of Islam has become a passion? At least three suggestions may be offered. First, every religious subject represents what the Other ‘is not’ and what the latter probably does not want to be. Thus for majority of non-Muslims, most of whom would neither read the Quran nor the tradition of the Prophet of Islam (Hadith), the contrarieties in Muslims’ daily life provides easy premise for the deprecation of what they are not. The non-Muslim observer of what goes on Iraq or Syria may not bother to look beyond the apparent before coming to the conclusion that that is all there is to Islam. The non-Muslim follower of events in East Africa, may equally argue that the activities of the al-Shabaab militants in Somalia and Kenya is the ideal reference for what Islam is and what the religion has always been. This probably could be the reason Islam and Muslims continue to enjoy media attention for their negative value. What then could be the solution to this problem? Simple: let us all be good Muslims. Let there be no fissures and disjunctures between what the Quran says and our ways of life. Muslim youths have to avoid the Machiavellian philosophy that the end justifies the means. In Islamic law once the means is invalid the end becomes a nugatory. You cannot have a valid prayer after having used urine as ablution!
But the above might actually not be the only problem. In other words, those who usually represent Islam negatively are the elite; those who should know; the crème-de-la-crème of the society. Some of them know what Islam stands for but are equally aware of the fact that it is only the negative representation of the religion, using the fissures in Muslims’ life as basis, that can facilitate quick fame. For example, if you want to be popular as a journalist present the Prophet of Islam as a womanizer; if you want your film to sell, do a caricature of Islam. The other day a journalist impugned the personality of the Prophet (s.a); she was granted express visa to United Kingdom.
But again, dear brethren, writing about Islam, either negatively or objectively has become a passion for some critics because unlike other religions, Islam is seen as an intellectual sparring partner. The reason for this is simple and uncanny: the more their negative portrayal of Islam, the more the religion gains ascendancy even in such areas of the world previously considered to be unfriendly to it. Thus negativity ironically furnishes plausibility. Such writers, therefore, become drawn into an infantile pastime; they become involved in a war against Islam which they are destined never to win.
But I should note that there are indeed out there some non-Muslim scholars of Islam whose works and intellectual engagement with the religion commands adulation and approbation. Such include Professor Kenneth Cragg of Oxford University. Professor Cragg, I should note, is a Professor of Quranic Studies. He is a Christian. The works of Professor Cragg on the Quran usually reminds me of Professor Isaac Ogunbiyi. Professor Ogunbiyi happens to be the first and only Christian Professor of Arabic Nigeria has produced. Unlike some non-Muslim critics of Islam and Muslims in this country, these are intellectuals per excellence. They are scholars whose minds watch over itself. They usually avoid generalizations; they loath fallacies. Read their writings on Islam and Muslims and you would be drawn into a scholarly world where objectivity operates as the ground norm. These scholars work with that sharp mind which recognizes that there is a difference between the Sun and its illumination; that it would be jejune and an indulgence in intellectual pettiness to say that the activities of the Boko Haram or ISIS in Iraq is representative of Islam and Islamic civilization.
Now let us try to enter into the narrative world created by Dr Cole more closely. When the essay suggests that “Islamic world view today is a destabilizing factor in world politics”, it is important for us to avoid falling into error by merely saying this is not true. More so, the essay attempts to provide ‘evidence’ for this when it says “all areas of the world where there is conflict and war-Islam is there- Algeria, Egypt, Israel/Palestine, Yemen, Sudan, India/Pakistan, Pakistan/Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Nigeria”. “Wait a minute!” Is Dr Cole’s essay arguing that these countries, which constitutes not more than 30 to 35 percent of the total population of Muslims across the world and not more than ten out of over forty Muslim majority countries are the reason the whole world is in turmoil?
Again, the above analyses might not be accurate after all. In other words, what Dr Cole’s essay might be canvassing is that Islam is responsible for the crises in the above listed countries. If this reading of mine is accurate, then the essay is equally ‘right’ and ‘accurate’. Thus, dear brother, hold Islam responsible for the annulment, by the West, of the election which could have brought the Islamic Salvation Front (ISF) into power in the 1990s. In line with Dr Cole’s argument, hold Islam responsible for the implantation of the state of Israel on the earth land of Palestine since 1948. Hold Islam responsible for the collusion between the Egyptian military and Western powers which eventually led to the removal of ‘democratically elected government of Muhammad Morsi in 2012. Hold Islam responsible for the unceasing crisis we witness in Gaza where the Palestinians are living under constant occupation. Dr Cole is right. Islam is responsible for encouraging the oppressed people of Syria to rise up and take up arms against an oppressor and a liquidator. (08122465111 for texts only)
Professor Oladosu is with Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies, University of Ibadan