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Islam and Sectarianism ( 10 Jul 2016, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Strife within Different Streams of Islam

By Makhan Saikia

08 July 2016

The contemporary claimants like that of the Islamic State to the Caliphate has the problem of uniting the entire Muslims under one roof which makes the road more difficult and the chances of spreading animosity will rise

In the past two and half decades, since the emergence of Al Qaeda, a surge in extremist violence in major Muslim nations of the world, is once again bringing to the fore, the strife within different streams of Islam. Beyond this, the current saga of killings, starting from the recent brutal attack on a posh diplomatic enclave in Dhaka and concurrent bombings in the holiest cities of Islam in Medina, Jeddah and in Baghdad, the war-weary capital city of Iraq, has brought the entire global community to realise how important it is for different versions of Islam to give a renewed call for peace.

The long-drawn fight between the two main sects of Islam — the Shias and the Sunnis — is devastating the Middle East and the brunt of the clash is borne by none other than millions of ordinary Muslims who rightly deserve a peaceful living. The so-called guardians of the two prominent branches of Islam, Iran and Saudi Arabia, by now, must call for a political truce; else, once known as one of the rare cradles of human civilisation, the nations of the Middle East will soon turn out to be a graveyard for sure.

Referring to one of the most controversial book to date on Islam, Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now, authored by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, it can well be stated that Islam needs a strong reformation to suit the cultural clash brought by the globe-trotting waves of globalisation. The author argues that a religious reformation is the only way to end terrorism, sectarian warfare and repression of women and minorities that each year claims millions of life across the world.

The world has come a long way since the destruction of the Ottoman Empire and the boundaries of the Middle East or West Asia has been redrawn as per the requirements of the Western imperial powers, under the historic Sykes-Picot Agreement on May 19, 1916. Understandably, going by the sheer historical evidences that followed the Agreement, we can safely opine that this had re-written the history of the Arabs once again in blood for sure.

The charismatic Ali argues that “it is foolish to insist, as our leaders habitually do, that the violent acts of Islamist extremists can be divorced from the religious doctrine that inspires them. Instead, we must confront the fact that they are driven by a political ideology embedded in Islam itself”.

After the ghastly terror attack in Dhaka, controversial Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen aired her views, asking “whether we should call Islam as a religion of peace?” She further claimed that “in a society blinded by religion, brainwashing starts right after birth”.

This augurs well for a public discourse, particularly among the Islamic scholars and in general, by all the liberal shades of opinion-makers around the world. Why so much of violence is inspired by Islam? Is there an end to it? Who will put a stop to this incessant clash between its two branches of the religion? Are the colonial masters solely responsible for the ongoing tragedy unleashed by the jihadists over both the believers and non-believers of Islam? Is it a final war of revenge against the West for re-taking the boundaries of the Caliphate that once used to be? It is time now the world demands an appropriate answer.

Whether it is the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafism, Salafi jihadism, Rule of the Jurisprudent and the Marjaa — they are all fighting for their relevance and political space. Professor Eugene Rogan of the University of Oxford is of the view that the fate of the Arab world will be veering around the constant conflicts between the three strands of Islam: The Muslim Brotherhood, Salafi-Jihadism (Sunni) and finally, the Shia doctrine of the ‘Rule of the Jurisprudent’.

As Islam holds considerable political power since the days of the Prophet Muhammad, hence, an obvious attempt made by the liberal Western scholars, to separate politics from religion seems having not much relevance in the Arab society. Today, what the Islamic State (IS) has been trying to establish i.e. the Caliphate, was last abolished by the Turkish leader Kemal Ataturk in 1924.

Though the Islamists provide strong references to the Ottomans now, but many of them are interested in recreating the caliphates existed earlier: The four Rightly Guided Caliphs who used to rule immediately after the death of Muhammad in the seventh century or else the Abbasid caliphate which survived in one or the other form, right from the ninth to the 13th centuries.

Surprisingly, the Western scholars have conflated these caliphs with that of the 19th century Ottoman royal family. And gradually, they have brought an enduring idea of a caliph as an institution. To be precise, the idea of the Caliphate has waxed and waned depending on the conflicts and the sway of royal families over the same. There is no clear and well-defined Islamic mandate behind the idea of the revival of the 21st century caliphate as of today.

As Nick Danforth further argues: “It is no surprise that as, a historical inspiration, the Ottoman caliphate holds most sway among Turkish Islamists, whose nostalgia owes far more to the way Turkish nationalists have glorified the empire than it does to the piety of the Sultans. Conversely, the religious legacy of Abd al-Wahhab's 18th century critique of the Ottoman state, combined with the political legacy of more recent anti-Ottoman Arab nationalism, gives plenty of non-Turkish Islamists ample reason to prefer the precedent of an Arab caliphate”.

Therefore, the contemporary claimants like that of the IS to the Caliphate has the same problem of uniting the entire Muslims under one roof which makes the road rather more difficult and the chances of spreading animosity between the Shias and the Sunnis will be on the rise. For sure, the short lived political or military successes like the one won by the IS, without having the support of history and theology, will not be able to create a single caliphate for the entire Muslims. But in the process, attempting to recreate the same, will lead to more bloodletting.

Before turning Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen into an ‘empire of graveyards’, the global governance institutions like the UN, must act swiftly to stop all excesses against humanity. It must be made clear to all, particularly to the heads of warring Governments and to their war-time allies that Middle East is not a theatre of war anymore. Hope, the UN takes an immediate decision and calls for lasting peace in the region.