By Grace Mubashir, New Age Islam
27 April 2022
Religious Pluralism And Engagements In Salafism
Basis of Salafi arguments of jihadism, Takfirism (calling other Muslims Kafir), and others stems from the outright rejection of Quranic concept of pluralism and diversity and the God’s command to engage using the commonalities of all religions. Holy Quran says: “O People of the Book let us come to a common word/statement between us and you.” In Islamic legacy religious dialogue is not new; it has lengthy history. Muhamed Hashim Kamali in his article ‘Diversity and Pluralism: A Quranic Perspective’ has broadly explained the Islamic perception of pluralism. According to Quran, concept of religious unity is not sweeping uniformity and asserts the diversity as an essential nature of human being. “And among His signs is the creation of heaven and earth and the diversity of your tongues and colours, Indeed there are signs in this for those who know.” According to Salafism plurality and pluralism are sometimes said to be incompatible with the monotheism that Islam demands for its followers. To substantiate their vicious hate ideology verses from Quran are misquoted and misplaced like the verses enjoining the believers to unite and let not separation (Tafarruq) to destroy their unity, taking out of the contexts in which it was revealed. These arguments could be easily blunted by using the inherent disagreement (Ikhthilaf) in the Islamic history and sciences like Ilmul Kalam (theology) and jurisprudence.
Islam profusely allows the space for pluralism and religious harmony as opposed to the uniform concept advanced by Salafism. Quranic verse that suggests Prophet Muhammad completed the religion for the posterity is used by Salafis to illustrate the comprehensive nature of Islam without any interdependence. Ethno-regional pluralism, a major bone of contention in the contemporary era, finds theological sanction in Quran. To quote Quran: “O mankind, keep your duty towards your Lord who created you from a single soul and created its mate of the same [kind], and then created from them multitudes of men and women. In another passage Quran tells about the diversity of creation deliberately demonstrating God’s consent for pluralistic way of life. “O mankind, behold, we have created you into nations and tribes so that you might come to know each other. Verily the noblest of you in the sight of God is one who is deeply conscious of God.”
In their ardent bid to retain the pristine Islamic monotheism unaffected, Salafis strictly oppose religious pluralism (Al-Ta’addudiyyah Al-Diniyyah), fearing that religious engagement may be tantamount to associating partners in faith and acknowledging the veracity of other religions. Quintan Wiktorowicz says:
“This obsession with maintaining and propagating a pure understanding of Islam has produced a strong tendency toward isolationism. Any interaction with nonbelievers is viewed as an opportunity for the nonbelievers to infect Muslims. Although interactions for propagation are permissible, purists see little benefit to dialogue and exchange beyond those needed to spread the faith. After all, if all knowledge and guidance are in the sources of Islam, nonbelievers offer nothing. To think otherwise is to question the supremacy of Islam, something that signifies disbelief.
As a result, purists are highly unlikely to engage in interfaith dialogue and often try to physically separate themselves from non-Muslims. Purist scholars in Saudi Arabia, for example, advise Muslims in Europe to leave the domain of disbelief to avoid any corrupting influence. European Salafis who choose to remain try to limit their interactions with the broader society, often developing enclave communities that function like Salafi ghettos. They reject association with non-Muslims in their countries of residence and instead view themselves as part of an international imagined community of true believers. Their identity is predicated on their creed and not their country.
`This policy of isolation to avoid corrupting influences is applied to other Muslims as well. Followers are asked to avoid interactions with deviant sects, which are defined as any groups that do not follow the purist interpretation of Islam. There is thus very little intra-faith dialogue as well.” (Wiktorowicz, Quintan, Anatomy of the Salafi Movement,Studies in Conflict & Terrorism)
This kind of thoughts would fare bad in maintaining fragile social relationships in increasingly globalized era. Strict textual literalist reading is the major problems Salafism. While criticizing Salafism one should carry in mind the revolutionary changes Salafism brought in many parts of world in the way Islam is practiced, but this does not justify the feeble arguments of radical Salafi scholars who contend comprehensiveness and mutual exclusive preventing the ideology to evolve timely. Various elements in Salafi ideology like Takfiri (declaring apostasy), jihad, al wala’ wa l bara’ (loyalty and disavowal) and others infuse the adherents with virulent fundamentalism and extremism. These beliefs demand more explanation in order to find solutions to Salafi threat against world peace and religious harmony.
Al Wala’ Wa L Bara’
The Salafi concept of al wala’ wa l bara’ roughly translatable as loyalty and disavowal, has been considered by many as a recipe for extremism. This idea sates that all Muslims should show loyalty only to God, Islam and Muslims and everything else should be disavowed and opposed. It is definitely true that al wala’ wa l bara’ divides the world into two separate binaries of which one is good and one is evil. This means Salafis maintain strong bonds of loyalty and brotherhood among Salafi Muslims on the one hand as well as extreme forms of piety through disavowal of everything and everyone considered un-Islamic. Adherents of this concept can therefore use it to set up boundaries between religious groups and create divisions and likely even sectarianism. Al Wala’ Wa L Bara’ repudiates even the narrow scope for pluralism and diversity. In western context, Al Wala’ Wa L Bara’ is used as a bulwark against successful integration into society. A certain amount of radicalism thus seems to be connected with the concept of Al Wala’ Wa L Bara’.
The origins of Al Wala’ Wa L Bara’ is traced back to pre-Islamic Arabia and early heterodox Islamic sects. In pre-Islamic Arabia it implied that while members of the tribe were bound to each other by strong ties, relations between different tribes were not always very peaceful. They were often at war with other tribes over petty issues. At the outset, this concept was not changed considerably with the advent of Islam and was modified by Muslims in such a way that suited their new needs. Later, the gradual growth of Islam eroded these divisions as Muslims had to come to terms with other people for practical reasons. The first Islamic group to use Al Wala’ Wa L Bara’ as part of its doctrine was apparently the sect known as Kharijites. Kharijites incorporated Al Wala’ Wa L Bara’ into their beliefs, showing loyalty to other members of the group while disavowing outsiders. Motivated by this concept of exclusivism Kharijites spawned many problems in early Islamic society.
After several centuries of relative silence on the topic of Al Wala’ Wa L Bara’, the concept was built into discussion by ibn Taymiyya. He explains:
“After centuries of pre Islamic ignorance, Islam came to show the people the right path, which Muslims must not deviate from. Jewish and Christian influences, however, have sullied the true path of Islam. So Muslims must cling to the straight path denouncing all others. Muslims should not attend the festivals and ceremonies of Judaism and Christianity because Almighty Allah says in Quran: O believers, take not Jews and Christians as friends (awliya’), they are friends of each other. Whosoever of you makes them his friend is one of them. God guides not the people of the evildoers.” (Ibn Taymiyya, iqtida’ al-sira al-mustaqim mukhalafat ashab al-jahim)
Salafi scholars used the concept as a means to fight other religions and assumed Bida’ (innovations). Beside they assert that Al Wala’ Wa L Bara’ is an indispensable part of Islam and that all Muslims must give their exclusive loyalty to God. If they do their loyalty to someone or something else, they are considered Kuffar (apostates) with whose war could be waged. Showing enmity to polytheists, other religions and non-Salafi Muslims is considered benchmark to identify true Muslims. This belief is the evident reason for Salafi aversion for religious cooperation and dialogues.
The debate over Takfir, represents one of the most prominent sources of violence in Salafism. This deals with the apostasy of Muslims which technically make them a legal scapegoat of violence backed by sharia’ and thus motivates attacks against non-Salafi Muslim sects. This concept of Salafism is borrowed from the Kharijite doctrine of declaring all Muslims renegade if they did not fall in their line. Takfirism stems from the very controversial nature of the religious concept of Takfir, which the act of pronouncing of someone as unbeliever (excommunication) and placing him/her outside the community of believers. In classical Islamic jurisprudence, Takfir is an extremely serious measure that can be pronounced by qualified religious authorities under very specific circumstances. Salafism lavishly uses this concept to excommunicate all opposing their path; hence intra-faith dialogues are hardly impossible in radical Salafism.
In the modern context, excommunication is essentially a theological or ideological manoeuvre to ostracize other Muslims; a tool significantly employed the Salafi scholars. Roots of Salafi antipathy against Shi’ism is the direct consequence of Takfiri movement of Salafis. The Shia’-Sunni (Salafism is considered as a branch of Sunnism) divide proliferated due to this ideology has exacerbated the fragile social relationship in the Middle East. While the conglomerate under Saudi Arabia leads the Salafi alliance, Iran spearheads Shi’ite nations. The futile war to protect the vested interests of these two warlords set off much epidemic violence in the region. To reach at mutual cooperation heads of two nations along with the religious leaders must make compromises in their ideological fundamentalism.
Jihadi movements of Salafism or jihadi Salafism like al Qaida, Taliban and ISIS are closely associated with its complex, narrow political concepts. The problematic interaction of Salafism with the real world and politics has been compounded by its relationship with violence. Logically, violence stems from the same rejection of reality as corrupt and corrupting because it leads to compromise in doctrine and practice (Manhaj) that lie at basis of apolitical Islam. Jihadi-Salafism found its original inspiration from Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966), whose ideas on pre-Islamic society (Jahiliyya) and sovereignty of God (Hakimiyya), coincide with those of Salafism, but are much more politicized. Yusuf al-Uyairi, is a good a contemporary jihadi who combined the Salaf terminology of Tawhid, purification (Tazkiyya) and pure intention (Niyya) with a sharp and ruthless analysis of reality, geared to implementation of a jihadi strategy, thus producing a Salafi activist concept of praxis that is comparable to Leninism.
Jihadi Salafism is blinded by the antagonism towards West, declaring war against them. Recent attacks in Europe against the innocent civilians are legitimate within the legal extension of maintaining enmity against Kuffar and striving to pulverize them. Admittedly, corporate interests of neo-imperialists forces add oil to the fuel. Even the thought of Taliban outrage in Afghanistan staged by Salafi Jihadist Osama bin Laden or the violent trail being hacked by ISIS in Iraq and Syria shudders the entire human conscience and make them numb. By instituting the martyr cult of religion Jihadi Salafism encourage a strong tendency among Muslims towards religious alienation.
An occasional New Age Islam columnist, Grace Mubashir is a journalism student at Indian Institute of Mass Communication, Delhi
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