By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
14 March 2017
Due to the international crisis confronting Islam and Muslims, figures from across the world concerned over the state of affairs gathered for a meeting in Al-Azhar in Egypt’s Cairo. These figures include muftis, preachers, scholars and politicians from China, Uganda and North and South America. They agree that extremism is a major threat and must be confronted by all means.
At the international conference of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, the best and most direct address came from Tawfiq al-Sudairi, the Saudi deputy minister for Islamic Affairs, Endowment, Dawa and Guidance. He called for wresting the religious discourse from extremists and half-educated people “who harmed the religion’s tolerant teachings and who’ve been directed by opportunists.” He also called for “unifying efforts on the political, intellectual, security and religious fronts to confront deviant ideologies.”
There is no controversy over their consensus against terrorism. This is a settled matter and perhaps no longer requires reiteration. The more important matter, which requires consensus and a plan of action, is extremism, which has developed into a broad challenge. No one can say that terrorism exists without any form of extremism embracing it.
It is impossible for a terrorist to be born in a moderate and centrist environment. Even terrorists who came out of liberal or tolerant societies are the victims of extremist ideology that surrounds them in their virtual environment, like chat rooms and social networking websites. Tens of thousands have joined terrorist groups and all of them are graduates of extremist rhetoric.
Challenge of Extremism
Truth be told, terrorists, despite their threat to the world, are less threatening than extremists as the harm caused by the latter is graver on Muslim societies as well as other communities. What extremists do is worse than the acts of organizations like ISIS and al-Nusra Front whose members are few among a sea of extremists.
Terrorism is the final step in the ladder of extremism. It is not possible to neutralize terrorism without fighting extremism. Those concerned must keep this in mind.
When we talk of extremism, we must not confuse it with extremist tendencies of some individual Muslims. Conservatives have the right to their beliefs within the capacity they see as appropriate. This is their right, and this is the case in all religions. However, this becomes extremism when they try to impose what they want on everyone.
Most dangerous extremist activities are generally based on exploiting religious activities that had no political purpose in the past. These are related to collecting of funds, education, Dawa, media and charity. They hijack them and even expand their operations to include students, women and foreigners. These extremist movements even have organized activities, which include travelling across the world to poor and progressive countries to exploit wars and famine.
They also use the injustice being done to some Muslims and use it to plant the seeds of extremism, which stays for a long time and eventually becomes a local culture. If you can imagine this, you can understand how extremism spreads and how terrorism emerged. You will also realize that fighting extremism is more important than fighting terrorism.
Sudairi’s statements at the conference in Cairo lead us to the core of this crisis. A plan of action, which requires collective efforts, must be devised to achieve what he called for.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.