By Abdal-Hakim Murad
Abdal-Hakim Murad concludes his article on the post 9/11 scenario: there is much despair, but there are also grounds for hope. The controls of two great vehicles, the State Department, and Islam, need to be reclaimed in the name of sanity and humanity. It is always hard to accept that good might come out of evil; but perhaps only a catastrophe on this scale, so desolating, and so seemingly hopeless, could provide the motive and the space for such a reclamation.
The motives are twofold. Firstly, and most patently, Sunni Muslims have been brought up in a universe of faith that renders the taking of innocent lives unimaginable. By condemning the attacks, we know that we defend the indispensable essence of Islam. Secondly, Muslims as well as others have died in large numbers. The Friday Prayers in the World Trade Centre always attracted more than 1,500 worshippers from the office community, many of whom have now surely died. The tourists, who spent their last moments choking on the observation deck, waiting for the helicopters that never came, no doubt included many Muslim parents and their children.
But the Western powers and their fearful Muslim minorities, both battered so grievously by recent events, now need to think beyond press-releases and ritual cursings. We need to recognise, firstly, that there has been a steady 'mission-creep' in terrorist attacks over the past twenty years. Hijackings for ransom money gave way to parcel bombs, then to suicide bombs, and now to kiloton-range urban mayhem. It is not at all clear that this escalation will be terminated by further anti-terrorist legislation, further billions for the FBI, or retina scans at Terminal Three.
Sobered by this, the State Department is likely to come under pressure from business interests to ask the question it never seems to notice. Why is there so much hatred of the
Among Muslims, the longer-term aftershock will surely take the form of a crisis among ‘moderate Wahhabis’. Even if a Middle-Eastern connection is somehow disproved, they cannot deny forever that doctrinal extremism can lead to political extremism. They must realise that it is traditional Islam, the only possible alternative to their position, which owns rich resources for the respectful acknowledgement of difference within itself, and with unbelievers. The lava-stream that flows from Ibn Taymiyya, whose fierce xenophobia mirrored his sense of the imminent Mongol threat to Islam, has a habit of closing minds and hardening hearts. It is true that not every committed Wahhabi is willing to kill civilians to make a political point. However it is also true that no orthodox Sunni has ever been willing to do so. One of the unseen, unsung triumphs of true Islam in the modern world is its complete freedom from any terroristic involvement. Maliki ulama do not become suicide-bombers. No-one has ever heard of Sufi terrorism. Everyone, enemies included, knows that the very idea is absurd.
Two years ago, Shaykh Hisham Kabbani of the Islamic Supreme Council of America, warned of the dangers of mass terrorism to American cities; and he was brushed aside as a dangerous alarmist. Muslim organisations are no doubt beginning to regret their treatment of him. The movement for traditional Islam will, we hope, become enormously strengthened in the aftermath of the recent events, accompanied by a mass exodus from Wahhabism, leaving behind only a merciless hardcore of well-financed zealots. Those who have tried to take over the controls of Islam, after reading books from we-know-where, will have to relinquish them, because we now know their destination.
When that happens, or perhaps even sooner, mainstream Islam will be able to make the loud declaration in public that it already feels in its heart: that terrorists are not Muslims. Targeting civilians is a negation of every possible
To conclude: there is much despair, but there are also grounds for hope. The controls of two great vehicles, the State Department, and Islam, need to be reclaimed in the name of sanity and humanity. It is always hard to accept that good might come out of evil; but perhaps only a catastrophe on this scale, so desolating, and so seemingly hopeless, could provide the motive and the space for such a reclamation.
Although the response from Muslims in the UK seems to have been very favourable to my essay, with one or two requests that it be sent to national newspapers for reprinting on their pages, it is inevitable that under pressure from real or potential rioters and cross-burners, some Muslims consider premature any attempt to begin a debate among ourselves about the cultural and doctrinal foundations of extremism.
It is true that no convictions have been secured, and that in the Shari'a suspects are innocent until proven guilty. However it is also regrettably the case that these suspects will not be tried under Shari'a law, and that we need, in the absence of a traditional framework of accusation and assessment, to hold our own discussions. This is particularly urgent in this case, since the damage to the honour of Islam, and the physical safety of innocent Muslims, in the
West and in
My essay, which endeavoured to kick-start this debate, takes its cue primarily from the
I hope that the recent events will spur Muslims to consider the implications for the wider ethos in which we understand our religion of the shift which we have witnessed over the past twenty years or so away from accommodationist and tolerant forms of Islam, and towards narrow-mindedness. Al-Ghazali recommends a tolerant view of non-Muslims, and is prepared to grant that many of them may be saved in the next world; Ibn Taymiya, as Muhammad Memon has shown in his book on him, is vehement and adversarial. In our communities in the West, and indeed worldwide, we surely need the Ghazalian approach, not the rigorism of Ibn Taymiya. Not just because we need to reassure our neighbours, but also because we need to reassure those very many born Muslims who are made unsure about their attachment to Islam by events such as this that they can belong to the religion without being harsh and narrow-minded. Extremism can drive people right out of Islam. In 1999 the Conference of French Catholic bishops announced that 300 Algerians were among the year's Easter baptisms. Noting that ten years earlier Muslims never converted at all, they reported that the change was the result of the spread of extreme forms of Islam in
We must ask Allah to open the hearts of the Muslims everywhere to recognise that narrow-mindedness and mutual anathema will lead us nowhere, and that only through spirituality, toleration and wisdom will we be granted success.
The most appropriate du'a' for our situation would seem to be: 'Ya Hayyu Ya Qayyum, bi-rahmatika astaghiith', which is recommended in a hadith in cases of fear and misfortune. It means: 'O Living, O Self-Subsistent; by Your mercy I seek help.'
© Abdal-Hakim Murad
Article courtesy of www.masud.co.uk