By Atef Kadadra
(Translated from Arabic by Ghulam Rasool, New Age Islam)
The League of the Sahel Ulema, comprising sheikhs from Algeria and other African countries, Ulema from the Ministry of Religious affairs in Mauritania and representatives of Sufi movements in Mali have come all out to counter the “extremism and exaggeration creeping into religion”, a monster created by extremist groups claimant to be engaged in “jihad”. The league, officially established in Algeria, has focused its efforts on schools, mosques, local radio stations and militant enclaves in order to put an end to violence perpetrated in the name of Islam.
The Sufi Shaikhs, who represent five countries in the Sahel, strongly condemned the armed groups for complying with Fatwas issued by “non-specialist clerics” regarding the issues that have created havoc in the region.
The efforts of these sheikhs are focused on “tackling the Fatwas that incite violence, killing and bloodshed”. They hold that al-Qaeda-linked groups’ activities in the Sahel are an outcome of sheer ignorance of the Quran and its rulings on Takfir and jihad.
These clerics come from Algeria, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, and Burkina Faso who have officially established the “League of Sahel Ulema.” Their constituent conference was held in the western suburb of the Algerian capital. The next step they are looking forward to take is to establish affiliate offices across eight African countries. In his inaugural speech, the Algerian delegation’s representative, Sheikh Yussef Mashriya stressed on the need to counter extremism that is spawning in Muslim countries for the past few years, resulting in national instability and disunity of Ummah. He affirmed that “Islam calls for mercy, benevolence, tolerance and condemns corruption”.
Talking about the reasons behind the establishment of the “League of Sahel Ulema”, another representative of the Algerian delegation, Sheikh Ahmad Takhmarin explained that the turbulent situation in the region had compelled them to take this initiative aimed at countering extremism and violence inflicted by those who misinterpret religious texts and follow in the footsteps of someone other than the Prophet (pbuh).” Some of the participants likened the situation prevailing in the African Sahel to that of Algeria where the citizens endured long years of violence and bloodshed during the 1990s.
Sheik Takhmarin opines that religious extremism and fanaticism has reached the extent of accusing the whole society of heresy and banning prayers even in mosques, inciting violence, disregarding consensus (ijma) and insulting imams. He says that “this movement of radicalization is reducing Islamic edicts to only Haram (forbidden) and Wajib (obligatory); while in fact they are divided into five more categories”.
The representative clerics from the five countries did not discuss international solutions to their problems, including the option of war. However, Niger’s Sheikh Daoud Burima pointed out that the proposed solutions would bear no fruit unless they were of a religious nature, since religion inculcates morals and addresses the human conscience.” Burima hoped he could see unity and integrity among religious clergy in the region so as to unanimously bank on one religious authority.”
Sheikh Abul Lawi Balid, one of the founding members of the league, discussed the widespread extremism in religion, both in theory and practice, within the countries of Sahel.” In theory, he observes, personal convictions are characterized by hatred, extremism, and blind obedience to the commander; while in practice, exaggeration in religion, prohibition of what is Halal (permissible), and misinterpretation of religious texts in a way that contradicts the objectives of Islamic Sharia are common. Balid believes that extremists’ Fatwas do not relate to minor issues only, but they also instigate fights and bloodshed, asserting that the reason behind them is to “ignore the rulings of the Quran, especially those concerning jihad and Takfir.” He opines that the scenario in the Sahel is quite identical to the situation that Algeria witnessed during the “Black decade” when some illegitimate clerics issued Fatwas allowing jihad, that were subsequently annulled under the pretext that they were not well-acquainted with the rulings. Hence, there is a pressing need for real Ulema who can develop through understanding of such highly sensitive religious issues.