By M. A. Muqtedar Khan
October 9, 2014
Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, the Islamic State – there can be no doubt that Muslims have an extremism problem. Its causes are many, including failure of governance, absence of democracy, a culture of intolerance and geopolitics.
Muslim states are either unable to combat violent extremists or recognize them as threats. Some countries view them as assets to be used for their own geopolitical purposes and actually nurture them. This geopolitical blind spot is a key problem.
Muslim scholars have tried to counteract their threat but their biggest error in doing so is that they limit their condemnation to political extremism without also condemning the theological extremism that underpins it.
For example, when Islamic leaders condemn acts of violence against intellectuals or minorities after accusations of blasphemy, they do not condemn the scholars who give fatwas of blasphemy or Takfīr (excommunication). They also do not refute the theology that supports use of such vigilantism.
Many Islamic groups condemned both Boko Haram and ISIS as un-Islamic. This is a welcome development. But they did not also condemn the Salafi theology that underpins the literal and shallow understanding of Islamic principles that inform groups such as ISIS. It is like trying to treat the symptoms while allowing the cause to metastasize. So even if Boko Haram and ISIS are dealt with, new groups will take their place.
Muslim scholars must not only counter the worldview that makes Islam, a religion of peace, into an ideology of violence theologically, but must also develop programs to educate their communities about the dangers of nurturing narrow and intolerant interpretations of Islamic scriptures. This must be done systematically in schools, at Friday sermons and at Islamic conferences.
The work of Islamic scholars such as Ibn Taymiyyah, Syed Qutb and Abdul Wahhab, those who inspire the extremists, must be deconstructed and contextualized. The works of cultural icons like Rumi and contemporary scholars like Bin Bayyah, both of whom advocate tolerance and pluralism, must be taught more widely.
But most important, mosques and Islamic schools must initiate programs that encourage young Muslims to work with and in other religious communities.
M. A. Muqtedar Khan is an associate professor of political science and international relations at the University of Delaware.