By S. Mubashir Noor
On 18 March, another lone-wolf attacker desiring to "die for Allah" evaded France's code-red security cordon and assaulted a female solider on patrol at Paris's Orly airport. Luckily for security forces, he was merely a rampaging madman without formal military training and was swiftly taken down. France continues to be the epicentre of jihadist activity in Europe.
Lone-wolf and wolf-pack jihadists with purported links to the Islamic State (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda have felled more than 235 French citizens since 2015. There is little optimism that such attacks will stop anytime soon. Some commentators blame France's violent colonial history and its ghettoisation of Muslims in urban "banlieues" for the recent surge in jihadist sentiments among them. This is only part of the larger picture.
And without fail, a procession of Muslim "scholars" and community leaders will again be paraded on international media to defend their faith against accusations of inbuilt militarism. To which they will indignantly squawk a familiar refrain: "Islam is a religion of peace," whereby insinuating that those engaged in violence of any persuasion in the name of Allah are beyond the pale of Islam.
If one needs to identify the single most important reason why the virus of extremism has infected Muslims as a polity, look no further than Islam's top clergy and its baffling attempts to reduce the faith to a single, amoebic dimension from the rich, diverse and organic mass of truths and contradictions that it really is. Insisting Islam is a religion of peace is not wrong, but it is only half the story.
For Islam, when viewed through pronouncements in the Quran, the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and Islamic history, is a system of society for the faithful. It is nuanced, multilayered and with the evolution of contemporary Muslim thought, even non-sequitur in facets of its internal logic. A faith, after all, cannot evolve in isolation from its adherents and their circumstances.
Hence, the term Islam simply cannot be limited to the practice of rituals prescribed in the Quran. From the time of the Holy Prophet (p.b.u.h), political and martial Islam have stayed in lockstep with spirituality. We cannot sanitise the Sunnah to whitewash all evidence of violence, much as modern-day Islamic scholars endeavour to. When Michael Hart placed the Prophet Muhammad (p.b.u.h) at the top of his ranking of "The 100: A Ranking of The Most Influential Persons in History," he did so acknowledging the uniqueness of Islam's prophet.
For Muhammad (p.b.u.h) was an accomplished politician, a fierce warrior and the conduit of God's last set of commandments all rolled into one. And before ascending to prophethood, he was reputedly a skilled negotiator, brokering peace between different warring factions. Put another way, Muhammad (p.b.u.h) embodied virtues that placed him at the pinnacle of humanity at the time, or as we Muslims believe, for all time.
Naturally, this DNA propelled Islam's early years of expansion right through its golden age between the eighth and thirteenth centuries CE. Ambitious Arabs now united by an ideology that gave equal berth to spirituality and conquest used the banner of Islam to roll over nation after nation. The faith became an empire and a trading enterprise that cleanly carved the known world into Dar Al-Islam (realm of peace) and Dar Al-Harb (realm of war).
There was nothing novel to Islam's expansionist juggernaut, barring perhaps the rapidity with which conquest came. Indeed, within a century of the Prophet's (p.b.u.h) death, Muslims rule extended from North Africa to Central Asia. If martial jihad (keeping in view the term is multi-pronged, of which only one involves warfare) were a purely defensive construct, the Rashidun Caliphs would have contentedly fortified peninsular Arabia from foreign invaders and got on with the practice of faith. They didn't.
The Jews (Zionists, what have you), for example, have never feigned any interest in territory outside their historical promised land of Israel. Islam, however, is a practical religion that factors in human nature. Consequently, once Arabs tasted success on the battlefield, like any rising power, they dreamed of hegemony and Islam sanctioned it insofar as strict rules of war were observed. But once the lust for empire became intoxicating, the political dimension of Islam began usurping the spiritual.
A bitter succession crisis broke out immediately after the Prophet's (p.b.u.h) death between his companions Abu Bakr and Ali ibn Abi Talib over whether divine right or "Majlis" consensus would determine the first caliph. Moreover, within roughly two hundred years of the Hejira, Muslims had already fought one another in three waves of civil wars known as "Fitnah." Yet the darkest day in Islamic history was without a doubt the merciless murder of the Prophet's (p.b.u.h) grandson in the seventh century CE by an Umayyad-dynasty caliph drunk on power.
This sordid event concretised a deeply polarising schism in Islam that split the faith into Sunni and Shia sects and continues to roil the Middle East to this very day. Before its current Saudi Arabia versus Iran equation, the toxic rivalry kept the Sunni Ottomans of Turkey and the Shia Safavids of Persia at each other's throats well into the 17th century CE.
So, as you can imagine, when mainstream Muslims scholars take the peacenik line on international cable news in defending Islam, it has no resonance. In fact, by denying the significance of political and martial Islam in the evolution of faith, they left a yawning intellectual vacuum that has been exploited by hate-mongers like Osama Bin Laden and Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who then instrumentalised jihad towards selfish ends.
These scholars, in their blinkered zeal to distort Islamic history to one of pacifism, have been grossly negligent in not calling out ISIS and Al-Qaeda for breaching the faith's strict code of warfare which is writ large in both the Quran and the Sunnah. The treatment of prisoners of war, non-Muslim civilians and women and children is elaborately codified in Islamic doctrines, and transgressing them is tantamount to reneging one's faith in the Holy Book and Prophet.
Finally, those in denial of political Islam's validity need look no further than the recent statement of Saudi deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, arguably a key representative of Sunnism by merit of his father King Salman's role as Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.
Far from chastising US President Donald Trump for his Islamophobic immigration policy after meeting him in mid-March, bin Salman shockingly praised Trump as a "true friend of Muslims who will serve the Muslim World in an unimaginable manner." Why? To gather assurances on a united front against fellow Muslim regional power Iran. Where then, pray tell, is the peace?