Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro:
The Best Way Out of Religious Extremism Crisis
Delivered at the 5th Conference
of the Islamic Affairs Supreme Council Cairo, Egypt 19-21 January 1993
In the name of God, most Gracious, most Merciful.
Praise be to the Cherisher and Fosterer of all creation. Peace and Blessings be on the Prophet of Mercy, Muhammad, on his brother prophets and messengers, and on his household and companions.
Eminencies and Dignitaries,
We have gathered here to deliberate on one of the most important problems of modern Muslimdom, which is the case of religious extremism; it has become a reality which no one can ignore or by-pass. To begin with, we have to define what is meant by Religious Extremism.
The West has persisted on branding with Fundamentalist every thing that is narrow minded, which does not accept dialogue, whose advocates struggle hard to drag people back to stereotyped thought, vision and living to which an earlier generation was committed. This depiction follows suit with Evangelist, Hindu, Communist or Judaic fundamentalism. But this very depiction of Islamic Fundamentalism is inaccurate when we brand with it groups of religious extremism who look upon ordinary people as fuel for hellfire, whose blood, honor, and wealth are free for all to violate. The combination of this concept with the principal Islamic laws can't hold ground because it disregards the most important trait (quality) of these laws (Shariah) which are flexible and evolutionary thanks to their constant divine values. This very quality has actually made the Islamic Shariah (laws) legible for every time and place. Thus, one who is truly concerned with the fundamentals of Islam does not deserve the stereotype the West has foisted on him or her.
This meaning has always been obvious and clear among Muslim thinkers. I would like to relate here what President Assad said to an American news correspondent when asked about the problem of Fundamentalists: We don't have any problem with Islamic fundamentalism. Our problem is with non-fundamentalists, because those who consult the Islamic principles are fully aware of their tolerance, love and benevolence. They fully appreciate their flexibility and progressiveness. So these Islamic fundamentalists are never a burden to any Muslim country.
Dear brothers and sisters! Excuse me for this digression. The conference committee has asked me to speak on the best way to address this problem. But I feel, as a point of clarification, we have to shed light on this problematic term. I consider the phenomenon of Islamic awakening a true blessing to the nation which demands much gratitude to the Almighty God. But the guidance of this awakening is the responsibility of the heralds of Islam who have to prevent noble emotions from deteriorating into destructive objectives that do more wrong than good to Islam and the Muslims.
Brothers and Sisters. In order to address the phenomenon of extremism the dangers and consequences of which have been well pointed out by the esteemed speakers who spoke before me, we have to study its reasons and motives which are five main ones.
Firstly: Irreligious Extremism
The behavior of many Muslim countries towards immorality and corruption is very confusing. They seem to be doing nothing about the spread of prostitution, vice, family and social disintegration. Nor do they tackle properly the problem of intoxicants and narcotics.
The media of those countries assume the biggest role in this respect. They have entered every house displaying crime, promoting vice, encouraging family breakup, and deifying murderers and criminals. On the average, a child of ten has already been exposed through TV to crime, invited to seduction and watches countless shows that advocate discarding Islamic values and education because, as it is claimed, they obstruct the new generation from marching toward development and civilization.
These incidents are actual and are uncountable. They contribute to splitting society into two distant parts; one for absolute dissolution and wantonness and blind following of every trend that is void of all virtue, and the other for the overwhelming fury and distrust of their states on the various political, social and religious levels. Thus the society becomes a victim of the ambitions of the exploiting parties who have mastered the agitation of carnal emotions that very few can avoid through exerting self control and keeping balance between these crude paradoxes. We dare say that irreligious extremism is the main factor for the birth of religious extremism. We can't guide the blessed Islamic awakening unless we wisely fight down this phenomenon of disintegration and moral corruption, and put virtue and moral values on their right track supported by the Islamic laws of Shariah together with the support of government agencies and the media. This is in affirmation of what Allah says in the Quran:
...Allah will not change of a people unless they change of what is in themselves. T.Q., Sura 13, The Thunder, verse 11.
Secondly: Blind Allegiance to the West
The movement of Westernizing Muslimdom started at the beginning of this century. It is a movement that aimed at imitating the West in every aspect, deeming that this would be the reason for civilizational progress. Repercussion of that developed in most universities and academic institutions in addition to those run by Christian missionaries, who heralded the necessity of following Europe in its disciplines, priorities and customs of clothes, habitat, foods and drinks, etc...
They forgot that the law of life is governed by the circumstances, legacy and history of each nation. Soon they found themselves at the remnants of the tables of the West. They found out that Western civilization, which emerged on the principle of utility, doesn't recognize the suffering of nations except if it reflects that utility. Once again we see that Muslim societies are split into two separate and contradictory parts; one which has submitted its leadership mostly to the West, to its history, thinkers, culture, traditions and languages, and less to the glories of its nation to the extent that no Arab blood or Muslim feeling runs in its arteries.
The second has banished itself from life and thought and hatched on itself. It looks on the West as purely evil and absolutely corrupt. It confronts the world passively beginning with its national governments, enlightened Muslim leadership and ending with symbols of civilization and human freedom.
Thirdly: Turning away from the Laws of the Quran
Most of the regimes which have marginalised or discarded the Islamic Shariah and legacy gave birth to a trend which looks on all Arab and Islamic regimes as atheistic and infidel the resistance of which is a part of Jihad (struggle) imposed by God on the members of the nation. So it is demanded that the Islamic Shariah be practiced on all sectors of life. And the Shariah of Islam is capable of complying with development at every time and place. Allah says in the Holy Quran:
It is a blessed Book that We have revealed for them to study its verses and to be a reminder to the people of essence. T.Q. = Translation of the Holy Quran, Sura 38, Saad, verse 29.
Fourthly: Zionist and Western Fundamentalism.
When it talks about religious extremism in the Middle East, the world media forgets that Zionist extremism exercises the most atrocious violence and persecution towards the Palestinians without losing its position as the spoilt child of the West. This Zionist extremism is behind the birth of what is called Islamic Fundamentalism. Furthermore we still see the Security Council stand watching the Muslims' suffering everywhere, especially in Palestine, Bosnia and elsewhere without recording for itself any decisive resolution against the party which is aggressive.
While we are here there are more than 400 Palestinians who have been driven out of their homes and banished to Marj Alzohor in southern Lebanon where they are living in tents under fierce snowy weather. The Security Council only recommended with regret that Israel should address the problem, and did not bother to impose any economic or other sanctions against it.
Personally I heard on the BBC in Arabic a declaration by Margaret Thatcher, the British ex-prime minister, who openly said: Before the West there have been two enemies; Communism which we have been able to conquer without shedding any blood, and Islam which is our only remaining enemy. I believe this kind of talk is an essential reason for the eruption of the trend for religious extremism.
After relating the reasons for Islamic Fundamentalism, President Assad in the interview with the American Press Agency said: If I had been in my youth again and in such circumstances I would have found myself one of those fundamentalists.
Fifthly: Wrong Orientation
As Muslim scholars and leaders we find ourselves face to face with our responsibilities; the four aforementioned problems are the responsibility of politicians and the media. Any wrong guidance is our responsibility. Education programs in general are in need of rehabilitation and renewal.
There are certain religious verdicts that were issued in a period of history the circumstances of which completely changed, and therefore have to be reconsidered in the light of new circumstances and under the fold of the Quran and the Prophet's tradition (Sunnah). Also, having graduates of Islamic colleges whose education is closed; who are oblivious to historical change, and unaware of the world we live in, is a deadend that should be rectified. They should march along the path that complies with the perspective of Islam toward the universe, life and the objectives of the tolerant Shariah. Only then will they be able to construct a glorified nation and a world of brotherhood and love under the canopy of the Book of God and the way (Sunnah) of His great messenger.
Islamic leadership has been successful in bypassing the phenomenon of fanatic schools of law which up to recent years had been considered a most sensitive problem. Today the leaders of Islamic movements are called to address the question of ideological differences on the basis of dialogue, understanding and cooperation, and not on the basis of malice, hatred and compulsion.
The Islamic situation in Afghanistan does not please anybody. The Muslim world was sadly distressed to see the cannons that were directed to fight down the red dictatorship of the Soviets turn recklessly to settle political differences which should be settled through dialogue and understanding. Previous to that Lebanon underwent a similar crisis, one which Algeria is facing today. This is liable to be repeated in more than one Muslim country tomorrow unless the Muslim heralds and people in charge assume their duty to correct religious guidance and point out the benefits of dialogue and coexistence in every field of knowledge that can be acquired by students of religion.
When the Prophet Muhammad began his mission at Madinah it comprised a mosaic of sects. At the battle of the Tench one third of the army withdrew because they were hypocrites, i.e. expressing the faith by word of mouth, but cherishing the opposite in their hearts and practice. Despite their big number and shameful deeds the Prophet did not kill any of them. He practiced forbearance with them and overlooked their mistakes. He kept teaching them and took care of their manners until all of Madinah became pure Muslim. Allah praises Muhammad in the Quran saying:
It is part of the Mercy of God that thou dost deal gently with them. Wert thou servere or harsh hearted, they would have broken away from about thee: so pass over their faults, and ask for God's forgiveness for them; and consult them in affairs of moment.. T.Q. Holy Quran, Sura 3, The Family of Imran, verse 159.
It was well recorded that the Prophet practiced full understanding, cooperation and openness with the Abissinian king, Nejashi, though the king never practiced Islam in prayer and fasting, nor did he migrate to the Prophet, which was an essential requisite of becoming Muslim. Allah says in the Quran:
...To those who believed but did not migrate you owe no duty of protection to them until they migrate.. T.Q., Sura 8, The Spoils of War, verse 72.
When this king of Abissinia died the Prophet led the Muslims in funeral prayer on his soul, as was related by Bukhari in his book of Muhammad's traditions. Also, it is recorded how Muhammad treated the Christians of Nejran with affinity and graciousness, despite their Christianity. He expressed the same feelings towards Egypt's Christian governor, Al-Mukawkis. Furthermore, when Muhammad passed away his armor was mortgaged with a Jew.
Thus, to contain people with force and to muffle their thoughts and views was never in the agenda of the Prophet (P.B.U.H.), who lived and died wreathed with the honor of Allah's description of him in the Quran:
And We have not sent you except as a Mercy to the whole worlds T.Q. Sura 21, The Prophets, verse 107.
We have, brothers and sisters, to return altogether as shepherds and subjects to the education of the Quran and the Sunnah (way) of the Prophet and their divine program to raise the generation of heralds on the love, benevolence, tolerance, enlightenment, brotherhood and mercy contained therein. I believe the world has never been prepared to accept the message of truth as it is prepared today, especially after the collapse of atheistic ideologies. The human being is free today and is looking for himself in the wreckage of crumbling ideologies. The world has realized that the symbols of atheism have not been but fake gods. The world is on its way to There is no god but Allah, and it is about to affirm the completion thereof and Muhammad is the messenger of God.
God says in the Holy Quran:
We will show them Our signs in the Universe and in their own souls, until it becomes quite clear to them that it is the truth.... T.Q., Sura 41, Abbreviated Letters, verse 52.
And say: Act and God will see your work and so will His Apostle and the believers; and you shall be brought back to the Knower of the unseen and seen, then He will inform you of what you did T.Q., Sura 9, The Repentance, verse 105.
Peace be upon you all and the mercy of the Almighty God and His Blessings