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Revisiting Islam vs Islamism


Forget the `Clash of Civilizations' thesis; the battle lines within Islam have been drawn. Two years ago I published a paper entitled "Between Tolerance and Totalitarianism, Between Islam and Islamism"* The basic thrust of my argument then was that Islamic principles of tolerance and compassion are increasingly being displaced by Islamism. Islamism is a twentieth century totalitarian ideology that seeks to mould Islamic religious tradition to serve narrow political ends of domination. Not only is Islamism totalitarian in character, it is also violent in its methods and, in the process, betrays the very Islamic ideals it supposedly champions.

At the time of writing that paper two years ago I recall feeling pessimistic, feeling that Islamism was on the ascendancy. However, recent events have tempered my despondency and filled me with renewed hope that Muslims are recapturing the true ideals of their faith -- those of tolerance and compassion -- whilst rejecting the Islamist extremisms and distortions of their faith. A key catalyst for this is that Muslims are increasingly being turned off by the barbaric methods employed by Islamists.

In Iraq, unprecedented revulsion was displayed by Iraqi Muslims at the fact that young children were being recruited as suicide bombers by Al Qaeda. Two cases earlier this year illustrate the point well. In one incident, a young girl aged 13 exploded her suicide belt in Diyala, and in September, a 10-year old boy blew himself up next to Sheikh Imad Jassem, the leader of the Sons of Iraq in Tarmiya. Not only was Muslim public opinion affronted by the age of the suicide bombers, but also at the fact that they were recruited by coercive means and, in one case, did not even know that they were being strapped with an explosive device. The use of child suicide bombers by Al Qaeda may make tactical sense since less attention is paid to children at security checkpoints, but in the process they are alienating Muslim public opinion, which they do need in order to sustain their campaign. Increasingly, Iraqis are now co-operating with authorities in sharing information, which is contributing to more preventive action in Iraq. As such, the death toll is dropping and the security situation is improving whilst Al Qaeda and others of its ilk are increasingly on the defensive.

This was recently repeated in India following a string of indiscriminate bombings that largely targeted innocent civilians and which were perpetrated by the Indian Mujahideen. In early November, 6,000 ulema and Muftis from different parts of India ratified the fatwa against terrorism issued by the powerful Darul Uloom Deoband, the renowned seminary and Islamic academic centre. In the process, these Muslim clerics were sending a powerful message to the Islamist extremists: You do not speak in our name!

Following the terrorist attack on Mumbai, Muslim clerics in India once again went on the offensive. Mumbai's Muslim Council refused burial space to the terrorists killed in the Mumbai attacks, making it very clear that they do not regard these as Muslims. Muslim imams in Mumbai also called on the community to wear a black ribbon on Eid as an expression of solidarity with those killed. Meanwhile, the India Organisation of Imams of Mosques called on all mosques, muftis and madrassas to reiterate in this week's Friday prayers that "Islam forbids the killing of innocent people and is against any form of terrorism. We are deeply aggrieved by the loss of human lives and especially by the brutal killing of Jews."

As a Muslim, I have to admit that I was really proud of these imams. Muslims were coming to terms with the enemy within -- those who seek to subvert the noble ideals of a great religion into one which would justify the brutal massacre of the innocent. Just as the Mumbai terrorists demonstrated that the targets of terror have no religion -- Hindu, Jew, Christian and over 40 Muslims were killed in Mumbai - so too were these imams loudly proclaiming that terrorists have no religion -- whether Timothy McVeigh, Yigal Amir or Osama bin Laden. This gives me hope that in the battle between Islam and Islamism, Islam will triumph in the end.

Hussein Solomon

* CiPS E-Briefing Paper No. 65/2006 - and can be accessed from the Centre for International Political Studies (CiPS) website.

Professor Hussein Solomon lectures in the Department of Political Sciences, University of Pretoria where he is also Director of the Centre for International Political Studies. He is currently also Nelson Mandela Chair in African Studies at Jawahrlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India. Originally published in Bulletin #83/2008 of the Centre for International Political Studies (CiPS) of the University of Pretoria. Reproduced by permission.

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Replies: 2 comments

Dear Mr. Solomon:
It does my heart good to read your article along with its comments and ideas. As a Christian, I am attempting to understand "true" Islam, and to distinguish it from Islamism. I have read small parts of the Koran in an attempt to understand the religion of Islam. In the Koran, I found nothing but loving, kind ideals and theology. I am totally against war and terrorism. I believe that all nations need to unite to totally ban and eradicate war and terrorism world wide, a vision which the United Nations is suppose to adhere to, and which has been lost somehow. I pray and hope that Islam sticks to its original precepts and does not allow itself to become totally subverted.

Posted by Rebecca Lindstrom @ 12/15/2008 01:29 AM CST

It was deadly attack, Suspected Terrorist were seen at Mumbai. Where more then 100 people were killed in this attack in this attack at Mumbai. No One find out that what is the reason behind all the attacks it may be politician, caste system, religious also because muslims are alway says that our GOD is different from your GOD so this is the human nature. We are talking that we are trying to save our youth I don't think so if their is the problem of case or GOD we can increase or save any human's life.

Posted by how to play --------- for fun @ 01/19/2009 08:06 AM CST

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