TEL AVIV – In a radical turn of events, Muslim writers from across the Arab world are admitting that Islam itself is a problem, and the only way to curb the terror carried out in its name is to conduct a fundamental overhaul of Islamic texts and their interpretations.
Intellectuals from Saudi Arabia and Jordan to Egypt and Morocco are slamming Muslim leaders and clerics for ignoring the problems of Muslim society and dismissing terror attacks with faulty platitudes such as the oft-repeated, “Not in Islam’s name.”
The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), which monitors Arab-language media, published translations of explosive articles arguing that the ideologies behind terror groups such as the Islamic State stem from Islamic jurisprudence that is no longer relevant today.
Writing in the London daily Al-Hayat after the July 14 truck-ramming attack in Nice, France that claimed the lives of 84 people, a Palestinian writer and academic living in Britain, Khaled Al-Hroub, called on Muslims to acknowledge that terrorism perpetrated by Muslims is in fact inherently tied to Islam.
“Our repeated claims that the perpetrators of terrorism are nothing but ‘a gang’ that does not represent us are no longer effective,” Al-Hroub writes.
He adds that rather than achieving its goals, terrorism has always left its perpetrators worse off.
The strategy of suicide operations that Hamas used for years gave Israel the justification to construct the separation fence, increased global sympathy for [Israel], and caused countless disasters to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Is terrorism attributed to religion related to the religion itself? The answer is yes. … Religious interpretations that can easily be understood to mean that martyrdom means a cheap suicide [inside] a café or club frequented by “infidels” are very common in our religious, educational, and mosque culture, and must be dealt with. … What view [can] we develop regarding non-Muslims if every week we hear thousands of preachers call on Allah to “not leave a trace of them”? Every day, our sons read texts and books in schools that establish nothing but a patronizing and disrespectful view regarding non-Muslims.
“We must first of all admit that education in [our] schools and mosques lays the foundations for ‘implicit ISISism,’ ” Al-Hroub concludes.
Sa’id Nasheed, a Moroccan writer and intellectual, also responded to the Nice attack with an article in the London-based daily Al-Arab calling for a complete reform of religious discourse.
The basic problem of the Islamic world is the lack of sufficient courage to pose the most important and relevant question: From where do we draw this ability to be resentful and filled with hate, to disregard human life and to permit the shedding of blood? We lack sufficient courage [to answer this question]; in fact, we seem to lack even minimal self-integrity when we insist on ridiculously blaming others.
We must understand that the ideas of takfiri [jihad], which have sparked civil wars and schism in most Arab and Islamic countries … currently threaten many Western capitals and place all of us [Muslims] in the defendant’s seat.
Terrorism is not embodied by a truck and nothing else – it is first and foremost an idea and a concept. Therefore, we cannot eliminate extremist thought without reforming the religious discourse – a reform Muslims themselves must enact … without beating around the bush. This means that the ball is in our court and that the world will not wait on us forever, especially not now, when the threat has spread everywhere.
Palestinian writer and human rights activist Ihlam Akram also called on Muslim societies to change themselves from within, saying, “We must rewrite and reinterpret Islamic history and amend the religion in accordance with universal values. … This change is not the responsibility of Western countries, but rather our own. [Arab and Muslim society must] enact reforms in the legal and educational systems … so [Islam] conforms with the 21st century and plays an active role in the world.”
Meanwhile, Egyptian daily Al-Tahrir published an article by Amr Hosny charging Arab Muslim society with putting too much emphasis on the honor of Islam, even at the cost of violence. Hosny notes how Omar Mateen, the terrorist responsible for the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Florida, was “offended because he saw two men kissing,” yet the murder of 49 innocent people did not offend him in the least.
Every time an extremist Muslims commits a horrifying crime against humanity, some people come out and shriek that he has nothing to do with Islam, while ignoring the fact that views and ideologies do not exist as abstract entities, but rather take shape in the minds and behavior of those who believe in them in accordance with the surrounding culture that defines the nature of their relations with the other. The culture of our Islamic societies in this generation, particularly Arab societies, produces a violent Islam whose believers simply murder anyone who disagrees with them under the pretext of being offended. This, while they [the Muslims] never consider anyone else’s feelings but their own.
Writing in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Jordanian researcher Muhammad Barhouma said that Arab and Muslim policy currently hinges on an axis of tyranny and corruption. Barhouma called for “the reexamination of religious texts” and “revoking the religious legitimacy of interpretations of religious texts permitting ‘killing in the name of God.’ ” Those texts and their interpretations, Barhouma contends, require urgent “criticism, dismantling, additions, omissions, and development so that they match the spirit of the times and human progress; that is, the values of liberty, human rights, and respect for the principle of equality among all people and of strengthening trust among them.”
Qinan Al-Ghamdi, a senior Saudi journalist and former editor of the government daily Al-Watan, called on the Saudi government to reexamine its laws concerning racism, sectarianism, and incitement and to do everything in its power to counter takfiri jihadi ideology.
Another Saudi journalist, Muhammad Aal Al-Sheikh, argues in the daily Al-Jazirah that groups like IS are a faithful representation of Islamic texts that are no longer relevant today and for that reason Muslim law urgently needs updating.
“We cannot dismiss their actions by saying that they ‘do not represent Islam’ when most of their actions originate in books from our past heritage, [books] that dealt with matters of the day in accordance with the conditions and norms of that period, which are different from the conditions and norms of our own period,” he writes.
Al-Sheikh lambasted Muslim clerics for not doing enough to combat IS’s jihadist ideology.
“Why don’t our clerics come out against [IS], disprove the religious justifications they use to establish [their claims], and respond to them using evidence and explanations, thus saving the masses from them and their damage?”
Writing that global Islam is mired in a “culture of ignorance, backwardness, and violence,” and that the “Arab world is rife with tyranny, poverty, death,” Al-Sheikh called for a “historic reconciliation between Islamic heritage and modern democracy.”
Muhammad Yaghi, a columnist for the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Ayyam, joined Al-Sheikh in condemning the silence of Muslim clerics.
“Some attribute the phenomenon of extremism or the spread of madness to poverty, unemployment, the blocking of the horizons of millions of Muslim youths, tyrannical regimes, and the Israeli occupation,” Yaghi writes.
However, the Islamic State “can only be defeated … by destroying the ideological foundations on which it is based and this is the mission of those who claim to be versed in Islam.”
Continuing in the same vein, Saudi journalist and senior editor of the London-based daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, Mashari Al-Dhaidi, calls on Muslims to stop deluding themselves that the problem has nothing to do with Islam. He also scoffed at conspiracy theories popular in the Arab world that IS and its ilk were created by intelligence services like the CIA and Mossad in order to discredit Islam.
“But the fact is that refraining from declaring an ideological-psychological war – and not just a security-military war – on the culture that birthed Al-Qaeda, ISIS, and their ilk, will harm all Muslims in the world, including those with Western citizenships,” Al-Dhaidi writes.