Militant Islam and cultural Islam

Mohammed Al Rumaihi
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According to modern sociologists, the need to believe in a religion – regardless which one – is a human need, since it provides to people replies to queries that perplex them on a continuous basis, and to which the available search methodologies provide no answers.

The Islamic religion is no exception to that, just as it is no exception in its political instrumentalization since all or most monotheistic and non-monotheistic religions have been also politically instrumentalized, leading to long and bloody confrontations between affiliates of various dogmas within the same religion. Now we shall move from the general historical status of religions worldwide to our particular case of the Islamic religion, where we face a dilemma that we need to use our minds to resolve before resorting to our muscles, and to understand its construct before adopting blunt rejection of it. Today we have in our region the phenomenon of so-called ‘militant Islam’ in both the Sunni and Shiite Islamic mainstreams, and this phenomenon is no secret to anyone.\

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The core of this intellectual and practical case is the ability to distinguish between ‘popular and civil Islam’ on one hand and ‘militant Islam’ on the other, and since both stem from the same root this distinguishment becomes a very thorough intellectual effort. Undoubtedly, Taliban’s acquisition of power in Afghanistan, which is an Islamic country, urges us all to debate this thorny issue of how some individuals among us come to embrace militant Islam.

Recently, Emirati researcher Jamal Sanad al-Suwaydi has released a book titled “The Muslim Brotherhood Group in the United Arab Emirates.” He is one among other researchers in the Arabian Gulf who produced insightful publications on that issue, just as did some Iranian, Egyptian, Sudanese, and other writers who are interested in that subject and managed to bring forth shrewd analyses of it. They include Khalil Haydar and Falah Mudayris from Kuwait, and Ali al-Umayyim from Saudi Arabia, just to mention some. These intellectual works are based on the presupposition that, although militant Islam has failed as a ruling system in Egypt; where it prevailed for a short while, in Sudan; where it ruled for a longer while, in Tunisia, in Morocco; where the major representative party has failed, and in Turkey; where the ruling party is having setbacks with economy and public freedoms, the representatives of militant Islam are still active or semi-active in several places. If they are no longer in the stage of ‘empowerment’ as they call it then they are in the stage of ‘preparation.’ For instance, two militant Islamic representatives made it in the recent elections in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, and in some of our countries there are members in the elected councils who follow that trend as well. Hence, al-Suwaydi and other researchers are calling for a lengthy and thorough intellectual discussion of the entire issue to be able to decisively differentiate between militant Islam; whose proponents use as a tool to subjugate people under a particular shape of Islam that suits their purposes to help them seize power in various countries and start preparing for the establishment of an ‘Islamic Caliphate’ on one hand, and cultural Islam on the other hand.

There is a confusion in the presentation of Islamic concepts via education, media, and religion-oriented institutions due to various reasons, on top of which might be the content of curricula in several countries, and how some other countries have exploited that aspect, and probably because of the failure of the national state in providing a better alternative. A manifestation of this conceptual confusion is when no or little differentiation is made between Islam’s ‘creeds and methods of worship’ and its ‘conduct and interaction aspect’ which is a constantly changing aspect.

Militant Islam advocates to the youth of our countries the concept of a ‘Golden Age’ that existed at the early stages of Islam which we are obliged to reproduce a replica of. Through a process of cherry-picking of particular historical events, a flowery and ideal image of that age is promoted to those youth mixed with some modern allurements. This is followed by establishing an intellectual blockage separating those persuaded to follow Militant Islam and its private society from the rest of the world.

Many intellectuals have written on the development of Militant Islam in the last 100 years, and most of them attribute that trend to the ultimate years of the last century’s twenties in Egypt that witnessed the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood Movement, its shift from a preaching-oriented group to one that calls for coups and the labelling of others as heretics through the books of Sayyid Qutb, and then the ferociously violent embracement of that set of beliefs by other Islamist groups, such as al-Qaeda and ISIS, that misunderstand Islam and cling to an interpretation of particular holy texts out of their context.

There is no doubt that other factors also play their role in that direction, including the crave for power, poor education, political instrumentalization by some states out of spite - or a feeling of exclusion by its leaders, along with utter ignorance. Hence, the intellectual battle lies in a successful distinguishment between ‘the creed and methods of worship’ and ‘mundane interactions and open interests’ or what has been termed as ‘conduct’ in the intellectual history of Islam. The latter is so abundant in detailed explanation of all kinds of commonplace interactions, to the extent that some modern Western legislative systems have borrowed and slightly adapted texts from the scholarly texts produced by Muslims in earlier ages.

Hence, it is quite important to stress the significance of providing open-minded education and illuminated teaching to our students through their various school and university stages. The same applies for media and various media outlets, especially the visual and audio outlets, since most of the social media platforms are hijacked by militant Islam.

In the same vein, noble values such as justice, mercy, and fair conduct that have been advocated by Islam must be strongly promoted, taking into consideration that each set of behavioral norms and state institutions is the product of its own age. Accordingly, if the early Islamic state did not have a regular army, police, courts, written rules and regulations, prison institutions, or any of the features of a modern state, it should not be considered the criteria upon which we should base the foundations of our current systems of conduct. This is supported by the fact that Muslims have always masterminded novel solutions for the situations they used to encounter during each historical era, to meet people’s interests.

Hence, the concept of Shura (Islamic consultation) is not anymore ‘optional’ as Hassan al-Banna understood it, but rather ‘obligatory’ just as the belief in human dignity and many other principles.

There are two major weaknesses in militant Islam; the first is the shrinking democratic practices among its adherents, and the second is its determination that it is, or must become, the common trend in society, instead of accepting to be one component of society. Militant Islam considers itself to be the only representative of Islam, which is not true, and a reason for its failings is that it rejects its best rational members, and clings to an excessive totalitarian grip - just like many other political groups. Thus, its failure in running the affairs of society are quite obvious. However, it still has affiliates that believe in its discourse, and thus we have to exert tremendous and serious intellectual effort to make the cultural Islam prevail over its militant version.

To sum up, the simplistic militant Islam has succeeded in setting the great intellectual Islamic school - that prioritizes people’s interests - aside, letting the strict narrational Islamic school of thought prevail.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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