Refugees in Europe and religious reform

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

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The general debate on religion, its interpretation and understanding, in addition to the rise of terrorist groups in the East and West, remind us of the urgent need for radical reform of religious institutions in the Muslim world, and for modern religious rhetoric that can develop societal coexistence. These needs have increased as Syrian refugees flee to Europe, where there is the possibility of struggles and disputes.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is keen to encourage religious rhetoric that corrects refugees’ understanding of Islamic concepts, and pushes them to adopt values that they have not known before, such as tolerance, integration and coexistence.

The rise of extremist organizations and the influx of Syrian refugees into Europe have resulted in a state of worry and vigilance the likes of which we have not seen since 2001.

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran

Amid this debate, the Newseum - a museum of news in Washington - this week granted its Religious Freedom Award to Abdallah bin Bayyah, a jurist and president of the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies.

He resigned from the International Union of Muslim Scholars after the eruption of the Arab Spring, as he allegedly believed the union was linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and was keen to harm religious institutions in Arab countries under the pretext of performing its official work.

Spreading extremism

There are urgent attempts to curb extremism, and huge fears of rising fundamentalism in several countries. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has spread to East Asia, with the recent Jakarta terror attack and the arrest of recruits in Singapore. The threat has also reached Australia.

Meanwhile, German media outlets continuously warn of the ISIS threat in an attempt to foil attacks planned by its cells, and by those of Al-Qaeda that inhabit Molenbeek in Belgium, a base for extremist organizations in Europe.

By the end of the 20th century, Syrian poet Adonis wondered why values of coexistence had collapsed among Muslims, and why it had become impossible to restore the old pillars of coexistence that existed in Islamic history, specifically during the period of Al-Andalus.

These questions influenced thinker Abdel Wahab Mouadab. The most recent book by him that I have read is “Islam Now,” which describes how Andalusians were received in the 13th century following the fall of Cordoba and Sevilla.

“My place of birth Tunisia and its suburbs witnessed cross-pollination of cultures as a result of this migration which enriched morals of civilized behavior as well as architecture, trade, cultivation and industry,” he wrote. “The center of Andalusian civilization, which is represented in Cordoba, shone on European soil, and this center can add legitimacy to Muslims’ presence in Europe.”

The rise of extremist organizations and the influx of Syrian refugees into Europe have resulted in a state of worry and vigilance the likes of which we have not seen since 2001. News outlets continually discuss terrorism, clerics and religious rhetoric. This gives Muslims and their leaders a chance to develop a plan to exonerate religion from terrorism and convey this to other nations. This is not easy, but it is not impossible.

The basis of this reform began with the wave of Arab enlightenment in the 1920s. We must ensure that descriptions of murder, bloodshed and terrorism do not apply to our region. Lebanese leader Walid Jumblatt, the maternal grandson of Shakib Arslan - author of the 1930 book “Our Decline and Its Causes” - said the last words uttered by his mother before she died were: “The Arab world is a world of murderers.”

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Jan. 26, 2016.

Fahad Suleiman Shoqiran is a Saudi writer and researcher who also founded the Riyadh philosophers group. His writings have appeared in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat, Alarabiya.net, among others. He also blogs on philosophies, cultures and arts. He tweets @shoqiran

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