Letter from London: Confronting extremism

Bakir Oweida
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One more time, certainly not the last, a religious scholar tries his best shot by sticking his own nose in other people’s life, imposing his way of life, which he and those who share him the same view, are entirely free to choose, on other persons way of living. But, with all due respect, does this guy realize that, with such interference he actually shoots his own foot, causing considerable harm to the very religion he wants to protect, even if the caused harm takes the form of laughing, joking, and as a consequence mocking “halal” and “haram” boundaries in general? I ask, wonder and doubt.

This time round, the funny fatwa went a bit too far in imagining the unimaginable. How on earth can anyone, no matter what is his authority, involve religion when it comes to visiting, living and working, or even being born, in a certain country?

More than ten years ago, December 2002, a friend told me how annoyed he felt while listening to one Imam during a Friday preaching, in Sheffield, England, as he started angrily taunting any Muslim who gives Christmas cards to his neighbors, colleagues at work, or fellow students, claiming that, that sort of behavior is utterly “haram” because it makes a Muslim copying non-Muslims. Then the same Imam, according to my friend, went further by addressing the young among his congregation, saying that university students should only attend their tutors’ lessons and avoid any sort of socializing with them, especially in the evening, when “some professors get so drunk that they behave very badly and can’t even walk!”

Preaching segregation

As soon as the prayer was over, my friend walked straight to the front line - and it was like a war front- and with an audible voice confronted the Imam, some of the audience started to circled around both of them, many approving with my friend as he criticized, but politely, the Imam for calling upon Muslims, to live the ghetto life and be completely segregated from their British fellow citizens.

If Muslim intellectuals and professionals, had the will 30, 40, or 50 years ago, to confront any form of extreme preaching that they happen to witness, it is most likely that the task to challenge modern day extremism would have been more easily achievable.

Bakir Oweida

Returning to London from a summer holiday, another friend told me a different event of confrontation. This time the story went as follows: It was very hot, said my friend, every one inside the mosque was sweating, the Imam speech was politically fiery and employing his religious authority to serve his political agenda, condemning all western countries to the hell fire as the rightful punishment for what the U.S. and UK, in particular, have done to the Iraqi people by imposing hard sanctions (before the 2003 invasion).

When the Imam closed his speech by asking Allah not to save one soul in those two countries, adding Canada as well, I started, said my friend, to stand, but someone sitting next to me pulled my arm, forcing me to stay put and gave me a look that I perceived as “wait, be patient”, which I did. As the Imam voiced his “Salam ...” I walked straight to him and challenged him to produce well founded Islamic reasons to justify his call for the destruction of three nations, just because their governments’ policies in Iraq, or anywhere in the Arab and Islamic countries were, in his views, wrong or even sinful.

He was rather more surprised than ready to enter a dialogue, and when I asked, while others were listening, if he was aware of millions of Americans, British, Canadians, and other European people, opposing western policies in the Middle East, he seemed, or pretended, not to know. That confrontation ended peacefully, my friend concluded, with him saying that when Muslims end every praying with the word “Salam,” one ought to remember that it is one of Allah blessed names, and that as much as many Muslims, all over the Islamic world, have been deprived of a peaceful life for many years, yet that should not be used to wish the same for all other people.

Now, if many Muslim intellectuals and professionals, had the will 30, 40, or 50 years ago, to confront any form of extreme preaching that they happen to witness, like my two friends, it is most likely that the task to challenge modern day extremism would have been more easily achievable. Instead, it’s still getting more complicated.

And, as if Muslims are in need for more fanatic calls to form their way of life in the 21st century, here comes the call to restrict their holiday destinations, so countries or cities be identified under the list of “Halal” or “Haram.” Oh, dear and most respected men of faith, for God’s sake, please just live your way, and let others live theirs. Or is it that much of a profitable business for some to keep sticking their noses where it’s not their business at all?

Bakir Oweida is a journalist who worked as Managing Editor, and wrote for several Arab publications based in London. His last executive post was Assistant to Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, responsible for Op-ed section, until December 2003. He can be reached on [email protected] and [email protected]

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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