Western governments and pundits ask Muslims to combat “Islamic extremism”, the first question that should be asked is ‘what is Islamic extremism? And what makes it a bad thing?’ These questions must be asked because the term ‘Islamic Extremism’ not only is attached to a negative preconception, but is used to refer to a reality and people which aren’t in truth ‘extreme’, this smacks of a prejudice unbefitting a society that believes that individuals and ideas are ‘innocent till proven guilty’.
Islam is a comprehensive way of life. It is an ideology that contains a specific viewpoint to life (the establishment of man’s purpose in life in the affairs of life) which forms an ideal and a basis for human society and whose solutions to human problems naturally and purposefully manifest themselves in the forms of Political, Economical, Ruling, Educational and Social systems as well as peoples universal rights.
If Islam is understood as such, then those who call for this way of life, comprehensively and ideologically and who reject systems built on the philosophic and political separation between man’s life, and his purpose in life (Secularism) and the ruling systems like Democracy (a self-interest based system based upon rule of the majority- but in reality ends up being a rule of the wealthy minority), are actually in fact, being true to their beliefs and making a principled stand for them.
These people should not be labeled ‘extremists’ by a others who misunderstand them and their ideas, but rather their should be labeled ‘Ideological’ or principled (someone who’s life is governed by principles and ideas). Why can’t Muslims follow Islam like others who believe and implement the ideology of Communism or (secular) Liberalism? Would it be fitting to call a Communist- an atheist extremist? (Because it is based upon materialism, which springs from atheism) or would it be fitting to call a Liberal- a Secular extremist? (because secularism is part of Liberalism).
These other ideologies propagate the comprehensive implementation of their core creeds and the rejection of others, so why can’t the Muslims do the same?
An extremist is not someone who follows an ideology/belief system, but rather an extremist is someone who claims to follow a particular one, but holds views which go outside its bounds. So a extremist in Liberalism, is someone who holds ideas based initially on Liberalism (e.g. individualism), but then hold views that go outside its bounds, like Anarchists (who reject Liberalism’s requirement of a state to protect individualism). Similarly, an extremist in Communism may profess they believe in Communism, but then hold beliefs that go outside its bounds like, advocating private property and free market.
The REAL problem today is not the Muslims who stay true to their comprehensive way of life; the real extremists amongst the Muslim community, are those who have adopted Western methodologies, Secularism, and Liberal philosophy.
These extremists generally follow two types:
- One kind of extremist Muslim advocates Western pragmatic and utilitarian approaches to warfare, and therefore engages in Terrorism (claiming that by killing western civilians, it would compel them to stop their governments killing muslim civilians – and hence serving a ‘greater good’ in their view).
- The other type of extremist Muslim, are those who attempt to distort and change Islamic laws by misrepresenting Islamic principles, deliberately twisted and taken out of context so as to render Islam compatible with secularism and Liberalism. This leads to the lobotomising of Islam, leaving it restricted to merely being a set of religious beliefs with no political impact locally or globally beyond wishy washy ‘values’. Furthermore, these Secular ‘Muslims’ are known for attacking the concept of Ummah (in its fullest sense), by severing Muslims from considering the affairs of Muslims in other parts of the world, and urging them to ‘integrate’ into artificially contructed nationalities and ‘identities’ to replace their former ones .
The Messenger of Allah (saw) said:
“He who wakes up in the morning and does not think of the affairs of the muslims is not one of us” (Sahih muslim)
The ideas of utilitarianism, secularism and Liberalism are the real problem and extremism that Muslims need to deal with, and Muslims should make their utmost efforts to intellectually combat them and those who champion them.
The Messenger of Allah (saw) also said,
من أحدث في أمرنا هذا ما ليس منه فهو رد
‘Whoever brings something that is not from our affair (Islam), it is rejected.’ (Sahih Bukhari)
Categories: ARTICLES, Response to Secular Reformation & Modernism, Secularism, The Muslim Debate Initiative, WRITINGS
Thanks for this interesting article. I think you make many strong points, but I’m not sure I’m convinced by the objection to the label of “extremism”. Let me explain.
When you write:
“An extremist is not someone who follows an ideology/belief system, but rather an extremist is someone who claims to follow a particular one, but holds views which go outside its bounds.”
this seems to me to be how you have personally chosen to define the term, but not what the term by necessity *has* to mean.
I found the Wikipedia article on extremism very informative: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extremism
Part of the confusion that I find arises when Muslims and non-Muslims debate with each other about Muslim extremism is that each party is using the word with a different understanding in mind. What needs to be understood by everyone is that describing an idea or individual as “extremist” assumes that there is some standard to which this idea/individual is being compared. Hence, when Muslims are talking about extremism, they measure this by comparing it to normative Islamic teachings. But when non-Muslims are talking about it, they tend to be comparing it to prevalent Western ideas/values. However, there is a disconnect between the two, meaning that there are some things that, although extreme when compared to dominant Western ideas/values, are not extreme if judging by the standards of traditional Islamic teachings. This is how the confusion arises, most of the time purely innocently, but which then leads to accusations that “moderate” Muslims are being falsely accused of being extremists, when this is not necessarily the case – it’s just that the accusers are judging it by a different standard.
Now, as orthodox Muslims, we undoubtedly *do* hold some views which *are* extreme compared to the currently prevalent ideas and values within Western societies. By definition, that surely makes us extremists with respect to those ideas and values. That doesn’t mean our views are wrong though – it just means that they are very different and fall (in some cases, far) outside the existing societal norms. So yes, some our views may be extreme in that sense. But, then again, those views are also right, and can be shown to be intellectually superior. Extremism is just a word – we don’t need to be scared of or object to it just because it sounds like it means something negative.
As you mention at the beginning of your article, the term “Islamic Extremism” is “attached to a negative preconception” (which I would argue is the case even for the term “extremism” itself, without the “Islamic” qualifier). I submit that what needs to be challenged is the negative preconception that you refer to, and not necessarily the word “extremism” itself.
Salam Uthman, I agree with everything you have said. The problem in the west is, they judge us according to their own paradigm, like we are another assimilated religion in Liberal lands – but we are not of course, as you mention. I guess I was trying to argue that what the West calls Islamic extremism is not ‘extremism’ according to Muslims. But the article was actually addressed to Muslims who have taken on the Western criticism, and ignorantly use the term ‘Islamic Extremism’ or ‘Islamism’ against their brothers and sisters, even though this term is a judgement from the Liberal perspective, not the Islamic perspective.