The Nigerian Muslims,” The “Intellectuals” and Islam (2) By Muhammad Mahmud
The unbridled tagging of Muslims as extremists, sometimes as a ploy to silence, blackmail, intimidate or put them on the defensive, by the ““intellectuals””, calls for serious consideration and re-examination of its definition, its meaning in Islam and expose the concealed fallacies or misconstruals. What exactly is this extremism? Is there any agreeable definition usable on every other person by any other person?
Extremism is simply defined as holding of extreme political or religious views or taking extreme actions on the basis of those views. But this is an open ended definition, which is, clearly subject to interpretations.
Some define it as an ideology (particularly in politics or religion), considered to be far outside the mainstream attitudes of a society or to violate “common moral standard”. This definition is also as open ended as the previous one.
Dr. Peter T. Coleman and Dr. Andrea Bartoli give short observation of definitions of extremism, thus: “Extremism is a complex phenomenon, although its complexity is often hard to see. Most simply, it can be defined as activities (beliefs, attitudes, feelings, actions, strategies) of a character far removed from the ordinary. In conflict settings it manifests as a severe form of conflict engagement. However, the labelling of activities, people, and groups as “extremist”, and the defining of what is “ordinary” in any setting is always a subjective and political matter.” They, went on to suggest that “any discussion of extremism (should) be mindful of the following: Typically, the same extremist act will be viewed by some as just and moral (such as pro-social “freedom fighting”), and by others as unjust and immoral (antisocial “terrorism”) depending on the observer’s values, politics, moral scope, and the nature of their relationship with the actor. In addition, one’s sense of the moral or immoral nature of a given act of extremism (such as Nelson Mandela’s use of guerrilla war tactics against the South African Government) may change as conditions (leadership, world opinion, crises, historical accounts, etc.) change. Thus, the current and historical context of extremist acts shapes our view of them. Power differences also matter when defining extremism. When in conflict, the activities of members of low power groups tend to be viewed as more extreme than similar activities committed by members of groups advocating the status quo.”
After the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby, the British government described extremism as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.
The foregoing gives us a picture of how complex and slanted the definition of the term could be. The fact that the term is subjective and based on preconceived notion(s) neutralised the agreeability of the definitions, thus making futile the attempts to validly use it on others with finality.
It might be argued that the discussion is on Islamic extremism, not the general term, agreed, but in order to fully understand the issue at stake, there is need to appreciate the general meaning of the word and the absence of a universally accepted definition will open our eyes and prepare our minds. Islamic extremism, according to some, refers to two related and partially overlapping but also distinct aspects of extremist interpretations and pursuits of Islamic ideology. This is clear from the definitions of Brian R. Farmer, who said it is as an extremely conservative view of Islam, which doesn’t necessarily entail violence even though it may have an emphasis on Jihad. While Ira Marvin Lapidus described it as the use of extreme tactics such as bombing and assassinations for achieving perceived Islamic goals.
Zeyno Baran, Senior Fellow and Director of the Centre for Eurasian Policy at the Hudson Institute (US), argues that Islamist extremism is a better term, to distinguish the political ideology from the religion. He seems to be referring to the so called “political Islam”. The British government insists that “Islamist extremism is an ideology that accuses the West of perpetrating a war on Islam.” From the above, we can deduce that, like many other terms, Islamic extremism has, also, no generally acceptable definition even among non Muslims. This is compounded by the bulging disparity between those definitions and Islamic definition of the term. Whereas, for instance, some believe it is an “extremely conservative view of Islam”, there may be nothing wrong in holding those views in Islam as far as they do not exceed the limit islamically. In fact, in some cases, those “conservative views” are what every Muslim is commanded to hold on to. The so called “conservative views” are themselves subject to interpretations. What are these (unascertained) “conservative views”? Are they modesty, kindness, patience, teetotalism, self respect, etc? Are they holding firm to the tenets of the religion, agitating for Shari’a, wearing Hijab, etc? Are they protesting against blasphemy, hash-tagging against Zionist’s Genocide, refusing to put aside one’s Islamic identity? Or are they, as Britain puts it, blaming the west for perpetrating war against Islam? There are so many questions. Whereas any of those virtues could be misapplied or take the form of extremism, if stretched beyond the islamically accepted perimeter and/or could lead to fatality or will jeopardise lives and properties, as the case might be, the virtues, even if considered as conservative by others, are not, on their own, regarded as extremism in Islam, thus people holding dearly onto them are not extremists, contrary to what the “intellectuals” seems to posit. Rather it is the circumstances and manner of approach they are applied, as the case might be, that will define them. You cannot label someone as an extremist because he is too devoted to his faith for your liking.
The absurdity, of blaming the victim attitude, of the “intellectuals” is mindboggling. To them, whatever befalls Muslims it is their fault. They blame Muslims of “lack of understanding of Islam” which resulted in all the atrocities they are facing. Suffice it to say that the verses of Quran and hadiths of the prophet squarely debunked this, as they made it clear that this will happen as far as we remain Muslims, there are available facts and evidences that negate their ridiculous claim. The “intellectuals” seems to be more worried that we maintain our identity than the attacks on us. One is at a loss, what exactly is the problem if Muslims hold on to their identities? Why should anyone feel threatened that I say I am a Muslim, for instance? Is my saying “I am a Muslim” synonymous with “I hate non Muslims”? Why is it not the other way round? It should be clearly understood that the guiding principles of Muslims living together with non Muslims is clearly stated in Quran “Allah does not forbid you to deal JUSTLY and KINDLY with those who fought not against you on account of religion nor drove you out of your homes. Verily, Allah love those who deal with equity. It is only as regards those who fought against you on account of religion, and have driven you out of your homes, and helped to drive you out, that Allah forbids you to befriend them. And whosoever will befriend them, then such are Zalimun (wrong-doers,-those who disobey Allah” (60:8-9). What else does anyone need to say? Nigerian Muslims have, at one time or the other, been unfairly labeled as extremist by the “intellectuals” based one of these views or the other. It was/is even yuya fad, among them, to rush into such generalised labeling, as if with a glee, putting aside every manner of caution expected from them, as public commentators that need to gauge their pen.
Paradoxically, the “intellectuals” usually blame the Muslims of lack of good understanding of the Quran or being literalists and so on, but they seldom attempt to give their own version which they believe is the good understanding of the religion. Even the claim that certain understanding of Quran is a literalist’s interpretation need to be backed with incontrovertible evidences, or at least countered with figurative and/or allegorical interpretation as explained by the exegetes. Hermeneutics is absolutely the way to go about when seeking to understand the Quran, not the other way round. Quran is not a novel that you could go through its translated version and master it overnight.
Islam is unambiguously clear that it abhors any kind of extremism. It is a religion of wasatiyyah (The term al-wasatiyyah is derived from an Arabic word “wasat” which means middle, fair, just, moderate, milieu and setting). Allah says: “Thus, have We made of you an Ummah (Community) justly balanced (wasatan), that ye might be witnesses over the nations, and the Messenger a witness over yourselves…” (al-Baqarah 143). “In order that you may not transgress (due) balance. And observe the weight with equity and do not make the balance deficient” (Ar-Rahman 8-9). And let not your hand be tied (like a miser) to your neck, nor stretch it forth to its utmost reach (like a spendthrift), so that you become blameworthy and in severe poverty. (Al-Isra’ 29) There are so many other verses. Also the prophet (SAW) has warned against going to the extreme in various ahadith. He said “Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded.” (Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 2, Number 38). The prophet (SAW) practically displayed this as A’isha (RA) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was never given the choice between two things but he would choose the easier of the two, so long as it was not a sin; if it was a sin he would be the furthest of the people from it Narrated by al-Bukhaari (3367) and Muslim (2327) Examples are in abundance, only that what is islamically moderate an extremism to some.
The problem lies where the “intellectuals” wanted to judge fellow Muslims and talk to them with a western mind. How can a Nigerian Muslim, for instance, ever cease to be an extremist as far as the British government or Brian Farmer’s definitions are concerned?
Perhaps, this arrogance and dishonesty, in no small way helped in making a near permanent rift between the “intellectuals” and the mainstream Nigerian Muslims. While they view the people as extremists they are generally regarded as western apologists by the Nigerian Muslims.
The Nigerian Muslims, contrary to the “intellectuals”’ perception of them, are generally peace loving and (Islamically) moderate. This is not denying that there are some kinds of elements of extremism, within Islamic context (not as understood by the “intellectuals”), among Muslims that actually need to be addressed by ulama. But this is a topic for another day.
Looking at the composition of the Nigerian Muslims, it is foolhardy to accuse them of extremism the way the “intellectuals” do. Take a look at the two major sects within the Nigerian Muslims viz. the Tariqah (Tijjaniyyah and Qadiriyyah) and the Izala (including the splinter groups), who have the largest followership in the country; one can safely conclude that both are relatively moderate. While the former are Sufis (ascetic and mystical) largely regarded as “traditionalists”, the later, to an extent are what some call modernist/fundamentalists. Despite some skirmishes between them, none of them could be accused, with evidence, of “extremism” (within the context of this discussion). The recorded crises between Muslims and Christians across the country were, mainly, socio-cultural and/or political crises that took religious dimensions.
Having said this, a look at the bigger picture of extremism is very relevant, as we are presently inundated with its horrors and living with its impact from every angle.
I was shocked when a commentator, among the “intellectuals”, subtly seem to opine that whenever issues like the Gaza Genocide arises, as heated debate ensued, the likes of Shekau comes to his mind. He seemed to be equating any anti-west or pro-Islam activity as extremism informed by lack of “good understanding” of Islam. This is an amazing display of complete ignorance about our extremists and the greatest unfairness meted to the Muslims. The extremists have a completely different understanding of Islam with the Nigerian Muslims. They have different fiqh, different worldview, almost completely different understanding of the scriptures with the Nigerian Muslims. The obvious confusion going on in the minds of many intellectuals, which made it difficult for them to spot the stark difference, is unfortunate.
Perhaps, this part should be discussed subsequently.
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