Current Conflicts: Is Islam the Problem? by Mirza Ashraf

Islam has often been viewed by the Westerners as a militant and dangerous faith. In present times the world is obsessed with Islam as a hub of terrorism. Certain Qur’anic verses are seen as sufficiently ferocious to justify atrocities by its believers. Islam seems to be behind a broad range of international disorders: suicide attacks, car bombings, military oppressions, riots, fatawas, jihads, guerrilla warfare, threatening videos, and September 11 itself. Why are these things taking place? ‘Islam’ seems to offer an instant and uncomplicated analytical touchstone, enabling us to make sense of today’s convulsive world. Though this image of a violent Islam is not new, it is now more readily conveyed because of the dilapidated condition of the states where Muslims live and rule today. However, if scriptures are to be considered responsible for justifying violence, then there is far more violence in the Bible than in the Qur’an.

Many Western writers have deeply probed the bitter struggle in the Muslim world between the forces of religion and law and those of violence and lawlessness. Noah Feldman has viewed in his book, The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State that, “When empires fall, they tend to stay dead. The same is true of government system. … The fall of the Soviet bloc dealt a deathblow to communism; now no one expects Marx to make a comeback. … Today, there are, however, two prominent examples of governing systems re-emerging after that had apparently ceased to exist. One is democracy, a form of government that had some limited success in a small Greek city-state for a couple of hundred years, disappeared, and then resurrected some two thousand years later. … The other [trying to emerge] is the Islamic State.” Islam’s political and religious conceptions remain active within the precept of Islam din wa dawla. Within this concept, Islam in its past, exclusively paid attention to things and matters that appear to be of this world and is thus recognized to be more of a socially and politically world-based religion. Its concept of divine sovereignty, akin to the sovereignty of the natural law, and man as the conductor of politics—a Khalifa, or viceroy of God—makes it easy for different cultures and traditions to accept. For the West the Islamic political system (not religion) must be stamped out just as communism; and this is the core of current conflict between the world of Islam from Marrakesh to Indonesia and the Western democratic idealism. Addressing the Security Council, Michael Gorbachov said that in the new world order there is no place for ideologies, and the Western powers not only seconded his call, but jumped into arena declaring that Shari’ah law of political Islam in the modern Muslim world is a serious threat to democracy.

Protagonists of democracy and for many modern readers, it may seem strange to include religion in the subject of political science. But Muslims believe that for more than thirteen centuries political Islam has significantly remained dominant in the world with its own logic. Islamic governments ruled states—though separated in time and divided in boundaries and size—through a common political concept founded according to God’s law revealed in the Qur’an as Shari’ah and interpreted by the precepts of the Prophet of Islam as his Sunnah. In the present time there is a major concern that some of the ways in which political Islam manifests itself are anti-Western, anti-secular, anti-modern, and undemocratic. Modern democracy, following the fall of the Berlin Wall, is considered to be accelerating the process of globalization and bringing nations into a common economic and political ground. On the other hand for the Muslim world this new phenomenon is a challenge to its concept of universal Islam. Muslims are striving to justify—within the framework of the Qur’an and Shari’ah—how universal Islam can blur the line between Islamic and Western principles regarding certain key concepts pertaining to globalization, particularly, in the context of a responsible government, political accountability, equal citizenship, freedom of choice, quick and fair justice, and right of equal say.

Although the Islamic world today is in a dilapidated state, Islam is still that remarkable culture and civilization which is proud of its past and hopes for a brilliant future.  Unfortunately, like many other human activities, religion has often been abused by religious as well as political leaders. In Islam, religion and politics are linked together, and any politically motivated violent step taken by Muslims is considered an act inspired by their religion. Acts of violence or terrorism committed by some Muslim groups, instead of being interpreted as Islamic terrorism, need to be first assessed in a political perspective. But it is also true that secularism has surpassed religion in the gravity of violence in the past as well as in present times. What are the reasons then for the current trend that portrays Islam and its teachings as instigating terrorism, war, and anti-West feelings, whereas secular nations’ terrorist acts are being ignored?

War and conflict are geopolitical rather than exclusively religious phenomena. Warfare antedates religion and is as old as man himself.  Thus there has been a continuum of prescriptural tension between the peoples of the European and Middle Eastern regions. It is not a hidden fact that, ever since the Crusades, the people of Western Christendom developed a stereotypical and distorted image of Islam, which they regarded as the enemy of decent civilization and Islam was described by the scholar-monks of Europe as an inherently violent and intolerant faith. The myth of the supposed fanatical intolerance of Islam has become one of the received ideas of the West.Now terrorism is being challenged as war, and efforts are being made to eliminate terrorists by force. The use of force is escalating the situation, however, and it is perceived that the terrorists are multiplying rather than decreasing in number. Therefore, as long as the actual strategic logic of the terrorists is not understood, it seems a difficult “war” to win. In Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam, John Esposito wrote, “The Muslim world is no longer ‘out there.’ Muslims are our neighbors, colleagues, and fellow citizens, and their religion, like Judaism and Christianity, rejects terrorism…. All of us are challenged to move beyond stereotypes, historic grievances, and religious differences, to recognize our shared values as well as interests, and to move collectively to build our common future.”

What went wrong with Islamic civilization, whose compelling religious idea gave birth to a system of beliefs and morals, to a political and social order that has withstood the test of more than a millennium of history across vast regions, cultures, languages, and peoples from Central Asia to Central Africa and Morocco to Indonesia? What then is Shari’ah, why it is cherished by the Muslims even today, and why it is a danger to the modern democracies? Can the Islamic political system succeed today? Even Western scholars of Political Islam like Martin Kramer, Noah Feldman, Graham Fuller, Antony Black, Hans King and many more, reveal that the classical Islamic constitution governed through almost thirteen centuries was legitimated by law. Executive powers were balanced by the Islamic scholars who interpreted and administrated the Shari’ah and interpreted it to be compatible with every period, changing time, and evolving societies of the different regions where Islam ruled. But Islamic political system was overrun by the European colonists. After the independence of Muslim states, this balance of power was totally destroyed by the tragically incomplete reforms of modern era. Consequently, today, unchecked executive dominance distorting politics in many of the independent Muslim states has destroyed the justice system and thus the absence of law and order. For some moderate Muslims if new institutions emerge and Muslim scholars help restore constitutional balance of power, a modern Islamic state can provide political and legal justice within its concept of  din wa dawla.

Today the Arab world and other Muslim countries are politically barren. Political Islam of the past is powerlessly dormant and the believers are in pursuit of a political ideology that should be compatible with their religion as well as present time. Human beings instinctively long for an ideology that can command their allegiance for which they should be able to progress, and whenever required, to lay down their life. For the Muslims with no ideology the only hope is their religion with its glorious past and a hope of its great future. Consequently, the madrasahs have become their educational institutions; mosques have become arenas of their political debates—places that cannot be banned in Muslim societies. Thus, one great cause of the rise of radical Islam and sponsorship of terrorism is the lack, failure, or poor performance of genuine political institutions and absence of modern education in their madrasahs all over the Muslim world. For the Western world any ideology yearning to rejuvenate and rise against or even parallel to Western democracy is unacceptable and an Islamic political system and its Shari’ah Law is a danger much bigger than communism. For the Muslims Islamic political thought is a significant part of their religion and their history. It comprises a coherent, ongoing tradition with logic of its own, conspicuously separate from the Western political system.

Western civilization succeeded in turning the course of history in its favor by politically dividing the Muslim world into small states. The doctrine of dar al-Islam suffered a big blow from this division, but the ideology of universal Islam remained firmly rooted in the heart of every Muslim. However, it is still a question; will it ever be possible again for the Muslim countries to develop as an independent centre of political, economic, and cultural power? Or will it continue, as much of it does now, to nurse old wounds and curse the new world order? But old wounds of failure and victimization are psychobiological complexes that haunt nations for generations. Nations that are oppressed and find themselves hard-pressed under the heels of economic and military power resort to revolts against the oppressors. Those that do not possess the logistics for adequate warfare or enough power to face a much stronger oppressor either persevere or express their resentment through terrorism.