Dealing with extremism By Syed Imad-ud-Din Asad - Friday, March 18, 2011

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DUE to their absolute and brutal intolerance of dissenting views and modernity, Islamic extremists have succeeded in presenting Islam as the most barbaric way of life ever. Unfortunately, their influence is increasing.
They are never short of recruits and their area of operations has expanded. Ignorance or lack of self-confidence or both are the main reasons for the spread of such vicious attitudes. While ignorant people can easily be influenced and won over, educated, but insecure, individuals are equally prone to falling into the trap laid by clever, confident and determined extremist elements.
Did Adolf Hitler not transform the Germans into a machine bent on destroying all who opposed his ideas of nationhood? Were the Germans not an educated and advanced people at that time, particularly keeping in view the number of Nobel laureates the country had produced?
They had excellent education but faced grave insecurities. The man who appeared to guarantee a secure future was immediately hailed as the saviour and obeyed slavishly. As we know, it was followed by the destruction of Europe and the Holocaust. The exploitation of Germany at the hands of one man should make it easier to understand how ignorant and deprived Muslims can be easily manipulated by selfish and power-hungry leaders.
This is how things generally work in the Muslim world. The majority consists of uneducated masses living in poverty, suppression, with little hope of an end to their miseries. Islam as a religion is usually their only source of solace. However, most of them are not as aware of the teachings of Islam as they ought to be. They know Islam the way it is presented by their
local cleric, who blindly follows a certain senior cleric or his mentor.
All such clerics, instead of consulting the Quran and the Sunnah, in order to know the actual Islamic position on different issues, prefer to follow the interpretations given by a particular scholar or school. Mostly, these interpretations are regarded as binding in nature. Thus, ignorant people are kept ignorant of the real Islam. They remain totally dependant on the cleric, who can drive them in any direction he wants or as instructed by his seniors. This is exactly what extremist organisations like Al Qaeda and the Taliban are doing in order to gather support for their agenda among Muslim populations in different countries.
Suicide blasts, assassinations of dissenters, aversion to modernity and a degrading attitude towards women and non-Muslims are all strictly prohibited by the Quran and the Sunnah. However, taking the examples of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the unaware people are told by the Taliban and scholars who support them that these acts are not only justified, but also necessary to further the cause of Islam. Just as the Germans obeyed the Fuhrer, these Muslims follow the Taliban leaders.
How can such un-Islamic movements in the name of Islam be stopped? Should we wipe them out by pounding them all with heavy artillery? Should we try to convince them to surrender? And if we decide talk to them, what arguments should we employ?
We must first try to convince such Muslims that their beliefs and actions are wrong. As the Taliban have no regard for anything western, it is useless talking to them in terms of universal human rights, etc. We will have to use what they believe in, i.e. arguments from the Quran and Sunnah.
It is important that only the actual Quranic and Hadith texts be relied on, not their interpretations. The reason is simple: it is while interpreting these texts that extremist scholars get an opportunity to present Islam as supporting their outrageous ways and ambitions. If we show two interpretations against them, they would also show two in their favour.
Those who say that the economic development of Muslim communities supporting the Taliban is the real answer to the problem are simply overlooking the religious dimension of the situation. Money and infrastructure will not help unless Islamic arguments are used first. The Taliban do not care about better roads, schools, hospitals; all they want is the imposition of their version of Islam.
We must be absolutely clear that the Taliban, and others like them, are not blowing themselves up for economic boom; they want the Sharia. They need to be shown that the Sharia they want is not the Sharia that has been laid out in the Quran and the Sunnah. Once these people are convinced of their folly, only then we must focus on their individual and collective economic development. Saudi Arabia, which has exported more Islamic militants than any other Muslim country, is implementing measures to debrief and reform such extremist elements in the kingdom. Rehabilitation centres have been set up for captured fanatics. There, in a friendly environment, Islamic scholars discuss with the inmates issues like jihad, terrorism, etc., and, ultimately, convince some of them to change their radical approach.
Upon their release, these former militants are assisted in their plans for education, employment, marriage, etc. Egypt and Yemen have also made similar efforts. The Religious Rehabilitation Group, Singapore, is another good example of how the influence of Islamic terrorist organisations can be countered. The same approach must be adopted in Pakistan. It is like fighting an idea with another idea.
Of course, as in all conflicts, there will be among them those who refuse to accept any logic. For such transgressors, the Quran and the Sunnah provide sufficient penalties.
The writer is a graduate of Harvard Law School and the director of the Centre for Law and Policy, University of Management and Technology, Lahore.

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