Shadi Hijazi

Ph.D., Higher ed. management consultant | London

Terrorism and violent ideologies are a plague facing humanity and modern civilisation. Over the last few years in particular, the rise of terrorist and barbaric actions by groups claiming to be inspired by Islamic teachings has become a real threat to modern civilisation. This has triggered a cautious, sometime extreme, reaction from non-Muslims in the west.

Facing this threat, some in the west were unable to understand its criminal logic, and thus accused the religion itself to be the source of evil, which is counterproductive. Dealing with such serious threat should be based on a good understanding of the enemy in order to fight it effectively. In this fight, having a unified front of people of various ideologies and backgrounds against extreme and violent ideologies would be crucial, and muslims in particular would be most effective in disarming this enemy, taking away its recruitment tools and exposing it for the fraud it is. The west, and the United States in particular with its founding principles of freedom and civil liberties, is well poised to lead on that effort with Muslims around the globe.

A starting point in forming this alliance would be to highlight that the source of this criminal ideology is not religion. Islamic teachings are very clear in advocating peace, refusing any aggression towards others (Muslims and non-Muslims), celebrating charitable and voluntary work in communities, and obeying civil laws. There is no central authority for Muslims, and they are required to follow the laws and regulations in the countries they live in, which they do. Extremists flourish where traditional authorities are absent, either because of war that destroyed the country authorities in the real world or on the dark corners of the internet. In both cases they aim to establish new authorities in this vacuum, that in reality contradict Islam. This is often done by taking religious texts out of their historical, cultural and textual context, and using them to create the extremist’s violent cultish version.

Unfortunately, people who are not knowledgable enough in Islam might also fall in the extremists propaganda trap, and use the same text fragments to wrongly paint all of Islam in the same violent light. Recent examples of such phenomena include: trying to reinstate a “caliphate”, attacking “non-Muslim infidels”, and “enslavement”. Such horrific concepts wrongly attributed to Islam by the likes of “Islamic State” and by Islamophobes at the same time.

In reality, it is well understood by educated Muslims that these examples, and many more promoted by extremists, are merely aggressive attacks against humanity, with fake “islamic” masks. Taking the concept of the “caliphate” for a start, this is an outdated concept that predates the creation of nation state, and not part of the religion. Muslims today are required to follow the civil laws of their nations. Another example is dealing with people from other creed. Throughout Muslim history, freedom of faith and of speech is accepted and guaranteed. This is what Muslims believe in today, except in the case of libel and defamation where the courts of the land they live in is the judge. As for slavery, Islam treated it as something that need to be eliminated gradually. As early as the 7th century, Islam greatly limited this phenomenon, treated slaves as human beings rather than property, and greatly encouraged freeing slaves as a virtuous act. Practices that were ahead of practices by non-muslims of the day. More recently, Muslim countries legislations clearly banned slavery since last century, as did most nations in the world. In all of these cases, and many more, extremists exploit the uneducated in their recruitment. Educated Muslims are better equipped to face such cases of falsification and criminal recruitment.

Unfortunately, such practices of using text fragments out of context has succeeded in recruiting terrorists. Time after time, it would be young second-generation Muslims or newly-converts who commit terrorist acts. Those individuals, in most cases, do not have a proper Islamic education. More importantly, they consider their religious group as an “identity”, and due to a shallow and limited understanding of their “identities”, they are easily manipulated by extremist ideologies that try to weaponize religion for political reasons. A phenomenon seen with recruitment for the Mujahidin in Afghanistan in the 1980s and more recently for the “Islamic State in Iraq and Syria”, better known as Daesh by Muslims who don’t accept any relationship of this cult with their religion. It is usually the misguided youth who are recruited by such groups especially when they feel isolated within their community and that their “Islamic Identity” is not accepted by those around them.

This explains why the most radicals in “Daesh” and terrorists in the west come from secular countries. They are easily influenced by extremist propaganda and they are prone to ideological manipulations. This is the real source of security concerns nowadays, rather than traditionally educated or conservative Muslims.

In today’s connected world, dealing with this threat by closing borders and limiting liberties will not stop dangerous ideologies from reaching the naïve in any country, radicalising them, and creating lone-wolf terrorists or “mujahidin” out of them. On the contrary, such measures would lead vulnerable people to feel threatened and alienated within the communities they are born in, and seek other sources of identity, leading them to those who would use them to create divisions and perpetrate criminal activities.

The best vaccine against the global phenomenon of extremism and hate percolating throughout the communities is to understand that conservative or pious Muslims, who can freely dress modestly, wear a hijab, and have some dietary requirements, are far from being the threat. They are instead the main stakeholders in defending the world from so called “Islamic Extremism”. A young person raised in a family that feels free to practice its religion will feel part of the society and be an important defence in their communities against extremist ideologies. Similarly, migrants who fled the terror of international extremists flooding to their countries, as in the case of those coming from Syria, can also help local communities understand the dangers of such extreme ideologies and how it ruined peaceful and pluralistic societies. These fellow Muslim citizens and vetted refugees would be extremely valuable in stopping radicalisation. Their effectiveness in such context is another reason why terrorist groups target them or try to show them as an enemy or infiltrators. Extremists want to fuel suspicion between them and their communities to stop such fruitful collaboration.

Another area of collaboration to fight this global threat is working together to stop hate speech against any religious or ethnic communities nationally and internationally. Hate speech aim to create warring sides between various communities, and national and international consensus on fighting it relentlessnessly is essential. In reality, the real fight is between the majority of people in this world on one side, and extremists of all types on the other.

When the majority are showing unity, extremism have no chance to succeed. This unity is the one that accepts and celebrates diversity, as stated in Quran (49:13): “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of God is the most righteous of you. Indeed, God is all knowing, all aware.”