Neutralizing Jihadist Stance: The Need for a New Perspective

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Neutralizing Jihadist Stance: The Need for a New Perspective

Ahmet CELIK, PhD                             Hakan Cem Cetin, PhD

Senior Experts
Global Center for Security Studies


An article, published in the French daily Le Parisian on April 21[1], has once again kindled a clash between the West and the East. Titled as “Manifesto against the new anti-Semitism“, the article was written by Philippe Val, a co-founder and former director of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, and signed by more than 250 prominent French figures, among them several intellectuals, artists, politicians, three imams, one Mufti and the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Showing almost the French outlook on Islam, the Manifesto basically demands from Islamic theologians to remove some of the verses in the Quran that call for the killing or punishment of Jews, Christians, and non-believers. According to the Manifesto, Jews people do not feel safe anymore and 50 thousand of them have already moved to another location in France because of fear of French Muslims. It also stresses that owing to widespread anti-Semitism among Muslims, the French Jews are 25 times more at risk of being attacked than the French Muslims.

All around the world, the Manifesto has sparked outrage among Muslims. First, French Muslims reacted furiously to the Manifesto and the rest of the Muslim world came after. A counter-letter signed by 30 French Imams was published in Le Monde right the next day after the publication of the Manifesto.[2]  Dalil Boubakeur of the Grand Mosque of Paris said that the Manifesto “subjected French Muslims and French Islam to an unbelievable and unfair trial”. Tareq Oubrou of the Grand Mosque of Bordeaux pointed out that “Islam was not the only religion whose ancient holy texts contain anachronistic passages.”[3] More harsh responses came from outside of France. Abbas Shoman, Deputy Grand Imam of al-Azhar, who are considered as Egypt’s second top Islamic authority, said that the signatories of the open letter should “go to hell“.[4] Osama El-Abd, the chairman of the Committee on Religious Affairs of The Egyptian parliament, said in his written statement that “The calls to remove verses from the Quran fall on deaf ears and should not be heeded. The committee will, however, take appropriate action against that manifesto and we will have a say in response to this offense against the book of God Almighty.[5] The Turkish President Erdogan also did not miss the opportunity to slam the Manifesto’s signatories as despicable in his presidential election rally with the aim of consolidating his popular support:

An impertinent group appeared in France the other day and issued a declaration asking for some verses to be removed from the Quran. It is so obvious that those who say that have no idea what the Quran is, but have they ever read their own book, the Bible? Or the Torah? Or Psalms? If they had read it, they would probably want the Bible to be banned, as well. But they never have such a problem. The more we warn Western countries about hostility to Islam, hostility to Turks, xenophobia, and racism, the more we get a bad reputation. Hey, the West! Look! …who are you to attack our sacred [values]? We know how despicable you are…”[6]

Bekir Bozdağ, the Deputy Prime Minister and spokesperson of the Turkish government, also condemned the Manifesto by accusing the act of the signatories as “…..literally barbarism and deviance……”[7]

The Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs denounced the Manifesto by saying “it is out of line”, in which “..the signatories are the Western versions of Daesh terrorists..”[8]

…..this approach even creates an environment causing religions and their communities to pitch against one another…

All this uproar shows that the Islamic world has still been unable to comprehend the stance of the Western world when it comes to Islam. As a matter of fact, even the responses of various religious and political authorities in Muslim countries are similar to each other, such as “there are also anti-Semitist verses in the Holly Bible or Jews are committing violence against Palestinians etc.” They give historical examples that Muslims provided a peaceful life to non-Muslims in the history of Islam where the rules come from the very same Quran. In fact, Muslims are unaware of the fact that this attitude gives an impression that there is a competition among the religions, particularly between Islam and the others. This approach even creates an environment causing religions and their communities to pitch against one another.

This manner of the Islamic world is far beyond to provide any reasonable solution to the contemporary problems swirling around Islam, which in turn generates side effects among the Muslim societies where young Muslim generations seem to lose their belief in Islam. As a matter of fact, there is a tendency towards ‘Deism’ among the Muslim youth in which they believe in God but not the prophets or holy books. This is the last stop for them before atheism.[9]

Unless Muslims around the world pay a sincere attention to the global outlook on Islam and explore its root causes, there would undoubtedly be many manifestos similar to the French one in the future. That’s why the Islamic world should first carefully investigate following facts which constitute global outlook on the Islamic world.

  • If the Quran is read from a literalist approach, there are verses in the Quran promoting violence against non-believers or Jews and Christians
  • There are Muslims around the world shouting “Allah-u Akbar” while beheading some innocent people for the sake of Islam.
  • There are terrorist networks such as ISIS, Al Qaeda or Boko Haram shedding blood in the name of God.
  • They legitimize their act with verses of Quran by using a literalist approach.

If it is the case, religious and political authorities in the Islamic world need to change their attitude towards these contemporary problems in which they may start with being mindful and attentive. For this, they have several tools at their hands that were employed by the previous prominent religious individuals. For example, they can explain the verses with the reason of revelation, historical interpretations, and the implementations of the Prophet. It is important that this should be done not as a reaction to the West or a necessary concession but as an endeavor removing the doubts that Islam is not able to find solutions to any modern-day problems.

….there are many zealots in the Islamic world who are totally true believers…. there are also many open-minded people …

Easy to say, but in order to sustain this, it is essential for the Islamic world to change their mindset. Today, there are many zealots in the Islamic world who are totally true believers (fixed mindset) without any possibility to convince them to alter their approach toward Islam. Even though there are also many open-minded people in Muslim societies who do not hesitate to address the modern-era problems in Islam, the zealots who are made up of the majority group among Muslims are not ready yet to face these challenging issues.

As pointed out by some Islamic scholars, framing the issues only through the historical context is problematic for not producing any solution-oriented result. In order to achieve an updated and sustainable interpretation of the Quran, information should be used on the basis of its validity, reliability and justifiability, where it should also be implementable as well as renewable.

From this perspective, notwithstanding the Quran is deemed by Muslims as a divine book containing eternal truth, there are serious problems about its literal interpretations and related fatwas. The fact that the Quran is believed by Muslims as being not changed and above the history does not necessarily mean that its verses could be interpreted as it is and implemented directly to today’s world. Hence, how this outstanding problem will be settled by the Islamic scholars is the greatest challenge ahead of the Islamic world. Some argue that more than the use of the fourteen century-old Islamic traditions, this might be resolved through the principle of jurisprudence (Usul al-fiqh), the principle of interpretation, and the principle of hadith in Islam. Pointing out that this is the way of Prophet Muhammed and his companions while handling the complex cases, some Islamic scholars claim that for resolving many challenging contemporary issues, this is the best way to address them, if it can be applied with due diligence.

If constructive discussions begin under the principle of jurisprudence (Usul al-fiqh) rather than directly targeting the Quran and the Hadiths, it would be more fruitful and solution-oriented since jurisprudence is a production of scholars, such as Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Malik, Imam Shafi’i and Imam Ahmad bin Hanbal as a branch of theology under the science of humanities. In this case, instead of leveling against the Quran and the Hadiths, the discussions would be around the judgments of the Islamic scholars where it may only upset some scholars. This stance is important so as not to offend millions of Muslims living in France as well as more than billion around the World and avoid their marginalization against the West and its institutions. If it is the case, Philippe Val and signatories of the manifesto are perhaps unaware of the fact that their attitude does not help moderate scholars in the Islamic world initiate these discussions in a positive way. They should see that their targeting of the Quran rather than for instance the interpretations of Sayyid Qutb or like-minded scholars creates unnecessary tension between the West and the Muslims, helping unnecessarily Jihadist terrorists justify their fight against the West.

Prophet’s words were not always accepted as a final verdict and occasionally disputed by his companions

As indicated by some moderate Islamic sholars, the Muslim world should also carefully mull over the relations between Prophet Muhammed and his companions, where his words were not always accepted as a final verdict and occasionally disputed by his companions. His companions were normally free to raise their concerns, if it is not related to the rules of any worshiping. They could use their intellect when it comes to any matter of social life. For example, Hubab ibn-i Mundhir, one of prophet’s prominent companions, came and raised his concern about the Prophet’s war strategy, which was about the positioning of the army in the battlefield. He asked the Prophet whether or not this positioning strategy of the army was an order directly comes from the God? After the Prophet’s response that it was his strategy, he suggested an alternative positioning for the Army where upon the acceptance by the Prophet, the victory was obtained.[10]

During the four-major-caliph-era, some practices that seemed to be contrary what the Quran was saying could be observed

After Prophet Muhammed, a similar approach was followed by his close friends. During the four-major-caliph-era, some practices that seemed to be contrary what the Quran was saying could be observed, one of which was occurred in the reign of Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, the second caliph of the Prophet. According to verse 9:60 of the Quran, qualification for zakat benefactors is clearly categorized as eight groups, one of which is al-mu’allafatu qulūbuhum (people who are sympathetic to or expected to convert to Islam). Prophet Muhammed implemented this rule consistent with the verse, but after him Omar Ibn Al-Khattab opposed this view with a justification that al-mu’allafatu qulūbuhum did not qualify to benefit from Zakat, since Islam as powerful enough did not need these people as its allies. From this example, it could be alleged that Omar clearly acted against the Quranic verse and the practice of the Prophet. He did not remove the verse from the Quran, but he had only suspended the verse in his time and location. He rightly saw that the time and its people were matured enough to interpret that verse again, which was more relevant to practice. He believed that the time was changed completely where this category became null and void to be implemented in any way.

..practice of Omar Ibn Al-Khattab that also seems to be against Quranic verses and the Prophet.

There is another practice of Omar Ibn Al-Khattab that also seems to be against Quranic verses and the Prophet. When his army conquered Iraq he again suspended the implementation of one of the Quranic verses regarding war booty. Contrary to the Quran’s word and the practice of the Prophet, Omar Ibn Al-Khattab refused to distribute the land of Iraq to the fighters. He believed that if such a huge land had been distributed to 100 thousand soldiers participating in this war, it would have created financially an unbalanced Muslim society. Instead, he put the control of the land firmly in the hands of the Bayt al-mal, a financial institution responsible for the administration of taxes and distributions of zakat revenues for the public use in the Islamic states. In this example, it is seen that a problem having a unique and temporal aspects allowed Omer to suspend some verses of the Quran and the practice of the Prophet by interpreting another verse (Hashr Verse 7) of the Quran as a support of his opinion.

….It could be seen that the verses do not curse Jewish people as a whole…….  ……The verses describe some of the bad characteristics of some Jews and condemn these characteristics….

It seems that it is the same case for the verses levelled by the French Manifesto. For example, the verse 9:5 directly targets the Makkah’s polytheists who were trying constantly to kill Prophet Muhammed and thus eliminate Islam forever. They had broken their agreement with the Muslims and made them subject to abuse and persecution in Mecca. Upon this relentless adversity, abovementioned revelation came to Prophet Muhammed. As reasons for revelation is crucial to better grasp where the verse is relevant, this verse is not automatically applicable to anyone anytime and anywhere. Similarly, there are many verses accusing Jewish people, however, when they are carefully examined within the context of the reasons of revelation it could be seen that the verses do not curse Jewish people as a whole. The verses describe some of the bad characteristics of some Jews and condemn these characteristics which could be found not only among Jews, but also among all human beings. Unfortunately, a literalist approach could lead Muslims in a wrong direction as observed in the radical jihadist groups like the ISIS, the Al-Qaeda, and the Boko Haram.

Western civilization has been enriched with a variety of new ideas that was generated by the great Muslim thinkers in the first centuries of Islam.

What could one infer from these historical contexts? According to some moderate Islamic scholars, majority of Muslims in the Islamic world have got the wrong idea that whatever the Prophet did and said in his life is the last word and binding to all Muslims until the end of the World. These scholars claim that this attitude among Muslims was developed after the 13th century and has ben lasting ever since, despite the fact that it was opposite during the life of the Prophet and his close friends, as well as during the ‘Islamic Golden Age’ (8th to 13th centuries). Throughout the first centuries of Islam, Muslims inspired by the independent thinking and the free will that have been encouraged by their faith changed the world, and their quest for knowledge as well as learning paved the way for the great achievments of their time. Even the Western civilization, depending so much on their work, has been enriched with a variety of new ideas that was generated by the great Muslim thinkers in the first centuries of Islam. Islam’s influence ultimately initiated the Renaissance in Europe, which was produced by the ideas of the Greek philosophers sieved through Muslims. In this regard, Islam has functioned as a conduit for the cultural forms of the Western civilization, which might have vanished otherwise.

The Muslims and the Westerners like the signatories of the Manifesto do not know that Islam can adapt itself to suit the time that people live in.

These historical examples reveal another fact that both the Muslims and the Westerners like the signatories of the Manifesto do not know that Islam can adapt itself to suit the time that people live in. Muslims as well others need to change their attitude toward Islam and its sources. The Jurisprudence of Islam under able scholars and sincere religious leaders from different parts of the Muslim world has adaptability to transform Islam. Without knowing these facts related to sources, fist fighting over the Quran and the Prophet only causes Muslims to be offended and be radicalized, which only plays into the hands of terrorist groups like the ISIS or the Boko Haram. That’s why, rather than publishing any manifestos or counter-manifestos, both sides need to calm down and come together to discuss the issues with scientifically approved methodologies.















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