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The Responsibility of Ayatollahs and Muftis for Terrorism

Terrorists groups and cults have murdered thousands of people over the past two decades. Their most important victims have been Muslims, however. People around the world, particularly Muslims, feel utterly insecure, as they believe that they might be killed by terrorists. If we have any hope of uprooting it we must talk about the root cause of the problem and the role that governments around the world have played in the emergence of this phenomenon

Islam, Muslims, and Terrorism

The question is, are the terrorists carrying out Islamic teachings? One can address the question from two distinct perspectives, that of Western governments and of Muslims themselves.

Western leaders believe that the right position is what President Obama and many European officials have taken, namely, rejecting the terrorists as Muslims and their terror as Islamic. For example, the President has said that Daesh (also known as the self-proclaimed Islamic State, ISIS and ISIL) is neither a state nor Islamic. In his speech from the White House to the nation on December 6, the President said, "ISIL does not speak for Islam. They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death, and they account for a tiny fraction of more than a billion Muslims around the world -- including millions of patriotic Muslim Americans who reject their hateful ideology."

Of course, if Western leaders talk about the terrorists as Muslims that follow Islamic teachings, it will have grave consequences. It will spread Islamophobia; provoke anti-Western sentiments in the Islamic world, and bestow upon terrorism religious legitimacy, hence making it easier for the terrorists to recruit new members. Despite such glaringly obvious facts, there are still politicians who refer to Muslims as animals and "rabid dogs" that need special treatment.

For Muslims, unconditional condemnation of terrorism, regardless of its ideological and religious roots, is the first step in uprooting it. The next step is identifying the basis of terrorism in the religion that "justifies" violence.

Shiites regard Daesh as apostates. In his recent November meeting with President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow of Turkmenistan Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, "Islam is a religion of brotherhood, mercy and charity toward others and these crimes [terrorism] have nothing to do with Islam," adding, "The best way of neutralizing their influence is strengthening rational and moderate Islamic thinking." Sadegh Larijani, Iran's judiciary chief and a cleric himself, said on December 7, "The true Islam whose roots are in spirituality, morality and divine values cannot produce trash like Daesh. The engine of terrorist and takfirist groups is Wahhabism [the official religion in Saudi Arabia]." Takfiri is the belief of groups like Daesh that other Muslims have deviated from the" true faith" as they interpret it.

Though they strongly condemn terrorism, many Sunni clerics do not consider members of groups like Daesh as apostates.

During a Conference in Cairo during the second week of December, Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb said, "ISIS militants are acting under the guise of this holy religion and have given themselves the name 'Islamic State' in an attempt to export their false Islam." Then, Al-Azhar issued a statement formally rejecting the labeling of Daesh fighters as apostates and declaring, "Al-Azhar rejects the takfirism of ISIS . . . Because takfirism cannot be applied to any believer, regardless of his sins." The statement did say that Daesh must be fought and destroyed, and its fighters killed. More importantly is the fact that 70,000 Indian Muslim clerics issued a Fatwa declaring Daesh, al-Qaeda, Taliban, and similar groups as not Islamic.

How An Anti- Western Islamic Identity is Formed

No human being is without an identity. Collective identity emerges through power relations, and distinguishes "us" from "them." If the collective identity is against the one that is supported by a society's organs, it becomes a stronghold for resistance and survival. Those who have been eliminated try to eliminate the eliminators.

As Indian economist and philosopher, and Harvard University Professor Amartya Sen posited in his book, Identity and violence: The Illusion of Destiny, there is no singular identity. The reductionists and monopolists try to reduce individual identity to a specific issue or group. It is as if "Islam" is someone's entire identity, whereas there are many things that contribute to creation of multiple identities for a person.

Creating identity is confronted by many limitations. People and groups create identity for themselves based on the societal developments and their own expediency. Colonialism, humiliation, and military aggression provide the foundations for a "reactive identity" in reaction to what is happening, and under such circumstances people try to present themselves totally different from "others." In the case of Islamic countries, presenting oneself in a way entirely different from the Western aggressors and military occupiers is moving toward a singular identity in which confronting the West plays the key role. It is under such conditions that Muslim identity becomes vastly different from its Western counterpart.

Lieutenant General William G. Boykin, deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence during the George W. Bush administration, once declared that, "I KNEW that my God was bigger than his [the terrorist]. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol." President Bush himself once referred to war on terrorism as a "crusade." He also claimed that God told him to invade Iraq. His daily briefings on Iraq began with a quote from the Bible.

Thus, the problem has not been just military invasion and humiliation. The main problem is that invading and attacking Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, supporting attacks on Yemen and sending drones there and to Pakistan and collective aggression of the West and its allies against Syria, have destroyed not only their governments and military. They have also destroyed their social fabrics, transformed security into an impossible dream and afflicted their people with adversity and permanent threat.

People who constantly face direct threats are far more religious than those who have grown up in more secure, more comfortable and more predictable environments.

In their book, Sacred and Secular: Religion and Politics Worldwide, Pippa Norris [who teaches at Harvard University Kennedy School] and Ronald Inglehart [a political scientist at the University of Michigan] state that feeling of vulnerability against threats and danger is an important factor in people turning to religion. According to these two scholars, the people who constantly face direct threats are "far more religious than those who have grown up in more secure, more comfortable and more predictable environments." They say, "We consider lack of human security very important to religiosity." The reason is that the need for religious reassurance becomes imperative in the absence of human security, but becomes less important when there is more security. Daesh and similar groups have been born in such circumstances, and by referring to religious sources and religious scholars create an "anti-Western Muslim."

The Resources for Creating Anti-Western Muslims

Religious texts are read by their adherents to create various interpretations of Judaism, Islam, Christianity, etc. Every understanding and interpretation of religious texts is selective. The reader considers some parts as the principal sections, and others are the minor parts. Religious fundamentalism is an interpretation of a religion that opens the way to violence.

The Quran has 6236 verses, but according to the commonly-held view, including those of many well-known theologians, including Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazālī (1058-1111) and Imam Fakhruddin Razi (1149-1209), there are only about 500 judicial verses regarding the Quranic rulings. That is less than one-twelfth of the Quran. Most of the Quran's verses are of worshiping type, and the word "jihad" and related phrases are repeated only 32 times. Despite this, throughout history Muslim scholars have selectively decided that the judicial verses constitute the main part of the Quran.

In Shiite and Sunni seminaries - Al-Azhar in Egypt, Qum in Iran, Najaf in Iraq, the madrassahs in Pakistan, etc. - the Islamic jurisprudence that is taught can be the basis for violence and systematic violation of human rights. Saudi Arabia funds thousands of such madrassahs all over the world. What are the values that they teach?

One is inequality of Muslims and non-Muslims, men and women, and Muslim scholars and laymen.

The second "value" that is taught about punishments for various offenses, such as cutting a thief's hand, stoning of adulterers, execution for killing someone, "war against God" (which is widely open to interpretation as to what constitutes such a war), apostasy, drinking alcohol, insulting the religion, Fatwa for killing anyone who claims to be a new prophet, mandatory hijab for women...

But, there is no order in the Quran for terror, and Prophet Muhammad said, "Faith or Islam is the impediment to terror. A pious does not terrorize."

Faith or Islam is the impediment to terror. A pious does not terrorize.

There were many supporters of terrorism in the first two centuries of Islam. Three Caliphs that ruled after the Prophet, namely, Omar ibn Kattab, Uthman ibn Affan, and Ali ibn Abi Talib [the Prophet's paternal first cousin and son-in-law] were assassinated, but the assassins could not quote the Prophet or any verse from the Quran to justify their crime. Wasil ibn Ata, a leader of Mu'tazilah [a school of Islamic theology based on reason and rational thought], said about a poet who had used profanity, "If terror was not something that only the extremists do, I would send someone to stab him in the abdomen." In other words, he considered terror as haram [banned by Islam].

But, according to the jurisprudence that is taught in many places, one can assassinate both Muslims and non-Muslims. When three out of the four Caliphs that ruled after the Prophet were assassinated, it would not be difficult to do the same to others. It was based on such jurisprudence that the Ismailiyah cult assassinated a large number of people about a thousand years ago. The same was used by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to issue his infamous Fatwa against Salman Rushdie, about which Khamenei said that even if Rushdie repents, the Fatwa cannot be changed.

Some Islamic jurists conjure up religious trickeries to find a way to address a problem. Because the Prophet had explicitly blocked terror and assassination, they found a way for stealth assassination. Thus, they are responsible for violence and extremism perpetrated in Islam's name.

The Koran as a Manifesto of Peace

Let me emphasize again: Islam is reformable and compatible with secularism. There are interpretations of Islamic teachings that are compatible with respect for human rights. The majority of Muslim scholars and Muftis have made the Quran a manifesto for war, but the same Quran is also a manifesto for peace. The same scholars and Muftis make the Quran the voice of terror, but it is also the voice of mercy and blessing. Many modern Muslims believe that constructing a democratic Islam is imperative. Islam needs reform and elimination of violence. It is also possible to construct a liberal Islam.

Opposing fundamentalism, Salafism and Wahhabism, violence and terrorism are best evidence for someone being a Muslim.

If Islam is rescued from such Muslim scholars and Muftis, it will become a modern and democratic religion, eliminating violence in any shape or form. Just as without slavery we still have Islam and Muslims, with jurisprudence devoid of violence we will still have Islam.

Zygmunt Bauman, one of Europe's foremost sociologists, has said that the best evidence for him being Jewish is that he is pained by the injustice done by Israel more than those done by other governments. Paraphrasing him, we should say, opposing fundamentalism, Salafism and Wahhabism [see here and here], violence and terrorism are best evidence for someone being a Muslim.

This article was translated by Ali N. Babaei