The Holy Qurán has laid the foundations for Islamic leadership, saying: "Let there arise out of you a group inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong. They are the ones to attain success." - [3:104]
Terrorist attacks shake us and plant fear in our hearts. They make us ask questions and demand answers in order to find a solution to establish peace and end global terrorism. As a result of the growing number of terrorist attacks around the globe, millions are now asking: what is the role of a Muslim Imam/faith leader towards the protection of the country he resides in?
In order to provide a befitting answer to the above question, firstly we need to understand the position and authority of a Muslim Imam or faith leader and what can be expected from them in terms of their stances, influence and power they may or may not have. The definitions outlined below should help in gaining a better understanding towards this matter.
Definitions of titles given to Muslim faith leaders:
Shaikh: A Muslim man who achieves a degree in Islamic Studies and pursues a career of preaching his faith.
Imam: A Muslim Shaikh who leads an organization, community and prayers, and is appointed by a higher Islamic authority to act on his behalf.
Mufti (Sunni Faith): A Muslim man that has achieved the highest level of Islamic Studies and is appointed by a group of people to represent and lead them, or appointed by a Muslim government to lead the majority of the nation.
Ayatollah (Shi'a Faith): A Muslim man that has achieved the highest level of Islamic Studies and is now able to deduct Islamic rulings from the Holy Qur'an and whose opinions are taken into consideration on certain issues by Grand Ayatollahs.
Grand Ayatollahs (Shi'a Faith): A Muslim man that has reached the highest level of Islamic Studies, able to deduct Islamic rulings from the Holy Quran, and has announced leadership of the Islamic nation. He is then widely followed by the hundreds of thousands that believe he is the most knowledgeable, pious and wise.
Due to the difference in authority, our expectations from all Muslim faith leaders cannot be the same. However, no excuse can be given for any Muslim faith leader not to condemn terrorism, because the silence of Muslim faith leaders - regardless of their status and authority - is exactly what ISIS wants. ISIS desire to murder and massacre nations in the name of Islam and not have one Muslim faith leader condemn and denounce their sickening actions. Henceforth, it becomes all the more important to denounce the ideology and practices of ISIS and that all Muslim faith leaders become aware of this stance of theirs.
Along with the tens of millions of dollars being spent by governments to tackle terrorism, there will always be room for Muslim faith leaders to cooperate and supplement the national security of the country they reside in. As an Australian Imam and son of an Australian Imam, I believe the following steps will have a great and positive contribution towards the security of any country. However, it is up to each concerned Imam or government authority to deduce what fits the standards of their society.
The First Step: Understanding the Role of the Grand Mufti
In non-Islamic governments, the Grand Mufti is appointed by Sunni Muslims - in the form of a council. However, in Islamic governments, the Grand Mufti is appointed by the government in order to assure his loyalty towards the government and nation. This is because if a Grand Mufti becomes widely and blindly followed, he could be a great government asset, or to the contrary, he could issue a Fatwa to oppose and bring down the government - as history has shown in previous decades.
In a country where the Grand Mufti is appointed by the government, governments usually have full control over the majority of the Muslim nation because the Mufti would himself be from amongst this majority.
In non-Islamic governments and where the Grand Mufti is appointed by the council, the Mufti knows very well that he has enough freedom to agree, differ or even verbally clash with the government based upon where his interests lie, or based upon the directives and teachings of the other Muslim governments he may receive funding from. Therefore, the struggle with a council-appointed Grand Mufti will always remain, and governments will go to sleep every night knowing that the Grand Mufti is not completely loyal to them and the nation's majority.
The role of the Grand Mufti is vital and great since he is the nation's top Muslim leader. However, it is unfortunate that in most cases the Grand Mufti does not fully understand his duty. This could possibly be due to him having no or very poor advisors. The duty of the Grand Mufti is much more than just issuing statements, appearing on television or attending public events.
Therefore, what are the steps a Grand Mufti should take in order to enhance national security?
1. Learning the Language of the Nation
It is impossible for a Grand Mufti to achieve success in leading the Muslim nation by speaking to them in Arabic. Not all Muslims are of Arab background and a large number of Arabs in the west do not speak Arabic. It is also impossible for a Grand Mufti to bring comfort to the hearts and homes of Non-Muslims after a terrorist attack has occurred if he does not converse with them in their own language.
Context is very important. A translator translates word for word and does not necessarily translate contexts or the concerns of the Mufti. It is essential to have a Grand Mufti that understands the thinking of the majority of the nation, and thus interacts with them satisfactorily whenever they are in need of clarification.
It is also a sign of respect to the nation to learn their language. It is not acceptable to live in a country for over a decade and make no effort in learning the language of the nation, and yet expect to be considered one of the nation's leaders. Would a Grand Mufti accept having a Grand Mufti in his own Middle Eastern country that spoke to his people in Mandarin? This is very highly unlikely.
2. Establishing a talented team and office
The office of the Grand Mufti should be fully aware of the conditions of all Muslims regardless of their faiths, and he should also attend to their community needs and concerns by keeping in touch with the directors of all Islamic organizations.
He should also request monthly reports of activities, achievements, accomplishments and progress by the Islamic Centres in order to evaluate the direction the Muslim communities are heading.
In cases where the office of the Grand Mufti feels worried, uncomfortable or at threat regarding activities of a particular Islamic organization, then the matter should be brought to the attention of the concerned police departments.
3. A Delegation from the Grand Mufti's Office
At least once a year, The Office of the Grand Mufti should send out a delegation to visit all Muslim organizations in the country in order to touch base with the directors and to experience the atmosphere of that particular centre; and should there be any concerns, then these can be addressed and thus fully understood in person rather than only reading written monthly reports.
During these visits, the Mufti's delegation must also remind the centres of the values of the very country they are residing in and the expectations of its greater majority and government. It is also essential to share experiences with these organizations in order to perfect their roles within their areas. In the case where the delegation sees that a particular organization requires special attention, then it should be visited more than once a year.
4. Stop Endorsing, Start Acting
There is a limit to endorsing Fatwas and verdicts against ISIS already issued by other Muslim leaders. A Grand Mufti should know when it is time to issue his own Fatwa against terrorist organizations. The reason for this is because one nation will not necessarily feel comfortable and in peace if the Grand Mufti of another nation has issued a Fatwa against terrorism. Each nation has the right to know the stance of its Grand Muslim Mufti and how serious he is taking these matters.
In January 2016, Australia's Grand Mufti endorsed a Fatwa already issued against ISIS. However, since January, many terrorist attacks have taken place around the world including the Brussels Blasts and several incidents in France. This calls for all Muftis to exercise their leadership powers and abilities against terrorism, and issue a Fatwa against ISIS which represents the people they lead.
5. Annual Imam's Meetings
It is important for a Grand Mufti to hold regular meetings with all Muslim Imams from throughout the nation in the form of a conference that could last for several days or in the form of a gathering after special events such as Eid. These meetings are vital as they bring together the leaders of Muslim communities under one roof, which subsequently opens doors for unity amongst different faiths and a unified stance against terrorism.
It also allows the Grand Mufti and the participating Imams to recognise and thus distinguish between those Imams who are concerned about the safety of the nation and those Imams who are not.
6. Following up with Imams
It is still not enough for the Grand Mufti to gather with Imams annually and send out delegations once every now and then. Rather, there should be an organized system that regularly touches base with all Muslim leaders to ensure that they are fulfilling their Islamic duties.
In a case where terrorist attacks occur in the name of Islam, it is a must that all Imams condemn these horrific tragedies and strive to restore peace and harmony within their local areas.
If a particular Imam remains silent from condemning terrorist attacks in the name of Islam, the Grand Mufti should question him, and so too the other Imams. If it becomes apparent that a particular Imam supports acts of violence against the West, the Grand Mufti should condemn and denounce him immediately and all Imams must endorse him in doing so.
The Second Step: The Imams and Shaikhs
1. Cooperation with the Police
To ensure full national safety, all Imams and Shaikhs must cooperate with the police and intelligence services. If the police request a particular matter, the Imam must respond accordingly. There also lies a problem in Muslim societies where the Imams do not give full information to the police regarding certain situations and conditions of the community along with the challenges it faces. This needs to change, and all Imams must give accurate reports to the police under all circumstances.
2. Issuing Statements Condemning Terrorism
According to the Holy Qur'an, the killing of one soul is equal to killing the whole of humanity. Therefore, all acts of terrorism are condemned in the Qur'an, and Muslim Imams should reflect this matter by publicly and openly condemning violence and terrorist acts attributed to their religion.
Language barriers are no longer an accepted excuse, since a professional translator is one telephone call away. All Muslim Imams and Shaikhs should openly condemn violence and terrorism at their weekly Friday Sermons.
3. Monitoring Community Activities
Most Muslim communities host weekly community events with aims to enhance education and provide an opportunity for members of their community to acquire Islamic Education. It is the responsibility of the Imam and/or Shaikh of the organization or centre to monitor the teachings being delivered to the youth by the invited or volunteer teachers. It is important to keep a close eye on the books being imported and introduced to the organization, as many Muslim books contain old classical teachings which do not coincide with today's western societies and values. This is important as the mind of a growing child could be negatively affected whereby they form an understanding that they are different from others within this nation and hence, results in social side effects.
No Shi'a - Sunni Business in matters of National Security
In the state of a serious matter of national safety, Muslim sects and divisions become irrelevant and all Muslim Imams should unite under one banner of loyalty to the land they stand upon. It is imperative to choose an extremely wise Grand Mufti since it will be him who shall lead and represent the Muslims, and as Muslims, we cannot afford anything but wisdom and strategic planning for what benefits the majority of the country and nation should a terrorist attack occur.
The Holy Quran also directs Muslims to strive in preventing evil from occurring:
The believers, men and women, are protectors of each other: they enjoin what is right and forbid what is evil.- [9:71]
Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him and his family, had spent the majority of his life calling for change, reformation and the establishment of peace and justice, he once said:
Whoever amongst you sees an evil should change it with his hand. If he is unable to do that then with his tongue. If he is unable to do that, then with his heart. - Hadith
This is the responsibility of the experts, the scholars, those qualified to lead the entire community.