The Roots of Extremism and its Dominant Features
In our world today, there is a rising trend of religious extremism which adopts the policy of supremacy of a certain religious ideology to the exclusion of others who fail to share the same perspective or advocate for their core beliefs.
As other world religions, Islam has been subjected to extreme ideologies and miscreant beliefs which could not be any further from the core teachings of Islam both in letter and spirit. In this article, I am attempting to delve briefly into the history of religious extremism with its dominant features for us to have a better understanding of what we are up against.
One of the religious movements that is featured with extremism is a movement that started in the 19th century. After conducting some deep investigations and researches in an attempt to unravel their understanding of the Islamic doctrine, we found that their understanding is limited to issues that are both secondary and scholarly debatable.
They only hold tight to a minority of scholars who share their same religious belief and they chose to turn a blind eye on the overwhelming majority of scholars who are widely known for their intellectual discernment and religious scholarship.
This extremist religious movement adopted an initiative which called for returning back to the Islamic heritage.
This initiative first appeared in Egypt during the British occupation and was used as a slogan for the movement of religious reform that was led by Gamal al Din al Afghani and Muhammad Abduh. Egypt at that time suffered from a constant increase of different types of unlawful innovations and heresies that had nothing to do with the true teachings of Islam. As a result people were divided into two groups, the first advocated for joining the Western civilization releasing themselves from the shackles of religious edicts and rulings.
The other group was adamant on rectifying and correcting the religious beliefs of Muslims to bring them back to the pure teachings of Islam away from heresies, illusions and myths.
The second group was also keen on connecting Islam with the modern world and finding ways of reaching coexistence between Islam and the western civilization. Therefore the aim behind using the slogan of going back to the pioneers of Islam who left us a vast Islamic heritage was to get rid of all the sediments of heresies and myths which adulterated the purity of Islam in order for Muslims to return back to the correct teachings of their religion and take the earlier Muslims generations as their pioneering example.
Moreover, when the second group of reformers initiated the call to go back to the way of thinking of the early Muslim pioneers, they wanted people to make an intellectual comparison between their miserable status and the illuminated one during the time period of the early Muslims. They aimed at stimulating the resentment of people against their current despicable status of backwardness and ignorance.
During this time, a new extremist school was established and spread in Najd and some remote areas in the Arabian peninsula. The common feature between the Najd school and the movement of religious reform in Egypt was the determination to fight against heresies and false innovations.
In this way the initiative which called for returning back to the Muslim pioneers of earlier generations turned from a slogan associated with a religious reform movement to a term adopted by a school of thought whose advocates believe that they exclusively hold the correct version of Islam that matches the thoughts of the early Muslims and expresses their understanding and application of Islam.
As a matter of fact, following the early Muslims is not by the mere confinement to the literal wording that they uttered or abiding by their juristic positions that they took regarding secondary issues. The early Muslims themselves did not ask for that. The true emulation would be through turning to the tools and maxims they adopted in textual interpretation and the principles used for conducting independent legal reasoning (ijtihad). The early Muslims were pioneers in writing down the guiding maxims and in developing a scientific methodology which enabled them to differentiate between the primary overarching issues and the secondary debatable ones.
Therefore, the true Muslims are the ones who abide by the scientific methodology that the early ones developed in order to deal with scriptural text of the Quran and the Prophetic traditions. Whoever adopts this methodology automatically falls under the appellation of the early Muslims even if he lived centuries away from them and similarly whoever abandons their methodology is not considered one of them even if he lived in the first century of Islam.
Within the fold of the methodology developed by the early Muslims lies a room for multiple opinions and different views. This diversity did not tear their Islamic unity apart or the unity of the later generations of scholars. On the contrary their diversified opinions left a huge intellectual heritage which stands as an eye witness of scholarly diversity and freedom of thinking.
The early Muslims themselves did not use a certain term in and of itself to correspond to some special characteristics or to refer to a specific intellectual form which would distinguish them from the rest of Muslims. Similarly they did not place their theological beliefs or their ethical conduct and framed it in an Islamic school which has its own independent philosophical and intellectual characteristics. They rather were interactive with their successors (al Khalaf) and had an amiable atmosphere of intellectual debate and scholarly diversity under the umbrella of the scientific methodology which is used as the measure to accept a debate or dismiss it for lacking the needed sound scientific methodology of thinking.
Neither the salaf nor the khalaf had in mind that a barrier would be constructed by a group of Muslims to block the way of interaction between the two parties and setting them apart from each other coloring each party with an independent type of thoughts, concepts and approaches.
More importantly, the early Muslims did not reach a consensus to follow a certain juristic school when it comes to secondary issues pertinent to particularities and the differences in the branches of jurisprudence which had been transmitted down to us represents in principle the differences among the early Muslims themselves over these issues. Therefore it is not acceptable for anyone to claim that a certain juristic ruling over a specific secondary branch of jurisprudence was adopted by the early Muslims. This claim entails two issues; the first of which is that they had a specific juristic school on which they agreed and that is a mere illusion.
The second issue is that this claim insinuates that the juristic views and schools of thought of the early Muslims were not transmitted by the leading scholars of the schools of jurisprudence which makes their juristic diversity self claimed with no connecting roots to the early Muslims.
The fact of the matter is that the different legal schools of jurisprudence represented the diversity found among the early Muslims and through these different juristic schools, their views were transmitted. Therefore, it would be a deviation from truth for anyone to say regarding any matter that this was the juristic school of the early Muslims because when it comes to secondary matters, what they actually reached consensus on are a handful of issues.
-The features of extremists in modern time
We notice that the opinions, approaches, behaviors, positions, and judgments of most of those who associate themselves falsely to early Muslims are wrongly based. These five elements are essential for students who would like to analyze this phenomenon. More importantly, they often adopt a clashing mentality and this mentality has three assumptions within its fold:
The first assumption is that the whole world hates Muslims and that there is a constant war to demolish them through three main entities Zionism, proselytization and secularism. They also assume that Muslims are the main targets of plots and conspiracies which are sometimes concealed but most of the time they are out in the open.
The second assumption is that clashing with this world is a necessity to revert the aggression and tyranny along with avenging for what is happening in the Muslim world. The necessity of clashing takes two forms, the first is killing nonbelievers which include all non Muslims and the second form is killing hypocrite apostates who are presumably Muslims yet opposing their line of thinking. We can readily observe the mythical fallacies and erroneous beliefs which unfortunately might attract some ignorant youths to their false call.
The third assumption is that their methodology of thinking is meant to spread widely to become one of the current methodologies of thinking in our world today and this means that their methodology does not need to be confined to a certain organization or a specific institution which we can track but rather spread freely and the loyal believers of this methodology have a free hand to do what they can to spread this methodology with no higher commandment or official orders.
This will only lead to more chaos and this methodology is tightly connected with the theory of creative chaos which is a term that is widely used in our modern literature yet a lot of people are oblivious of its roots, meaning and consequences.
Redirecting the path of these extremists is becoming a real burden on both the progress of Muslims and the renovation of the Islamic religious discourse along with the comprehensive development that the whole Muslim world needs. Unfortunately this extreme line of thinking is becoming a fertile soil for developing extremist ideologies and a base for disintegrating the society and a call for isolating oneself away from his surroundings which most of the time he is incapable of dealing with in the first place.
We ought to exert our efforts to fight against this extreme ideology which no longer represents a danger to itself alone but is forming an eminent threat to our youth and society in whole.