Working to discount the growing theology of terror
Opinion and Editorial - November 18, 2005
Dr. Azahari is gone, but terrorism neither began with him, nor will it end with his death. The military and political efforts to crush terrorist networks have certainly reduced the terrorist threat, but a more serious systematic intellectual effort to de-legitimize a theology of terror, a worldview which justifies the unjustified killing of innocent people is no less crucial in our attempt to prevent it gaining widespread sympathy and following. In our preaching, teaching, and writing, we have not done enough to de-legitimize terrorism which has made the world a dangerous place to live.
The masterminds must have transmitted their knowledge and skills to new recruits. They have spread their worldview through various means: statements, books, the Internet and mass media. The terrorists may well have sympathizers in every country in the world.
In every religion or ideology radicalization of sacred texts has long existed. In Muslim history, theological prisms were born out of politics with a religious nuance. Khawarij was a splinter group which justified the killing of Muslims who according to them did not obey the law of God. Today's terrorists may be regarded as the khawarij of the early Islamic age.
Each sacred scripture or ideological book can be interpreted in many ways. But this semantic character of multi-interpretability does not mean that those of us who seek a peaceful world are to tolerate the intolerant interpretations of texts. In other words, we should refute the religious arguments of the terrorists -- or whatever they call themselves. It is really not enough to condemn terrorists as "un-Islamic" and leave their discourse publicly unchallenged.
To maintain that Islam allows multi-interpretations should not mean passivity, relativism, or nihilism as if there is no truth at all. To say that Islam is diverse should not mean that we should tolerate particular interpretations which not only denounce other interpretations but also wish to destroy universal humanity.
Muslim scholars now have to be more vocal to state that the terrorists are not martyrs. They should state that the terrorists will not go to heaven as they no doubt claim.
The khawarij-like-terrorists have used particular religious teachings for self-legitimatization, have read world events and legitimized their actions in such a way that they believe only they are genuine religious and only they go to paradise. Their interpretations of jihad, amar ma'ruf nahi munkar, and kufr are highly selective, literal and partial.
The terrorists have militarized the peaceful teachings of Islam. They are absolutist; they believe that their interpretations are the only genuine interpretation of Islam and the others are simply wrong.
Their definition of jihad as a holy war against unbelievers, infidels, and Muslims who do not share their views, should be declared foolish, delusive and false. They are misguided into false consciousness.
Jihad in its defensive meaning can only be carried out under particular conditions (shurut wal arkan), that is, legal conditions with a justified cause. The holy war waged by the terrorists has violated religious teachings by creating widespread destruction of humankind.
The terrorists do not treat the Koran justly and comprehensively. They entirely neglect the Koranic passages that urge the use knowledge and wisdom (hikma), good lessons (mauizha hasana) and better dialog (jadal) in their interaction with other people. The terrorists do not understand the essence of Islam to spread justice (adl), peace (salam), and blessings for the whole mankind and universe (rahmatan lil alamin).
The terrorists repeatedly state that they are waging a holy war against the enemies of Islam, the enemies of God, who have killed the Muslims in Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan. They feel they are in a global war and are thus justified to kill any Americans or their allies in any parts of the world. They will wage a war until there is no progeny (fitna), a progeny according to their own definition. They believe they are commanding the good and forbidding the evil. They claim the West is entirely evil. The Arab and other Muslim governments if not infidels are apostates. And only through jihad such a progeny will not prevail. These interpretations are literal, selective, essentialist and dangerous.
Terrorists view the world events, a country, a religion, a people in essentialist ways, in a black and white fashion. They interpret the American presence in Saudi Arabia, the conflicts in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in the Philippines, in such a way that all the enemies should be fought against everywhere.
They generalize one moment, one person, one place into the whole moment, all people, and the whole place. They cannot differentiate; they simplify the complex realities. They use myths, perceptions and sentiments, rather than reason which they do not trust. They are against reason and dialog.
They claim to follow the path of the earliest pious Muslims (al-salaf al-shalih), but they have actually followed the radical khawarij path. The Prophet and the earlier pious companions could not possibly justify the killing of innocent people and the waging of war in times of peace. The terrorists are simply misguided in their attempt at using the text and the golden age of Islam for their misreading of today's events, religions, and peoples.
It is not sufficient simply to understand the roots of terrorism. We have to deal with them seriously. The voices that resort to terror, violence, and murder, must be silenced.
Muhamad Ali is an academic staff at the State Islamic University, Syarif Hidayatullah, Jakarta, and is a PhD candidate in History at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org