“This has nothing to do with Islam,” say the imams. “These callous and fanatic murders have nothing to do with us,” say the mullahs. “Islam means peace,” say the worshippers. These disclaimers, and variations on them, have been repeated countless times by Muslim commentators since the Charlie Hebdo killings. They are designed to distance people from guilt by association with those who kill and maim in the name of Islam.
But what about the sentence recently handed down to the (mildly) liberal blogger Raif Badawi in the Islamic state of Saudi Arabia? Ten years in jail, a massive fine, 1,000 lashes over 20 weeks (currently suspended because the first 50 lashes have rendered him “medically unfit”)? Does this have “nothing to do with Islam”? Does the hashtag “Je suis un couteau” – referring to this week’s stabbing of 11 Israelis on a bus – have “nothing to do with Islam”? Not to mention the 10 Christians killed during Charlie protests in Niger last week, or the ongoing depredations of al-Qaeda, Isis, Boko Haram, the Taliban and the Laskar Jihad of Indonesia?
Not to mention all the non-violent Muslims who nevertheless say it’s not permissible to draw cartoons of Mohammed.
The psychotic followers of these organisations all think that they are Muslims, and their Islam is based on beliefs that millions who subscribe to Wahhabism, the Saudi version of the religion – and its kin, Salafism – accept as essential ingredients of their faith. For example, that sharia, or Islamic law, is divinely ordained and immutable; that apostates and blasphemers should be killed; that women should be shrouded and confined to four walls and that men are their guardians.
This is a widespread version of Islam, made more so by modern communications; increasingly gaining followers in Europe, it can be, and is, used to justify all manner of atrocities. Yet this is an Islam of manufactured dogma which relies on neither the Koran nor the example of the Prophet Mohamed.
It’s something people invent as a method of social control, he says. But then he also says it goes way back.
But tightening the screws has long been the way in the Muslim heartlands. For example, in a highly influential decree from the 10th century CE, the Abbasid caliph Abdul Qadir, denounced critical thought as “counter to Islam” and ordered his subjects to dissociate from philosophers and freethinkers, who were required “to repent”, despite the fact that numerous verses in the Koran exhort believers to think, reflect and raise questions.
Right, so…the denunications and forbiddings have a long history too.
Four hundred years later, when power had shifted from Abbasid Baghdad to Mamaluk Cairo, religious scholars banned independent reasoning on issues of faith – or as the formula has it, “closed the gates of ijtihad”. In doing so, they laid claim to have solved all the problems of humanity. In fact, they shut the door on the Enlightenment, which already-established Arab scholarship would do so much to kick-start.
Theocrats always want to stamp out free thinking as a method of social control.
Today, as in history, all attempts to rethink our understanding and relationship with God, to interrogate orthodox belief, to bring reason back to Islam, are shunned – not just by the fanatics but by the vast majority of Muslims. The manufactured articles of faith seem to have an unassailable hold on Muslim minds. And so the moderate free thinkers’ legacy, so vital at this time of sectarian warfare within Islam, is swept collectively under the carpet of accepted, if artificial, doctrine.
This phenomenon is the central problem in all varieties of Islam. In the absence of reason and criticism, the heritage has become toxic. At best, it promotes intolerance and bigotry; at worse, it manifests itself as fanaticism and violent jihadism. And until more Muslims question it, they cannot claim that its manifestations have “nothing to do with Islam”.
For the first time, I agree with Ziauddin Sardar about something. I think he’s shifted.