Shaheen Hashmat addresses the problem of what to do when a religion is hijacked by violent fanatics.
I am not religious myself, but I do come from a Muslim background. I know how widely beliefs and values can differ within the same family. And I have first-hand experience of how difficult it can be to express criticism, or opposing viewpoints, to those who are conservative in their outlook. Especially when they are close relatives.
It’s this feeling that, many agree, has led to the identity crisis currently occurring within Islam. There is much disagreement among Muslims themselves about which is the true interpretation to follow.
Of course the actions of radical sects are unacceptable by any moral code that values basic human rights – and it’s important to understand that the majority of Muslims find them as abhorrent as the rest of us. But, despite the rejection of such extremists as ‘true’ Muslims, I believe it’s important to accept that there are some hardcore, right-wing sects of Islam that do adhere to literal interpretations of the Q’uran.
Just as there have been and still are hardcore, right-wing sects of Christianity that do adhere to literal interpretations of the bible. Some of them have been violent, and/or endorsed violence.
Acts of terrorism, preceded by cries of ‘Allah Akbar’ (God is greatest), are now being carried out by a growing body of religious fundamentalists, who are successfully claiming their version of ‘Muslim’ as the only true definition of the term.
Having personally endured, within my own family, the abuse that is so often justified in the name of Islam, I am continually frustrated to see this replicated at an international level and denied as being an issue within moderate religious groups.
By acknowledging this, I am emphatically not dismissing the equally worrying issue of anti-Muslim bigotry. I’m just as committed to fighting that as I am to combating terrorism.
But a religion is defined by its followers. They are the ones who interpret scripture and incorporate it into everyday practice. So it’s vital, should that religion be ‘hijacked’ in any way, that the majority at least discusses the problem.
Silence won’t help.
As arrests are made in the hunt for the gunmen responsible for yesterday’s horrific attack, one thing is very clear: free speech – and the freedom to speak out against extremist, non-democratic behaviour, whether in the press or your community – is our most precious resource and must be protected at all costs.
The Muslim community must step up to the plate, along with everyone else.
We really are all Charlie Hebdo in the sense that we are all vulnerable to the men with guns. Free discussion and respect for human rights are our only defense.