Islamism, a disease of the Muslim world
by Samir Khalil Samir, sj
Literal interpretations of the Koran emerge when Islam finds itself in moments of crises and are at the root of extremist violence. The Imams further its’ spread. Muslims must be encouraged to reject this invasive interpretation. The second in a series of articles.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – Islamism, not to be confused with Islam, is a threat to the survival of the very religion it claims to represent and to the entire world. Until thirty years ago, there was one single word in the Arab language to refer to “Muslim”, and it was Muslim. Then, starting with Egypt, a second noun came into use which quickly spread, Islamiyy, separate from Muslim, which referred to a radical or fundamentalist Muslim who aims to create an Islamic project based on sharia. This neologism has been in place since, to define this new tendency within Islam, a tendency which has become increasingly strong, dynamic, and invasive and in the end violent and intolerant.
I propose to that European languages begin to discern between these two appellatives: “Muslim” and “Islamist”, and to abandon the term “Islamic” when it refers to a “Muslim” but to use it only as an adjective.
Let us defend Islam from Islamism
Given the evolution in the islamic world over the last 30 years, we must clearly distinguish Islam (which I will write with a capital “I”), as a religion which first appeared in Arabia at the beginning of the seventh century (Muslim history dates to 622, when Muhammad Ibn ‘Abdallah fled from Mecca to Medina – the higra,– and created the city founded on the principles of Islam) from islamism (which I will write with a lower case “i” ) which is a recent trend within Islam.
This is the meaning of the title: islamismi s a current which is disfiguring the nature of the religion, Islam. It is not just chance that many young Arabs, Iranians, Asians distance themselves from the Muslim traditions because of islamism’s terrorist violence.
How this current was born and why it was born, I will have to leave for further discussion. Either way, it has distant roots, which have always existed in the Islamic society, but which are reawaken each time the islamic world is in crises: thus islamism presents itself as a “re-awakening” of the religion, in the arab-islamic world it is referred to as “sah-wah” or “rebirth”.
Today we are living one of the most dramatic moments in the Arab and islamic history. Why? Because the drowsiness, the period of our civil and cultural decadence, which we call “asr al-inhitât”, has gone on for too long, more or less from ‘300 to ’800. At the end of the ninetieth century there was the “Renaissance”, Nahdah, which was slowed down if not totally blocked in 1928 with the birth of Hassan al-Banna’ movement “the Muslim brotherhood”, to then be fully blocked by the creation of Israel in 1948 with all the wars and conflicts that it spawned, as well as the Egyptian revolution (1952), Iraq (1954), etc. The islamist tendency was further reinforced in 1974 with the arrival of the petrol dollars of the Saudi Arabians, rather, by the wave of petrol dollars and the consequent wahhabism.
Disease of the Arab and Muslim world
But islamism is not Islam: it is only an extremist tendency which presents itself as the true spirit of Islam. How does it succeed in attracting so many Muslims though? The military defeat, economic crises, dictatorships, political divisions of the arab-islamic world, western imperialism, cultural invasions, etc.. Fail to properly explain islamism fatal attraction for the Muslim masses. These are but a few pieces to a lager puzzle that allow us to understand why people search for derivatives; they are not the root of the problem, no, of the evil. They are all external elements to the Muslim world. The roots of the problem need to be sought within this world; otherwise we simply confuse the symptoms with the cause of this disease. Because the Arab and Muslim society is diseased. Gravely so!
The roots are part of the tree. Thus the disease is to be found within the tree, not without. The roots of the disease are to be sought within Islam itself, not outside. This root is double. The first is some of the texts of the Koran and some sayings and practices taken from the Sunnah (the muhammadiana tradition), which are the foundations of the official teachings of Islam. The second are the teachings of certain “men of religion” (rigâl ad-dîn) – an Arab – islamic term which corresponds to the western “clergy” – based on a certain determined choice made in the Koran and the Sunnah. These two roots need to be examined, if we want to identify the cause of the illness, better, if we – like good doctors – want to diagnosis the origins of the disease.
Islam does not identify itself with radical islamism. But radical islamism is not foreign or separate to Islam: it is one of the possible readings of Islam (that is the Koran and the Sunnah); in short the worst possible reading. Yet this interpretation is openly promoted by the imam, who are convinced it is the most authentic, because it is the reading they themselves received, and because it is the most literal. It does not require an intellectual interpretation to reflect on the sayings and practices of the founders of Islam.
This is why it is not only essential that Islam and islamism are not confused, but that Muslims are encouraged to reject islamism as an unnatural alteration of authentic Islam, and to combat this invasive tendency. Western society must also take action to defend Muslims from islamism. Giving in even minimally to the slightest islamist request, means regressing beyond hope of recovery.
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