Societies, religious or otherwise, have to be judged not only by how they deal with their most vulnerable and disadvantaged members, but also by how they deal with the most obnoxious and loathsome in their midst.
At a time when so many atrocities are perpetrated in the name of Islam, it is disingenuous and unhelpful to deny that the West is effectively at war with radical Islamism. Most Muslims are not terrorists, but most terrorists today are Muslims. I do not intend to list the unspeakable crimes against humanity committed by followers of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-proclaimed Caliph of the new Islamic State. It would serve no purpose – these are already well documented in the media. Suffice to say that the hideous beheading of an American journalist being broadcast to the world has thrown down the gauntlet not only to the democratic West but also to the so-called “silent moderate majority” of Muslims.
The resurgence of Islam in modern times is testimony to the fact that millions of people find meaning and moral direction in it. It is a tragedy that some of them have espoused an over-literal and perverted interpretation of the faith and veered off in the most alarming directions. But the fact is they have. And because they have, it behoves the more moderate and virtuous Muslims of the world to stand up and be counted. We have reached a point where we need to be persuaded that Muslims are not actual or tacit supporters of terrorism and can live harmoniously with the rest of us. Silence is not an option. Bland condemnations are not enough. It may be tough to pin this on the perfectly peaceful Muslim majority, but nothing short of unmitigated fulminating censure will do.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) says “the actions of ISIS and in particular their barbarity against minority groups, have been rightly condemned by all parts of the religious and political spectrum. The Muslim Council of Britain joins in their condemnation, and urges the British government to provide humanitarian aid to those suffering, as well as support efforts to prevent funding and arms reaching ISIS. We hope the Iraqi people from all backgrounds can unite to defeat this group.” The MCB needs to say this louder and more often. It needs to crank up the rhetoric much further. And, at a time when dozens of young British Muslims are leaving these shores to fight in Syria and Iraq, it needs to identify, confront and exclude those whose brand of Islam diverges from the teachings it endorses.
As well as striving to articulate a form of Islam that is flexible, tolerant and capable of compromise, broad-based representative bodies such as the MCB must utterly and unambiguously dissociate themselves from the extremists. They must leave no one in doubt that they reject the actions of those who wish to establish a Caliphate by means of violent jihad and they must establish a universally acceptable brand of Islamic theocracy.
The great challenge facing Muslims today is to avoid being tainted by association with the dangerous fanatics who have hijacked their religion. To achieve this, they will have to do more than wring their hands and pray. They will have to wrest control back from the “false prophets” who follow a warped agenda. However, no one should be under the illusion that this will be easy. The mainstream liberal media clings to the notion that moderate (good) Muslims are distinct from extremist (bad) Muslims. In order to maintain and strengthen that distinction, followers of the Muslim faith must reject the idea that the words of Allah and the Prophet Muhammad, as recorded in the Qu’ran, must be followed with unquestioning obedience. In other words, imams, the world over, must take on the renegade preachers politically, sociologically and theologically.
There are many verses of the Holy Qu’ran that speak ill of unbelievers and call for their violent conquest. Verse 8:12, for example, exhorts followers to “instill terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers: smite ye above their necks and smite all their finger-tips off them.” But, in this particular case, context is everything. The surrounding verses describe the Battle of Badr in which pagan Arabs from Mecca came to attack followers of the Prophet Muhammad as they sought sanctuary in the city of Medina: they had been backed into a corner and were forced to defend themselves. Clearly, the onus is on imams to show leadership and guide followers to a looser, context-sensitive, broad-minded reading of these texts.
If and when Muslims are prepared to repudiate the literal interpretation of violent, intolerant and supremacist passages in the Qu’ranic verses and acknowledge the limitations of their central holy book, then, and only then, can they be trusted to join the democratic world in fighting the jihadist menace.