Wed | Sep 26, 2018

Islam: Its own worst enemy

Published:Sunday | August 17, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Imam Ali delivers sermon to packed mosque.
A cross section of the large congregation listening to Imam Ali.-Contributed
Glenville Ashby, Contributor

Glenville Ashby, Contributor

Five years ago, I was on the receiving end of the proverbial stick, hammered mercilessly by pundits for a feature column in the Trinidad Guardian. I was called a "Muslim lover," and "overly sympathetic and imbalanced in my position".

But my position was direct and impartial at the time, so I honestly believed. The following is an excerpt of that article:

"The latest data by the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR), indicating 'unprecedented' violence 'in scale and scope,' against Muslims last month, failed to stymie the Trinidad and Tobago Muslim community from celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr at the remodeled Sunnat-ul-Jamaat mosque in the Caribbean stronghold of Richmond Hill, Queens, New York. Hundreds wore traditional Muslim garb, marking the felicitous occasion with pomp and reverence. Imam Ahmed Ali, formerly of San Juan, Trinidad, delivered the impassioned khutbah (sermon), making only a veiled reference to the growing antipathy against Muslims, the vandalising of mosques and cemeteries and the spate of anti-Islamic ads that have hit Metro Railroad platforms in New York. "Hate, bigotry, and violence must be removed from the heart of humankind," he told hundreds of congregants. "Jealously and enmity have created a poisonous world," he added, beckoning his followers to continue the discipline exercised during Ramadan, "because life brings challenges and trials for which we must be prepared."

Imam Ali, who was appointed to the board of the Trinidad and Tobago Interfaith Council, called for repentance, forgiveness, and goodwill among Muslims and the wider community, while cautioning against cultural influences that "violate Islamic ethics". He emphasised the need to "mend fences" and "resist the urge to retaliate against those who have wronged us". Pressed later to comment on the unabated verbal and physical assaults against his faith, Imam Ali conceded that attacks against Islam were troubling, although he remained optimistic.

"We must always focus on the positive. There is nothing to gain from harbouring negativity."

9/11 fires

Understandably, during that period, prejudice and injustice were stoked by the fires of 9/11. Anti-Islamic speakers had taken to the airwaves with venom and sophistry. It was revolting.

But that was then. Today, much has changed. Political, social, and religious dynamics have transformed the global landscape and an ominous side of many of today's spiritual heads has forced me to pause and rethink my earlier stance. Islam is no longer the poster child for the victimised religion. This is neither a confrontational nor provocative view.

The facts are irrefutable. Since the demise of Osama bin Laden, we have seen the stark proliferation of fratricidal warfare, intratribal battles, and the emergence of uncompromising religious ideologies that are all emblazoned with the seal of Islam, in some form or fashion. The results have been the perilous treatment of women and girls, and the violation of human rights that are sanctioned by fatwas or religious edicts. Africa and the Middle East have become hotbeds for Muslim firebrands bent on spreading their propaganda by the sword.

We are no longer discussing an East-West ideological divide, nor are we debating if we are in the midst of a culture war. Today, Islam has emerged as a threat unto itself, vanquishing its own historical achievements by its own villainous actions. It is a religion under siege by its very own, rapidly devouring itself in a raging crucible. The well-known Sunni-Shia divide has been eclipsed by the maniacal acts of Boko Haram in Nigeria, the extremism of ISIS (Islamic State), and the Taliban.

Ruining its image

Islam is ruining its image with the export of Chechens and other jihadists as mercenaries. And its marginalisation of moderates and those with a legitimate political stance and grievance has only stymied its adaptation to modern lore. Islam has used up whatever sympathy is left for its causes and one-time downtrodden status. It has also angered non-Muslims with the destruction of UNESCO-protected sites and villages as witnessed in Mali, Syria and Iraq. Tens of thousands of minorities have also been displaced, for example, the Zaydis and the Amharic-speaking peoples throughout the Middle East, although they have lived in that region for centuries. One writer at the Australia-based think tank, Opinion Dominion, recently wrote, "It is extremely difficult to find positive things to say about Islam at the moment. Sure, Christianity has its centuries of conflict, witch burning, attempted social control and sexual abuse to point the finger at as well, but any social problems it causes have, by and large, been sorted. The thing that's depressing about Islam is that you can't really see how it is going to improve."

Meanwhile, as Islam implodes, the silence from so-called moderate Muslims in the free world is deafening. Where is the outrage?

Feedback: or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby.Dr GlenvilleAshby is a social critic and president of Global Interfaith Council.