Sun | Apr 22, 2018

The problem with Islam

Published:Sunday | February 1, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Dr Glenville Ashby, Contributor

Raging anti-Islamic sentiments have reached a new high with the terrorist assaults in Canada, France and Nigeria. Not surprisingly, countless billboards have plastered subways with damning statements such as, '19,250 Deadly Islamic Attacks since 9/11 and counting. This is not Islamophobia; it's Islamorealism!'

But how truthful are these claims against Muslims?

As someone who lived with Muslims for decades and who has studied Islamic jurisprudence at the Mecca (Institute) in New York, such attacks are based on ignorance and driven by racism and xenophobia.

This movement of misinformation is said to be funded by the American Freedom Defence, an umbrella group for Stop the 'Islamization' of the United States, designated a hate group by the respected Southern Poverty Law Center.

That said, we cannot ignore that most terrorist acts are committed by Muslims. It will be disingenuous to say otherwise.

But it behoves every rational person to understand the dynamics of Islamic violence.

The notorious ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) does not represent the one billion Muslims in the world. Islam is not a monolithic religion. It comprises many sects and sub-sects.

For example, when we refer to Shia Islam there are competing movements: The Twelvers, the Ishmaels, the Allawites, and the Zaydis. Not expectedly, ISIL, a hard-line Sunni group, considers all these Shia outfits, "infidels". It also targets moderate Sunni groups.

Why blame all Muslims?

Why then should all Muslims be associated with the nihilism and marauding actions of ISIL; actions that are reminiscent of the piracy of Henry Morgan, Hernan Cortes and Francis Drake, all of whom professed their Christian beliefs?

Further, most Muslims have rejected ISIL's anarchy and efforts to establish a caliphate.

ISIL's anachronistic actions are anti-progressive and run against the natural law of evolution. The same can be said of Sharia or Islamic jurisprudence that incorporates politics, economics, law and religion into a single body of edicts. Sharia cannot successfully address social and economic change. For example, on the question of gender inequality, statistics have shown that discrimination against girls and women is a drain on a people's human resource. The failure of some Arab States exemplifies this point.

In fact, the poverty of most European Muslims, especially those residing in France, may have created a breeding ground for radicals. Recently, the prestigious Gate Institute said of French Muslims:

"Muslim immigrants, as of January, began to find it more difficult to obtain French citizenship. New citizenship rules that entered into effect on January 1, 2012 require all applicants to pass exams on French culture and history, and also to prove that their French language skills equivalent to those of a 15-year-old native speaker.

"Moreover, candidates seeking French citizenship will be required to pledge allegiance to 'French values'. Muslim applicants make up the majority of the 100,000 people naturalised as French citizens each year, and the new citizenship requirements form part of a larger effort to promote Muslim integration into French society.

"The promotion of Islamic extremist ideologies - particularly Wahhabism, which not only discourages Muslim integration in the West, but also actively encourages jihad against non-Muslims - threatens to further radicalise Muslim immigrants in France."

Interestingly, Muslims in the Caribbean and the US have embraced secularism and are economically successful without having to surrender their core religious beliefs.

Preach assimilation

Regrettably, the hijacking of Islam by ISIL threatens to perpetually sully the image of an inspirational faith. Islamic clerics must now preach assimilation and reject the literal interpretation of Quranic verses that purportedly advocate violence; verses such as, (2:216) - "Fighting is prescribed for you, and ye dislike it. But it is possible that ye dislike a thing that is good for you, and that ye love a thing that is bad for you. But Allah knoweth, and ye know not."

There is also (3:56) - "As to those who reject faith, I will punish them with terrible agony in this world and in the Hereafter, nor will they have anyone to help." And, (3:151) - "Soon shall we cast terror into the hearts of the unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority."

Undoubtedly, violence in the Quran must be viewed in its historical and social context, as is violence in the Old Testament that advocated genocide and even infanticide.

Violence in every sacred book is never open-ended. To preach such is potentially dangerous.

At the crux, though, on any discussion on violence is the scourge of arms proliferation. That many recognised and rogue arms dealers recklessly peddle weaponry to terrorists begs the question: Isn't blood on more hands than we care to admit?

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