Religious Extremism and Political Islam in Historical and Political Context- A Brutal Violation of Religion

Introduction

Many people ask how one can become part of a group, which is ready to die for the sake of their ideas based on their strong belief that they are the represent of an Islamic idea, expected to prevail on earth. Is it possible that few persons turn into legislators who attract hundreds of thousands of people with the pretext that they are trying to initiate a new Islamic Caliphate?

  • How can followers of these groups believe in this illusion, when many of them are cultured and educated?
  • How come they abandon reality and join the world of horror?
  • How can they belong to a world, where instructions and orders replace questions and inquiries?

They might be instructed to die. If the leader of an organization asks them to die for the sake of killing others, they want to sacrifice their life.

We are confronted with serious questions, and in this study, we try to find an answer to them.

The formation of an unstable identity

Transparency and open doors constitute the only policy that enables people to interact with others and find better ways to deal with them. This is the first thing extremists pay attention to, when they isolate their followers from their surrounding world. They do so with the pretext that they want to protect them from turmoil.

Then they start the brain washing through different methods with different aspects:

  • The first and most important step is to centralize the importance of the group they belong to,
  • and then they convince advocates that this Islamic group is totally different from other existing ones.
  • The third step, which is most dangerous, is finding the justifications for this distinction from other groups. This is done through through indoctrination that other similar groups are on the wrong path of history, so that each follower feels very lucky to be a member of this particular group. He now belongs to the best group on earth.

To finalize the idea of a Jihadi component in the personality of the group member and his psychological structure, leaders of these extremist groups start interpreting religious texts that call for antagonism to the West or even non-Muslims in general. This strategy helps attracting new followers through a thesis which fully contradicts with what Allah says in the Quran: “And made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another”. But they work hard to establish the Jihadi mentality on the concept of antagonism to others and the utter rejection of any dialogue with them. This denial of dialogue applies even to other religious groups as we have seen with Islamic groups in Syria when they justified shedding each other’s blood. Hence, we can say that the beginning of Jihadi thought mainly starts with the isolation of Jihadists from other components of the society so as to reformulate their identity and personal traits as unstable and absent-minded community members, members of a community that has no intellectual ability to make decisions or even comprehend what is going on. They become inhumane with no free will.

The realm of Islamic organizations is completely introvert and egoistic, whereas the realm of extremism is a real manifestation of this ideology. The world is full of egoistic religious sects and their egoistic thoughts usually put them in a complete isolation. However, the dilemma starts when one of these extremist groups decides that it is authorized and assigned to impose its thoughts and religious interpretations on the society they live in. The situation worsens, when these groups take the responsibility to directly change the society itself, using extremely violent means. A good example is the case of the Aum Shinrykio[1] sect in Japan (1994-1995). Yet, these groups are limited in number. There are social and psychological factors relating to the emergence of such extremist groups and their mentality that pushes them to commit crimes beyond the scope of logic thinking.

Sometimes, war and political instability cause the emergence of such phenomena, when the national identity is lost and substituted by religious identity. The conflict between India and Pakistan, for example, is one of the most prominent tragedies in the modern age. Also, the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina affected the mentality of Arab Jihadists, so many of them joined Al Qaeda in the aftermath. One of the many bad consequences of those wars is the idea of a „trans-border Jihadi identity“. Arab societies were not aware of the dangers of this new concept of global Jihad. We should have predicted the horrible aftermaths of these wars.

The problem of sectarian and religious identity is one of the most dangerous problems that face any country, no matter if this country has got a deeply rooted cultural, social and political heritage. The final result of any religious war is a human catastrophe for both winners and losers, because the aftermaths of religious wars can never be extinguished, and they can re-erupt again and again.

Knowledge

There are always people who have little or no knowledge, therefore it is very easy for influential extremist powers in a society to affect those people. This is the case in our societies, as they don’t know what is going on behind closed doors of governments. Armies, intelligence agencies, the media and even academic institutions are all under the effect of lack of full knowledge or sometimes falsehoods. Rulers of our countries are always keen on hiding what is going on in palaces and political circles. Therefore, few recent generations have been ignorant of the facts. This deviation from knowledge has always made these generations glorify their rulers. To ensure the absence of knowledge, talented elites were smashed or neutralized as a result of the prohibition of any different ways of thinking.

Thus, ruling regimes oppressed their opponents on the one hand, and misguided other components of their societies through designing education syllabuses to be in service of the ruling regimes as Al Ba’ath Party did in Syria, when it controlled all aspects of life including all levels of education. This policy produced elites that are inspired by Al Ba’ath party and this solid nucleus became a backbone of Assad’s Regime, supporting it despite all the oppression and crimes committed by the regime. These elites, which were injected with the ideology, have always introduced Assad’s Regime and its figures as sacred symbols. With the advent of the Syrian revolution, Assad’s regime took the lead in disconnecting the society in the country and created unprecedented conflicts within the society for the sake of remaining in power. The destiny of this elite is inseparable from the destiny of the regime itself. Assad’s regime depends deeply on a majority of Syrians, who work in the army, police, intelligence, administration and religion. Therefore, the birth of a new leading elite has become impossible outside this group.

As for Islamic groups and organizations, the scarcity of knowledge and the influence of ideology were carefully manipulated, and strategies of each group or organization differ from the other ones. With Sufis, for example, the Sheikh is the top reference with whom followers are attached, and they have no choice but to obey. In addition to the internal contradictions that exist inside the Sufi community and with other trends and Islamic schools, the Sufi movement remained in the hands of Sheikhs, who by its own ideological basis is in fact a doll in the hands of dictators through religious institutes.

Syrians were not in need for such schools and institutions like the „Al Assad Institutes for teaching Quran“, which took Sufis from their dark ceremony-corners to the domain of political influence in favor of the ruling regime. With the support of the regime, Sufism moved from mosques, schools and institutes to the homes through the Kubaisyat movement[2] and others. In consequence, Syria was facing a generation who doesn’t care for politics, and this social component undermined the revolutionary momentum during the Syrian revolution.

“Knowledge” is an essential issue, which became deeply-rooted in the minds of members of the Al Ba’ath Party together with most figures of the political Islam. The dilemma in our societies is that the idea of political parties is a new one, and younger generations haven’t been aware of their need and their objectives. It was not clear for these generations what is required from the member joining a party and what are the positive and negative consequences of affiliation with it. This dilemma becomes clear when the young people feel that somebody is listening to them and that they are now able to participate in the political life in their countries. This false feeling was a trap set by Islamic parties to attract the young. Instead of listening to these young generations, Islamic parties quickly started brainwashing as they managed to spiritually and psychologically control the young. Islamic parties and organizations benefit from the political atmosphere in their society.

Members of Islamic extremist organizations are stuck in a very complicated dilemma, because they live in different realms and they are imprisoned by inherited religious scripts. They never think beyond the fatwas put to them by their organizations. Consequently, we notice that there are no differences in the performance of these organizations. Under no circumstances, a Sufi person, for example, has only one Sheikh and he will never be allowed to pledge allegiance to any other Sheikh.

Advocates of Jihadism, Salafism or Muslim Brotherhood only listen to the voice of their organizations. The common feature of these organizations is that they have only a limited space for discussion and logic, and they stand on the edge of knowledge, waiting for the interpretation and fatwa to come from the top reference of their organizations, regarding both political or religious issue. Obedience to the Sheikh has altered any chance for analytical thinking or logic, and blind obedience is a sign of piety and commitment.

If we follow-up on the Sufi movement in Damascus, we can easily figure out how it has been supporting Assad’s regime and that it can’t be considered a religious institution as much as a political one with a religious forefront. This movement fakes facts and isolates people, preventing them from doing their duties towards their people. It changes its followers into silent servants who promote and adore Assad’s policy.

“On the edge of knowledge” is a policy by which the young are rehabilitated in a way that keeps them with specific amount of knowledge. Islamic organization play the trick by convincing the young that they are in the right place and at the right time in the progression of history. This is the crucial point in depriving those young people from their free will. Followers of Sufism, Salafism and Muslim Brotherhood, who consider themselves as true representatives of Muslims, strongly believe that they have the right version of Islam. They claim to have a real project for powerful Islam, which has been waiting time for a resurrection. The Hamas movement in Gaza Strip deludes its members working on the restoration of the army of Salah Al Din Al Ayoubi all over again. But in fact, Hamas is just preparing a new generation, which blindly believes in everything it does through blind allegiance, and this leads to justification of any violent act Hamas performs.

The end of Islamic schools of jurisprudence

At the very early stage of Islam, the first concept was the abhorrence of atheism, and the second concept was worshiping one God. In other words, the Islamic doctrine was such a limited one, dedicated to the rejection of polytheism and it called for the unification of multiple gods. For the first Muslim generation religion was limited to a set of worship rituals. But later, this was not enough, when Muslims started to focus on reanalyzing the verses of Quran through the use of logic and reason. To do so, they established new jurisprudence schools like Al Ashaa’era[3], Maturidiyya[4], Al Al Mua’tazelah[5] and other ones simultaneously with the formulation of the four main doctrines of Islam. These variations are no longer of any importance for the new Islamists.

According to the ideology of Islamists, the first required thing is to prove that the individual’s doctrine is the principal one, and that the four main doctrines of Islam should be ignored. Consequently, Islam was suddenly changed into a set of new doctrines, and each doctrine is associated with a different Sheikh or organization. A Muslim is supposed to believe in one of these doctrines, which prevail in his or her area and dominated by one of these many groups with different doctrines. Muslims should adhere to every single detail of prayers, talismans, the way to stand in prayers, celebrations and other religious activities. But the most common feature of all these new doctrines is accusing others of apostasy and exclusion. This ideology is represented by verbal accusation of apostasy which leads to punishment, i.e. killing.

The ruler in charge of distribution faith certificates and apostasy accusations is the one who is called the Sharia chief or the Sharia reference. He controls people’s destiny with his judgements. When the judicial system is in the hands of those who are on the edge of social or religious knowledge, the result will be catastrophic because social and religious knowledge is an essential part of the Islamic jurisprudence system.

The essential point is that the aim of raising this issue of correcting the doctrine by Islamic groups refers to their intention of monopolizing the Islamic doctrine and puts Islam under their trusteeship. Islam has been minimized to one narrow interpretation. By this, the intellectual argumentation, which prevailed in the early stages of Islam, has ended. This argumentation has developed into a new an exclusion theory, classifying Muslims as true ones or apostates. Instead, the dialogue moved to battlefields! Difference is no longer accepted, as Islamic jurisprudence schools have been neutralized under the title of one ultimate doctrine and who ever opposes this sole reading of Islam should be killed. It has become very common to accuse any Muslim of apostasy for any simple reason, and this means that he should be killed, whereas in previous stages of Islam, the argumentation was based on the main four doctrines of Islam. These four Islamic schools were concerned with worships and rituals of Islam. This continued until the new estrangement school substituted the four main doctrines and considers itself as the ultimate Islamic project and as an alternative choice that can attract more advocates and prepare them for the implementation of this project.

Winning more advocates

All Islamic groups, whether moderate or extremist, are very keen on winning more advocates. The true image of these groups is clear in the contradiction between what they say and the way they behave on the ground. They say that they are working for the sake of Allah and Islam, whereas the truth is that they are doing the opposite, when each group tries to win more advocates at the expense of other ones. This was done for long time and is still being done for the same purposes.

Mosques have been very important for attracting advocates with the help of preachers very eloquent. Abu Al Ka’aka, who was a religious preacher in one of the mosques of Aleppo, represents sample of this phenomenon. This new technique was initiated by Assad’s Regime and benefited from Al Qaeda at a later stage, in fact it was in a mutual interest of Assad’s regime and Al Qaeda. Assad wanted to activate Jihadists for a later political role to be played by him as what he did with the emergence of Fateh Al Sham[6] organization. Al Qaeda wanted to establish its branch in Iraq after its sweeping defeat in Afghanistan. It wanted an open path for Arab Jihadists to cross through Syria.

Mosques have been the best way for attracting and mobilizing Jihadists, because it saves time and efforts. No political entity can have a big number of people in one time and in one place like in the mosque, even if it works for months with the strongest propaganda. It is very easy for any group with religious forefront to attract minds and hearts of people and even blackmail them.

The concept of obsession, which started in the corners of mosques together with Sufi and Salafi assembly points were the nucleuses of the new generation of Islamists, who proposed the concept of an Islamic alternative project or the alternative Islam. This idea started in Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamic Group in Pakistan. This was a turning point as it was a radical change of the concept of Islam. The emergence of political Islam led to a dangerous change in the structure of Islamic societies, which were under the effect of the new concept of Islam. Islam was changed from a religious project into a political one, where politics mixes with religion in a very complicated game. Religion was invested for immersing society in a complicated political shell, so society became a political entity, artificially covered with religion. Muslim Brotherhood was the first and most important advocator of this trend with Syed Abul A’la Maududi[7]in India and Pakistan.

At this stage, every Muslim who is associated with this new party-oriented Islam started to abandon the four traditional theories of Islam and joined a new version of Islam, based on a narrow politically-oriented party, Islam was converted into a political project. Those advocates of a „new Islamic project“ changed their allegiance, and the result was that it became very complicated to separate politics from religion.

On the other political side, when any person joins a specific party, he will be imprisoned by his new convictions that are related to his new political affiliation. This is how nationalistic and leftist parties were established, and political Islam was no exception, as it went through the same processes, but because it is holy, it is not easy to admit this fact. It is an extension of previous Islamic movements throughout history. But when we closely look from inside political Islam, we find out that it has the same political structure that governs other political parties. This political structure of political Islam exploits it, and religion is no more than a mask and forefront through which minds of people are manipulated and tampered as a result of obsession.

The political program of political Islam, whether with Al Qaeda or the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham ISI, is no more than a full package of religious scripts that cover all aspects of life. But all these religious scripts are only to cover the political projects of these organizations. Religious scripts are only a framework that incubates the political aims, especially when we know that the interpretations of these religious scripts is always liable for change as per requested by upcoming interests and political maneuvers. Abu Baker Al Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Sham restored slavery, female slaves were sold in the streets just to satisfy the lusts of militants and attract new ones. Instead of maintaining the presence of Christians within the territories of ISIS like what happened in the early stages of Islam when they were known as “Ahel Al Zemah“[8] and got their own rights, Al Baghdadi looked only for their wealth to be looted under fabricated pretext of affiliation with external powers. Additionally, Al Qaeda and ISIS approved killing the non-Muslim civilians in return for Muslims killed somewhere. This is one of many repulsive fatwas that were used by these two most fanatic Islamic organizations. However, the main question remains:

  • How can leaders of these organization convince their followers and audience that these sets of behavior are identical with the scripts of Islamic Sharia?

The story can be briefly put like this: Advocates of political Islam have taken Islam out of its worship perspective to its political perspective. Then they held religious scripts and changed them into disconnected fragmentations which have finally become the constitution of these radical Islamic organizations. By doing so, they can project whatever fragments of this “constitution” on any issue or conduct they want to justify

Caliphate and the permanence of Jihad

The idea of restoring the Islamic Caliphate all over again and connecting it with the idea of permanent Jihad is a very complicated and problematic issue, as many generations of Muslims have never learnt anything about what happened during more than one thousand years of deadly conflicts over power under the title of Islamic Caliphate.

All that has been taught to these generations is about the heroic battles and incursions of Muslims into other nations’ territories. Nothing was taught about what resulted from these wars, always been intentionally ignored by religious educational institutes. These institutions, which graduate hundreds of students every year, are always keen on isolating those students from the political aspects of Caliphate times.

This kind of education created a nice but fake image of these wars in the minds of learners. Advocates of these schools wanted to restore this falsified image, and this was intentionally done in the course of the war in Afghanistan which played a key role in the resurrection of this culture. Such culture extended to Algeria in the so-called “The Black Ten“[9] civil war in Algeria. The Palestinian Islamic Movement, Hamas had the same experience during the second Palestinian uprising, when it gained much sympathy throughout the Arab and Islamic world due to the importance of Palestine for Arabs and Muslims. By that time, the concept of a military Islamic project was deeply-rooted in the minds of many Muslims and the young generations started to go astray. These new generations were unable to recognize the difference between a limited military action and a long-run war that even the Soviet Union gave up due to great loss. An Islamic movement that can carry out some military action and few explosions to kill few soldiers can’t be considered to be a project. This war in Afghanistan didn’t create an Islamic State; on the contrary, it paved the way for a long war. Thus, permanent Jihad is intended to remain for ever as the Prophet’s Hadith were selectively chosen to reinforce this theory. In other words, the question can be put like this:

  • Did the selective interpretation of Jihad come from a misunderstanding of the defensive Jihad when one’s country is attacked?

If the concept of permanent Jihad was true, early Muslims should have signed no reconciliation agreement with the non-Muslims and wars would have continued since the time of prophet Muhammed. This problem takes us back to the conversion of religious texts into a mosaic to be presented as fatwas that accord with the interests of Islamic organizations and their projects.

This predicament is that the establishment of a Caliphate has become the responsibility of society, family and individuals, which means the militarization of the whole society by the advocators of these Islamic organizations.

The discussion of economic conditions and dictatorship as direct reasons for extremism without investigating other essential issues will be an inaccurate approach to understanding this complicated phenomenon. Poverty and oppression can push individuals to robbery or other similar crimes, or even establish criminal gangs. But establishing an extremist Islamic organization can never be the result of poverty, because it requires extraordinary efforts and exceptional ideas.

Conclusion

The core problem of deviant Islamists is not only about their deviation from religious scripts like what Khawarej[10] did, but also about the origin of the idea itself. These new Islamists have legalized and justified terrorist attacks and crimes against humanity in the West and targeting all the civil societies without any discrimination.

The bloody discourse of the Islamic organizations wanted to change the Islamic society into a barbaric and ferocious one that is involved only in bloodshed, without making any distinction between kids, women or the disabled.

This ideology has finally produced the bloody and extremist thought starting from Afghanistan and then extending to Asian and African countries including Arab regions, whose capitals are now in the hands of Iran.


[1] Aum Shinrikyo, is a Japanese doomsday cult founded by Shoko Asahara in 1984. It carried out the deadly Tokyo subway sarin attack in 1995 and was found to have been responsible for another smaller sarin attack the previous year.

[2] Kubaisyat is a female Sufi movement which started in Damascus and spread in some other Arab countries like Kuwait, Lebanon and Jordan.

[3] An Islamic group that is different from Sunnah in many doctrine issues and terminologies, especially how God is perceived by the Muslim and properties of faith and how the Muslim will see God in the judgement day. However, they are the closest group to Sunnah.

[4] Maturidiyya is one of the main schools of Sunni Islam theology. It was formalized by Abu Mansur Al Maturidi and brought the beliefs already present among the majority of Sunnis under one school of systematic theology. It is considered one of the orthodox Sunni creeds alongside the Ash’ari school.

[5] Al Mua’tazelah is a group of Muslims who believe in logic and discourse analysis. They believe in the free will of human beings to choose. They consider Quran to be a creation of God. For them, any Muslim who commits a sin will be in hell unless s/he repents before death. A sinful Muslim is neither a Muslim nor a Non-Muslim.

[6] Fateh Al Sahm is an extremist Islamic group which was initiated in Lebanon

[7] Syed Abul A’la Maududi was a Pakistani Muslim philosopher, jurist, journalist and imam. His numerous works, which “covered“ a range of disciplines such as Qur’anic exegesis, hadith, law, philosophy.

[8] Ahel Al Zemah is the Islamic name for Christians who lived under the Islamic successive Caliphates like Umayyad and Abbasids.

[9] “The Black Ten” refers to The Algerian Civil War, fought between the Algerian Government and various Islamic rebel groups from 26 December 1991 to 8 February 2002.

[10] Al Khawarej is a group of Muslims which appeared at the end of the fourth Rashidi Caliph, Othman Ben Affan. They deviated from Ali Ben Abi Taleb and they were fought by him in many locations. They considered that killing Ali Ben Abi Taleb as a sublimation to God. They consider any sin to be enough for estranging a person. Anyone who doesn’t agree with them should be killed. They are strong believers in estrangement of Muslims for any sin committed.


All publishing and copywrite are preserved to Middle East and North Africa Media Monitor MENA