Alia Hogben: Extremism, Muslims, and Collective Guilt

Author: Alia Hogben

canvasIt is a difficult decision to write this column in the midst of so much hostility directed against all Muslims, along with the insistence that we acknowledge our “collective guilt.” However, it behooves us Muslims to follow the advice of Islamic scholar, Khaled Abou el Fadl, to take a conscientious pause to examine what is happening within our communities which requires us to create changes.

Some Muslims have accepted a version of Islam which has diverted us from the gentler commandments of the Quran.

The commandment of God in the Quran to believers is that: “We have willed you to be a community of the middle way, so that you might bear witness to the truth before all humankind, and that the Apostle might bear witness to it before you.” And of Himself God states that, “God has willed upon Himself the laws of grace and mercy, and that this mercy overspreads everything.”

We have to acknowledge the disconnect from being a community of the middle way to what is being done by some of us in the name of Islam.

For the last forty years or so, there has been a cataclysmic shift amongst some Muslims towards an interpretation of Islam which tends to extremism and rigidity.

There is clear justification for the feelings of frustration and hopelessness experienced by many Muslims. Around the world, it bears repeating that most of the Muslim majority countries have suffered under colonialism, then under dictatorships and totalitarian states, with poverty and conflicts as their realities. Added to this is the continued aggression of some Western states against these countries.

Western Muslims are experiencing discrimination and racism, esp. following the deadly attacks committed by some Muslims.

However, there are other elements which are responsible for the extreme and fundamentalist thinking amongst us. The emphasis is on a literal, puritanical, misogynist interpretation which is intolerant of pluralism and diversity.

Some have said that being arch- conservative and holding extreme views does not necessarily lead to violence. I disagree. It is a slippery slope when we hold views that espouse only one monolithic perspective on how to be a good Muslim. Along with this, the ultra – conservative views include intolerance of other faiths and peoples.

As I have said often, the wonderful belief in the value of the ummah –the community of believers – has been abused by some Muslims. The concept now often leads to a separation between “them and us”, with “them” viewed as enemies.

Why has this interpretation gained such strength, in the last 40 years that it not only overshadows but is intolerant of the superb contributions of a gentler Islam?

One of the major reasons is that vast amounts of petro dollars have been put to the service of spreading the extremist interpretation and has been used to train well-known “leaders” in this school of thought.

My point is that we should be concerned about extremist views which do not include human rights, nor equality of all peoples, nor democratic values. No matter how often these purveyors of extreme ideology insist that they do not preach violence, it is not improbable that some do take that next dangerous step towards violence.

The one recent example is that of the young Muslim woman, Tashfeen Malik, one of the killers of San Bernardino, California. She was from Pakistan where she attended a religious seminary and then she moved to Saudi Arabia.

We have little knowledge of her life or family, but we do know the teachings of the religious seminary she attended which is similar to the teachings and practices in Saudi Arabia based on Wahabism.

This religious seminary for women exists in Toronto as well. Their interpretation of Islam is ultra – conservative with an emphasis on a patriarchal family structure, with well -defined roles for women, with extreme gender segregation within their houses, and segregation in action by their full covering when they go out.

Tashfeen Malik seems to have absorbed these teachings, including the belief that the ummah is under siege, and so took the next crucial step to violence against those who are attacking Muslims in the world.

Please believe that most Muslims are just as sickened with the murders and destruction. We are tired of the constant whine from others that we should speak out against the horrific actions of our fellow believers. Why the collective guilt on all Muslims?

More importantly, Muslims need to hear greater sympathy for the sufferings of Muslims who are the main targets of cruelties and horrors of groups such as DAESH/ISIS.

The heartwarming example of Canada welcoming Syrian refugees will go a long way to convince Muslims of the compassion of others.

May the new year bring peace to all of us. Amen.