Sunday, September 19, 2004

Removing the Caliphate.

There has been a considerable association between Islam and terrorism, which gave rise to an opinion that Islam is a religion that promotes violence and intolerance. Some people took it farther than that while others, more moderate, started to question (righteously) if there wasn’t something deeply wrong in Islam. The leaders of the coalition took every effort to show that this war is not against Islam and that they believe Islam is a peaceful religion. I, not only understand why some people doubt the truth in such announcements but I do have my doubts if they actually meant it, because it’s getting so difficult to believe that Islam is a peaceful religion for non Muslims, and the only thing that keep Muslims from having the same doubts is that...they are Muslims!

Some people are sure that it's Islam that need to be destroyed not just terrorist organizations, and Muslims should convert. Others think that Islam is capable of being reformed and that dictators and clergy are making this impossible, so we need to remove them or weaken their effect on their people to combat terrorism.

I’m a Muslim, but I truly do not want to defend Islam here. I just want to find some answers about the origin of terrorism and why it’s almost always limited to Muslims. It seems that almost all terrorists are Muslims, but not most Muslims are terrorists. Still we have to question, “why”? If we want to fight terrorism, we definitely need to understand the reasons that push people to extremism. This is extremely important now, as if we believe that it’s dictatorships and the allying clergy, and it appeared wasn’t, then we’ll be wasting lives, efforts and money in the wrong direction. While if we believed it’s Islam, and it appeared it was the dictators, then we’ll be risking a lot in fighting the wrong battle and making unnecessary enemies.

I’m not going to discuss the whole issue, as it takes more than what my time and brain can afford, but I want to focus on one difference between Islam and other religions that may have contributed to the fact that Muslims are more prone to become terrorists or extremist than others.

At least most religions were incorporated in one way or another to power and authority at a certain time, and in most case if not all, such power was abused by clerics and it took wars or strong conflicts to separate ‘church’ from the state each time. The difference with Islam is that it didn’t acquire power later as with Christianity for example. From the first beginning the state was founded on a religious base. The ruler was the leader regarding politics, daily life issues and spiritual affairs. The power was concentrated in one hand; the caliphate. Some Muslim thinkers tend to believe now that this was not only unnecessary, but it was wrong. Those are still minority of course.

Anyway, since the caliphate derived his power from religion, he had to make a strong alliance with the most known pious men in the nation, as there was still no clergy at that time. And when conflicts started among different men, all claiming the right to be the successor of the prophet Mohammed, their campaigns were naturally base on how religious or how close to the prophet they were. Each part gathered all the respected religious men they could. Men who knew Mohammed and spent some time in his company. These conflicts were very bitter and included bloody battles between Muslims in a short time after Mohammed’s death, and with such hard struggle, every candidate needed all the support he could get.

From that time Islam was politicalized and was corrupted but it was not very easy to notice that. Things went crazy and after some time principles didn’t matter, lives didn’t matter. All that mattered was to get to power and to be the caliphate. ‘Campaign managers’ started to dig in the Koran to find something that can support their boss or that can be used against his rival, and when they couldn’t find that in the Koran, they resorted to another effective method that was forbidden for some time after Mohammed’s death; quoting Mohammed.

That was a very dangerous development in the history of Islam. One of these clerics would go out to the people and say that what his boss did was the right thing because he heard Mohammed saying this or that, and since he accompanied Mohammed for some time people would believe him and all he had to do to make it ‘documented’ was to bring another man who would swear that he was there when it was said.

Things from that time on got much more complicated, but the main idea is that rulers with the help of clerics were able to change many things in Islam that did not fit them and come up with some new stuff too, and their main weapon was quoting Mohammed. When life started to look ugly for Muslims and poverty and injustice became too much to tolerate, the clerics had to come up with something that divert the attention of people from their misery (this was done by focusing on the other life) and convince them that these hardships are caused by an outside power not their government (infidels and their conspiracy against Islam). I believe through what I read about Muslim history that the strong belief in conspiracy theories and their prevalence date back that much.

But what should Muslims do about the “infidels' conspiracies”? Actually nothing. Jihad was limited to the caliphate to deal with. He was the only one who had the power to decide that “infidels” should be fought because they are “infidels”, or just avoid the issue totally when it’s not the right time. To understand this more one should acknowledge that the average Muslim believes that all non Muslims are heretics and should be taught Islam and if refuse they should pay a tax or it’s war. However this rule is not strict at all and most Muslims, although think it is what God said, they don’t think they should carry it out! This can be explained by the effect of the clerics. The She’at have the “Taqyia” and the Sunni had multiple similar legislation that make jihad similarly out of the question until the ‘caliphate’ or the “Mufti” decides. This was needed to keep things under control, as Jihad can turn out to have dangerous consequences on the rulers themselves.

But the question is still the same! Why would a religion provoke violence and demand submission from others!? Unless it’s not from God.

The answer to this ‘difficult’ question is to read the Koran and when did it authorize the use of power against non Muslims. The first verse that allowed Muslims to fight back the infidels in Mecca was this one:
it’s permitted to those who were fought, to fight back because they were subjected to injustice” the verse was, first not an order but an authorization, second as a response to injustice carried against Muslims. You should not fight someone because you think he’s an inifel but you fight back when you are hurt or your rights get violated. This can be explained in another verse that clearly says, “ No one should be forced to change his belief. It’s become obvious what’s right and what’s wrong” It’s worth mentioning that the last verse is one of the last verses regarding dealing with non Muslims. Clerics resorted to quoting Mohammed to combat such verses. Of course they said they were explaining them to the average Muslim. You know, because they were written in Chinese.

There are of course some verses that deal with this issue a little bit differently, but the first authorization should’ve been generalized while the others should’ve been looked at as “special cases” related to time and circumstances, but the clerics and their sponsors had a different opinion. They told people that the words of Koran are eternal, holy and that they are the words of God written in heaven. How can you argue with such words, and you shouldn’t, because you’d be questioning the legitimacy of the caliphate himself! Now that should NEVER be allowed.

It may be new to some, but many Muslims questioned that at that time, and naturally they were tortured, oppressed and burned sometimes. Their name is the Moa’atazila and they are a group of thinkers and philosophers who thought that the Koran verses came as a response to particular events and that they were inspired to Mohammed and they were only important because our minds gave them such importance and because we believe in them, and thus the higher authority is for the human mind and not the script.

Unfortunately, this group was oppressed and when they finally got to power, they avenged their rivals in similar way and that was their greater mistake and what made their ideas disappear very rapidly. However nowadays there are many Muslim thinkers and writers who adapt a similar pattern of thinking to that of the Moa’atazilla and they are oppressed too. They look at the words of Koran as a beginning not a limit. They are just broad lines that we can start from without fear and without restrictions, and they believe so also because the most frequent command in the Koran is, “THINK”; think and look around you and question everything.

I believe that these thinkers are the hope to reform Islam, to save it and get it back from the hands of those evil and ignorant Mullahs and clerics. Such pattern of thinking can open all closed gates between Muslims and the rest of the world. We really believe that all religions are one and that they all come from the same source, so why fight and why quarrel? And I don’t mean this in the same superficial way we always hear from clerics who just want to sound moderate. It’s that we can, and should, have our own ways in praying and communicating with our creator and it’s not anyone else’s business.

But how are we going to reform Islam if we can’t guarantee some minimum level of safety for thinkers? How are we going to do this without freedom of speech?
I’m not talking about the danger from a conservative society, as I believe that you can communicate with people and present new ideas in tactful ways without a very serious risk, but I’m talking about the danger that comes from dictators who do not want anyone to think for himself and come up with some new ideas that may disrupt the ‘peace’ they worked so hard to create in their kingdoms. We need to at least remove these tyrants before any reform could be even possible. They won’t accept any change in the curriculum, for instance, that would endanger their positions, and the changes we think about definitely will do that. We have all seen their reaction to the change in Iraq; how terrified they are and how desperately they try to stop the change in Iraq. That should give us an idea of how they are going to deal with it in their own lands.

-By Ali.

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