Science under Islam: Rise, Decline and Revival’ provided Professor S M Deen’s excellent 2007 analysis of the rise of science (and technology) in the Islamic Golden Age, examined the causes that led to its decline and the failed later attempts for its revival, and finally discussed the social and religious reformations needed for it to flourish in contemporary Muslim societies. (It is a unique, highly relevant and well-written book which is still selling and hugely pertinent to today’s situation and definitely worth a read – see http://www.scienceunderislam.com) Social reformation would need to include the rule of law, democratic infra-structure and human-rights, while religious reformation would involve the interpretation of scripture. Without such reformations, it was argued, the Muslim quarter of world population would be constrained from full participation in the science-driven 21st century world. That would be despite the magnificent Arabic and Muslim contributions to philosophy, arithmetic, algebra, geometry and trigonometry, astronomy, optics, chemistry, geography, mechanics and medicine achieved during the Golden Age.
Now, almost a decade later, Professor Deen provides further analysis of the divisions in Islam, tracing the historic origins of dissention, including an analysis of the birth of the extreme doctrine of Takfirism, the development of the Sunni/Shia division and the problematic creation of Sharia, based originally on unreliable oral accounts of sayings and deeds of the Prophet. The analysis also includes further examination of the present day sources of financial strength and influence in the conflicted Islamic world and the implications for Muslim and non-Muslim societies. There is hope for a better future, but it will take more resources, understanding and patience for its achievement.
DIVISIONS, SHARIA AND EXTREMISM IN ISLAM
By Professor S M Deen
Origin of Division and its Expansion
In most major religions, the source of division can be traced back to their origin, and in the case of Islam, to division in the Prophet’s own household. The successful group in that household was led by the Prophet’s favourite wife Ayesha, daughter of Abu Bakr who later became the first Khalifa, and the other group led by the Prophet’s daughter Fatima, married to Ali, the Prophet’s cousin and adopted son, who later became the 4th Khalifa. Ali, seeming not to have political acumen, was overwhelmed by grief at the death of the Prophet in 632 CE. He simply sat with Prophet’s dead body for over two days before burying him. In the meanwhile Umar, friend of Abu Bakr and the future second Khalifa, sensed a dangerous political vacuum and negotiated, just in time, a deal with the Medinan tribal leaders, to declare Abu Bakr as the Khalifa, i.e. the successor to the Prophet. This news came to Ali too late. Shortly before his death, the Prophet had acquired a property as war booty, which he had promised to his impoverished daughter Fatima. But the new Khalifa, Abu Bakr, unnecessarily antagonised Fatima (and Ali) by refusing to pass this property to her, pronouncing that the Prophet had no heir. Fatima, who died six months later, never recognised Abu Bakr as the Khalifa, though Ali did so after her death. Some Muslims, particularly Shias, would disagree with the idea that Ali was politically naïve and would view perhaps the election of Abu Bakr as the Khalifa, as a conspiracy against Ali.
Ali failed to succeed Abu Bakr or even Umar. The third Khalifa Usman was assassinated, after which Ali became the 4th Khalifa in 656 CE, but Ayesha opposed and led an army against Ali (battle of Jamal, Nov, 656 CE) in which apparently 20,000 Muslims, many of them revered Companions of the Prophet died. A battle for succession between Prophet’s favourite wife and his adopted son in which 20,000 revered Muslims died does not bring glory to Islam. This battle somehow legitimised in the Muslim psyche that the killing of each other for political power is somehow acceptable in Islam, Ayesha lost the battle and escorted out of the battlefield to safety on Ali’s order by Muhammad, Ayesha’s favourite half-brother, and Ali’s adopted son and supporter. She retired unharmed in Medina where she remained until her death some 20 years later. It is very likely that Ayesha unwittingly found herself leading an army against Ali, which she regretted deeply later, saying “I wish I was never born”. However, for the Muslims worse to follow.
Muaviyya, cousin of the assassinated Khalifa Usman and Governor of Syria at Damascus, refused to accept Ali as the Khalifa, blamed Ali for the death of Usman (even though Ali was innocent) and declared himself the Khalifa. In the ensuing battle of Siffin (summer 657 CE), reportedly 70,000 Muslims died. After an inconclusive battle between Ali and Muaviyya, a group of Muslims, former supporters of Ali, decided that both Ali and Muaviyya were responsible for the problems of the Muslim world, and hence they were unacceptable as Muslims who could be and should be physically eliminated. Sometimes I wonder whether this group would have reached the conclusion they did, if 20,000 Muslims did not die in the battle of Jamal between Ali and Ayesha, and another 70,000 in the battle of Siffin between Ali and Muaviyya, both the battles taking place within a span of 10 months. This must have been a trauma for the Muslims, but it did not justify the evil doctrine of Takfir that was subsequently created.
Muslims are proud to claim that there is no excommunication in Islam, because of a fundamental tenet in Islam that anyone who calls him/her self a Muslim is a Muslim, and only God (but not any human) can judge whether that person is or is not a good Muslim. Therefore the idea that some Muslims can not only decide who is or is not a good Muslim, but also can execute whoever they consider a bad Muslim is an abomination at the very heart of Islam. This idea is called Takfir and its adherents Takfiris, who succeeded in assassinated the unprotected Ali, but not Muaviyya, who became the unrivalled Khalifa, ushering in the Umayyad Dynasty in 661 CE.
Muaviyya was succeeded by his son Yazid, opposed by Hussain, son of Ali and favourite grandson of the Prophet. Hussain’s elder brother Hasan was by then dead. Against pragmatic advice, Hussain left Medina with his family and a band of some fifty followers for Kufa in order to raise an army to fight Yazid. On his way to Kufa, he was stopped and surrounded at Karbala by Yazid’s army which massacred all of them and on Yazid’s order severed the head of Hussain and sent it (the head) to Damascus for Yazid. This was the day 10 of the Muslim month of Muharram (in 680 CE). In Islam the dead must be buried with respect and their bodies must not be mutilated. The news that the Prophet’s grandson’s family was slaughtered, he himself was beheaded, and his head was subsequently displayed and dishonoured by Yazid, sent a shiver among all Muslims. Nobody knows where the head of Prophet’s grandson was eventually buried (or perhaps thrown away by Yazid). By the way, 22-year old Ali, a son of Hussain, was sick on that day and was covered with clothes in a tent, because of which the killers did not find him, and thus he escaped the massacre. This Ali became the next Shia Imam after Hussain and was titled Jainul Abedin, who devoted himself entirely to religion, shunning politics completely.
The followers of Ali (Shiath al Ali) became known as the Shia, separating themselves from the rest of the Muslims (the majority) who were called the Sunnis (the traditionalists). The Shias believe Ali should have been the Khalifa from the beginning, and therefore the reigns of the previous three Khalifas and their religious edicts are all illegitimate. They further believe that only the descendants of the Prophet through Fatima and Ali can be the rulers of the Muslims. Ali (adopted son of the Prophet) was the first Shia Imam, his sons Hassan and Hussain were the 2nd and 3rd Imams, followed by the descendants of Hussain as the subsequent Imams. In contrast the Sunnis treat all the four Khalifas from Abu Bakr to Ali as legitimate, and they do not believe in any Imams although they respect the Shia Imams. There is no difference between the Shias and Sunnis on the Quran and on the Prophet, the differences lie in the developments in religious practices and Sharia that took place after the death of the Prophet. The Shias observe the 10th Muharram as Ashura (as a day of mourning) with processions and heavy beatings on the chest to express grief. Some Sunnis also observe Ashura but quietly with fasting and prayers. However, it would be centuries before Shias became a political force.
I have set out above the roots of early dissentions in Islam. Summarising: (i) it became acceptable for Muslims to kill other Muslims for political power, and soon afterwards under Khalifa Muaviyya some enemies (Muslims) were burnt alive (DAESH does it as well), (ii) hereditary monarchy began, destroying the egalitarianism of Islam, (iii) Shiaism was born and (iv) the extremist evil doctrine of Takfir appeared in the scene. All these events took place within 30 years of the Prophet’s demise in 632 CE.
I have searched the Quran in vain for any verse that can be interpreted as supporting Takfir, but I found none. Pause for a moment. After the first wife Khadija of the Prophet, Ali his cousin, became the first Muslim, followed by Abu Bakr the later first Khalifa. The Prophet adopted Ali as his son and gave him in marriage his favourite daughter Fatima. Given that the Takfiris did not hesitate to assassinate Ali the most revered Muslim after the Prophet, there can be nothing more vile than this doctrine of Takfir. Most Muslims do not support the doctrine of Takfir and view that judging a Muslim as good or bad Muslim is a major sin, since only God can make such a judgement. Ironically this fear of sin is also a reason why most Muslims are reluctant to condemn Takfiris and extremists as heretic.
Further on Shiaism: Over years the Shias became divided into many branches, the majority branch is the 12-er Shias based on 12 Imams. Their 10th and 11th Imams (father and son) died in the prison of an Abbasid Khalifa. After the death of the 11th Imam, a rumour was circulated that he had a son called Mahdi (the 12th Imam) in hiding from the Khalifa. Nobody claimed to have seen him, except one Shia person, who declared himself as the conduit between Mahdi and his community. After a while the conduit declared that Mahdi had become invisible, and thus “the Hidden Imam” who had disappeared from the normal view and would reappear at the end of time when he would establish a rule of the righteous, with peace, justice and harmony, and until his return the world would go through chaos, injustice and sufferings. Then a Shia “Sufi” called Shah Ismail of the Safavid Sufi branch of Azerbaijan conquered the then Sunni Iran in around 1500 CE and forcibly established there Shivaism, and one of his successors the 12-er Shiaism. Until then the Shia clerics had taken the view that they must not take part in politics in this troubled world and must wait for the return of the Hidden Imam Mahdi. The Safavid ruler invited the Shia clerics to come to Iran where he established Shia seminaries, madrasas and institutions with much funding for the clerics, who then found it impossible to resist that invitation. Thus the full-fledged 12-er Shiaism was established in Iran. It seems many Shia branches have their own Hidden Imams, none of which are of course recognised by the Sunnis. A Shia Imam has a greater power to interpret the Quran, without any parallel in Sunnism, which recognises no central authority. Roughly speaking 90% of the World’s Muslims are Sunni and 90% of Iran’s Muslims are Shia. Intermarriages between Sunni and Shia are very common. However, in the last few years the tension between these two communities has grown.
Anti-Rational Sharia and its Development
Under the Umayyad dynasty an Islamic empire was created, but the justice under the empire was delivered by the Qadis (judges) who followed local customs as there was no general law that encompasses the whole empire. The Quran has about 80 verses on criminal law – too few to create a legal system. The judges could deliver contradictory verdicts, all of which were regarded equally valid, without any higher court for moderation. Some years after the Abbasid dynasty was established in 750 CE, Khalifa Mansur asked the ulama (Muslim religious scholars) to create a legal system for the empire. But later the intellectual Khalifa Mamun (813 – 833 CE) opted for an enlightened interpretation of the Quran through what was called the Mutazila movement, but he was opposed by the ulama and their uneducated followers – the masses, who regarded the belief in any non-literal interpretation of the Quran as the path to Hell-fire. Some years after the death of Mamun, under successive weak Khalifas, the ulama provided the mass-support for the rulers in exchange for the ulama’s control of law-making. This was the environment in which Sharia was born and nurtured, centuries after the death of the Prophet.
Since the Quran has too few verses on law-making, the ulama turned to Sunnah (tradition) – the actions and sayings of the Prophet, as recorded in Hadiths. And here is the rub. The Prophet forbade the recording (i.e. writing down) of Hadiths, presumably to avoid confusion with the Quran – a ban on Hadith writing that was enforced by the first four Khalifas. But in 661 CE Muaviyya became the Khalifa by force and he needed Hadiths to legitimise his reign. He encouraged Hadiths when many fake Hadiths were produced to support his rule, Hadiths such as “Prophet said that Muaviyya would one day be the leader of the Muslims”. Anti-Muaviyya forces produced counter Hadiths, opening up an era of massive Hadith fabrication. From the mid-9th century (long after the death of the rationalistic Khalifa Mamun), some scholars began collections of Hadiths, resulting in eight collections, each being identified by the name of its collector, such al-Bukhari, Al-Muslim, and so on. These collections did not make enough checks to separate authentic Hadiths from the fakes.
The Sharia law was developed over several centuries from the mid-9th century, and naturally scholars did not agree. This led to many different schools of Sharia and after much fighting and in-fighting over time, the Sunnis settled on four mutually recognised Madhabs (schools) of Sharia: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafii and Hanbali, from Hanafi the most liberal to Hanbali the most literal (the orthodox). In Mecca Imams from each of these four Madhabs led prayers for its followers in the Kaaba precinct. However the Hanbali Madhab was not liked by the other three for its claim to be the superior Madhab. The Sunni world lived in this fashion for many centuries until came the Wahhabis, an extreme manifestation of the Hanbalis in the 18th Century. The Shias have their own Sharia, based on the sayings of their successive Imams.
Impact of Sharia on modern life: Sharia was developed under Islamic empires, in which Muslims were the superior people, Jews and Christians second class, and the others far worse – an attitude still persists among the conservative Muslims and in many Muslim countries. This attitude manifests in a certain way in countries where the Muslims are a minority, such as the UK. The conservatives Muslims (the majority of Muslims) believe, reinforced regularly by Friday Khutbas by some Imams, that Sharia urges them not to fraternising with non-Muslims, and as a result they live an isolated ghetto life largely without any social interactions with the majority, with whom they cannot generally share any values, hopes and aspirations. This is an environment in which misunderstanding and resentment can grow, and all sorts of extremism (though not necessarily violent extremism) can thrive, including the likes of the Yorkshire rapists. The liberal Muslims are of course different, and they generally support multi-culturalism.
One Abdul Wahhab (1703 – 92) in what is now Saudi Arabia created an extreme doctrine called these days Wahhabism within the Hanbali school. One Muhammad bin Saud made a pact with him that in return for power over Mecca and Medina (the two holiest places in Islam), he Muhammad Saud would establish Wahhabism throughout his realm. And so it happened, with also British help. Wahhabism became important in the Muslim World, only after the discovery of oil in Saudi Arabia in 1938 CE. The Saudis believe the presence of oil in their kingdom is a reward from God for their puritanical and literal Wahhabism, which they must propagate and export to other countries to remain in God’s favour.
While the Hanbalis used to believe their Madhab as superior to the other three, the Wahhabi intolerance went one step further, relegating the other three Madhabs as second class and forbidding them from praying in the Kaaba precinct under their non-Wahhabi Imams, i.e. only Wahhabi Imams were\are permitted. Shias were\are treated with undiluted contempt.
The Wahhabis disallow any translation of the Quran to enter Saudi Arabia, unless it conforms to the Wahhabi doctrine. Some years ago, they decided to produce an English translation of the Quran, and then decided to adopt the celebrated English translation by the late liberal Muslim scholar Allama Yusuf Ali. They not only changed the word “God” used in the English translation by Yusuf Ali into “Allah”, but also rewrote Yusuf Ali’s liberal interpretations and comments into a conservative Wahhabi narrative. They have now flooded the World with their modified translation under Yusuf Ali’s name – it is now impossible to get any of the Yusuf Ali’s original translation (as it happened I have a copy of the original). They then produced an English translation of their own with misleading insertions. Consider the following famous verse in the Quran (Surah Fathiha):
“Guide us to the straight path – the path of those upon whom you have bestowed your grace, not the path of those who have earned your anger, nor of those who have gone astray”.
This has been changed in the Saudi translation into:
“Guide us to the straight path – the path of those upon whom you have bestowed your grace, not the path of those who have earned your anger (such as the Jews), nor of those who have gone astray (such as the Christians)”.
Observe how words “such as Jews” and “such as Christians” which are not in the Quran have been inserted in the English translation of Quranic verses. This is an example of the preaching of intolerance by the Wahhabis. This translation is distributed free with the complements of the Custodian of the Two Holy Places (the title of the Saudi King) all over the UK mosques, madrasas and elsewhere. Forgotten that a Christian delegation from Nazran visited the Prophet the year before his death. When they asked for a place to pray, he said: pray in my mosque, this is the place to worship. But instead of this accommodation with other faiths, the Saudis have driven out all Jews and Christians from the Saudi soil, except for expatriates. Also forgotten that the Quran says in many places that Jews and Christians will also go to Heaven.
Saudi Laws: The Saudis claim to follow the “Divine” Sharia Law. Sharia law is neither divine, nor proper law. Sharia as discussed earlier is created during the 10th and 11th century by some orthodox Muslim scholars who disagreed among themselves. Furthermore, since Sharia provides only scenarios not exact laws, its application is based on subjective interpretation. Finally the Wahhabis have chosen a subset they liked from the 10th and 11th century work, added further into their Sharia collection from their own extremist interpretation of Hadiths. Decapitating someone and then hanging the deadbody with the head in a sack is a common Saudi “Sharia” punishment, condemned regularly by many Muslim scholars, Arab and non-Arab, as anti-Sharia. These scholars have also denounced Saudi hereditary monarchy as being wholly anti-Sharia, a view to which even Osama Bin Laden subscribed.
Abdul Wahhab preached an extreme literalist doctrine, and he declared that anyone who did not adhere to his version of Islam was not a proper Muslim, and hence he could be killed and his womenfolk raped. Wahhabism is the central source of violent and non-violent extremism in Islam, and many of the Wahhabis are Takfiris. Thirteen out of the nineteen hijackers of the Twin Tower horror were Saudis. The DAESH (ISIS) leadership is predominantly Saudi, and it (DAESH) does not practice anything that Abdul Wahhab would not have approved of.
Much of the historical parts of Mecca and Medina remained untouched with the seventh century houses, including the Prophet’s birth house in Mecca, until the Saudi conquest in the early 20th Century. They flattened all that and built new buildings over there. The place where once stood the Prophet’s birth house is now a supermarket complex. A few years ago, the house where Imam Hussain (Prophet’s grandson) used to live was discovered by an archaeologist. As soon as this news was announced, the place was completely destroyed by the Saudi authorities, with high explosives and bulldozers. Therefore the destruction of Palmyra by the DAESH is a regular Wahhabi activity, an activity that would have been whole-heartedly applauded by Abdul Wahhab. And what Abdul Wahhab approved of is subscribed to by a big section of the rich Saudi and Qatari Wahhabis, who fund DAESH.
The Wahhabism is spread by Saudis all over the World, from Bangladesh (which used to be a secular Muslim state) to Britain, through Saudi-funded mosques and madrasas (religious schools). In Bangladesh, the Government used to control the madrasa syllabus and extremism in madrasas through subscribed to selective funding, but now there is plenty of Saudi/Qataris money to support extremist Wahhabi madrasas and mosques, even in very remote villages. Bangladesh Government cannot stop such funding. There are some 5000 mosques and perhaps 500 madrasas in the UK, many of the mosques, including the Central Mosque in London are Wahhabi controlled. Some madrasas are Wahhabi funded which produce Imams who preach religious intolerance in the UK mosques.
However most UK madrasas are run by conservative Muslims, often of Pakistani origin, who follow what is called the Deobandi syllabus, originally produced in Deoband an ancient Islamic centre, near Lucknow in India. This syllabus, although does not support violent extremism, it does preach non-violent extremism. It forbids mixing with non-Muslims and promotes intense disrespect for all non-Muslims, and their lives and culture. The Imams coming out of these madrasas saturate the Muslim mind with their message of hatred. There is only a small step from this intense intolerance to extremism and then to violent extremism. It is this Deobandi mind-set that has produced the Pakistani rapists in Yorkshire. The British Government needs to do something to curve such mosques and madrasas.
Extremist Mentors: Syed Qutb (1906-66) was an Egyptian religious scholar who after returning from the USA became an anti-Western person and developed a doctrine of what one can call religious extremism, preaching the overthrow of Governments in Muslim countries in favour of a worldwide Khelafa. He was the founder of Muslim Brotherhood, was imprisoned and then executed. In Islam “Jihad”, which means Struggle has two forms: greater Jihad for self-purification and lesser Jihad for defensive war, but he added another form, aggressive Jihad, which he described as the most important one. He argued that the West alone is responsible for the present lamentable state of the Muslim World and that the Muslim glory cannot be snatched back from the West by defensive Jihad – what is needed is an aggressive Jihad.
These Jihadists also claim that a Hadith of the Prophet exists which states five stages in the development of the world: (i) the time of the Prophet, (ii) the time of the first four Khalifas, (iii) the time of the benevolent rules, which the Jihadists say includes the period of the Islamic empires, (iv) the time of fitna (chaos) and finally (v) peace under a universal Muslim Khalifa. According to these Jihadists, the present period is the period of fitna, in which it is their duty to establish the final stage of peace, by killing anyone who opposes them or does not agree with them. Therefore if someone does not agree to be a suicide bomber, he/she can be killed along with all the family members. One Boku Haram Jehadist stated on camera that if he kills an innocent person, it does not matter, for if the dead person was a good Muslim, he would go to the Heaven straightaway, but if the dead person was a bad person, he would rightly go the Hell, and so what is the problem? And God would forgive him (the killer) if he had killed an innocent person, since he had killed for a cause of God. They assert that the Quranic declaration that “anyone who kills a person, kills as if the whole humanity” does not apply to them, as they are God’s soldiers fighting an enemy which must be wholly exterminated in order to protect Islam.
They further say that in Noah’s flood, all humans were killed except 12 couples, implying that everybody except the few good ones can be killed – this is the path prescribed by God to follow under a true leader in order to end the age of fitna and to reach the universal peace under a Muslim Khalifa. As long as they (the Jihadists) continue to win in that fitna, they are on the right track. The sign of a true leader is his continuous success – if he evidently fails, then he is not the true leader.
Bosnia to Syria: Muslim extremists led by the Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, a supporter and fellow prisoner of Syed Qutb, joined the Bosnian War. At the end of that war, he and his followers decided to move to Afghanistan (as Al-Qaeda) for their aggressive Jihad under Usama bin Laden as the leader. However, Bin Laden did not go for a world-wide Khelafa; his aim was more limited in that he wanted only to remove the foreign forces (i.e. US bases) from the “holy” Saudi soil, plus the removal of the anti-Sharia Saudi monarchy. Al-Qaeda subsequently moved to Iraq but under a more aggressive leadership of the Jordanian Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, who practiced video-taped beheading of captive Westerners. Al-Zarqawi was killed by a US drone strike, but the sectarian Shia Prime Minister Al-Maliki started oppressing the Sunnis, and imprisoned and tortured many Sunni activists, among them Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. These imprisoned and tortured Sunnis became radicalised in the Iraqi prisons and turned to extremism.
Once released they joined with former soldiers of Saddam Hussain and created the present “khelafa” in Iraq and Syria called ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Sham), Sham being the name of Syria under the early Muslim rulers. The ISIS is also called DAESH the Arabic equivalent of ISIS, but this Arabic acronym is not liked by the ISIS people, since DAESH can also be an Arabic acronym of something insulting to ISIS. If I understand their philosophy (outlined earlier), Al-Baghdadi will remain the Khalifa until he loses his territory in a major way. It is vital for Al-Baghdadi that his “khelafa” spreads to as many countries as possible, so that even if he fails in Iraq, he cannot be said to have failed completely. The prominent candidate countries are: Afghanistan, North Africa (including Libya), Mali, and Nigeria. As for Al-Qaeda, it has morphed into Al-Nusrah in Syria, which is slightly less violent than DAESH.
In Syria there are, in addition to DAESH and Al-Nusrah, many desperate militia groups (over 100), many of whom have imported (i.e. non-Syrian) Wahhabis, supported by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. There is no secular Muslim fighting force of any significance in Syria. The Saudi/Qatari-support the Wahhabi fighters wishing to establish Wahhabism over Syria, where the majority of the population is non-Wahhabi Sunnis. It would seem that DAESH has spread its tentacles to Afghanistan, Libya, Mali, and Nigeria.
Iraq and Syria are the countries with most ancient civilisations, inhabited by a multi-dimensional civilised people, who I think could never be shut up in a DAESH’s “prison”, that forces everyone to a primitive life controlled by violence, as was in Cambodia. Given the nature of the human spirit, the DAESH “prison” will in the long run collapse for three reasons: (i) internal dissentions among the DAESH leaders, (ii) corruption and lethargy that will set among the “prison guards” controlling the people and (iii) the free spirit of the people to breakout. While I am sure of this eventual outcome, I do not know how long it will take for DAESH to collapse, it could be decades.
The Western military help can hasten this demise, but it would be contingent upon an effective local fighting force, not only to drive DAESH out physically, but also to keep it out afterward. Such a local fighting force that could beat DAESH in Iraq (with Western help) would be the Sunnis, but the Shia Iraqi Government has alienated them with injustice. Equally the only fighting force in Syria that could take DAESH there is the President Asad’s army, but he is dependent on the Shias (minority) and he has alienated the Sunnis, the majority. The Shias in Syria are supported by Iran and Hezbullah, while the Saudis support the Wahhabi fighters to impose a Wahhabi regime in Syria, even though the Syrian Sunnis (majority) do not like Wahhabis. The Kurds (Sunni) can successfully fight DAESH (again with US support), but the Sunni Turkey is against arming the Kurds who want independence from Turkey. As long as this mess continues, DAESH will remain unbeaten for the time being. But right now there some prospect of Peace in Syria, excluding ISIS.
Finally, if the present tension among the Saudi Princes (some more extreme Wahhabis than others) flares up, then the country will break up into pieces with religious extremism worse than what we have so far witnessed anywhere. If the Muslim and Western powers can contain the DAESH before the likely Saudi break up, then there will be a chance to contain the extremism in that Saudi flare up, otherwise the world will be facing a catastrophe for many generations to come.
Initial Thoughts on Extremism Prevention
1. There is a conflict between Human-rights (HR) and extremism-prevention. How can you prevent the preaching hatred in mosques and madrasas without violating HR (Freedom of Speech)? How can you stop madrasas and Muslim schools from teaching Creationism in the name of science? I have no good answer. The fact that Gandhi said that he did not believe in HR, but only in HD (human duties) would resonate with many minds, and I wonder if HD could help framing laws for HP (Human Protection).
2. Syllabus Control: How do you control over madrasas that are not funded by Government? Also how could one check the actual teaching without many inspectors?
3. Can you dictate and enforce a policy in a religious school, such as Muslim schools, that requires a certain percentage, say 20%, of the pupils, to be from other faith groups? Can you enforce it over orthodox Jewish schools, let alone Muslim schools and madrasas?
4. If you close one or more madrasas, what will happen to the thousands of poor Muslim children who are educated cheaply (and to parents’ orthodox satisfaction)? The alternative will be very expensive both in money and social terms. Madrasa teachers are very poorly paid, but they teach as a religious duty.
5. Furthermore many madrasas provide FREE full-board up to perhaps the age of 18. Although the accommodation is sub-standard and food very unhealthy, the poor Muslim parents are content, since (i) it does not cost them any money, and (ii) at the end of the madrasa education their sons will come out as respectable Ulama (Muslim religious scholars). These parents do not care a hoot if the education their children receive verges on religious extremism.
6. The Islamic Societies (IS) in most UK universities are almost exclusively dominated by Wahhabi students who in turn control the university mosques through their ISs. The reason is simple: the non-Wahhabi Muslim students do not care for ISs, but the Wahhabis regard it as their religious duty to control ISs and the university mosques. As a result, the Wahhabi students participate in the IS elections and naturally select other Wahhabis as IS members. These Wahhabi ISs get their list of speakers to be invited, Wahhabi literature, and a Wahhabi programme from Wahhabi sources outside the universities. They also usually select Wahhabi Imams for the mosque.
7. Prison Radicalisation: Most Muslim chaplains in the Prison system are orthodox Deobandis who are involved in Prison radicalisation. This has to be stopped by better screening and regular monitoring.
8. Can we prevent Imams and speakers from preaching hatred openly or covertly? How can you negotiate through the jungle of HR (freedom of expression and thought)?
9. And what can you do about the informal mosque madrasas, in which local Muslim children are taught, usually free, the Quran, but also isolationism that they must not mix with the infidel non-Muslims. The hatred and disrespect of non-Muslims and their culture are planted in the early childhood.
10. Some of these actions could alienate the ordinary Muslims and withdraw their current vital cooperation with the Security Services.
11. Can one ask each Muslim community to develop its own strategy to fight extremism? It will not work as the community members will not speak openly against extremism, exposing themselves and their family members to retaliations.
Most Muslims in the UK are proud to call themselves British and most are against religious violence, as evidenced by the success of the Security Services in identifying Jihadist suspects with Muslim cooperation. These links need to be strengthened and expanded with the help of those Muslim community leaders and Muslim scholars (including some well-known Imams) who are also fighting against religious extremism. Much resources, understanding and patience are called for.