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Is This Their Idea of Eid Fireworks?

Deconstructing the Extremist Ideologies

Editor’s note: This article was published by Dr. Shabir Ally after the suicide bombing close to the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah just before `Eid Al-fitr 1437. He kindly gave AboutIslam.net permission to republish it.


We are all reeling from the shocking recent bombings in Turkey, Bangladesh, Iraq, and now Saudi Arabia—just 200 meters from the mosque of our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). Instead of entering the month of Shawwaal a smile, we are made to celebrate Eid with a crushed spirit. Instead of giving us colourful fireworks, the extremists have spilled Muslim blood not far from the peaceful rawdah of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).

In response to the Medinan explosion, some have declared that a Muslim could not have done this. They mean either:

1. No one thinking himself to be a Muslim could have done this; or

2. We do not consider him a Muslim regardless of what he thinks of himself.

Neither of these two options is entirely satisfying. Clearly, we all denounce the act. Even non-Muslims are now asking how it is possible for Muslims to kill their own people. And statistics are now in evidence that more Muslims than non-Muslims die from the terrorist acts perpetrated by other Muslims—in addition to the many Muslims who die in what is termed a war on terrorism.

But option 1 above does not work, for clearly some Muslims who are armed with some extremist ideologies can think that they are doing the right thing as good Muslims while their acts horrify the rest of us.

And option 2 is problematic, as this opens a can of worms in declaring who is a Muslim and who is not. This is, of course, one of the ideas that drives some Muslims to kill some others. When they arrogate to themselves the right to declare fellow Muslims kuffar, they find it easier to first label and then to kill our Muslim brothers and sisters.

The third, and a workable option, is to deconstruct the extremist ideologies that give rise to such violence. It so happens that there are some interpretations stemming from the classical period of Islamic scholarship that give rise to intolerance, hate, and, in some cases, violence against civilians.

Ever since 9/11, we have been condemning one act of terrorism after another. I recently heard the president of a mosque say to a crowd that we are getting tired of issuing such condemnations while some non-Muslims think we have not issued enough condemnations.

Classical interpretations of Islam proceed on certain grounds which give us all the features of Islamic faith and practice that are familiar to us all. But some of those grounds also become in our time fertile soil for the planting of violent radical extremism. Most Muslims remain moderate on those grounds. But the few who become radicalized have caused much havoc, and much harm to Islam. And now they are clearly killing Muslims too.

I call on Muslim scholars to go the extra step of retracing our steps. We must re-examine the roots of radical interpretations of Islam. We will find that the same roots that give the majority of Muslims our moderate Islam have also led to branches of violent extremism. To cut off these branches, we need to go back to the forks in the road we have travelled and block those paths leading to extremism. So far this all sounds very general, but specifics will be noted in my other writings and in my public debates.

Space and time allow for only one, but a very significant, example of specifics here: the doctrine of abrogation. I’ll put the matter in the briefest way I can here. According to the doctrine of abrogation, certain verses of the Quran are no longer to be followed, because they were once revealed with one instruction whereas later verses were revealed with the currently applicable instruction.

This has tremendous implications for the question of violence. Those who say that Islam commands us to live in peace may cite Surah al-Kafirun which says, {To you your religion, and to me mine} (Al-Kafirun 109:6).

To moderates, this clearly instructs us to live and let live, to follow our religion but tolerate others and their religions. But many who follow the doctrine of abrogation say that this early Quranic chapter was abrogated by later chapters such as Surah At-Tawbah which, according to them, advocate violence, especially the single verse in Quran 9:5. They may go as far as to say that this single verse abrogates all the peaceful and tolerant verses in the Quran. Thus they can also ignore Quran 2:256 which we often use as proof that there is no compulsion in religion. To the extremists, Quran 9:5 now allows them to compel and even kill people.

Now the situation is that moderate Muslims cite the peaceful verses and the extremists cite the ones which they think would justify their violence. And the extremists can ignore what we say because they may be thinking that either:

1. We are just saying what we are saying to please non-Muslims; or

2. We don’t understand Islam and its doctrines, such as the doctrine of abrogation.

So, it seems that as we had two options in thinking about them, they now have two options in thinking about us. But there is a third option for them too—to realize that we know what we are talking about. What is needed now is for the moderate Muslims to not only denounce the violence, but to also reinterpret the doctrine of abrogation so that it cannot be used to support such wanton violence. Then the extremists will have to realize that we know what we are talking about, and that it is they who misunderstand Islam.

The problem is that this doctrine of abrogation stands at the base of many interpretations of Islam that we Muslims, moderates and others, follow in our daily practice of Islam—for example, in our fasting. So, if we are to reinterpret the doctrine, we have to reconstruct many of the practices of Islam placing them squarely on the foundation of the Quran interpreted as a whole without reference to this doctrine (except in its reinterpreted form). This calls for brave new scholarship among Muslims. The task is tremendous. But we have the people power, the intellectual capacity, and the help of Allah to make this possible. What we lack is courage.

However, unless we cough up the courage to re-examine such roots that lead to violence, we will keep condemning one terrorist attack after another while the bombs keep dropping, mostly on Muslims, from both sides. Instead of colourful fireworks on Eid, we will keep seeing blood on our pavements. The bombs will speak louder than our meek condemnations.

Perhaps we cannot change the current terrorist mindset. But if we bravely confront our historical heritage of interpretations of the faith, we may be able to instill in the next generation of Muslims the moderate outlook we share, and steer them away from radical offshoots. So, either we cough up the courage, or we will keep crying meek condemnations.

Finally, despite everything, Eid Mubarak! I see rays of hope. More and more Muslims are becoming retrospective, introspective, and circumspective. Islam is being studied now more than ever. The classical sources of Islamic knowledge are now more accessible than ever. And Muslims are now more literate and educated than ever. Together, we will make this happen, in shaa Allah.

As we gather in large numbers on Eid, let’s pray for the end of violence in our broken world. I ask Allah to accept our prayers, our fasting, and all of our good deeds. And let’s see some enjoyable, colourful fireworks that will please the kids. I say this not knowing much about fireworks. I hope they are safe and environmentally friendly. May Allah forgive me if I am wrong about this or any other matter.

About Dr. Shabir Ally
Dr. Shabir Ally holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario, with a specialization in Biblical Literature. He also holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto with a specialization in Quranic Exegesis. He is the president of the Islamic Information and Dawah Centre International in Toronto where he functions as Imam. He travels internationally to represent Islam in public lectures and interfaith dialogues. He explains Islam on a weekly television program called "Let the Quran Speak". Past episodes of this show can be seen online at: www.quranspeaks.com.