Beirut (AsiaNews) - Social media is
inundated with images depicting the absurd and cruel violence of
Islamic State (IS) militants related to the Caliphate declared by Abu
al Baghdadi Bakhr at the end of June in Syria and Iraq. Faced with
such violence beyond all limits of humanity, the Muslim world is
reacting with formal condemnation, but above all with silence.
The Islamic world's timid
The bloodshed, mass killings,
beheadings, seems to elicit resignation and fatalism: "we can
not do anything", "they are thugs", etc ...
The violence of the war in Gaza has
also made headlines. I want to point out the difference in the Jews
behavior towards Israel and that of Muslims towards IS. In recent
weeks, I have received a dozen petitions from American Jews who
criticize Israel: this reveals a living conscience and cultural norm
Islamic education: Memorize,
One habit dominates the Islamic world:
The absence of any form of criticism of its government in favor of a
blind acceptance of everything. If we take an average country from
the cultural point of view, such as Egypt, any form of government is
simply accepted without criticism by the population - with the
exception of some elements such as journalists or intellectuals. Even
in the traditional family it is unthinkable to question one's
parents. On the one hand, this ensures compliance, but the other it
stifles critical thought.
The same can be seen in the school:
there is no education to positive critical thought, to debate as a
way to discern.
Education in the Islamic system is
based mainly on memorization, first and foremost of the Koran. The
Koran is not discussed, it is memorized and repeated again and again,
until it is learned by heart. It is the Word of God that has become a
book. The Islamic formula is that the Koran "descended"
(nazala) from Muhammad, who transmitted it as it is. It was not
"inspired" it was "handed down" "inspiration": in
other words, the Koran is not by the prophet Muhammad, it comes
directly from God, the prophet is merely the means of communication.
In Egypt, the Islamic education of
children in the Kuttab (Islamic school) is done by dint of blows to
encourage them to memorize the Koran. What is true in the Koran, is
transferred to philosophy: college students learn whole pages - maybe
noted by the professor - off by heart and and recite them in exams.
The Arab Spring has not ushered
in a new reality
Not even the Arab Spring, despite being
an exercise in criticism, did not know how to move forward after
ousting the the dictator of the moment. Instead power was seized by
more organized groups such as the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood
who eliminated the single party of dictatorship, to replace it with
another single party - this time Islamic.
In the Arab world there is no real
movement for dialogue, confrontation or social development. There are
no debates, conferences, discussions on issue of modernity, an issue
which haunts the Muslim world. At a one to one level an individual
will tell you his opinion, but this has failed to result in an
organized or publicly expressed thought.
Another example: every year during
Ramadan in Morocco, some young activists deliberately allow
themselves to be caught by the police eating and drinking during
fasting hours. They are then put in prison. This group is made up of
a dozen young people who make this protest every year. But no one
discusses it: it goes without saying that what the government does is
right and that its okay.
This explains why in front of the
horrific executions carried out by the IS militants, the Arab
population remains silent. Obviously the general population is
opposed to violence, but prefers to remain silent. It is a form of
The resignation of intellect
For the young people racing to sign
themselves up to the IS, things are somewhat different: they are
drawn to the power, the violence, the militants military victories.
They see the violent fundamentalism of the IS as a strong, determined
and effective response to the immobility of their society.
The videos posted online by IS to call
young people to arms depicts boys as young as 10-14 being trained in
their camps. Brought face to face with these horrors of which they
are both witnesses and potential perpetrators, how is it possible
that their human nature does not rise up in rebellion? Probably
because they have been thoroughly brainwashed.
These young people have been drugged by
a religion that is believed to be above all criticism, to be the only
important thing in their lives.
The reality is that they resign their
intellect to the word "religion". Hamed Abdel Samad, the
fifth son of an Egyptian imam, at age 23 left for Germany, where he
still lives today. His first book speaks of his "conversion"
not to Christianity or any other religion: he says he has had to
make a conversion from Islam to intelligence. He was a prisoner of
Islam and lacking in intelligence and reflection. His
self-definition, which he often repeats, is tellingt: "Ich bin
zum Wissen vom Glauben konvertiert" (I converted from faith to
Monotheistic religions and
Several people accuse the monotheistic
religions of being a source of violence and intolerance.
This statement seems especially true in the case of Islam; in other
religions (Christianity and Judaism) it is much less clear.
Currently, the total domination of the Koran and the Islamic religion
on the individual, leads to fear of saying or doing anything against
the Koran. Moreover, the most severe sentence that exists in the
Islamic world is blasphemy to say anything against Muhammad or the
Koran can lead to the death penalty. Even Hamed Abdel Samad, the
Egyptian intellectual who emigrated to Germany, was sentenced to
fatwa for blasphemy, while speaking to some of the media while he was
in Egypt two years ago.
In Pakistan blasphemy is one of the
most common crimes, for any word considered an offense to the Koran
or the prophet of Islam. This includes even damaging the pages of the
book of the Koran. Last year in Egypt, during the regime of the
Muslim Brotherhood, two boys were imprisoned for allegedly having
urinated on sheets of the Koran. It turned out later that the
accusation was false.
Some cite the example of the Bible and
the many incitements to violence therein, as evidence in an argument.
But they forget that these are documents and standards established
more than 3000 years ago, and that the Jews have not applied them for
Islamic thought is paralyzed
All this paralyzes the mind, and
therefore no one dares to venture anything about the figure of
Muhammad, or on the religious aspects, because the risk is enormous
if yo are proven wrong.
This paralyzing effect stems from two
elements: one of unquestioned adoration for one's religion, which is
taboo; the other of a complete lack of critical sensibility.
An example: the Koran gives man the
right to marry up to four wives. But Muhammad married an indefinite
number, which ranges from 11 to 17 (or even 21) depending on whether
you include his concubines or not. Yet no one dares to comment on
this discrepancy. The answer is: He is the prophet and therefore is
outside the rules.
The sacred character of Muhammad -
although regarded as an ordinary man, having received the last
message of God to humanity - and the "divine" character of
the Koran prevent the vast majority of Muslims from approaching them
with the ordinary rules of reasoning . Beyond the formula of the
aforementioned Hamed Abdel Samad: "Ich bin zum Wissen vom
The material concept of Koranic
I always tell my students that the
Koran, like all holy books, must have been written by a man. This is
a simple fact; you have never seen a book written by an animal, an
angel or God himself, even though the Bible says that the Tablets of
the Law were written by the finger of God.
However, it is impossible to obtain a
consent from the Muslims on this because they believe God himself is
the material author Koran. Even my Christian students would say that
the author of the Gospel is God, but then have to admit that the
Gospels have two authors from the outset they are "according to
Matthew, Luke, John, etc. ...". The Spirit stirs, inspires,
pushes, but the writer is Matthew, Mark, Luke, John. This is what we
call "inspiration." The Evangelist writes with his own
style, which can be identified linguistically, but the content is
suggested to him by the Spirit of God. Young Muslims are intrigued by
this approach and have shown a particular interest in it. And when I
ask them for a conclusion on the Koran, their answer is: Everything
is different for Mohammed. The angel Gabriel descended and commanded
Muhammad to read and recite the entire Koran. He was only a material
spokesman. The application of Shari'a
Another example of paralysis: once a
Muslim professor once asked a question of his students: "Do you
agree that those who steal should have their hand cut off, and if
they steal again have the opposite foot cut off? "The answer
was: "That is what the Koran says". The Professor rejoined:
"But do you agree?" Their answer: "That is what the
Koran says, and you can not change it".
The professor then took them one by one
and asked: "But if you were the judge, would you decide to cut
of thief's hand, even if he was a young boy who had made a mistake?".
Their answer: "That is the law (Sharia)." They dared not
say yes or no, they took refuge in the law. Then he asked the most
gifted of them: "You, would you do that?". But even that
student declined to answer, saying: "I am not a judge, and it
is not my job."
When you enter the domain of religion,
there is a paralysis of thought, of intellect. As if religion did not
belong to the human sphere, but should be judged by other criteria.
And this is what has been transmitted for centuries. Sure, in the
past and even today, we have had religious revolutionaries, but they
have been marginalized by the press, by the assemblies and the common
mentality in the name of conformity.
The Islamic Declaration of Human
This paralysis is also visible at a
global level. After the Second World War, in December 1948, the UN
drew up the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights," which
lists the rules to ensure a common respect to people, to the men and
women; but the Muslim world never accepted them.
Even the highly cultured people
rejected them as Western-style "Christian rights". So they
drew up three different editions of their own: the "Universal
Islamic Declaration of Human Rights" (Paris, 19 September 1981),
the "Declaration of Human Rights in Islam" (Dhaka, December
1983) and the "Universal Declaration of Islamic Human Rights"
(Cairo, August 5, 1990). They are all based on Islamic Sharia law. It
'should be noted, however, that in the western translations, there is
no mention of "Sharia" but of "law", generally in
the formula "as long as it complies with the law," which
misleads the uninformed reader.
These drafts refer to the principles of
the Universal Declaration, but then submit the right to examination
under Sharia. This results in a cancellation of equality between man
and woman, between Muslim and non-Muslim, and so on.
Islamic Army violence goes above
and beyond the Koran and Muhammad
The absolute nature of the sacred as
discussed above is present in the IS militants. They do not care
about the human rights of the Palestinians, poverty, etc ... The only
thing they want is to establish a state that would be "Islamic,"
headed by a caliph, who is a "successor" of Muhammad, whose
model is Mohammed and what is written in the Koran. This absoluteness
leaves them a free hand to do what they want.
It must be said, however, that the IS
goes well above and beyond the Koran and Muhammad. In Mosul, Qaraqosh
and in Syria they have chased away Christians and have forced them to
convert to Islam or face death, if they wanted to stay.
Muhammad did not do this to Christians
and Jews, but to pagans. They could choose between converting to
Islam or escape. Christians and Jews on the other hand were permitted
to live alongside Muslims, but paying a double tax: one on the ground
(the kharaj) and the other because "protected" (the gizya).
Instead, IS has even ripped the Christian signs from the buildings,
going beyond the dictates of the Koran, and has marked every
Christian home of the letter Nūn, the first letter of the word
Nasara (Nazarenes), which is used in the Koran to refer to
Their violence (beheadings,
crucifixions, mass executions, robberies, extortion, kidnapping) has
nothing to do with Islam. In Islamic tradition does not hold with
this bloodthirsty practise. At most, in the past it punished people
by stoning, which is still practiced now for some cases (adultery).
Or those proven guilty were executed by beheading. But even here
there was some sort of clemency. The Koran demands that even animals
that are sacrificed for Eid-al-Khebir (The Great Feast) be treated
with care and killed in one stroke so as not to make them suffer too
These IS militants murder and cut the
throats of humans using knives hacking at their throats piece by
piece, in a slow brutal and cruel death. It is true that Muhammad
used - like all the nations of the time - some violence: attacks on
caravans, enemies, etc ... But
Muhammad did not use cruelty, except in a few isolated cases. He also
gave examples of indulgence.
Reproducing their ancestors'
thought and way of life
IS is committing a fundamental error in
reproducing the ways of life of the early centuries of Islam to the
letter in the modern world. Tradition is also important to us
Christians, but are removed from them: we do not take the things
written by St. Paul on the silence of women in the assembly, or the
veiled head literally because we understand that those signs were
normal for his time. We may use them as a source of inspiration, but
do not apply them to the letter.
Moreover, in front of a Christian who
rejects Christianity, we may express some sorrow, but he or she is
free to leave or to change religion. For Muslims, the apostate is to
be judged and even killed.
Another, unacceptable, error, is the
use of violence for violence sake, using cruelty as a means to
terrorize the enemy. But this is also condemned by Islam.
What's more, reproducing the physical
behavior in use in the seventh century does not correspond to the
spirit of Islam. The good Islamic tradition has it that, in the
application of sharia, you should always examine the maqāssed
(purposes) of sharia, relativizing its methods. Instead, IS takes
Sharia literally, and uses violence for violence' sake. This is not
Islamic, it is barbaric.
The distinction between ethics
But there is a problem: Islam allows
for the use of violence to fight the "enemies of God." This
requirement could perhaps be understandable in Muhammad's time when
the cause of God was easily attributable to the defense of the
territory of the Islamic community. But today ...
All of this renders Islamic teaching
ambiguous. The problem becomes greater if the exercise of that
religious violence is delegated to the state.
Thus, there is a short circuit between the moral and the State, which
creates the ambiguity in which we live today: all Islamic countries
have - to a greater or lesser degree - Sharia as a standard. But
is Sharia an ethical system or State law? It is this confusion
(between the ethical and the political or juridical) that begets
Let's take an example: homosexuality.
In most cultures it is seen as a bad thing. But it is one thing to
say: this is a bad thing from the moral point of view; it is
something else to say that the homosexual should be condemned by the
state, killed or put in prison.
It is right to say those who steal must
be punished, because it is a detriment to social justice, but to
punish those who only criticize another person is incomprehensible.
An adulterer hurts himself, the couple, his or her partner. But you
can declare he or she should be killed. These examples show that
there is confusion between the moral and the political, and it
endorses the choice of violence.
From this point of view, the Gospel is
a step forward in civilization: in it, Jesus never speaks of a human
punishment, religiously justifying socio-political laws.
Instead, everything is at an impasse in
Islam, because Muslims believe their religion is absolute perfection.
Conclusion: Islam needs to be
The brutal IS violence has prompted
condemnation from many Islamic figures and institutions. Saudi
Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey, etc. have spoken out. But what has this
changed? Saudi Arabia's statements never arrive at addressing the
fundamental question that religion should not promote violence.
Instead, Saudi Arabia makes use of violence justified by religion, in
particular the application of the punishments prescribed by Shariah.
The point is that every religion must
be rethought for the present time. But this involves questioning the
the "reason" of the law, maintaining this reason while
changing outdated means. In a sense, this dialectic between reason
and law is similar to the Pauline question of letter and spirit: "for
the letter brings death, but the Spirit gives life" (2
This step requires dialogue between
intellectuals of various religions, which implements this difference
between the law and the spirit, ideals and practice. And then the
media should publicize its findings. But no Muslim country dares to
propose such a thing.
Another step which urgently needs to be
taken is to remove Sharia as the basis for law in the Arab world. In
fact there Saudi Arabia has no constitution: their constitution is
Sharia. And that is ambiguous: Sharia is not a precise,established
text, like the Ten Commandments. It has been developed trying to draw
legal responses to the daily needs from the Koran. Therefore every
age has adapted Sharia to its time. Around the tenth century that
development stopped and now attempts rea being made to interpret it.
However, because people are afraid to rethink it, they use it in the
most literal way. Once again we are faced with a immobile,
This immobility leads to manipulation
and injustice. For example: where in the Koran can we find the
excommunication between Sunnis and Shiites? Yet the two groups -
whose theological differences are minimal - practice it with
decision, in mutal exclusion and killing each other. It is
reminiscent of the wars between Catholics and Protestants of past
centuries, but now the situation is much more dramatic.
The radicalism, violence, exclusivism
present in the Koran does not justify the IS cruelty, but they are a
fertile ground for violence to flourish.
The time has come to rethink Islam for
the modern man, to distinguish between state and religion, between
ethics and politics, between letter and spirit. Islam is capable of
doing so, just as other social or religious groups have done, but it
must thoroughly and radically overhaul its educational system, and in
particular the formation of imams.
Indeed, in the West, the idea that religion - and in particular the
monotheistic religions - is the bearer of violence, seems evident,
though modern history demonstrates that atheistic ideologies have
been the most violent! Just think of communist ideology, or Nazism,
or nationalist ideology of the Khmer Rouge, or that of
Exodus 31.18: "When the LORD had finished speaking to
Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant,
the stone tablets inscribed by God's own finger"
biography, the Kitâb al-Maghâzi (The Book of History and Campaign
) written by al-Wâqidi(748-822), speaks of more than sixty raids
during 10 years in Medina. And it must be said that the attacks
against Bedouin caravans or against other tribes were almost normal.
fact, there is no earthly death sentence in the Koran for those who
are apostate: there is only the threat of a severe sentence in the
It is worth noting the similarity of the Islamic setting with that
of the Old Testament: in the Old Testament there were wars to defend
the territory of Israel and the kings fought "in the name of