The barbaric cruelty of the Caliphate puts Islam to the test
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 protests
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 of self-criticism.
Islamic education: Memorize, never criticize
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 religious silence!
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 knowledge).
Monotheistic religions and violence
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 centuries!
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 Glauben konvertiert".
The material concept of Koranic revelation
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 Rights
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 Christians.
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 much.
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 and politics
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 violence.
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 rethought
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 Corinthians 3.6).
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, exclusivist position.
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 anti-religious China!
His 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.
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 God."