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The Challenges of Extremism: A Radical Traditionalist Perspective

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Article by Shaykh Seraj Hendricks

Khalid Abou El Fadl in his work ‘The Great Theft’ states that the most emphatic moral values taught by Islam are mercy, compassion and peace.[1] There can be no doubt that the central virtue in Islam is Mercy.  No virtue is more emphasized in Islam than mercy. The Prophet (S) spoke so much about mercy that the Sahaba said “but we are merciful towards our spouses and our children.”  He replied: “What I mean is rahma in an absolute sense, towards each and everything - towards the entire created order.”[2]

I shall look at the issues of extremism and the challenges they pose through a model provided by Charles Liebmann in his paper ‘Extremism as a religious norm’ where he presents three components to an understanding of religious extremism.

I use this only as a point of departure because I have serious differences with some of his assumptions. The paper deals with an examination of extremism within Judaic law and I was astounded to find certain similarities between groupings within Israel and groupings within the Muslim world.

He categorises extremism into three segments. The first is the expansion of religious law.  The second is the question of social isolation.  The third is cultural rejection.[3] We know, as Muslims, that the questions of assimilation and integration are serious issues although we sometimes misunderstand the precise difference between what assimilation and integration is.[4]

Liebmann further divides “expansion of religious law” into 3 components: the scope of its application, the elaboration of its details, and the question of strictness and leniency in interpretation.

1. The Expansion of Religious Law

a) The Scope. His view is that the scope in Judaic law (halakha) is enormous. It traverses a continuum from the public and governmental levels to the very details of our domestic and private lives. If we reflect on the current hostility and animosity in that part of the world today, it’s quite mind-boggling that there is so much we have in common with Jews. We can sit at the same table, eat the same food without a problem and yet we slaughter each other.  The commonalities far exceed the manifestations of horror and destruction in the political world. Islam – as shari’ah - of course has a similar scope in mind. But what do we mean by that and how do we understand these things? Or how have we come to misunderstand them? Since this address is one that seeks to act as a platform for further discussion, I shall confine myself largely to an exposition of certain ideas rather than a detailed examination and exploration of them. While Liebman places Jewish extremists at the first end of the continuum viz. that they “seek to extend the scope of religious law to include the public as well as the private realm, and to matters of collective as well as private behaviour within that realm”[5] this is not necessarily true in the case of Islam. From the Islamic point of view the emphasis would naturally be more on the second and third components of Liebman’s model i.e. the elaboration of the details and the question of strictness versus leniency. Nonetheless, it appears that Liebman’s concerns with Jewish extremism at the government and public level is directly conditioned by the inherent strictness of orthodox Judaic Law. According to Sayyid Muhammad Alawi al-Maliki, Judaic Law as halakha is much stricter and much more severe than Islamic Law as shariah.[6] On the other hand, and as it is the case in Christianity, the question of the separation of Church and State never arose in Islam for the simple reason that there was never an overarching hegemonic rule of the Church in the Islamic world. The Enlightenment was spawned by a revolt against oppressive Church rule.[7] Islam took a completely different trajectory. There was no hegemonic or centralised Church to revolt against. After the collapse of the Caliphate with the demise of Ali ibn Abi Talib, From the Umayyads to the Abbassids to the Ottomans and the Moguls, Muslims were presented, and simultaneously had to contend with a panoply of hereditarily instituted dynasties. While there were some outstanding individual rulers amongst these dynasties, two crucial principles of governance were ignored viz. shura (consultation) and bay’ah (consent of the governed).[8] Those who expressed their opposition to this state of affairs such as Imam Malik, Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam al-Shafi’ and Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (founders of the canonical schools of thought in Islamic jurisprudence) were all tortured, imprisoned or arrested without exception. Unlike future generations they had little interest in sanitising and condoning both the misapplication and misrepresentation of Islamic political principles. With respect to Islam and the state Fazl-ur-Rahman Ansari goes even further. How does such a Government come about? Is it necessary for a Government in the modern world, as we understand it, to emerge in the way it has in the past?  But more important for us is to understand the spirit that underlies and drives all these things. A spirit that has inspired the previously mentioned great scholar of the 20th century, Mawlana Fadl-ur-Rahman Ansari, to say that he would reject any notion of an Islamic state - because of the immensity of the responsibility - if the likes of Abubakr (ra), Umar (ra), Uthman (ra) and Ali (ra) are not available.[9] Equally pertinent is the distinction Feisal Abdul Rauf makes between the separation of church and state and the separation of religion and state. Since the former was a non-event in Islamic history, the latter conception opens up an entirely new vista of possibilities. The potential to realise the modalities of a Quranic-based pluralism lie in this very distinction. And the modalities are supplied by texts such as “There is no compulsion in religion”[10] and “For you your religion and for me mine.”[11] These tenets are, arguably, amongst the first to be expressed in such a categorical manner in the history of religious texts. On Liebman’s continuum from the governmental and public to the private and domestic there is much in Islam that can mitigate or even eliminate any prejudice or bigotry against people of other faiths and beliefs.

Moreover, most governments have legislative, executive, and judicial wings – all of which ought to be independent of one another. In Islamic terms they would, in turn, be accountable to Allah (SWT). But is there one Muslim nation on the planet that has adequately demonstrated that they are indeed accountable to Allah (SWT) – let alone the people they ought to serve? In this respect we might further ask: accountable to what - to some meaningless, distant, unintelligible being? In short, to a word – in this case “Allah” – that is devoid of any meaning? With their despotisms, their autocracies, their monarchies, and with the lack of freedom, the repression of freedom of association, of speech etc. they appear to behave so. It’s not a matter of being anti-Saudi or anti-Iran or anti-Iraq, we should get out of that mindset.  On the contrary, what we should develop is a mindset that confronts various regimes and extremist movements with an understanding that has, as its approach, an attitude and a desire to recapture the way of moderation - the way of balance and equilibrium.

This critical introspection, however, should not exempt the major powers from seriously examining the impact of their foreign policies. To what extent, for example, has the state department of the USA – whether wittingly or unwittingly - fomented or contributed to the plethora of extremist acts we have witnessed in the name of Islam during the past decade – particularly in its most nihilistic expression as suicide bombing?  How carefully have they looked at their foreign policies? To what extent have they researched and analysed the impact that foreign occupation could have on other countries? With respect to the USA-AIPAC-Israeli triad Abdal Hakim Murad has the following questions to ask:

Why is there so much hatred of the United States, and so much yearning to poke it in the eye? Are the architects of policy sane in their certainty that America can enrage large numbers of people, but contain that rage forever through satellite technology and intrepid double-agents?[12]

Then sounds the following warning and hope that,

Businessmen and bankers will now start to read carefully enough to discern that it is not US national interest, but the power of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, that tends to drive Washington’s policy in the world’s greatest trouble spot. Threatened with disaster, corporate America may just prove powerful enough to face AIPAC down, and suggest, firmly, that the next time Israel asks Washington to veto the UN’s desire to send observers to Hebron, it pauses to consider where its own interests might lie.[13]

Moreover, Robert Pate has written one of the most extensive works on terrorism. His findings have led him to link the frequency of suicide bombing as a function of the extent occupation within certain countries.[14] It’s a moot point that needs to be discussed, but he has opened the discussion. The obvious fear in this respect - for both Muslims and those of other faiths and beliefs - is that we might tacitly be trying to seek justification for the atrocities that we notice and witness. In our attempts, however, to understand precisely what the issues at hand are, it would be foolhardy to ignore the implications of any rigorous academic studies in this regard.

On the other hand, there are trends and tendencies within Islamic history that do contribute to lawless executions and suicide bombings. One such tendency during the past 200 years is the increasing sense of differentiation that the wahhabi cum salafi trend wishes to impose on the global Muslim community – a differentiation that finds its expression in the doctrine of al-wala’ wa l-bara’ (the doctrine of loyalty and disassociation). This is a doctrine that defines both its proponents and the “other” in rigidly exclusivist terms and – in an archaic Calvinist sense – as reprobates. It is a an ideological position, Abou El Fadl asserts – and according to the view of Abd al-Wahhab – that holds it “imperative for Muslims not to befriend, ally themselves with, or imitate non-Muslims or heretical Muslims...this enmity and hostility toward non-Muslims and heretical Muslims had to be visible and unequivocal.”[15] The point being made here is that ideological extremism invariably leads to political extremism. This holds true in the case of Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, and the structurally violent ideas that informed the political apparatus that governed the Apartheid regime in South Africa. In other words, ideological extremism invariably leads to political and religious extremism. We need to be mindful of the advice of the Prophet (S): “Beware of extremism (ghuluww) in religion, for it is extremism in matters of religion that has destroyed those before you.”[16] Abdal Hakim Murad’s observations are instructive:

Among Muslims, the longer-term aftershock will surely take the form of a crisis among ‘moderate Wahhabis’. Even if a Middle-Eastern connection is somehow disproved, they cannot deny forever that doctrinal extremism can lead to political extremism. They must realise that it is traditional Islam, the only possible alternative to their position, which owns rich resources for the respectful acknowledgement of difference within itself, and with unbelievers... It is clear that the small minority of voices which have been raised in support of the terrorist act were in every case of the Wahhabi persuasion. Clearly, we cannot simply ignore this on grounds of 'Muslim unity', since those people appear so determined to destroy Muslim unity, and endanger the security of our community.[17][Italics mine].

Indeed, while the terms “Muslim extremism” and “Islamic terrorism” ought to be seen for what they are viz. that they oxymoronic in essence, yet there must remain a huge question mark around those who speak in the name of Islam while supporting suicide bombings, kangaroo courts, and the burning of people (whoever they might be) as legitimate and justified forms of punishment. The hudud (criminal law) penalties in Islam must be one of the most difficult to implement. Even those with a cursory knowledge of the shariah penal code would realise this. With respect to the burning of people, for example, the Prophet (S) had the following to say when he witnessed a group of people burning a colony of bees: “’Who burnt these’ he asked. ‘We’ came the reply. The Prophet responded: ‘It is not proper for anyone to punish with fire except the Lord of fire!’”.[18]

Nonetheless, most Muslims and many of my non-Muslim friends consider the fact that Muslims alone have been earmarked for such a focus and criticism as universally unfair. To present the belligerent behaviour of a minority as representative of the shariah certainly qualifies as one of the most odious aspects of contemporary media prejudice. This is normally followed – as justification - by the mantra that Muslims are not vocal enough about condemning these acts. In a startling revelation, Feisal Abdul Rauf shows how major American media outlets consider the portrayal of Muslims as moderate as a low priority issue. He cites two instances. The first is when the Muslim chaplain of the US armed forces sought a fatwa (legal ruling) about the permissibility of Muslims fighting fellow Muslims in Afghanistan. According to Abdul Rauf, Shaykh Yusuf al-Qardawi and four other signatories endorsed the fatwa on the grounds that the perpetrators of the September 11 crime were guilty of a terrorist act and had to be brought to justice. The New York Times contacted him for his comments and he strongly recommended the fatwa. According to Abdul Rauf, the fatwa was not published and that the article describing it was “buried on the bottom of an inside page.”[19] Further on he recounts another experience. A Washington Post interview was arranged which included Abdul Rauf and three other clergy in connection with brokering a peace accord between Israel and Palestine. To the dismay of everyone the article entitled “Clergy Urge More Active White House Effort for Mideast Peace” included the comments of all three members of the clergy except his.[20]

With regard to the question of scope, we, as Muslims, need to think carefully about how the constituents for such a regime would interact. In a modern state, what would the role and relationship of the legislature, the judiciary and the executive be? With the bungling bureaucracies - along with their arrogance and inefficiency - in many a Muslim country these are hardly the places to look at for models that embody the inspirational values of Islam. In any case these bureaucracies are more reminiscent of Third World lassitude than anything particularly Islamic. The Islamic work ethic is more adequately expressed by the Quranic verse: “Blessed is He in Whose Hand is dominion; and Who has power over all things. He who created death and life to test those of you who the best in deeds.”[21] and the Prophetic injunction that “the worker must be paid before the sweat on his brow dries.”[22] Human dignity is a hallmark of Islamic values. We need to understand that and not merely constitute our relations around political opportunism – wherever such opportunism may arise. In many Muslim communities – both as minorities and majorities – shibboleths in their most divisive incarnations abound in disturbing numbers. These need to be countered with the best that our classical heritage has to offer and the best of what is produced by contemporary scholarship. In as much, for example, as we speak about Shariah-compliant finance today, are we justified – by analogical extension – to speak about Shariah-compliant political values as enunciated in the American Declaration of Independence as Feisal Abdul Rauf[23] and Robert Crane postulate? Similar questions may be asked about the South African constitution. Nonetheless, our focus should be one that is centred on what is beneficial to humanity.

On the other hand, and with specific reference to Muslim countries, Muslims need to understand that Islam is concerned about its image. This is encapsulated in a Quranic verse directly addressing the Prophet (S): “(O Muhammad) had you been severe by nature or harsh-hearted, they would have deserted you”.[24] For example, what were the consequences of the US (and Saudi Arabia) aiding the mujahidin to fight against the communist invasion of Afghanistan in 1979? There was a radical Sunni backlash (particularly in the Arab world) because of a fear of the Iranian revolution. We cannot hide these tensions. A radical Sunni alternative had to be created. Most agreed with the US policy to remove the communists from Afghanistan but they were, inexplicably, just abandoned in 1989 when the war ended. In the form of the Taliban this created the space for one of the most bizarre regimes to emerge in the 20th century. The question, therefore, of the scope of the Shariah and how we imagine that to manifest itself in the real world is of serious concern. What we do know is that the vast majority of Muslims in the world do not want to see an Islam in the Taliban form emerging like it did in Afghanistan. Forty years later, the words of Fazlur-ur-Rahman Ansari – mentioned earlier – that he would reject any notion of an Islamic State if the likes of the first four caliphs were not around, would resonate well with many Muslims around the world.

b) The elaboration of the details of the law.

To what extent do we focus on the details of the law?  To what extent are we concerned whether the cuff of a person is the 2cm or 3cm that is measured under Taliban rule? These are the draconian measures through which the freedoms and movement of people are limited. Liebmann goes on to say the first two components of extremism share a common characteristic. They emphasise the ordained and they limit the authority of the subjective, the optional and personal interpretation.  On the one hand they objectify the law in a hegemonic sense and, on the other; they reduce and limit the personal responses and interpretations of people. They do not however minimise the importance of inward motivation. They try to focus on this to motivate and acculturate them into accepting certain codes according to their own hegemonic interpretations. While this holds true for most extremists, Traditional Islam, however, does not encourage brute access to the sacred texts with a view to generating randomised legal rulings. Unlike Islamic Spirituality which emphasises responsiveness, Islamic Law emphasises responsibility.[25] Learning and care are necessary requirements in producing responsible legal rulings. Nonetheless, during the process of the expansion and development of the details of Islamic Law concurrent moderating indexes were also developed. One such index is the saying that “the disagreements of the learned are a mercy”.[26] On the part of extremists there is a visceral rejection of such indexes.[27]

c) The third component in the expansion of the law is very important. The relevant issue here is the question of strictness versus leniency. Aisha(r) mentioned that whenever the Prophet (S) was confronted with a choice that he always chose the easiest of the two.[28]

Although I disagree in many ways with his understanding of the Khawarij and its impact on contemporary Islam, J. Kennedy in “Muslim Rebels” quite acutely observes that Islam is minimalist in its approach, and not maximalist.[29] On the strictness-leniency scale, extremists tend towards maximalist positions

My own view of the Shariah, as I have read it, is that it is minimalist and not maximalist. There are a number of texts that may be adduced in favour of this. The Prophet (S) said – as mentioned earlier - “Beware of extremism in religion”.  On another occasion a very pious sahabi (companion of the Prophet), Abu Dharr (r), heard the Prophet(s) saying “Those of you who say la ilaha illalah (there is no deity other than God) will enter Paradise (jannah).  He asked, “Even if he fornicates and steals?” The Prophet (S) responded, “Even if he fornicates and steals.”  To the annoyance of the Prophet (S) he repeated his question a second and a third time. Against Abu Dharr’s insistence he emphatically stated: “Those who fornicate and steal will enter jannah when they acknowledge the Tawhid of Allah, regardless of your own thoughts and sentiments, Abu Dharr!”[30]

Moreover, Abdallah Ibn Umar (r) expelled his own son, Bilal, from his class when he challenged his father on the question of women attending mosques. The event is related through the following three narrations:

· Bilal ibn Abdallah ibn Umar narrated from his father (Abdallah) that he said: “The Messenger (S) of Allah said: “Do not forbid the women their fair share of the mosques if they ask you to attend them.”

Bilal retorted: “By Allah we will indeed forbid them.”

Abdallah then said to him: “I say ‘the Prophet (S) said’, and you say ‘we will indeed forbid them!’”[31]

· In a narration of Salim ibn Abdallah(r) – also transmitting from his father – Salim reported: “Abdallah then approached Bilal and insulted him in a manner that I have never heard him do to anyone before."

Then Abdallah said: “I say to you what the Messenger of Allah said, and you say to me ‘By Allah, we will forbid them!’”[32]

· Mujahid (r) narrated from Abdallah ibn Umar (r) that the Prophet (S) said: “Do not forbid your wives from and women from attending the mosques.”

Then the son (referring to Bilal) of Abdallah ibn Umar (r) said: “But we forbid them from going.”

Abdallah responded: “I speak to you about what the Prophet (S) said and you say this!’”

Mujahid further narrates: “Thereafter Abdallah refused to speak to his son until the day he died.”[33]

In the schemata of maximalist positions Islam is often portrayed as an aggressive incarnation of patriarchal power. Rarely are maxims such as rafu’ l-haraj (the principle of alleviating difficulties) and al-mashaqqa tajlibu al-taysir (the dictum that hardship, by necessity, must be replaced with ease) invoked in the legal discourses of extremists. Basic tenets within the Quran such as “Allah burdens no soul beyond its capacity”[34] are either ignored or rationalised away. A number of emphatic statements of the Prophet (S) such as “Embrace ease and eschew hardship”[35] suffer a similar fate. Quoting Hodgson, Moosa brings our attention to the “flaws” that characterise the more anachronistic studies of the works of al-Ghazali by the early orientalists such as Wensinck and Palacio by highlighting the “precommitments that (they) bring to their subject matter.”[36] A similar critique could be levelled at certain aspects of Muslim scholarship with respect to their legal perspectives and analyses. Ensconced within the rigidly drawn contours of their comfort zones – and oftentimes seriously under-qualified – their legal opinions evince a set of socially conditioned subjectivities that seem to collide, in a somewhat brutal manner, not only with the spirit of Islamic Law, but even the letter. In other words, their “legal” opinions disclose themselves as a naked will to power, and not as a tentative attempt to establish the truth – whatever that truth might be. If the language of the Quran, as Abdal Hakim Murad (T.J. Winter) observes, is “given by God”, then based on a “scripturally-rooted theistic logocentrism”[37] we could well argue that the legal injunctions and imperatives within the Quran and the authentic hadith literature are heavily slanted in favour of the minimalist perspective. It is for this reason that the five major maxims of Islamic Law (al-Qawa’id al-Fiqhiyya) have been developed, emerged and accepted as they were in our classical legacy. The five maxims: al-Umur bi Maqasidiha (acts are judged by their goals and purposes), al-Darar Yuzal (harm must be eliminated), al-Yaqin la Yazalu bi l-Shakk (certainty is not overruled by doubt), al-Mashaqqa Tajlibu al-Taysir (hardship begets facility) and al-‘Ada Muhakkama custom is the basis of judgement)[38] have been thematically derived from the twin sources of the Quran and Sunnah (way of the Prophet) and clearly demonstrate the fundamental spirit of minimalism, leniency, and flexibility (muruna) within Islamic Law.

2. Social Isolation.

Liebman states that the “characteristic approach of extremism is one of isolation.”[39] It is marked by a protectionist attitude – often hostile in its more developed form - towards those members of society who do not accept extremist norms. While extremist identities become more embedded, truncated and rigidified, there remains a parallel need to develop particular safeguards or buffers against any reverse impact that the inevitable social contact with the “other” might have on them during the process of attempting to convert them to their side. Their identities are also simultaneously designed to identify and segregate those not conforming or amenable to the extremist norm. With due regard for the relative nature of these social configurations, the “non-conformists” invariably become the objects of extremist attacks the more their determination to resist the extremist norm becomes apparent. Invariably they are framed as lackeys and collaborators. They are bundled along with the more explicit enemy as worthy targets. In certain cases, as with the Kharajites, they may even be considered worthier enemies. While Liebman does not frame the “strictness-leniency” paradigm in “maximalist-minimalist” terms, there can be little doubt that the degree of social isolation is a direct function of the extent to which the extremist element has embraced the maximalist position.

3. Cultural Rejection

This category addresses the rejection of cultural forms, norms and values that are not perceived as indigenous to the religious tradition. There is no sense, inclination or wish to recognise the possible benefits of cultural cross-pollination. There is a morbid fear of integration. On the other hand, when the first Muslims landed on the coast of Malabar in India and on the Coromandel Coast, they immediately adopted the dress code of those people.  While there are those – as a function of their own extremist tendencies and narrow-mindedness – may feel a need to trivialise the importance of cuisine and dress codes as avenues towards mutual cultural respect, the Muslim attitudes, as refugees on the Malabar coast, created a sense of camaraderie and belonging, to the point where the Hindu authorities granted them their own mosques and their own courts of law. This they achieved without any demand or self-righteous claims, but through simple acts of respects to their hosts. The final outcome of this was that the entire Malabar Coast eventually embraced Islam. In the process they adopted the Shafi’ school of thought.

The issue of social isolation and cultural rejection within non-Muslim societies is an important one. We live in these countries as so-called religious minorities. But as minorities, we have to be careful because that can be a divisive notion. An excessive focus on religious, ethnic and racial differences could lead to a sharpening in the boundaries of differentiation. It may also lead to what one might call a “minority complex” – a complex that often manifests itself in self-righteous rejectionist suspicion of the “other”. Islam is not supremacist in its outlook. We have to be very careful about that particular condition. Nationalism only emerged after the postcolonial period and not before that.  Before that there were empires – each one struggled and fought for his land.  Europe was at war with each other.

What happened though was that Muslims in particular lost out in the battle and were confronted with a new set of values, new economic systems and industrial machines - in other words with modernity.  The way the Christians at the time of the French revolution and the Muslims responded was different. Muslims responded to a post-Colonial phenomenon.  The Orthodox Catholic Church reacted against the radicals and the revolutionaries of the French revolution, which was fundamentally anti-clerical.  These things have worked themselves out only in recent years where a degree of tolerance in a democratic state has been achieved, but those confrontations were extremely violent.  Muslims did not confront an overarching religious state with a centralized authority.  It has never been so in Islamic history.  And therefore our responses have been different.  Our responses, unfortunately, were quite peculiar in particular cases. When the Ottoman Empire was dissolved, the Turks didn’t know what to refer to themselves as. The response was an identity crisis.

The Egyptians today are still debating whether they are Egyptian or Arab. When it comes to the question of identity, the Muslim one is predominantly ethical and spiritual in nature. It is not national and ethnic.[40]

With respect to Islamic law, the legal issues are very important. There are a number of categories. There are matters referred to as ma huwa ma’lum min al-din bi l-darura (matters that are known by necessity through the religion); we all perform our salah and give zakat, for example.  There are those things that are mujma’ alayhi (agreed upon by consensus doctorum) viz. particular acts that the entire Muslim community and its scholarship have agreed upon. And there are those that are mukhtalafun fihi, (legal issues upon which there is no agreement by the Muslim community and scholars).  It is at the level of mukhtalafun fihi, matters constituting approximately 80% of the shariah, and of our legal history and culture, that the most serious problems emerge.

There are a number of issues: the role of women for example, music, the giving of flowers, clapping, mawlud celebrations and so on.  To invoke Islam - in the absolute sense that Islam as such “frowns upon” or “rejects” or “Islam says” in the pronunciation of matters that are resplendent with differences of opinion is absolutely astonishing and should not be happening in this community – or any Muslim community, for that matter. As Muslim legal scholars, we should be careful about the processes and the ways in which we approach these things because of the inherent potential for divisiveness. It can cripple the livelihood of people.   It can impact in a way that is quite devastating. So when it comes to the way in which we generate our fatawah we need to understand these particular categories and know with certainty anything that is mujtahadun fihi, on which there are substantial differences of opinion. It is our moral duty and obligation in the issuing of a fatwah to mention ikhtilaf amongst the ulama. These are critical matters, the ignoring of which has the potential to negatively influence an unsuspecting and gullible audience.

Inter-Faith Matters

At the heart of inter-faith dialogue is the need to establish common principles of social and political justice, and the desire to eliminate prejudice and misunderstanding by exploring the common spirituo-moral roots that lie at the heart of all revelation. On the other hand, the need for inter-faith (or even inter-civilisation) dialogue holds little meaning for those of us whose primary goal is to engage in a polemical comparative study of religions that has as its sole purpose the establishment of the superiority of one system over another. It is more fitting, as Muslims, to conduct ourselves with dignified confidence. We need to reclaim those venerable yet forgotten virtues of muru’a (chivalry) and futuwwa (magnanimity), and reject those of al-wala’ wa l-bara’[1] (“loyalty and disassociation” – an extremist doctrine (mentioned earlier and worth repeating) that compels Muslims to disavow and disassociate themselves from non-Muslim scriptuaries unless they are dhimmis, and other Muslims who differ with them).[41] Moreover, on virtually a daily basis we see flag burning ceremonies against nations perceived as the enemy or Satan incarnate. This is done with absolute disregard for the following Quranic injunction: “Do not revile the deities of those who call on other than Allah, thus causing them, in turn, to revile Allah out of animosity towards you and without knowledge.”[42]


The greatest of all objectives of the Quran is to facilitate benefits (Masalih) and the means that secure them; and that the realisation of benefit also includes the prevention of evil.

It is also imperative to understand the following Shari’ principles and criteria:

The five Qawaid al-Fiqhiyya (Legal Maxims) mentioned earlier.

The Maqasid al-Shariah (Purposes and objectives of Islamic Law) partly contained in the six universal principles (the daruriyat – the necessities and indispensables):

a) The protection of life.

b) The protection of religion.

c) The protection of the intellect.

d) The protection of the family.

e) The protection of property and wealth.

f) The protection of another human being’s honour and character.

In addition, a reasonable knowledge of the following is required:

a) Ma huwa ma’lum min al-Din bi l-Darurah: things that need to be known of necessity such as the performance of salah, the giving of zakah etc. In other words the five pillars of Islam.

b) That which is Mujma’ alayhi (universally agreed upon by the scholars).

c) That which is Mukhtalfun fihi (matters on which differences of opinion exist).

d) The principle of Dhu Niza’ti Jama’iyya (that the interests of the majority are accorded precedence over the interests of the individual) and,

e) The principle of Al-Akhdh bi Akhaff al-Dararayn (the legal option to choose the lesser of two evils when such a need arises).

Having argued for the fact that Traditionalist Islam advocates a minimalist approach – and which can stand as its own counter against extremist doctrines - there can yet be little doubt that there remains a need to engage that Tradition in new and creative ways – especially with respect to its furu’ (branches). That encounter – which we may refer to as a radical Traditionalism - might require a degree of pruning that would allow the perennial sap of spirituality to flow ever more energetically.

[1] Khaled Abou El Fadl, The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists (HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), 11. For an informative discussion on this Islamic theme see Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, Mercy: The Stamp of Creation (Nawawi Foundation, 2004), pp 1-7.

[2] Narrated by Abu Ya’ala.

[3] Charles S. Liebman, “Extremism as a Religious Norm”, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 22:1 (Mar., 1983), 76-9.

[4] A concise and useful wiki answer to this is: Assimilation means absorbing minorities into the ways of the majority - requiring them to adopt the majority's language, customs and 'values'.
Integration, by contrast, requires acceptance of a country's laws, of human rights such as freedom of speech, and of basic democratic rights, but does not require the eradication of all cultural differences or group-identities; it is conceived of as a two-way process, through which both the majority and the minorities influence and change one another, and in which differences can be peacefully accommodated as long is there a common commitment to living together

[5] Charles S. Liebman, “Extremism as a Religious Norm”, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 22:1 (Mar., 1983), 77.

[6] Sayyid Muhammad Alawi al-Maliki, Khasa’is al-Ummat al-Muhammadiyya (Madina al-Munawwara: Fihrisa Maktabat al-Malik Fahad al-Wataniyya Athna’ al-Nashr, 2000) pp. 10-7.

[7] A.C Grayling, The Ideas that Made the Modern World: The People, Philosophy, and History of the Enlightenment (London: Robinson, Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2008) p.8.

Grayling states: “At the heart of the crisis was the critical examination of Christian faith, its foundation in the bible, and the authority embodied in the Church.”

[8] Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, What’s Right With Islam: A New vision for Islam and the West (HarperSanFrancisco, 2004) p.88

[9] Yasin Mohamed (Ed.), Fazl-ur-Rahman Ansari: Islam to the Modern Mind - Lectures in South Africa 1970 and 1972 (South Africa: Hidden Treasure Press, 1999) pp. 32-3.

Ansari has harsh but thought-provoking words to share with his audience: “Our Prophet (s)” he states, “established the Islamic State with material like Sayyidina Abu Bakr, Sayyidina Umar Faruq, Sayyidina ‘Uthman, Sayyidina ‘Ali (ra) and others. How can you build an Islamic State without creating that same band or group? And who wants to bring about change and with what? Slogans, fighting against one another, one organisation against the other!...If you mutilate the religion their punishment will be that you will be debased in this world.”

Also see Feisal Abdul Rauf, Whats Right with Islam, p105, for a similar view.

[10] Quran, 2:256.

[11] Quran, 109:6.

[12] Abdal Hakim Murad, Recapturing Islam from the Terrorists http://www.masud.co.uk/ISLAM/ahm/recapturing.htm

[13] Ibid.

[14] Robert Pape,The Logic of Suicide Terrorism http://www.amconmag.com/article/2005/jul/18/00017/.

[15] Khaled Abou El Fadl, The Great Theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists (HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), 49-50. For additional information on this concept see Abdal Hakim Murad’s (T.J Winter) excellent discussion in his work British Muslim Identity: Past, problems, prospects (Cambridge: The Muslim Academic Trust, 2003), p.14. He goes on to state that the “wala’ wa l-bara’” doctrine indicates the scale and temper of the gulf that separates the new anti-immanentism from more normative traditionalisms. On page 15 he notes that “Traditional Sunnism’s legal and theological capacity to allow conviviality and adaptation has, of course, been demonstrated in many historical contexts.

[16] Narrated by Nasai, Ibn Majah and Ahmad ibn Hanbal.

[17] Abdal Hakim Murad, Recapturing Islam from the Terrorists http://www.masud.co.uk/ISLAM/ahm/recapturing.htm

[18] Narrated by Abu Dawud and cited by Sayyid Muhammad Alawi al-Maliki in his work al-Insan al-Kamil (Madina al-Munawwara, Matalib al-Rashid, 1991) p.141.

[19] Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, What’s Right With Islam: A New vision for Islam and the West (HarperSanFrancisco, 2004) pp 161-2.

[20] Ibid. P.162.

[21] Quran, 67: 1-2.

[22] Ibn Majah.

[23] Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, What’s Right With Islam: A New vision for Islam and the West (HarperSanFrancisco, 2004)

p. 86. Abdul Rauf premises his political view of Shariah-compliancy on the five universal principles of Islam: i) the protection of life ii) the protection of the mind or intellect iii) the protection of religion iv) the protection of property/wealth and v) the protection of the family.

[24] Quran 3:159.

[25] Seraj Hendricks, Tasawwuf (Sufism): Its The Role and Impact on the Culture of Cape Islam (MA Dissertation, unpublished, UNISA, 2005) p.21.

[26] Jean-Louis Michon, Introduction to Traditional Islam: Foundations, Art and Spirituality (Indiana: World Wisdom, 2008) p.16. Another reading state: “differences of opinion in the umma (community of believers) are a mercy.”

[27] To counter this view a lecturer of mine at Umm al-Qura University penned a work entitled Ikhtilafu Ummati Niqma (differences of opinion amongst the umma is a curse).

[28] Sayyid Muhammad Alawi al-Maliki, al-Insan al-Kamil (Madinah: Matalib al-Rashid, 1990) p.134.

[29] Jeffrey T. Kennedy, Muslim Rebels: Kharajites and the Politics of Extremism in Egypt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006) p.35.

[30] Narrated by Nasai and Tabrani. The hadith is considered sahih.

[31] Sahih Muslim.

[32] Sahih Muslim.

[33] Musnad, Ahmad ibn Hanbal.

[34] Quran, 2:286.

[35] Narrated by Ahmad ibn Hanbal.

[36] Ebrahim Moosa, Ghazali and the Poetics of Imagination (Chapel Hill: The University of Carolina Press, 2005) p.19.

[37] T.J Winter, British Muslim Identity: Past, problems, prospects (Cambridge: The Muslim Academic Trust, 2003) p. 23.

[38] Muhammad Hashim Kamali, An Introduction to Shariah (Kuala Lumpur: Ilmiah Publications, 2006) pp. 136-7.

[39] Charles S. Liebman, “Extremism as a Religious Norm”, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 22:1 (Mar., 1983) p.78.

[40] Hellyer, H.A From Tolerance to Recognition to Beyond: The Dynamics of Defining Muslim Space in Europe. CSD Proceedings 04/08/2009. P.24.

[41] T.J Winter, British Muslim Identity: Past, problems, prospects (Cambridge: The Muslim Academic Trust, 2003) p.14.

[42] Quran 6:108.

*This article appeared in the IPSA (International Peace Varsity of South Africa) Journal as the keynote address at The 1st Annual Spring Symposium 2009, entitled Extremism: Dissecting a Phenomenon. The symposium was sponsored by the Hajee Shah Mohamed Trust and published by ISCI (The Institute for the Study of Current Islam).




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