One cleric’s war on radicals is the hope for moderate Islam
By Ed Husain (The National)
When I was asked to attend a conference in Abu Dhabi on â€œPromoting Peace in Muslim Societiesâ€ this week, I was reluctant. How many more times will we Muslims reiterate Islam is peace, I thought. The invitation, however, came from a man who has no contemporary rival. From Bill Gates to Barack Obamaâ€™s White House to millions of ordinary Muslims around the world have sought his advice: when Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah calls, 250 renowned Muslim scholars and thinkers from across the globe respond.
Outside of Mecca, I have not seen so many Muslim thought leaders gathered in one place. Imams and muftis from Morocco to India to Bosnia to Chechnya to Pakistan to Saudi Arabia to war-torn Syria â€“ Shia, Sunni, Salafi, Sufi and others. Not only was the convening power of the 78-year-old Mauritanian Sheikh bin Bayyah on display as a popular senior scholar, but the emerging importance of the UAE as a potential home for moderate Muslim scholarship.
Al Qaeda is a direct result of misinterpreting Muslim scripture and exploiting contemporary Muslim politics. It is not enough to say mainstream Muslims are against extremism â€“ where is the orthodox Islamic correction of radicalsâ€™ writings? They exist in complex, scholarly language from Libya to Egypt to Pakistan.
Sheikh bin Bayyahâ€™s genius is to bring his sterling Islamic knowledge and mastery of French and European political thought expressed in language that simplifies complicated history and religion. Extremists demand â€œour rights as Muslimsâ€ to â€œoverthrow governments and establish an Islamic stateâ€. In this absolute pursuit, unjust violence is justified as â€œjihadâ€.
Thus far, many Muslim leaders and institutions have held back the tide of Muslim radicalism by arguing that now is not the right time for an â€œIslamic stateâ€ or that spilling blood of innocents is forbidden by the Quran. To these points, extremists shout back their rehearsed lines by referring to selected verses or quotes from radical clerics. Rather than try to engage hardliners only on their own aims and declarations, Sheikh bin Bayyahâ€™s fresh approach changes the conversation.
For example, what should be the prioritised focus of public demands of Muslims? Should it be â€œour rightsâ€ or keeping the peace in society? Should Muslim activists compromise, or seek full rights by â€œany means necessaryâ€?
Sheikh bin Bayyah reminds us that Prophet Mohammed signed the treaty of Hudaibiyah with his oppressors to keep peace in society. When his opponents rejected the first line of the treaty drafted by Muslims, the Prophet erased references to Allah as â€œcompassionate and mercifulâ€ in line with demands from Meccaâ€™s non-Muslims. Not content, they then required the Prophet delete mention of â€œMohammed, the Prophet of Godâ€ â€“ in other words, the Prophetâ€™s entire raison dâ€™Ãªtre was rejected. The Prophet made the changes, the Hudaibiyah agreement was signed. At what price? The very basis of belief in Godâ€™s characteristics and the Prophetâ€™s purpose dismissed â€“ but agreed by the Prophet himself for maintaining wider peace in society. Peace is the first right â€“ once that is secured, other rights can be considered.
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