By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed*
To much of the world, the words “Islam” and “Muslim” have become synonymous with extremist groups. This is a great injustice, but we should not submit to the propaganda of evil regimes and groups, or defend them in the name of defending Islam and Muslims. Their extremist Islam is not ours.
Fundamentalist religious concepts have accompanied political confrontation between Tehran and the West. It was reproduced by the propaganda machines of Al-Qaeda and Daesh, which promote rejection of the West and modernity instead of coexistence. An intellectual cleansing has dominated every aspect of Iranian life, and has been transferred to other countries.
Like the Maoist cultural revolution in China, Iran’s Islamic revolution founded an ideologically extremist cultural project that penetrated Islamic societies, including those in the West. As a result, Islamic movements were founded to imitate and compete with it by means of extremism.
Followers of these groups have carried out a cleansing operation, raising the sword of apostasy and intimidating moderate Muslims, who are viewed as enemies of religion. These followers have also fought regimes that have stood against their projects. The majority of Muslim extremists have suffered, and unfortunately governments did not fight extremism unless it was found to be a threat to their existence.
Today in Islam, there are intellectual extremist schools calling for fighting, and there are Muslim extremists who are dangerous to the world. Those who deny these facts are either arrogant or ignorant.
“Radical Islam” usually means a regime such as the one in Tehran. “Terrorist Islam” refers to organizations such as Daesh, Al-Shabab in Somalia and Ansar Al-Sharia in Libya. They are all terrorist groups, and the terms should not be taken to mean that Islam as a whole is extremist or terrorist.
The terms are valid in the above context, but we refuse to use them for fear of facilitating generalizations that hurt most Muslims, who have no links to terrorist organizations and do not embrace takfiri thought. These terms should not slander all Muslims, but we are also not supposed to defend the ideas of those who use Islam for political reasons against others.
We will not defend the Islam of Wilayat Al-Faqih (Guardianship of the Islamic Jurist) in Iran, or the Islam of Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. They contrive to use problematic issues such as cartoons in Denmark or a satirical magazine in France. They seek to mobilize Muslims for their own purposes.
The world is open to believers and non-believers, and to followers of other religions. Muslims need to believe in coexistence with other religions and their followers, because their numbers are large. There are about 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, sharing their lives with followers of other religions. Another reason is that Muslims are the most disproportionally affected by war and famine, and make up most of the world’s refugees.
Most importantly, it is not enough to acknowledge that we are suffering from the effects of these serious intellectual and organizational problems and ideas, and to reject them. Coexistence should be a culture and part of the curriculum taught at all levels of education. If governments included coexistence as part of education, there would be no place for extremists.
*Abdulrahman Al-Rashed, a veteran columnist, is former general manager of Al Arabiya News Channel and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, where this article was originally published.