One of the issues that has gained much attention amongst Muslim scholars and within the Muslim community is the valid attitude of Muslims to relationship with non-Muslims. A major source of confusion and controversy with regards to this relationship comes from the allegation usually derives from extremist and exclusivist thinking that Islam is the only true religion and that other forms of beliefs and faith must be rejected. Such allegations and ideas can be acutely seen through the thoughts, statements and views by Muslims who possess exclusivist thought and extreme orientation.
Religious extremism and exclusivism not only pose a security threat but also challenge our religiously plural society. This is so as they breed intolerance and hostility in the community. Misinterpretation of the Quran could lead to undesirable consequences. The misuse of Islamic teachings by extremists is a serious matter as it violates the Islamic intellectual tradition. It has sparked a serious problem within the Muslim world that continues to deepen till today.
Promoting Religious Inclusivism
Muslim extremists fail to appreciate the beauty and blessings of religious diversity which forms one of God’s beautiful creation. They also fail to respect and uphold the Quranic concept of human dignity. They believe that people of the Religious Other are undeserving of human dignity because of their lack of faith. They have taken Quranic verses without learning of their context to support their actions. At its worst, such ideas if not dealt with at the early stage, could lead to conflicts and acts of terrorism and violence.
To move forward, it is necessary to develop a framework on Muslim and non-Muslim relationship in plural societies and inform how Islamic teachings and rulings support this framework. Rather, it is imperative to stress its important teachings that inclusivism and embracing religious plurality are virtues that are much needed in today’s world where conflicts amongst religions are on the rise.
As such, there is a need to conduct an in-depth study on Islam’s position towards people of the Religious Other, explore how Muslim extremists have exploited Islamic teachings and deconstruct these ideas to prevent a hostile Muslim and non-Muslim environment and also radicalisation.
In the current discourse on Islam and Islamism, a lot has been discussed to explain the relationship between Islam and violence. This include the study on Islam and terrorism, the misuse and distortion of the Islamic tradition of Jihad and case studies of violent Islamist organisations such as Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, Jemaah Islamiyah, the Islamic State and others.
If one were to observe carefully, many of the discussion and works on these issues fall short of looking at the motivations and justification for such acts of violence and terrorism. It is no doubt that extremism, exclusivism and anti-religious sentiments are among the key drivers that lead individuals to conflicts and even commit violence.
Violation of Human Dignity
Violent Islamist groups such as ISIS justified violent attacks by claiming that the West has distorted the human dignity principle and these attacks were retaliatory attacks in defence of extraordinary Muslim suffering and ravaging their human dignity in this crisis-saturated world. Drawing on Islamic scripture and numerous other sources, including Muslim historiography, ISIS has formulated a subjective ontological and epistemological cosmos in which it is the supreme redeemer.
While Islam fully encourages its adherents to stand up to injustice, there is no room to justify random attacks on civilians and human beings by ISIS and other groups. This deployment of strategy is a clear violation of the Islamic concept of human dignity which views each life as sacred. Violence and terrorism simply do not go hand-in-hand with religion.
Extending religious concepts like Jihad and accomplishing a holy mission, to justify chaos and destruction can be likened to the devil’s whispers to Adam to eat the forbidden fruit. The fruit is tempting, but the consequences are bitter and misleading. This myopic vision is why these perpetrators are able to indulge in torture, cold-blooded killing, and mutilation of their victim’s bodies.
It is widely known that ISIS justifies attacks and killings by manipulating Quranic verses on Jihad. As mentioned in the early part of the paper, ISIS and many other violent Islamist groups believe in the concept of al-wala’ wal bara’ which has resulted in how they define their enemies and attacking them through what they believe as an act of Jihad. They claim that they are in a state of war engaging Jihad on their adversaries.
As the concept of al-wala’ wal bara’ forms the fundamental belief in their ideology, ISIS militants developed a deep sense of hatred and enmity to the Religious Other and claim that Muslims can only give their loyalty and associate with their co-religionists and perform disavowal of the Religious Other.
ISIS random attacks are at variance with the merciful teachings of Islam as the Quran does not specifically define the difference between combatants and non-combatants. The verses dealing with combat permit the waging of war only against those who are also waging war. This prohibition against attacks on civilians is in line with the Quranic revelation that decisions regarding life and death are the exclusive domain of God, and God has proclaimed that life is a “sacred gift” which must not be taken without a just cause.
The importance of comprehending the religious doctrines and sense of exclusivism that leads one to commit violence cannot be further emphasized. The importance of this understanding lies in the fact that comprehending this doctrines and ideas, its role and how it is propagated in this region and beyond has become an urgent priority in the lives of Muslims today. This understanding becomes critical and highly relevant for living peacefully in today’s social and political milieu as there are increasing levels of Muslim and non-Muslims minorities living amongst Muslim and non-Muslims.
Allowing extremism, exclusivism and anti-religious sentiments to flourish inevitably have profound implications in today’s socio-political reality. This is so, especially as the world continues to witness a unidirectional move of Muslims from Muslim majority countries to countries where Muslims form a minority for political or economic reasons.
The consequences of applying extremist and exclusivist thought in the community are serious. This is so as it promotes a way of life that is insular and hostile towards non-Muslims and this, it might be argued, is at variance with more tolerant, inclusive nature of Islam.
*Mohamed Bin Ali is Assistant Professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He is also the Vice-Chairman of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG).