John Maguire l THE CANADIAN PRESSShare Adjust Comment
So long as we continue to prune at the branches of extremism, it will continue to flourish and grow. We must take a hatchet to its root causes, ensuring they become permanently cut and dried.
In the light of recent arrests in Ottawa, I pity the young people whose ignorance, vulnerability and naivety are exploited for darkness and destruction. What causes people to become like this? Yes, there may be psychological, social, political and other reasons. But, how about the core ideological cause?
Puritanical, self-righteous, judgmental viewpoints always allege to be the ultimate truth. Extremists claim to practice Islam exactly as the prophet Muhammad and his closest followers practiced it, misleadingly calling themselves “Salafi” meaning “the predecessors” to support such an illusion.
Like the Jewish Lev Tahor “pure heart”, or the Protestant Puritans, they delude the unwary by adopting deceptive names. It’s the same name game and play on words, manipulated from time immemorial to deceive the unsuspecting.
Most cults have two main distinguishing characteristics: A great opposition to critical thinking with an insistence on blindly following a set of dogmatic ideals, all the while giving their followers the false sense of self-determination and free choice. Secondly, isolating their devotees with threats of heavy penalties, including death, for “apostasy” through “deviation” from their “path.”
The modern extremists are not a new phenomenon, neither to the Islamic world, nor to the world at large. Puritanical sects have existed from ancient times, as fringes, and have even overtaken the mainstream of some world religions.
The first extremists, by whom the Islamic world was plagued, were called the Khawarij, “the outsiders”. The victims of the first extremists were the very family and closest disciples of the prophet Muhammad, whom they considered apostates and deviants. The first Kharijites, like their counterparts today, claimed to follow “real” Islam, while intolerantly and insidiously massacring everyone who opposed their beliefs. The Islamic world extinguished these insurgencies by empowering the masses through adequate and proper education.
From time to time, they resurface, taking advantage of political and social instability with promises of order and security, then revealing their real faces by reeking havoc and devastation in the name of “faith.”
These puritans were described by the prophet Muhammad as “The Satanic Generation” and “the Hounds from Hell.” Warning his disciples, he outlined their characteristics saying, “They recite and quote so much scripture, yet do not believe in it”, “When you compare your devotion and prayers to theirs, you will belittle your own devotion”, “They will massacre people”, “They will allege to follow my way, but I am innocent of them” and “Blessed are they who are killed by them, for the killed shall be closer to God than the killers.”
During the Abbasid period, these extremists surfaced in Eastern Arabia and Southern Iraq forming a state that marauded and pillaged the land, even going as far as to ravage the sacred city of Mecca, massacring its inhabitants and crushing the corner stone of the Ka’bah.
Their resurgence in the past century, has been supported by billions of dollars poured into propagating their ideology via the distribution of free literature, extensive websites, including their own xenophobic and exclusive mistranslations of the Qur’an and the funding of religious schools.
This ideology incites two main reactions: people who reject savagery in the name of religion, the other is the reaction of those who don’t recognize the historical precedent and are led by emotion.
A tree is known by its fruit. When expansive and inclusive education was the standard in the Islamic world, extremist ideologies could not find fertile ground to flourish. The scholars of Islam over 1,000 years ago warned, “One’s ideology stands at the root of their behaviour.” If someone can be induced to believe in irrational, ludicrous and intolerant ideas, they can be led to violently enforce and act upon them.
Mohamad Jebara serves as chief Imam and resident scholar at the Cordova Spiritual Education Center.