A Critique on Radical Islam

Posted by: | Posted on: March 2, 2015
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Dr. Masoud Juya
Afghanistan’s name is often associated with war and violence in media. What is known as religious thinking in the country is assumed to be extensively linked to the promotion of extremism. However, this way of thinking is now being criticized. Interestingly, such criticism is being voiced by one of the country’s experts in religion who, in addition to educating in scholastic religion, has specialized in theology as well as has taught for years at universities.

Mohammad Moheq, who has pursued his education in Afghanistan, Iran and Egypt, has authored, translated and published books on religious thinking. His recent book, “Eyes Need To Be Washed”, is a critique on the radical interpretation of Islam. His book may be the most serious critique of radical Islam in Afghanistan ever written.

The writer states at the beginning of the book, “Religion and its teaching could be a source for cleansing the spirit and inner self if not contaminated by the filth of power and wealth. We could be inspired by the love and peace found in religion teachings, but not be affected by its violence and hatred. However, the realities in our homeland narrate something else instead. It sounds as if there is no end point to the ongoing catastrophic adventure, and as a result of this we witness crime, anarchy, catastrophe and the death of humans. There is still no sign of change of thought and culture on the horizon for the people in this territory and still the dominant religious dialogues are in control by those who do not value life nor do they respect peace and civilization. What is promoted as religious ideology in this territory smells of blood. Religion still generates violence and aggression.” The author states, “A moderate and knowledge- driven interpretation of religion as well as the critique of radical and insane interpretations are steps that could be taken forward to deal with the current situation.”

The articles in this book are displayed in three parts. In the first part, topics relevant to religious reformism and modernism are discussed, which range from a fundamental critiquing of political Islam to modern interpretations of Islam, the latter often being attacked by fundamentalists and traditionalists. In the first chapter the author explains in details that political Islam neither meets the earthly requirements of the people nor does it ensure their eternal prosperity. He too accuses political Islam of taking advantage of worship and Islamic teachings as tools to gain power. In the second chapter, explaining the difference between today’s world and the past as well as humans’ perceptions from past to present, the writer states that there is a great need now for modernizing religion and religious thinking, and as a result, reconciliation between religion and modern values takes place and paves the way for the development of Islamic societies.

In the next chapter, two types of “religiousness” are discussed: one based on ethical values, and the other which does not care about morality and ethics.  The author critiques political Islam for ignoring ethical values, in particular when it faces opposition and see this as a contradiction to true religiousness.  The fourth chapter of the book is concerned with the relationship between religion and democracy. Like other new thinkers on religion, the author discusses reconciliation between the two. The writer takes this notion one step further saying that democracy is an Islamic obligation. He believes in order to keep power from becoming oppressive, which is inconsistent with Islamic values, Muslims should stick to democracy as a way of managing their societies. In another chapter, the writer calls on Muslims to be thoughtful of what they do. Using the philosophical method of phenomenology, he has tried to show that wrong doings and violence committed by religion followers or in the name of religion can defile the religion and the civilization, and nothing can justify such actions.

In the next chapter, the writer discusses the importance of the philosophical explanations of religious matters; he states that until philosophical thinking is not strengthened among Muslim elites, it is impossible to silence the extreme populist sentiments, which is dominant in the Islamic World today. The continuity of the current trend further widens the gap between Muslims and today’s world destroying peaceful relationship between peoples.

The seventh chapter of the book discusses suicide killings and analyzes it from a different perspective. Insisting on the ethical and jurisprudential critique of suicide killing, the author tries to find out its roots in an unsuccessful renaissance that started in the 19th century in Islamic world during which the majority of Islamic school pioneers made a mistake in analyzing problems and finding solutions. Instead of using and approaching contemporary civilization’s achievements, Muslims stuck to fight against them and recommended the same for their people. Because of the failure of various doctrines proposed on this front, some of the low minded groups, out of misery, turned to suicide. The eighth chapter of the book concerns mutual interaction between power and thought including religious thinking. In the ninth chapter, using a narration from Nasr Hame Abu Zaid, a new thinker and writer of Islam who passed away last year, the writer discusses a pattern of thinking that is oppressed in an Islamic society. Nasr Abu Zaid was accused of apostasy by some Egyptian extremist wings for his new interpretation of religious texts and was subsequently threatened to death by Aiman Azawaheri, then the leader of the extremist organization of Aljehad and currently the leader of Alqaeda. Nasr had to leave his homeland and live in exile until the end of his life. The next two chapters (9th and 10th) of the book discuss the experience of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and fundamentalism in Afghanistan. The book concludes with the necessity for reform in religious sourcing and referencing, putting forth specific objectives. The author believes without reform in the structure of the reference, unrest in the domain that verdicts religion will not end and the violence will continue to grow.

Up to until this part, the reader will become familiar with the modern view of Islam, and the points subject to critique in the radical interpretation of Islam are made clear.

The second part of the book specifically addresses the symbols associated with the portrayal of violence and radical interpretation from religion by the Taliban (and in addition, Alqaeda). Under the title, “Talibanism, Roots and Appearances”, the writer distinctly avoids generalization and helps the reader understand the main sources of the problem.

The first chapter of the second part discusses one of the most important issues in critiquing and analyzing extremism that few critics have ever dealt with. This chapter, which is called, “The Theologies of the Taliban”, discusses the image and vision the Taliban and other extremist groups have in mind as sent from God. It analyzes the effects of such “Images from God” based on the behavior and personal and social lives of the followers of these theologies. The author discusses the theological roots of the problem in an age that dates back centuries in which Islamic thinking was being shaped. He continues to analyze its historical changes over time until it reaches the current age in which a foundation for the theology has been established. The second chapter of the book discusses why the logic and theology of the Taliban has not faded away over recent years but has instead grown up. “The Soft and Hard Taliban” is the title of this chapter, and it emphasizes that in addition to original Taliban in battle fields, there are various groups in Afghan society that are functional. Using extensive tribunals and powerful institutions, these groups spread ways of thinking that strengthen Taliban views and motivate groups such as youth in the society to join the Taliban phenomenon.

 The writer believes if these groups do not spread and strengthen Taliban’s ideology the Taliban will be secluded and their legality will be further questioned. In the next chapter, using an analytical philosophy, the concepts such as extreme and moderate Taliban are discussed. The writer tries to make a distinction between the extreme Taliban in power and those who are madrasa students; such a difference might not exist in the minds of some political and social activists. The next three chapters discuss Taliban Madrasas. First, it is explained where the financial sources of these madrasas come from and who tries to take advantage of sustainably funding the Taliban. Second, the internal environment of these madrasas and how it affects the spirit and psyche of those studying there is discussed. The writer indicates what harmful effects this environment has on the personality of its students and how they prepare students to commit suicide and undergo suicide killings. Meanwhile, there is a brief discussion on the immoral and disorganized status of the madrasa environment, something that seriously brings the sanctity of Taliban to its followers under question .

The last part of the book is a collection of a few articles that are written by Afghan writers that analyze or confirm the writer’s viewpoint on modern Islam and other concepts discussed in the book.

This book is important for a few reasons. First, it is written in fine fluent Farsi, which would not bore readers. Second, its writing style is somewhere on the border between academic and journalistic, which should be favored by average level readers. From the coherence and strength perspectives, it resembles academic writing, and as a result, a vast spectrum of readers would benefit from it though target readers are university students. More importantly, many of the articles in the book are written in a way that considers and reflects Afghanistan’s real context, which are interesting to Afghan readers. Such a feature makes this book different from those written by new thinkers of religion from other countries. The latter is mainly written for the readers of other countries who live in different conditions. In addition, although the book is not mainly written for religious experts, it does not ignore them either. Religious experts would not be able to refuse the main parts of the book based on its usage of the traditional principles of religion. If the book cannot persuade all of the religious leaders, or Ulema, to change their way of thinking on certain topics, it might at least motivate some of them to think and ponder more deeply about the agenda the book discusses. The tone of the article of this book is not secular or inconsiderate to the religion’s logic, which the writer believes is more successful in Afghanistan’s context to change the minds of the readers.

This book has a circulation of 1000 volumes, which gives it access to a limited number of readers. The reason for this small number is because a funding agency has not been acquired and sufficient funds to publish the books in larger circulation have not been found. Despite large investments in various fields around Afghanistan, the publication of books lacks funding source, which is a huge problem. There is no sufficient investment and support of the academic and intellectual fields despite the fact that this sort of investment can have a great impact on the way the society thinks,  and can play a significant role in fight against extremism. The book needs to be published for a second time to be extensively distributed among university students and educated Afghan people. Extensive accessibility to this book could bring on more serious discussions and dialogues on the concepts presented, which could in turn, shake the logic of extreme fundamentalists on certain aspects discussed in this book.



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