(cover photo above: Daesh thugs execute a group of children)
by Noureddin Shami
The author has written at least five different versions of this essay, all in an attempt to relay the same message at different levels of overtness targeting different audiences. Bits and pieces of it have been used here and there by some, even published, sometimes with good intentions and sometimes with devious intentions.
In the wake of the horrific crime against Paris and its people, the onus on those with light to shed becomes a bigger moral obligation. The truth must be told and information must be shared for people to be able to make rational conclusions. From this context, there is perhaps no better forum to discuss the issue of Islamic fundamentalism than The Saker. This specific version is therefore targeted for The Saker readership, and will be quite open. It will upset some people, but the truth has to be told as it is.
To understand the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL aka ISIS and IS), one has to go back to the early foundations that underpin it.
Much recently has been said about IS, however, most of the words used have been so remote from the whole truth. The lies and the cover-ups have confounded the problem. Muslim clerics fear to face the truth. Arab anti-IS activists are either diverting the truth or turning a blind eye to it. The Western-led coalition poised to stand up against IS had no idea “who”, or rather “what”, the real culprit was, and no serious intention of defeating it either.
Even the more recent Russian initiative in Syria, with all of its military effectiveness, is not addressing the issue at its core, as in reality, it is incapable of approaching the dogmatic core from a mere military perspective.
Yet, criticism and opposition to IS are widespread in their origin; including opposition from Muslims who are rightfully saying that such actions give Islam a deeply damaging image. What is real Islam? one might ask, but this question will never be answered; at least not honestly, and not from a position of knowledge either because the Islam that Muslims believe in is not real Islam, it is the perverted Islam that is best represented by IS.
The problem however is not just that of the truth being covered up, but with the consequences of uncovering it. The world is bursting at the seams with bigots from such diverse poles, and any attempts to unmask any one of them inadvertently but surely will deliver to the opposing party fuel and excuses for retaliatory actions that invariably, and without fail, harm innocent people.
The moral obligation of speaking out about this hence becomes quite a challenge because, exposing all this with the full knowledge that such information could be misused to target others is a heavy burden to carry and yet, to choose to simply stay silent in fear of such retaliations is not responsible conduct either.
The writer has taken the J-curve in his pursuit to understand Islam. He is neither a practising Muslim, nor an anti-Muslim or a self-hating Muslim. He does not follow any other religion either. This essay is an attempt to dispel some myths and address what real Islam really is. If he gives an informed description of the commonly-accepted Muslim belief system, he is neither attacking Islam nor Muslims. He is stating facts which he believes that the non-Muslim world is totally unaware of.
Islam has been tainted by both of those who are giving it the bad image with their actions, and those who are trying to defend it.
The writer was born into a secular Muslim family in the mid 1950’s. His family did not practise any religion, which is something quite rare in that part of the world. He was brought up among Muslims, including leading clerics and a close family relative who brought in the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). This eventually culminated in turning his home town into a hub of Islamist fundamentalism.
He knows exactly what fundamentalists believe in, what they are prepared to reveal, and what they will hide. For many years, he shuddered listening to them disbelieving what they were saying, and as a result, he renounced their religion outright.
With horror, he watched how in the late 1960’s, their recruitment drive began to gain momentum. No one at that time would have imagined that it would eventually end up with a state occupying half of Iraq and Syria and operatives all over the West.
Later on in life, he read the Koran and realised that it is a great book. He realized that Islam is indeed a religion of compassion and love, but the meanings of the Koran’s words and their teachings have been grossly distorted.
His own study and inner circle allowed him to realise that Islam as practised has got absolutely nothing to do with the Koran and its teachings. It became clear that the problems in Islam, its violent aspect, are all the result of misinterpretations that are centuries old, and unless they are properly identified and addressed by Muslims, the problem cannot and will not be resolved.
Some staunch Shariah-Muslims will see in this essay words of heresy, treachery and will make all types of accusations that their narrow minds will conjure, and this is because in their dogma, humans are only meant to follow commands and rituals and to have them performed in a specific manner in order to appease their lord. If reason and Shariah come to differ, which of the two should prevail? They have their religion and the author has his. It is not their judgment that he seeks.
The Koran promotes the concept of “Fatah”. There is no English equivalent to this term even though the word in its literal sense means “opening”. However, “opening” does not fully explain the philosophical concept. The closest English term that embodies the concept of “Fatah” would be “disclosure”, that is, a spiritual insightful disclosure that leads to enlightenment. But that original term “Fatah” is not even discussed within a Muslim context in the non-Muslim World and has almost totally lost its meaning in Islam itself. Many such key terms in Islam have lost their original meanings and this is an extremely serious matter.
Another example of such misuse and distortion of key words that underpin the concepts and tenements of Islam includes the word “Jihad”. This word literally means “struggle” and refers to the struggle of the soul in its search for enlightenment. There is no equivalent for it in English and the closest we can get to it is to borrow from Sanskrit the word “Yoga”.
Jihad was distorted to mean killing non-Muslims and Fatah to mean conquering non-Muslim nations and forcing them to convert to Islam.
We can go further and find another key concept in Islam distorted beyond recognition; that is the word “Shahada”. In its literal sense it means “witness”, and in the Koranic context, it is also meant to mean witness or vision (ie of God). The distortion rendered this to mean getting killed in battle against non-Muslims with a guarantee to enter heaven “without any judgement”.
Essential to note here is that the Holy Koran does not directly say that Islam will rule the world. Instead it makes inferences to that effect, but those hints are no different to saying that “the righteous shall inherit the earth”. The Koran quite clearly says that only a few will be righteous in the latter days. This clearly contradicts any fundamentalist Muslim “prediction” of the whole world converting to Islam.
Lastly, the Koran never stated that the ultimate objective of Islam is to form a global state (or any state for that matter) that is run by Shariah law.
As occurs in all the world’s great religions, the teachings and message say something and practise becomes quite something else. Hence, in total contradiction with the lofty, profound and peace-loving words and teachings of the Koran, the three concepts of Fatah, Jihad and Shahada which described the foundations of a spiritual path of faith, were distorted in manner that turned Islam into a religion of violence, conquest and mayhem ending up with establishing a Shariah-run state as the ideal expression of “true” Islam. Even the “path” (Sabeel in Arabic), was distorted to mean “for the sake of”. So the “path towards God”, came to mean “fighting for the sake of God”.
Yasser Arafat, despite being strictly secular, named his movement “Fatah” despite having Christians fighting alongside him! If there are any questions about the choice of the name, the national anthem for Palestine is there for all Arabic speakers to examine, discern and translate to others.
At the heart of the problem is that many Koranic words have one literal Arabic meaning and another totally different and distorted one ascribed to them by Muslim clerics. Invariably, without fail, the distorted meaning is one that suits the interpretations of the clerics just as they have learnt from their predecessors. Hence, the distortion continues. This is not the work of IS, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), or the CIA.
At the heart of the matter lies the fact that practising Muslims believe in the distorted definitions of the terms Fatah, Jihad and Shahada. Most will not seek Shariah law, take up arms or actually get engaged in fighting. These distorted beliefs have been passed down to them since the very early days of Islam. The truth is that there is no such thing as moderate Islam when, upon examination of these distorted definitions of Fatah, Jihad, and Shahada, it is evident that the twist of interpretation is in the direction of violence and conquest.
The matter becomes even more serious upon comparing doctrines. If there is a debate between a pacifist Muslim scholar and an IS representative, you will find differences on issues like how they interpret certain rules, how to punish those who break them and the like, but you will also find that their fundamental beliefs about Fatah, Jihad and Shahada are identical. This is why Muslim clergy cannot and do not stand up to publically rebuke the IS ideology.
Some learned Muslim scholars try to soften the Jihad definition when they argue that it is not only about military struggle and has loftier aspects, but they all conveniently turn a blind eye to the commonly-held understandings of Fatah and Shahada because they have absolutely nothing to hide behind, and as non-Muslims do not know much about those concepts, those Muslim clergy never get challenged and it is about time that they do.
Of course, most Muslims are peace-loving people and would never engage in any military conquest by choice, in particular those who are in the forty years and older age mark. With the concerted efforts in radicalisation over the last few decades and its peak in recent times, they may not be able to hold back their youth. In fact, some Muslim youth today, including those living in Western countries, are managing to radicalise their parents and forcing their sisters and mothers to wear the Hijab, among other things.
As evident, IS is implementing in its practices the distortions in the reading of the Holy Koran and without any false pretences, diplomacy or political correctness. It is emboldened, empowered and open in its belief in forceful coercion as a means to spread Islam all over the world. It doesn’t shy away from killing anyone who does not follow its dogma. This is its interpretation of the Book.
The problem does not originate from IS any more than it does from Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Wahhabism, the MB or the Salafists or any other group. Neither, does the problem originate in the so-called USA-created groups and, the USA cannot be held accountable for such a belief system. Neither is the problem lying in a handful of radicals tainting the image of Islam. The problem lies in the fact that these foundational concepts of Fatah, Jihad and Shahada have not been addressed and properly explained to Muslims by Muslim clergy.
Historically, early conquests were most likely employed strategically when Islam was in its infancy and unknown to the world. However, right now, no one is prepared to revisit those definitions and their validity or relevance in today’s world.
What is specifically dangerous about IS is that it effectively brings back home stories of success when for so a long Muslims only heard stories of defeat and suppression. Wahhabism has been based on reclaiming the former glory. Their misinterpretation of the Koran compels them to believe that there really is a moment when global military conquest will eventuate and that when Muslims hear the “call”, they are compelled to rise up and fight. IS signals to emotionally vulnerable Muslims that it is the one to lead such a conquest. That is why all Muslim youth, hundreds of millions, are potential recruits for this.
Nothing other than in-house reform can reform Islam. For this monumental step to be taken, Muslims will have to read the Holy Koran correctly, listen attentively to its subtle meanings and wondrous metaphors even if this requires challenging some existing interpretations considered as fundamentally significant to the faith of Islam.
No doubt, without willing and powerful financiers, organizations like IS cannot present a wide-spread danger, however it is never difficult for such interested “investors” to be found as an entire potential army exists which is ready to fight and die, and its soldiers can easily be manipulated should the interested financier know how to play his cards right. Cleary in many cases, these soldiers run with money but, money is only the catalyst as the recruitment magnet and drive has come from deep within this archaic and distorted Islam accepted and taught by all Muslim clerics in all Mosques all around the world.
We see with Iraq, Libya and Syria where they were once stable countries run by so-called autocrats who fully understood the foundations of violence in Islam and their implications if not managed. Hence they knew quite well how to deal with the issue and in their own methods peculiar to their laws and practices which the West goes to pains to describe as undemocratic.
Evident to all, the Western-led removal of Saddam and Qaddafi has turned Iraq and Libya into hubs for Islamists with Libya just a short distance from the shores of Europe. Western-led support for the Syrian opposition has facilitated the creation of Islamist organizations in Syria and the transport of tens of thousands of fighters and military hardware to them. In a twist of fate, the West now has to fight the same fighters it helped create and arm. The recent barbaric attack on Paris is an undeniable proof of such an outcome.
It is total folly of the West to think that it can switch Jihadists on and off, to use them when convenient and then cut off their lifeline believing they will go away. How easy it is to forget that the honeymoon with Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan didn’t last too long. It seems the experience was not powerful enough to teach the West an important lesson. As we speak we see history repeating itself.
Whilst the West cannot reform Islam, to capitalize on its violent aspect for quick military short-term gain is extremely dangerous.
In dot point, this is in reality what Western governments and their law-enforcement agencies have been doing:
1. Fostering Islamists and supporting them overseas.
2. Turning against the same Islamists later on thereby putting their citizens on the terror hit-list.
3. Under religious freedom, allowing fundamentalist Islamic teachings to be taught in mosques and Muslim schools and having them unchecked.
4. Appointing seemingly and allegedly moderate Muslim leaders as advisors to law-enforcement agencies.
5. Pouring money into programs which they believe can de-radicalize Muslim youth. This is folly and clearly indicates that officials who put those plans into place have no idea at all that of how to put into place strategies that will succeed.
6. Fueling anti-Western hatred by continuously supporting Israel and its criminal treatment of Palestinians.
Islamists of different magnitude and danger have infiltrated Western government agencies especially in Europe. They are at best Trojan Horses capitalizing on public funds and pursuing fame and power, all the while giving governments twisted advice to protect their ilk.
But try to say this in the West and you’ll be accused of being Islamophobic, against freedom of expression, bigoted and paranoid. Instead of listening to the truth, they will keep feeding Islamist groups with funds, emboldening their use of mosques as political and religious organizing bases, make their holidays public school holidays, all in the hope of integrating them into the broader community. They will never integrate because their objective is to convert the world to adopt Islam. After all, they teach their youth to trust only those who follow their religion.
Try to convince Arab activists who are standing up against ISIL that the underlying problem is within some false Koranic interpretations, and they will scorn you and tell you that it is all America’s doing. In so doing this, not only they would be refusing to see reality, but they are also diverting attention from the main culprit and allowing it to continue to fester under cover.
In exposing Islamists however, one is sure to rally up support, but it will be from the wrong people; the true Muslim haters like Neo-Nazis, Skin Heads, white supremacists and evangelists who will jump on the band wagon proclaiming that they have a better alternative to Islam.
This period in history is akin to the time of the crusaders of Christianity; replacing Christianity with Islam. In fairness to Islam, the Church that led the crusaders did not reform. It was the Western mind that reformed and in its rejection to the Church has managed to liberate itself from its yoke.
Before any group of people criticize another, they must both honestly and sincerely look at their own performance, history and belief system and act from within the principle that “he who is without sin should cast the first stone”. Even if Islam does not reform, just like Christianity did not either, Muslims may in time start rejecting the rotten ideologies they have been brought up with. As a matter of fact, the IS syndrome may hasten this process.
Inadvertently therefore, we are back to where this essay started because understanding the nature of the beast only solves half the problem. Military action against IS in Syria and Iraq is necessary, but to go the next step in an attempt to quash its ideology is another story. Such a move poses the key question as to who would be morally and philosophically qualified to oppose IS and by which means? We can go a little further and ask who can guarantee that exposing of the driving force of IS is not going to give some anti-Muslim bigots enough reason to wage massacres against Muslims, all Muslims, including those who would never take up arms, even non-practising Muslims, wherever they can be found, cornered or outnumbered? What assurance can one have that such atrocities will not reach those who “look like Muslims” or are identified as Muslims? Such repercussions have happened in the recent past.
The million dollar question to ask is whether more people will get killed if ISIL is allowed to operate under wider Muslim protection and allowed to continue to recruit more youth if this potentially highly dangerous issue is not brought out to the open? No one knows but I must act on my conscience and integrity.