How to Deal with Islam and Muslims

Dr.  Aslam Abdullah

Posted May 15, 2004      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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How to Deal with Islam and Muslims
Dr. Aslam Abdullah

If Islam and Muslims are not driven to greater democracy, modernity and compatibility with the contemporary international world order, the possibility of a clash between civilizations may become real, concludes a study conducted by Rand Corporation recently. Sponsored by the Smith Richardson Foundation and supervised by the National Security Research Division of Rand, Cheryl Benard wrote several recommendations for policy makers and planners.

The Smith Foundation aims to contribute to important public debates and to help address serious public policy challenges facing the United States. The Foundation seeks to help ensure the vitality of our social, economic, and governmental institutions. It also seeks to assist with the development of effective policies to compete internationally and to advance U.S. interests and values abroad. This mission is embodied in our international and domestic grant programs. The report suggests that only through developing a modernist Muslim leadership and supporting a Sufi brand of Islam, Muslims can be tamed in their anger against the West.

The report does not address any of the core issues that are central in developing the perceptions of the Muslim world like; Arab-Israeli conflict, Kashmir-India conflict, Chechnya and Russia conflict and the exploitative political systems supported by the American or European elites.

The report makes a detailed analysis of the existing and emerging intellectual trends within the Muslim community and concludes that the only viable allies in the fight against the so called Muslim fundamentalism are those modernists and Sufis who are loyal to the ideas of American and European elites. The report divides Muslims into five main categories, namely:

The fundamentalists who “put forth an aggressive, expansionist version of Islam that does not shy away from violence. They want to gain political power and then to impose strict public observance of Islam, as they themselves define it, forcibly on as broad a population worldwide as possible.”

The traditionalists are those who believe that Islamic law and tradition ought to be rigorously and literally followed and Muslims orthodoxy should make some concessions in the literal application of sharia.

The modernists are those who seek far-reaching changes to the current orthodox understanding a practice of Islam, while the secularists are those who believe that religion should be a private matter separate from politics and the state.

The sufis are those who believe in a peaceful isolationist tendency.

The report suggests that secularists may not be trusted as they have radical ideas based on anti-colonial, and imperialistic or communist ideologies. The fundamentalists and traditionalists can also not be trusted. However, the report suggests that fundamentalists and traditionalists must never be allowed to develop an alliance. Rather they should be encouraged to fight against each other. The only group that can serve as a dependable ally of the American and European elites are those modernists who are willing to argue that human will can assume supremacy over the will of the divine. In other words, who are willing to acknowledge the limitations of the Quran in guiding Muslims or others. The report suggests that such groups should be promoted and supported. The report also recommends that those belonging to fundamentalist brand of Islam must be exposed and their character must be questioned or even assassinated. Here are the excerpts of the report:

Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, resources and strategies is 80 plus pages long. Here is a summary of some the recommendations to develop a strategy.

Build up a Modernist Leadership. Create role models and leaders. Modernists who risk persecution should be built up as courageous civil rights leaders, which indeed they are. There are precedents showing that this can work. Nawal Al-Sadaawi achieved international renown for enduring persecution, harassment, and attempts to prosecute her in court on account of her principled modernist stand on issues related to freedom of speech, public health, and the status of women in Egypt. Afghan interim minister of women’s affairs Sima Samar inspired many with her outspoken stance on human rights, women’s rights, civil law, and democracy, for which she faced death threats by fundamentalists.

There are many others throughout the Islamic world whose leadership can similarly be featured. Include modern, mainstream Muslims in political “outreach” events, to reflect demographic reality. Avoid artificially “over-Islamizing the Muslims”; instead, accustom them to the idea that Islam can be just one part of their identity.

Support civil society in the Islamic world. This is particularly important in situations of crisis, refugee situations, and post conflict situations, in which a democratic leadership can emerge and gain practical experience through local NGOs and other civic associations. On the rural and neighborhood levels, as well, civic associations are an infrastructure that can lead to political education and a moderate, modernist leadership.

Develop Western Islam: German Islam, U.S. Islam, etc. This requires gaining a better understanding of the composition, as well as the evolving practice and thought, in these communities. Assist in eliciting, expressing, and “codifying” their views.

Go on the Offensive Against Fundamentalists. Delegitimize individuals and positions associated with extremist Islam. Make public the immoral and hypocritical deeds and statements of self-styled fundamentalist authorities. Allegations of Western immorality and shallowness are a cherished part of the fundamentalist arsenal, but they are themselves highly vulnerable on these fronts.

Encourage Arab journalists in popular media to do investigative reporting on the lives and personal habits and corruption of fundamentalist leaders. Publicize incidents that highlight their brutality-such as the recent deaths of Saudi schoolgirls in a fire when religious police physically prevented Saudi firefighters from evacuating the girls from their burning school building because they were not veiled-and their hypocrisy, illustrated by the Saudi religious establishment, which forbids migrant workers from receiving photographs of their newborn children on the grounds that Islam forbids human images, while their own offices are decorated by huge portraits of King Faisal, etc.

The role of “charitable organizations” in financing terror and extremism has begun to be more clearly understood since September 11 but also deserves ongoing and public investigation.

Assertively Promote the Values of Western Democratic Modernity Create and propagate a model for prosperous, moderate Islam by identifying and actively aiding countries or regions or groups with the appropriate views. Publicize their successes. For example, the 1999 Beirut Declaration for Justice and the National Action Charter of Bahrain broke new ground in the application of Islamic law and should be made more widely known. Criticize the flaws of traditionalism. Show the causal relationship between traditionalism and underdevelopment, as well as the causal relationship between modernity, democracy, progress, and prosperity. Do fundamentalism and traditionalism offer Islamic society a healthy, prosperous future? Are they successfully meeting the challenges of the day? Do they compare well with other social orders? The UNDP social development report (UNDP, 2002) points clearly to the linkage between a stagnant social order, oppression of women, poor educational quality, and backwardness. This message should be energetically taken to Muslim populations.

Build up the stature of Sufism. Encourage countries with strong Sufi traditions to focus on that part of their history and to include it in their school curricula.

Committed adult adherents of radical Islamic movements are unlikely to be easily influenced into changing their views. The next generation, however, can conceivably be influenced if the message of democratic Islam can be inserted into school curricula and public media in the pertinent countries. Radical fundamentalists have established massive efforts to gain influence over education and are unlikely to give up established footholds without a struggle. An equally energetic effort will be required to wrest this terrain from them.

Thus, to accomplish the overall strategy, it will be necessary to:

Support the modernists and mainstream secularists first, by

publishing and distribute their works
encouraging them to write for mass audiences and youth
introducing their views into the curriculum of Islamic education
giving them a public platform
making their opinions and judgments on fundamental questions of religious interpretation available to a mass audience, in competition with those of the fundamentalists and traditionalists, who already have Web sites, publishing houses, schools, institutes, and many other vehicles for disseminating their views
positioning modernism as a “counterculture” option for disaffected Islamic youth
facilitating and encouraging awareness of pre- and non-Islamic history and culture, in the media and in the curricula of relevant countries
encouraging and supporting secular civic and cultural institutions and programs.
Support the traditionalists against the fundamentalists, by

Publicizing traditionalist criticism of fundamentalist violence and extremism and encouraging disagreements between traditionalists and fundamentalists.
Preventing alliances between traditionalists and fundamentalists.
Encouraging cooperation between modernists and traditionalists who are closer to that end of the spectrum, increase the presence and profile of modernists in traditionalist institutions.
Discriminating between different sectors of traditionalism.
Encouraging those with a greater affinity to modernism-such as the Hanafi law school as opposed to others to issue religious opinions that, by becoming popularized, can weaken the authority of backward Wahhabi religious rulings.
Encouraging the popularity and acceptance of Sufism.
Confront and oppose the fundamentalists, by

Challenging and exposing the inaccuracies in their views on questions of Islamic interpretation
Exposing their relationships with illegal groups and activities.
Publicizing the consequences of their violent acts.
Demonstrating their inability to rule to the benefit and positive development of their communities.
Targeting these messages especially to young people, to pious traditionalist populations, to Muslim minorities in the West, and to women - avoiding showing respect or admiration for the violent feats of fundamentalist extremists and terrorists, instead casting them as disturbed and cowardly rather than evil heroes.
Encouraging journalists to investigate issues of corruption, hypocrisy, and immorality in fundamentalist and terrorist circles.
Selectively support secularists, by

Encouraging recognition of fundamentalism as a shared enemy, discouraging secularist alliances with anti-U.S. forces on such grounds as nationalism and leftist ideology.
Supporting the idea that religion and the state can be separate in Islam, too, and that this does not endanger the faith. 
Obviously, the report is recommending a Muslim leadership that is completely owned and operated by the American and European power elites. The report has serious repercussions about Islam, Muslims and the future events. Interestingly, the report has not generated any serious discussions among Muslim intellectuals and Islamic scholars in the country, many of whom seem to be unaware of the existence of such report.

Dr. Aslam Abdullah is the Editor of the Minaret magazine which is a monthly publication from Los Angeles, California.

Orignally published at