The Tribulation of Tribal Islam, Tribal Muslims
by Aftab Ahmad Malik
INNOCENTS ARE BEING SLAUGHTERED, whether it be done as a consequence of “collateral damage,” resulting from secular violence, or by the delusion of serving God’s will through “religious” violence.
From the taking of over 1,000 hostages consisting of school children, their parents and teachers in Beslan, Russia, to the beheading of Ren Bigley in Iraq, the sickness that pervades the minds of those individuals who use religion to justify the most grotesque and horrific acts should not and cannot be defended by anyone. Islam is suffering continuously at their hands and Muslims can no longer remain silent; our silence is our acquiescence to the crimes that are being carried out.
Innocent people have become targets of fanatical individuals who represent no one but their own twisted minds and darkened hearts. Islam is free of these muharibs, rebels, vigilantes, these terrorists. Muslims are innocent of such crimes against humanity.
The world continues to grow more confused as people are told that “Islam is a religion of peace” and they then witness the carnage at the hands of extremists being beamed across television channels world-wide. Despite the suffering of Muslims through state sponsored violence and the uneven application of international law, whether it is in Chechnya, the occupied Palestinian territories, or in Algeria, nothing can justify heinous actions that result in the spilling of innocent blood.
The sacred sources of Islam, the Qur’an and the sayings of the Prophet (hadith) have both fallen victim and hostage to the “armies of ignorant people clashing in the darkness of ignorance.”1 Devoid of the necessary skills and tools to decipher the religious texts, these students of chaos have side stepped over one thousand years of scholasticism and Qur’anic exegesis to create their own deluded Shari’a – a new law couched in Islamic terminology established solely to be the antithesis of the West Under this law, there is only hatred and rejection. Under this law, Muslims and non-Muslims alike are its victims.2
Theology cannot be ignored when trying to understand this aberrant attitude that has spread like a plague within the Muslim world and has infected some of the minds of the unwary in the West.3 This “war theology” has been derived from a literal understanding of the Qur’an, which disregards the basic principles of jurisprudence and rejects the esta blished consensus by the scholastic community. This reading of Islam has long been rejected and discarded by the scholars of Islam. The Chechens know first hand of how this brutal theology has devastated its traditional society, pitting father against son, family against family.
The official Chechen rebel leader, Asian Maskhadov, condemned the seizure of the school, describing the Beslan attackers as “madmen.” He said that the acts of terror were “carried out by people whose desire for revenge against acts of brutality by Russian troops had driven them out of their senses.”4 Most commentators are aware how Chechnya’s battle for Independence has been to a large degree hijacked by a violent and radicalized reading of Islam that nutures itself on powerful emotions. This version of Islam has been quick to introduce the use of indiscriminate violence and terror, which is justified as a response to the horrific deaths of thousands of Muslims at the hands of the Russian army. This blood-thirsty ideology has only served to impede the Chechen cause for independence.5
Muslims have to reject this exchange of indiscriminate violence which is a modern phenomenon; a bid’a (reprehensible innovation) that must be called by what it truly is. Human life, its sanctity and the human soul is precious and honored in Islam. Out of the hundreds of thousands of hadith, only five hundred have the transmitted status of the Qur’an, (mutawatir) and among them is the saying that the Prophet continually forbade the killing of women and children. Muslims do not share the secular conception of “collateral damage.” In Islam, the unjust killing of just one soul is akin to “taking the lives of all humanity.”6 Islam bestows dignity and honor for each and every soul, irrespective of being a believer or not.7 It is related once that a funeral procession passed in front of the Prophet, and he stood up. Then he was told it was a bier of a Jew. The Prophet said, “Is he not a human soul?”8
It is a well known fact that in Islam, fighting has always been prescribed as a last resort and Muslims should never initiate hostilities. In addition, there are higher forms of jihad other than fighting.9 The striking difference between a jihad conducted according to the principles of Islam to the current corrupted conception of jihad waged by Muslim vigilantes, can be epitomized in the example of Emir ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jaza’iri. Resisting French colonial efforts, as leader of the Muslim Algerian resistance between 1830 and 1847, the Emir fought for justice with justice. At a time when the French army was massacring entire tribes, collecting severed Arab heads as trophies and being paid for collecting Arab ears, the Emir insisted that captives should be treated well and forbade any ill treatment10 When the Emir was questioned about the reward for a live French soldier, the Emir replied “eight douros.” When he was further asked about the reward for a severed French head, he responded “twenty-five blows of the baton on the soles of the feet”11 The Emir did not fight like with like. His mission was determined and shaped by the moral imperative as set in the Qur’an which forbids excess and aggression being carried out against people.12 Even after being sent into exile in Damascus, the Emir did not allow his experiences fighting the Christian French army to distort his moral responsibilities. In i860, during the civil war, he tried to avert an ensuing massacre of Christians. Unable to prevent it, he and his followers were still able to protect 15,000 Christians, including dignitaries and European ambassadors. It was Winston Churchill who said:
All die representatives of the Christian powers ttien residing in Damascus, without one single exception, had owed their lives to him [. . .] An Arab had thrown his guardian aegis over the outraged majesty of Europe. A descendent of the Prophet had sheltered and protected the Spouse of Christ.13
Collective responsibility was not an understanding that the Emir had. It isn’t Qur’anic nor Prophetic. He understood that the Qur’an did not forbid Muslims from dealing justly, nor from friendship with those people who had neither persecuted Muslims nor had driven them from there homes.14 It was this action of the Emir, his protecting the Christians, that was brought to the attention of another Muslim warrior, Imam Shamil al-Daghestani. Like the Emir, Imam Shamil was leading a resistance against Russian Imperialism. Like the Emir, he too was regarded with awe by followers and enemies alike. In his letter to the Emir, he wrote:
I was astonished at the blindness of the functionaries who have plunged into such excesses, forgetful of the words of the Prophet, peace be upon him, “Whoever shall be unjust towards a tributary,’5 who shall do him wrong, who shall lay on him any charge beyond his means, and finally who shall deprive him of anything wiUiout his own consent, it is I who will be his accuser in die day of Judgment”16
These two men knew that hatred and revenge had no role to play in their resistance against the brutalities of the French and Russian armies. They did not use collective guilt as a weapon to inflict massacres upon the innocent in retaliation for what their people had endured. They did not see a world divided between “good and evil,” but rather, they distinguished between people who fought them and those people who shared the same ethnicity and religion but did not fight them. They fought with a heart cleansed of hatred, revenge or anger. They adhered scrupulously to the moral and ethical imperatives of the Qur’an. They understood that aggression and excess were forbidden and that mercy, compassion and forbearance were the benchmarks of human dignity. There really can be no such a greater contrast between them and the so called jihadists that are the scourge of the earth today. In words written over 140 years ago, that ring so true today, the Emir ‘Abd al-Qadir contemplated:
When we think how few men of real religion there are, how small the number of defenders and champions of the truth – when one sees ignorant persons imagining that the principle of Islam is hardness, severity, extravagance and barbarity – it is time to repeat these words: u Patience is beautiful and God is the source of all succour?17 [Qur’an, 12:18]
Muslims need to reassert their Abrahamic heritage that calls to the highest morality. Jews and Christians who are called by the honorific title AhI al-Kitab (people of the Book) have been targeted and killed unjustly in the name of Islam. The Qur’an speaks in clear terms about these religious traditions saying, “[...] We believe in God, and in what has been revealed to us [Muhammad], and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the Tribes, and in what was given to Moses, Jesus and the prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them.”18 The Qur’an further teaches mutual respect between these traditions asserting “And from the people of Moses, there is a community that leads with truth and establishes justice.*19 Referring to the Christians, we are told that “among them in affection to the believers will you find those who say 4We are Christians.’”20 Tolerance in Islam is a directive of the Qur’an, implemented and lived by traditional Muslims across the world and throughout history, which has been ignored by the jihadists and extremist elements of Muslims.
With the growth of what the American scholar, Hamza Yusuf, describes as tribal mentality, Muslims today shun other Muslims or look on in horror at those who seek to blame Muslims for acts of carnage. In the minds of the deluded, Islam has been reduced to a tribe; “bani-lslam.” Like in the days of ignorance (jahiliyya) that preceded Islam, anyone who was slighted in any way had to reckon with the full force of the tribe in retaliation. The honor and integrity of the tribe was to be upheld zealously, even if its people were in the wrong. In a similar analysis, Professor Akbar Ahmed contends that – due to a breakdown of Ibn Khaldun’s idea of asabiya (group loyalty or social cohesion)- traditional notions of adi (justice) and ihsan (compassion) have collapsed and are replaced by what he calls “hyper- asabiya? This “hyper-asabiya” is rooted in tribal or group loyalty which adheres to a “mutated, twisted and violent interpretation of honor? By giving honor a new meaning, these Muslims justify acts of violence against anyone who falls outside the tribe, even if they are Muslims. 21
At the advent of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings be upon him, did away with blood-feuds and tribal wars, replacing it with an understanding of brotherhood; one united on common ancestry. By uniting all of humankind to Adam and Eve, Islam had assured that no one would be discriminated against, regardless of creed, color or status. Today, this ethical gift of Islam has been discarded as love of co-religionists has superseded the love of God and of humanity. It seems that post 9/11 Muslims are ever more obsessed with conspiracy theories, paranoia and self-deceit. The result has been a denial that Muslims could be capable of evil acts – and even the suggestion of this is seen as blasphemy. Instead, the tribal Muslims place the blame at the conspiracies of the Jews or the American government, despite the fact that in the last fifty years, more Muslims have been killed by Muslims than by anyone else.
Jews and Christians also need to become aware of the crimes that are being carried out in their name, and reject and distance themselves from what they see. When Zionists are understood to be speaking for all Jews, Jews around the world are seen to be complicit with the crimes that are carried out in Israel. We have seen the results in the unprovoked bombings by fanatics that have targeted and killed Jews in Turkey and North Africa. Christians need to be vocal in their rejection of the Christian Right and their apocalyptic and literal reading of the Bible, which serves only to confirm to Muslims that the West in general and the U.S. in particular, is waging a new crusade against the Muslim world.
Muslims today must be strong and frank. We need to be supporters of justice, even be it against fellow Muslims and indeed, even if it is against our very own selves.22 Islam teaches that with afffliction comes the strengthening of belief, not its corruption. When faced by threat and persecution, Muslims turn to the prayer of Prophets God is enough for us – and what an excellent guardian!25 This is how faith is articulated when we have trust in God at all times. When faith is replaced by tribalism, the response is different; Muslims experience the states of hopelessness, blame, resentment and helplessness. Prayer is substituted for rhetoric and rhetoric leads to hate. In this state, Islam has been enmeshed in the emotions of anger, hate and revenge; emotions which Islam views as detrimental to the human soul.24 Rather than following the example of the Prophet, it seems that a parallel prophet has been construed through the skewed reading of the traditional texts. This prophet is a “shadow” prophet; one that moves in the shadows, characterized by rage, the zeal for war, and a lack of mercy towards his enemies; be they women, children or non-combatants. In contrast to this, authentic accounts of the Prophet show him to be a man “brilliantly spiritual, stern in matters of right yet compassionate and clement, rich in dignity yet extremely modest and humble [...] a manly and valorous warrior who was most kind and gentle with women and children.”25
For the integrity of Islam, these individuals and their organizations need to be seen as they are: marginal and heretical. Muslims need to be brave enough to hold them to account for the destruction that they have created. Islam is a religion of order and governance and it rejects vigilantes and renegades. In his famous statement, the first century scholar, Imam Malik remarked that sixty years of oppression is better than one moment of anarchy where tribulation (ßtna) reigns. It is evident however, that there are growing numbers of Muslims in the West who seek the revivification of an authentic, traditional wisdom; one that discredits the angry rhetoric and the blind fury of the orphans of modernity, and replaces it with the Prophetic notions of trust, courtesy and wisdom.
While it is clear that many people are highly critical of American foreign policy, this should not be interpreted as an endorsement for antiAmericanism. America and Americans should not be defined by foreign policy- that would be a great injustice. Most Muslims wholeheartedly believe that most Americans would be appalled if they truly knew what was being carried out thousands of miles away in their name. This is, in fact, part of the problem: Americans need to make themselves more aware of what is going on in the world and of America’s role in iL Americans need to better understand who these “other” people are: their customs and history, their views of America and their justifications for viewing her as they do. What Americans would soon discover is that the world is full of people who aspire to travel to America, and if possible, live there. There will be people who view America as arrogant and there will be those who view America as benevolent Americans would also find people who object to what they see as America’s domineering foreign policy. They see how America is able to side-step international law while being insistent that everyone else should abide by its letter. It is this sad reality that alienates America’s allies and infuriates its enemies. The danger here is blindingly obvious: when the lines between Americans, America and its foreign policy begin to blur, American foreign policy becomes the criterion by which to judge Americans and America by, just as terrorists are often used to judge Muslims and Islam.
For those who cannot differentiate between Americans and American foreign policy, I would remind them of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have protested, and who continue to protest, at the way that their country has been dragged into an unrelenting war. In fact, on February 15th, 2003 in more than 100 nations around the world (including America, Britain, France, Germany and Israel) over 30 million people marched in protest against the impending war against Iraq. Certainly, these people did not want to see a “clash” with the Muslim world nor a war with Islam. Muslims need to recognize the need to cease talking about “hating the West” when they themselves have benefited in many ways from the West From enjoying Western food, clothing and movies to having life-saving surgery and medicines developed in the West, flying to make Pilgrimage (Hajj) on planes built and engineered by the West, and earning their livelihood based on cars produced by the West Muslims need to be fair and just Speaking as though the West were a monolith is the precise fault that most Muslims accuse Westerners of when they speak of Islam.
While many people in the West have a certain degree of fear of Islam and many Muslims hold onto resentment, by allowing a small group of people to manipulate these emotions, this global political elite intends that people across the world should speak in absolutisms: “hating Islam” and “hating the West” For those Muslims who speak in such a way, they need to reflect again upon their religious principles and understand that Islam teaches that no individual can carry the blame of another and so, anti- Americanism and being anti-West cannot be Islamic concepts. Tribal religion and tribal nationalism should be rejected in favor of seeing the human race as an extension of the family of Adam and Eve, with every member of the family having an inherent and inalienable right to dignity and honor.
Source: Islamica Magazine, issue 12, page 94. Islamica Magazine was an award winning magazine recognized for its quality of design and editorial content. Over the course of its run from 1992 to 2009, Islamica won several awards including three DeRose-Hinkhouse Memorial Awards of Excellence for overall periodical and three Best of Class Awards honored by the Religion Communicators Council. It was also nominated as best magazine for spiritual coverage by the UTNE Independent Press Awards. The Magazine site maintains an archive of all issues published from 1992 to 2009.