Islamic history is full of free thinkers – but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd

Source: The Independent

By Ziauddin Sardar, who is editor of the quarterly journal ‘Critical Muslim’. His book, ‘Mecca: The Sacred City’, is published by Bloomsbury

The West’s best hope of dealing with the rise of Islamic extremism is to challenge the doctrines manufactured by religious scholars past and present, argues Ziauddin Sardar

“This has nothing to do with Islam,” say the imams. “These callous and fanatic murders have nothing to do with us,” say the mullahs. “Islam means peace,” say the worshippers. These disclaimers, and variations on them, have been repeated countless times by Muslim commentators since the Charlie Hebdo killings. They are designed to distance people from guilt by association with those who kill and maim in the name of Islam.

But what about the sentence recently handed down to the (mildly) liberal blogger Raif Badawi in the Islamic state of Saudi Arabia? Ten years in jail, a massive fine, 1,000 lashes over 20 weeks (currently suspended because the first 50 lashes have rendered him “medically unfit”)? Does this have “nothing to do with Islam”? Does the hashtag “Je suis un couteau” – referring to this week’s stabbing of 11 Israelis on a bus – have “nothing to do with Islam”? Not to mention the 10 Christians killed during Charlie protests in Niger last week, or the ongoing depredations of al-Qaeda, Isis, Boko Haram, the Taliban and the Laskar Jihad of Indonesia?

The psychotic followers of these organisations all think that they are Muslims, and their Islam is based on beliefs that millions who subscribe to Wahhabism, the Saudi version of the religion – and its kin, Salafism – accept as essential ingredients of their faith. For example, that sharia, or Islamic law, is divinely ordained and immutable; that apostates and blasphemers should be killed; that women should be shrouded and confined to four walls and that men are their guardians.

This is a widespread version of Islam, made more so by modern communications; increasingly gaining followers in Europe, it can be, and is, used to justify all manner of atrocities. Yet this is an Islam of manufactured dogma which relies on neither the Koran nor the example of the Prophet Mohamed.

So where do these beliefs come from? From today’s extremist leaders, of course. But also, historically, from caliphs and clerics who realised that religion could perform a very useful function: it could keep the masses in their place and ensure that power remained in the hands of a select few.

Read further and see pictures of extremism

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