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How 2 Muslim Leaders Are Fighting Back Against Extremism

Penguin Books

Schueftan is the co-editor of The Israel-Arab Reader

'We are in urgent need of a revolution'

Arab and Muslim leaders are keenly aware, more than most others, of the profoundly destructive effect of Islamist radicalism and the unprecedented eruption of violence in the name of Islam that is sowing havoc throughout the Middle East. This dramatically exacerbated sectarian regional confrontations, including the Arab-Israeli conflict, and rendered a peaceful solution immeasurably more difficult. Here are how two Muslim leaders have responded.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah as-Sisi, the general who deposed the Muslim Brotherhood regime, discussed this danger very candidly in Dec. 22, 2014.

The problem does not lie in the religious doctrine but rather in the thought that itself has become sanctified in place of a renewal of religious discourse in every age. I am speaking here about the religious scholars – we need to pause carefully and ponder the situation we are facing at present: it cannot be that this religious doctrine is the cause of the violence and terror and killing and destruction that we witness all around us today. I say the thought behind all this is not the religion; it is a mode of thinking that has become deified along with texts and ideas over hundreds of years, and now it is difficult to escape from its clutches. This thought is what sows enmity in the world meaning that the 1.6 billion Muslims are pitted against the rest of the 7 billion so that the adherents of this thought may thrive.

What we need is a virtuous religious revolution – all the nations of the world are waiting for you [Al-Azhar scholars and establishment] to bring about such a religious revolution; they are eagerly awaiting your pronouncements. Our Islamic nation is being torn asunder in destruction and this nation risks being lost -its fate is in our hands, we who are its custodians.

We need to acknowledge that we are in urgent need of a revolution over the self and a revolution over prevailing values, a moral revolution by which we restore and rebuild the Egyptian person.

Permit me, dear audience, to call upon our esteemed religious scholars and virtuous sheikhs in the ministry of religious properties (wakfs) and in the council of religious rulings (fatwas) to speed up their formulation of the new religious discourse that rectifies the understanding of doctrines and presents the reality of the issues in a renewed and responsible manner based on God’s Book and the way of His beloved prophet, and that preserves the values of Islam by calling for the implementation of its tolerant teachings, and that treats effectively the problem of extremism and its erroneous understanding of Islam.

In a speech at the Counter-Terrorism Combat Conference on Feb. 22, 2015, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb addressed the same issue:

[This and other conferences] are all designed to confront this extreme blight that has afflicted our Arab region and that consists of the violent and terrorist groups all alien to the doctrines, norms, and values of Islam and to its history and civilization – an extremism that bears no relation to this upright religion. In fact, these groups have all but repudiated the judgment of the Holy Quran and the Sunnah and have replaced them with savage barbarism as their adopted way and sect and belief.

This nation of ours about which Allah said “you are the finest nation ever raised up for mankind” (Qur’an, Al’Imran: 110) has now reached a dismal state and fallen into seven errors, which is a very grave matter indeed, and the Arab and Islamic nation has descended to the level of becoming the protectors of anarchy and upheaval and fragmentation and lawlessness, thereby defacing the image of Islam in the eyes of people in both East and West. I can even say that this distortion is colouring the perceptions of Islam’s youth themselves.

[Acute poverty, marginalized environments the darkness of the prisons and abuses are not the only causes for this] Most prominent among these causes, as I see it, are the cumulative historical tendencies towards extremism and militancy within our tradition all of which have come out of corrupted interpretations of parts of the text of our Holy Qur’an and the prophetic Sunnah and the sayings of the learned scholars.

Unless we manage to secure educational control within our schools and universities over the chaotic resorting to pronouncements of heresy and corruption directed at Muslims there will be no hope for this nation to recover its strength and unity and ability to progress alongside the advanced countries. …

Dear scholars, you are aware that we face large international conspiracies targeting the Arabs and the Muslims with the aim of presenting them in a different light and scattering them in their own lands in accordance with the dreams of the new global imperialism allied with world Zionism, hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder…With deep regret we see that this strategy has succeeded to meddle at will in our nation through the use of cunning and ambush and domination. Some of the results of this cunning intervention have been the loss of Iraq, the burning down of Syria, the tearing up of Yemen, and the destruction of Libya.

The courageous public recognition from these two prominent speakers—the president of the most important Arab state and the head of the most prestigious Sunni Muslim institution—is a far cry from substantial change of the destructive Islamist tide in the Middle East. However, a denunciation of Islamic radicalism so unequivocal offers a silver lining in an essentially dark regional reality.

From THE ISRAEL-ARAB READER: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict, edited by Walter Laqueur and Dan Schueftan, published on September 20, 2016, by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Eighth revised and updated edition copyright © Walter Laqueur and Dan Schueftan 2016.

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