Despite being in the technologically advanced Information Age, we are living at a time in history which seems increasingly steeped in extremism; a perturbing phenomenon which could eventually victimize all of us and scar our future generations. Extremism (whether from religious radicals, conspiracy theorists, bigots, racists, xenophobes …) is born in the deep diffidence and insecurity that comes from an unrealistic, intolerant perspective which sees the world; not as spectrum of color with a variety of understandings, but rather in terms of a black and white world view. Even when purporting to be tolerant, the best view the extremist would allow is a dreary shade of gloomy grey.
Extremists have a megalomaniacal, unquestioned certainty about their position, which they consider as absolute and completely true, to the exclusion of others. They often go to great lengths to defend their stance and accusing others (in political circles) as unpatriotic or (in religious circles) as heretics or deviants. They thus legitimize their demonizing and attack on those with whom they differ, or who may be obstacles to their agenda or who dare to challenge them. Extremism, nonetheless, is on the increase at the highest level at an alarming rate.
On the world stage, the election of Donald Trump to the American presidency is a political disaster that could result in a global catastrophe. Trump has expressed sentiments of racism, xenophobia, global warming denialism; and is a man who does not have the temperament for any kind of public office, a billionaire with appalling ethics and no regard for the truth or the media. Trump placed a ban on people from 7 Muslim majority countries (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan…none of these countries have citizens who have been charged with terrorism on American soil; in fact, all 19 accused of having involved in the 9/11 attacks were from Saudi Arabia (15), United Arab Emirates (2), Egypt, and Lebanon (1); yet none of these countries are on the list… makes you think, doesn’t it? But only if you think.
Trump who is anti-immigration, but a president of a country of immigrants. He seems to disdain anything foreign; yet he wears an Italian suit, a shirt made from Bangladeshi cotton, stands behind an Ikea podium made in Sweden, with a bullet-proof St Gobain glass from France, reading his speech of a 4K Sony teleprompter made in Japan, flashing a Rolex watch made in Switzerland, standing next to his wife who is from Slovenia and giving a lecture in Arizona which is land the Americans had taken from Mexico. So much for being all-American.
Wave of Right-Wing Extremists
Trump is now in the political position of the most powerful man on the planet. Trump though, is not alone, he is also part of a more contemporary wave of right wing, sometimes neo-fascist, authoritarian populists that have been elected to power around the world. This wave includes Narendra Modi (India), Benjamin Netanyahu (Occupied Palestine) and Abdel Fattah as-Sisi (Egypt). There is also the rise of extremist politicians like Nigel Farage (Britain), Marine Le Pen (France) and Geert Wilders in Holland
This wave of far right-wing populism is usually centered around charismatic leaders, claiming to be on the side of the people and with the inherent prejudice of blaming vulnerable groups, often ethnic or religious minorities, for everything that is wrong.
Extremism Within the Fold
There is also a disturbing yet conspicuous trend of an evident rising spectacle of neo-literalist among young Muslims who incline to rigidity and excessiveness. They stick absolutely to very literal meanings of texts, while ignoring the normative style of evaluating the necessary factors of legal deduction and deeper connotations of the texts, reviewing of context, and appreciating differing perspectives of scholars holding various interpretations. Such extremists act contrary to the very spirit of Islamic imperatives of flexibility, facilitation and simplicity. Have the extremists’ self-righteousness blinded them to the acknowledged Islamic legacy of agreement on the permissibility to disagree.
Just because something is done in the name of religion or invoking shari’ah, does not mean it is right. Shari’ah is not about hate, about punishment, about vengeance, about killing; shari’ah is rather about human goodwill, global justice, positive universal values. The values and principles of the shari’ah have been clearly enunciated and reiterated by renowned classical Muslim scholars centuries ago. Ibn Al-Qayyim al Jawzi wrote (in I’lam Al-Muwaqqi’in ‘an Rabb Al-Alamin during the 14th century): “The shari’ah is founded upon wisdom and welfare in this life and the afterlife. In its entirety it is justice, mercy, benefit, and wisdom. Every matter which abandons justice for tyranny, mercy for cruelty, benefit for corruption, and wisdom for foolishness is not a part of the Sharia even if it was introduced therein by an interpretation.” The fundamental values of the Sharia are focused on justice, mercy, human welfare and wisdom.
From these core values, scholars have derived the legal objectives or maqasid of the shari’ah that correspond with the welfare of human beings. Imam Al-Ghazali; renowned 11th century scholar wrote in his al-MustaSfa min “ilm-ul-Usul: “By welfare which we mean here is the protection of the objectives of the Sharia. Namely, the objectives of the Sharia are five in creation: the protection of religion, life, intellect, family relations, and property. Everything that advances the protection of these five fundamentals is considered benefit, and everything which fails to protect these five fundamentals is considered corruption. Thus, laws derived from the moral philosophy of shari’ah aims at protecting basic human rights: Right to Life, Religion, Property, Intellect and Family.
Where do we some from our fold come with the notion of hating those who disbelieve; destroying those who differ, having suspicion of the of those within our faith who may have an alternate perspective? Not only do they wrongfully hate the “kaafir” they also consider sow seeds of suspicion regarding other Muslims who differ on secondary issues. ‘Allama Iqbal wrote; "Shajar hay fierqa araayie, Ta’assub hay samar iska. "These divisions are the branches of a tree; its fruit is extremism.”
Reactionary extremists do not want any pluralism; they view the world in black and white, their self-righteous version of good and evil. They are right/good and anyone who opposes them is misguided. They are right and everyone else is wrong. They have the monopoly over truth; … Truth is as they see it. From among the Muslims these are people who ‘excommunicate’ any Muslim who fails to share their interpretations of the Qur’an and their understanding of faith. They use takfir (denouncing a Muslim as an unbeliever) and character assassination as a tool for marginalizing any criticism directed at them. This is not Islamic etiquette and certainly not reflective of the Islamic legacy.
Agreeing to Disagree Agreeably
Imam Shafi'i is purported to have approached Yunus ibn Abd al-A'la, after they had disagreed on a matter; “O Yunus, we agree on so much and disagree on so little. Don't try to be triumphant in all differences; sometimes, winning hearts is more important than winning situations. Don't demolish bridges you built and crossed, for you may need them again one day for your return. Always hate what is wrong, but do not hate the one who errs. Hate sin with all your heart, but forgive and have mercy on the sinner. Criticize speech, but respect the speaker. Our job is to wipe out the disease, not the patient.”
Our beloved Prophet (pbuh) encouraged such moderate and tolerant attitude … “The Fire is forbidden on every person who is kind, gentle, easy-going and loving to people.”[Musnad Ahmad] The Prophet further cautioned … “I warn you regarding extremism, because communities before you were destroyed due to extremism.” [al-Nisa’i]
These are strange times; a world in which a crazy Trump has his finger on the nuclear button and Muslim fanatics have their guns pointed at other Muslims. Dangerous times, indeed. If we allow such norms to set in, we won’t be able to undo them. If we do not have the sense to realize the need to stem the tide of (political and religious) intolerance, we and our children may be drowned in the blood of extremism.