The Responsibility of Islam

The Responsibility of Islam

Husam Itani |

The existing relationship between Islam and violence is complicated and dubious. This is revealed nowadays by the events in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, where clerics are leading the scenes of killing, instigation and destruction, raising thus once again the question surrounding the responsibility of Islam as a religion firstly.


The justifications and the rejection of these actions quickly emerge, through announcements that “Islam is distant from these practices” and is a religion of mercy and peace. This is true, but reality is much more complex, and facts require positions extending beyond the rejection and dissociation from the calls of the sheikhs of hatred. Indeed, it is necessary to see that the condemnation of the killing of four Shiite preachers in Egypt, the destruction of historical monuments because they are linked to Sufism in Mali, and the slaughtering of the soldiers of the Syrian regime who were taken as prisoners, are all – among others - practices committed under the pretext of preserving the purity of true religion.


Let us first agree that Islam bears numerous interpretations and explanations, that its history is filled with judgments that are contradictory in some cases, and that the right to issue these interpretations, explanations and judgments constituted a conflict arena that has featured and still features violence. At this level, the biographies of the leaders of the sects reveal the ordeals to which they were subjected at the hands of the sultan’s men throughout the ages and across the religious Sunni or Shiite spectrum, and inside each sect and religious movement from extreme Sufism to the Salafi movements. History also featured the persecution of the jurisprudents, the theologians and the scholars in all the Islamic countries. And the examples for that are too numerous to count.


But there is a renewed phenomenon of religious persecution and a spreading of individuals claiming to be muftis and theologians in a way threatening with a dangerous anarchy that could undermine the stability of Arab and Islamic communities. Hence, it has become imperative to open a public debate over the role of religion in politics and the relationship between politics and religion.


At this point, one should recall a two-faceted (positive and negative) predicament in Islamic history saying that Islam refused to establish a clerical corps as it was done by the other religions. In short, this rejection freed Muslims from affiliation with whichever side, but allowed the emergence of a number of parasites and impersonators. And the troubled relationship between religion and politics since the first days of Islam rendered the establishment of an institution representing true religion a political necessity more than a jurisprudent one.


Today nonetheless, the situation seems to have been completely turned upside down, and despite all the sensitivities surrounding religion’s role in politics, this issue must be approached in a critical and rational way, without being caught between the utter prohibition of its tackling in public and the opposite calls for the banning of any religious role in politics, considering that we live in societies in which religion is playing a deep role to shape their conscience, behavior, and reactions. “Parasitical” secularism is not a sufficient response to the signs of extremism, while at the end of the day the matter is not cognitive and is not limited to the purification of religion from extraneous and weak texts adopted by quasi-illiterate sheikhs. It is a social matter necessitating the ending of the terrible setback affecting the projects to build the state, after this setback struck our communities and left them completely void and open to pillaging by the callers of extremism based on an identity crisis and fear from change.


In other words, the problem does not reside in a system of thought facing others on a purely jurisprudent arena, or in the critique of Ahadith al-Ahad, cross-referencing, and the qualities of the conveyors of Ahadith for example. It is about repositioning the Arab and Islamic societies along the course of reconciliation with themselves and their position in the world, far away from the myth surrounding their heritage and history.


The religious institutions are invited to play an active and conscious role at this level, and Al-Azhar’s condemnation of the Abu al-Namras crime might be a good start. Still, one cannot imagine the progress of any effort in the aforementioned direction without an alert and responsible civil society.