The recent kidnapping of children by the alleged Islamist group, Boko Haram, in Nigeria have refocused attention on political Islam, militant Islam and its ugly step-sister extremism. Although this savagery by Boko Haram is in complete conflict with the spirit and the practise of Islam, this insane act by a few creates a horrible image of Muslims and generally depicts Islam as a barbaric religion.
Years ago, Bernard Lewis Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University wrote, “Whenever a group of men [Muslims] sought to challenge and to change the existing political order, they made their teachings a theology and their instruments a sect, as naturally and as inevitably as their modern western counterparts make ideologies and political parties”.
Modern political Islam and Islamic militancy has many diverse facets but also shares an awkward relation with violence and a failure to influence the prevailing political and material milieu.
While the average person would rightfully condemn the violence, besides submission, what other alternatives exist? Since political pluralism in most Muslim majority states and across Africa is brutally restricted, what genuine option besides militancy remains? A historic review of what has occurred in Egypt, the Russian Caucasus and across the Middle East reveals a familiar phenomenon. This includes the abjuration of human rights, food shortages, access to health care and opportunities and muzzling political dissent. Free and fair elections and an unrestricted media remain a pipe dream in most affected war torn nations.
On the other hand, Jeffery Kenney associate Professor of Religious Studies at DePauw University in his book “Muslim Rebels” attempts to delineate between the origins of extremism in Islam and its battle with political despotism. According to Kenny the nefarious activities of early extreme Islamists or “Kharijites” as they were initially known, were primarily political acts of rebellion cloaked in religious absolutism against legitimate leadership. Consequently extremist specialize in Muslim on Muslim violence.
What is presently happening is that widespread political despotism and western states that have imperial agendas are using extremism lingo to quell genuine and legitimate political and human rights activism.
Some in the global media, who lack a coherent definition of extremism, soak up this false version of Muslim political identity and spuriously encourage this parody. Even Muslim media often embrace the prevailing narrative since they lack historic insight or have a vested religious perspective.
Since it is difficult for the untrained person to identify extremism, harming the innocent should be used as a general benchmark. Since Islam absolutely prohibits the harming of women, children and any non-combatant, those who kill the innocent, loses the Islamic legitimacy of the struggle.
In the words of the wise, we tell lies when we are afraid, afraid of what we do not know, afraid of what others will think, afraid of what will be revealed, ironically every time we tell a lie, that which we fear, only grows stronger.
The conflict between Boko Haram and the corrupt Nigerian regime may be rational but by kidnapping innocent girls, they have lost the legitimacy of their struggle.
Cllr Yagyah Adams
Cape Muslim Congress