Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

Activist Islam — Part I

By Wageh Saad - 05.31.2010

One of the questions non-Muslims often ask that I address in the KMA Middle Eastern presentation is, what level of activism is inherent in the observance and practice of Islam.

As to what qualifies a person to be or become a Muslim,  it is sufficient for a person to declare his/her Islam (submission to the will of God and obedience to His law) and become Muslim just by pronouncing the statement that says: “I witness that there no god but one God and Muhammed is his slave and his messenger.”  This is the God of Adam and Abraham.

However, Muslims are also ranked in the eyes of God at different degree of faithfulness according to their level of activism.  Praying, fasting, pilgrimage, charity (Zakat), enjoining what is good and forbidding what is bad, and Jihad are the many forms of activism in Islam.  All of the above except for some forms of Jihad are peaceful activities that are welcome in the society – any society.

Relationships in the society and the world benefit from the Islamic views on coexistence, mutual respect among people of all races and nations, and the need to learn about each other and to treat each other with kindness.

As the Quran (Koran) itself says:

O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). Quran 49:13 (al-Hujrat, verse 13)

In Islam the concept of Jihad is more inclusive than the fighting aspect.  A Muslim will be doing Jihad if he/she teaches the message of the religion through informing others about the faith and the consequences of not adhering to its principles.  All of these consequences are left to the creator who has full knowledge of the actions, intentions, and any extenuating circumstances.

In Islam there is no mediator between the human being and God.  When questioned about his/her performance of prayer, fasting or other religious duties, a Muslim usually responds with a well known statement – Allahou A’alam – meaning God knows best.  This is to say that my performance is a private matter between me and my God.

Again, in some Muslim nations, the government enforces rules on the public that are within the religious requirements for example forbid the consumption of alcohol, expecting modest dress code etc..  This goes against the basic principle of “no coercion in the religion” which is a Muslim principle.  The justification is that of public safety and orderly society.

As for Jihad, there are many aspects that are performed in peaceful manner such as calling people for the worshiping of one God and to accept the divine message that descended on the human being via the his messengers of God.  This is referred to as signing on the message “Tableegh” or invitation to the way of Islam “Da’awa”.  Activism in the Quran is described in this verse \” Invite others to the way of Allah through wisdom and a good lecture\”(125).  Also, the concept of no coercion in religion mandates a path for the activist to follow that is: \’\’Therefore give warning.  Your duty is only to warn them: you are not their keeper\”(88).

Activism must be accomplished through acts of peaceful persuasion and dialogues not by opposition and confrontation.

As for the fighting aspect, the performance is very much controlled by strict rules.  Jihad cannot be declared unless it is in the defense of oneself or one’s faith.  Jihad is not a tool to convert people to Islam by force and through violence.  Still in self defense, Islam forbids killing of innocent people, women, children, priests, and elderly. It goes as far as forbidding the “Jihadists” from cutting trees or destroying properties.

The above duties required of a Muslim are stamped in the larger society as its core values leading to some social pressure on the individual to conform and perform to these rules that are considered morals.   It is a source of shame and a source of guilt for someone for someone to deviate from these core values.  It is neither a source of shame or guilt for someone not to join or refuse to join in acts committed by Muslim extremists such Alqaeda.

Only when a leader or a cleric is able to make a convincing case and to paint the acts of violence as the only mean to defend the Islamic Nation, only at that point he will be effective in recruiting “Jihadists” who will show full trust and blind obedience in that leader.

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