By Qari Muhammad Asim
Senior Imam – Makkah Mosque, Leeds
For the Muslim world, the years 2015 and 2014 has been regularly punctuated by tragic and brutal massacres that have been committed in the name of our religion Islam. Such violent and tragic incidents range from abduction of school girls in Nigeria by Boko Haram, to kidnapping and killing of thousands of people, including public executions, by ISIS /ISIL/ Daesh, to massacring of school children in Pakistan by the Taliban.
From Pakistan to Nigeria, from Afghanistan to Syria, even schools have not been spared in bloody conflicts across the world. In parts of the Muslim world, schools have become sites of horrific terror instead of temples of learning. Further, a tiny minority of activists seem to have declared “war on education” and, in particular, female gaining education. This dissent and baseless voice must be dealt with amicably but vigorously. What is desperately needed, amongst others, is re-focus on every child being educated and reform of education system of madrasas (Islamic schools).
The religious narrative taught in certain madrasas across the world must be reviewed. Hate filled clerics, funded by certain sponsors, are indoctrinating generations of young Muslims with hatred. Speaking at an anti-terrorism conference in Mecca, the Grand Imam of Egypt, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb of Cairo’s al-Azhar University has called for a radical reform of religious teaching to tackle the spread of extremism. “The only hope for the Muslim nation to recover unity is to tackle in our schools and universities this tendency to accuse Muslims of being unbelievers,” he said. The conference was organised by the Saudi government and held in the last week of February 2015, Saudi Arabian King Salman said: “Terrorism is a scourge which is the product of extremist ideology.”
Terrorist sympathizing clerics must be re-trained in religious jurisprudence. There is a need for one religious education system, which is based on orthodox teachings as interpreted by traditional scholarship, and is equipped with the ability to deal with modern challenges.
A formal mechanism for inter-action and coordination between public or private madrasas and the government or among the various madrasas themselves, must also be developed. Such a network would also create a positive image of madrasas and also remove the criticism that some madrasas are breeding grounds for religious hatred and recruitment bases for militants. Through regulation and reform, the Muslim leadership can enhance its oversight over the madrasa sector and what is taught in schools.
A key component of consolidating the education system must be embracing diversity and pluralism. The practice of excommunication, one Muslim declaring another Muslim an unbeliever (takfir) must not be taken lightly. The Kharijites /Khawarij – a sect that emerged in 7th century (less than 40 years after the passing away of the Prophet (peace be upon him) -were particularly noted for adopting a radical approach to Takfir, whereby they declared other Muslims to be unbelievers and therefore deemed them worthy of death. So much of Muslim blood has been spilt by these fanatics and extremists, that one cannot even begin to imagine.
The practice of takfir is a cancer that is breading hatred and alienation. It is preventing peace and stability amongst the Muslims. God is a sufficient Judge and therefore the matters of the heart should be left to Him. Muslims must learn to manage differences and embrace diversity in religious and political ideology; co-existence between different communities and schools of thought is part of the Divine plan. Learning to tolerate and accept ‘the other’ is the chosen path of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
Such reform requires a consultative and inclusive process conducted with sensitivity and respect for diverse interests. However, respect for ‘diverse interests’ should not dilute the objective, which is to get rid of such (mis)interpretations of Islam which are not backed by the overwhelmingly majority traditional scholarship.
The proposal for madrasa reform should not be seen as one of government interference and control over religious education or governments hoping to create ‘moderate’ or ‘tamed’ Muslims. This reform in religious education should be lead by Muslim scholars of the highest calibre. Such reform will only take place once Muslim scholars realise their responsibilities to build castles of peace in people’s hearts and minds, and not caves of hate and detestation. There will need to be continuous engagement between various stake-holders in a process of dialogue, consultation and collaboration.
This proposed reform must not be about creating ‘moderate’ Muslims, as opposed to fundamentalists or extremists; rather Islam is the moderate way and extremism, hatred and intolerance has no place in our faith.
Muslim leadership must build institutions for youth and preachers which train them in different forms of dialogue and learning. Compassionate dialogue with youth and the application of proper legal reasoning in sharia will prevent hatred and extinguish the darkness of extremism. There needs to be consolidation of peaceful values, security and brotherhood through dialogue and educational programmes for the youth so peaceful practices become the natural choices in the daily lives of the new generations.
Islam has provided a curriculum which teaches that every human beings’ precious life must be safe, every man’s honour and dignity must be preserved, everyone’s freedom, so long as it is exercised with due responsibility, must be respected. The Muslim leadership must do more to preserve these Islamic values. Lack of tolerance towards others, disregard for pluralism and cultural differences, are all breading hatred amongst young people. Faith leaders, through a reformed and unified education system, must work towards reconciling hearts and enhancing harmonious coexistence of humanity.