In light of how they treat dissenters, Muslim scholars in the UK might not be any better than ISIS.
On Monday, a murderer in Pakistan by the name of Mumtaz Qadri was executed after going through his country’s due process for killing a prominent Pakistani politician, Punjab Governor Salman Taseer, in January 2011.
While employing Taseer, Qadri assassinated him for his stance against his country’s blasphemy laws and his defence of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman currently on death row for allegedly insulting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Considering that the vision of Pakistan by its founder, Jinnah was one of plurality and democracy, one would hope the country would rally around the need to punish murder, perhaps not with the death penalty, but with incarceration. What actually happened made me feel ashamed of my Pakistani ancestry. The nation decided to glorify and justify the murder, and paint Qadri as a martyr through Islam, the religion I practice. In fact, the real martyr was Taseer.
“I am dismayed and extremely disappointed to know that the sheer criminality of Mumtaz Qadri is lauded, honoured and glorified in the name of Islam,” Quilliam theologian Shaykh Salah Ansari al-Azhari told me this week. “In my view, it reflects a crisis of understanding. The Quran says the prophet is a mercy for mankind, and nothing can be cited in the hadith, or saying of the prophet, to overrule this Koranic principle.”
Why wait until now to write against this glorification of murder, and what impact does this have for us in the UK and around the world? I was hoping the response from Muslim scholars in the UK would be sensible and recognize that although the death penalty is not something our society condones, neither is the religious glorification of a murderer who used the blasphemy law to kill an innocent person. I was hoping people from the same Islamic traditions from which I hail would not whip up a storm supporting the idea that people can just assassinate those who disagree with them.
What I witnessed over the last few days was exactly the opposite. Imams and scholars, some of whom are working with government funded initiatives and are seen by some as the bulwark against recruitment to ISIS – behaving just like ISIS and their supporters. After all, isn’t ISIS killing other Muslims because they disagree with violent Islamism? Isn’t ISIS spreading propaganda around the world using Islamic jurisprudence to justify murder and other atrocities? Isn’t ISIS a threat to us all?
If the answer to the above questions is yes, why behave like ISIS?
The ISIS worldview depends on creating an illusion of holding a monopoly on the truth. It relies on an interpretation of ideology devoid of moral ethics, on moral blindness and on a concept known as takfir – excommunicating other Muslims who do not agree and condoning their murders. If some of the very people esteemed as defenders against Islamic State are behaving as violent jihadists, what hope remains for the rest of us?
Moreover, if we Muslims continue to behave in this manner – what next? The greatest blasphemy within Islam is shirk (associating partners with God), and the largest denominations of Christians around the world believe and preach that Jesus (pbuh) is the son of God. If the ridiculous blasphemy laws are applied does that mean that there is justification for Muslims to kill Christians simply for holding this view, and be glorified for their murders?
The answer is an emphatic no – so this principle must apply to anyone with whom we disagree, regardless of religious belief.
Over the past few days, as the Managing Director of a counter extremism organisation and as a Muslim who hails from many of these traditions, I have tried to reach out to organisations with imams. We urgently need to discuss these issues and find solutions. We have a newly appointed theology team comprised of scholars from different Islamic traditions – including from the highest Sunni seat of learning, al-Azhar University. Our challenge to those that glorify murder and blasphemy is to sit around a table with our team, and let’s hash this out.
We are ready to meet with some scholars supposed to be bastions of the theological war against ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and other violent extremist groups.
If we cannot find our way through this takfiri mentality and condone execution for blasphemy – we are indeed prepping our children for ISIS.
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