Religion of Friday, 4 October 2013
Source: Mohammed Salisu
Perhaps the first question that came to mind when televisions around the world displayed the extraordinary assaults on the shopping mall in Kenya was why anyone would do such a thing. When it became clear that the perpetrators were Islamists, the shock turned to anger. How a religious “body” could be related to such violent acts? My hunch in this article is to try answering this germane question.
This pogrom attack at the West Gate shopping mall in Nairobi is the most recent terror act the world has witnessed. And no one knows the next direction of the ax! But the undeniable fact is that these marauding groups who are gnashing their teeth around are disgruntling killing in the name of Islam. The paroxysm of anger with which they wittingly kill and maim is what puzzles many especially non-Muslim.
The Qur’anic concept of war is an important contribution to the understanding of Islamic “just war” and peace paradigm. War is the last resort, and is subject to the rigorous conditions laid down by the sacred law. Islam permits fighting in self-defense, in defense of one’s faith, or on the part of those whose basic rights have been trampled upon with impunity. It lays down strict rules of combat that includes prohibition against harming civilians, destroying crops, trees, and livestock. The often misunderstood and overused term, jihad literally means “struggle” and not “holy war” is an Islamic concept which on the personal level denotes inner struggle against evil within oneself; struggle for decency and goodness on the social level, etc.
But the jihadists’ movement and unapologetic rationale they offer for the use of terrorism to accomplish their political and selfish agenda is in total contradiction to the teachings of the Qur’an which states, that whoever kills a soul it is as if he had killed all mankind. And whoever saves one, it is as if he had saved mankind entirely. If this is the rule then why do they fancy killing? Aren’t they scared of detonating themselves? Of course the atavistic make up of man makes logical of these questions. But religion, as postulated by Karl Marx is opium of the people. And these obstinate groups have become so impervious and intransigents that if they ever exercise any modicum of restraint, it is not because of a susceptibility they have to questions of right or wrong, but because they are possibly not sure of inflicting a hefty and stiffer pain to their victims at that material moment. Therefore to really understand these Islamists militants, there is the need to trace certain historical trajectories that has influenced their emergence.
THE ROOT CAUSES
Clinical psychologists have indicated a strong linkage between shame, humiliation and violence. Shame and humiliation are profoundly psychological and often spiritual conditions. While much of the humiliation that fuels certain acts of terrorism might begin in social and cultural situations, fanatical religions may build upon that for establishing cycle wherein their teaching and practices increase feelings of shame and humiliation, which set the stage for aggressive feelings and providing targets for spiral of violence.
With the inception of Islam in the seventh century, life between Muslims and Christians/Jews had been very cordial. And the latter has on two occasions provided sanctuary to the former; first in Ethiopia and second in Medina/ Saudi Arabia. This is not only because all these religions are monotheistic, but more importantly because they had one common “enemy”, the polytheists. This camaraderie and esprit de corps continued till the early part of the eleventh century when terrible wars of attritions ensued between Muslims and Christians. But because the latter was militarily superior, the former was severely defeated and humiliated. The Muslims then adopted two retaliatory methods. First, they formed obstinate groups to carry out clandestine attacks and suicide bombings, and two anti-Christian Fatwas (an Islamic legal opinion) were issued every minute to help motivate the executers of the earlier objective.
These voluminous Fatwas that were issued by the affected Muslim leaders during these turbulent periods has been the tormentor till date. Many of these Muslim clerics who also combine as political leaders misinterpreted some words of the Qur’an and issued Fatwas denouncing Christians and calling for their heads. Almost all of these Fatwas have been published into books and are still been taught in traditional Islamic schools across the world. And the passion and irritation that often engulf the atmosphere when these Fatwas are being explained is better left unsaid.
What is more serious is that the socio/politico settings that led to the issuance of these Fatwas are not taught in the High schools and even undergraduate levels. Meanwhile, more than eighty percent of those who preach and teach in the Islamic communities in Ghana for example are high school leavers. And we all know how “diseaseous” little knowledge could be!
The Qur’anic words that were consciously misinterpreted during these turbulent periods are “Qitaal” (combat) and Kuffaar(unbelievers). As stated earlier, the word jihad has not been tenaciously relied on as Qitaal and Kuffaar. And as noted of politicians, they more often interpret legal books to suit their whims and caprices.
For lack of space I would quote only two verses that have been dangerously misinterpreted to justify killing of Christians/Jews. Qur’an 2:191 reads: [And kill them wherever you find them and turn them out from where they turned you out…]. This verse was revealed solely to permit Muslims to defend themselves against the oppression of Arabia pagans who felt threaten with the “One God” religion Muhammad was preaching, and has nothing to do with Christians. This is buttressed in Qur’an 22:39-40 which reads; [Permission (to defend) has been granted to those who are being fought against; that they have been oppressed…Those who were unjustly expelled from their homes for no other reason than their saying: “God is our Lord”]. Surely this verse could not have been about Christians. First Christians also say “God is our Lord”, and two unlike pagans, Christians rather assisted and coordinated with Muhammad (PBUH) during his life time.
The other “controversial” verse is Qur’an 66:9 which reads; [O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites, and be stern with them...]. Although “unbelievers” is used by the Qur’an to refer to only polytheists, these two verses and a lot more have been misinterpreted to justify killing of Christians and Jews. And Muhammad Atta, one of the September 11 hijackers who crushed into the World Trade Center and slaughtered thousands of people believed he was acting in accordance to the will of Allah. This does not also mean the Qur’an justifies killing of polytheist. The Qur’an only allows self-defense.
Similar of these anti-Christian Fatwas were issued when Israel was created in 1947. This time around, a lot more sophisticated Islamist militants were formed not only to attack western countries, but also Arab/Muslim governments who are perceived to be puppets of the West. And the same old methods are adopted, the clandestine attacks and Anti-West sentiment sermons. The U.S, the UK, Israel, etc. are always linked to any political upheaval in any Arab/Islamic country. And the west is just the worst! Ironically, these militants wear clothes made by the west. The cell phones and weapons they use in carrying out their attacks are manufactured by the west. They listen to Qur’anic recitation on radios manufactured by the west. They travel to Mecca via aircraft manufactured by the west. What a religious hypocrisy!
Aside the above mentioned causes; there are specific causes in relation to regions and countries. For the Ahlul Sunna Lid-Da’wati Wal Jihadi group (a.k.a Boko Haram) emerged as a result of decades of unsuccessful effort to achieve the rights and liberties of Muslim Students in Nigerian schools. In most of the schools, Church services are compulsory and the right environment is unavailable for these students to observe their five daily prayers. After years of fruitless effort to change the situation with its concomitant discomforts, they suspiciously perceived secular education as “evangelical tool” intended to spread Christianity. Since then they do not only kill Christians who they consider as champions of the system, but also Muslims who maintain any form of relation with secular schools.
Whiles we all condemn their horrendous acts; one just can’t understand why our authorities exhibit sheer laxity and total inertia to sensitive issues till things get out of hand.
THE WAY FORWARD IN GHANA
Since the terror attack on the shopping mall in Nairobi, I have heard various commentaries about whether Ghana should be participating in military interventions in especially mainly Muslim African countries or not. All of a sudden we have started scribbling notes furiously without paying a scant heed to the reader. In any case external aggressors can never attack us without the assistance of an internal enemy. But is our house united? And is it in order? Has this illegal church services in our schools stopped? Do all secondary schools in Ghana have spaces for Muslim students to observe their prayers? Would our public universities ever think of providing mosques in the traditional halls as there are chapels? Or perhaps Muslim students would forever worship in the mercy of the rains and the scorching sun. How can one - considering all these – convince a Muslim student to “love” the “other”?
I leave these questions for anyone who wish to ponder over them to do. And I am not by this implying that our dear country is currently despoiled under dynamites. It is just that issues of this nature have the tendency to mire any society in jeopardy. And one cannot but be impressed by the acumen and erudition of Aristotle who remarked, that the wisest is the one who refuses to drink from the cup in which his twin brother was poisoned.
Ghana Institute of Languages, Accra