Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The modern-day Khawarij: out of the fold of Islam



THE kidnapping of South African schoolteacher, Pierre Korkie and his wife, Yolande, in Yemen have thrown in  sharp relief a bleak socio-political Islamic landscape, one that needs to be urgently addressed by a public serious about the ethics and image of Islam.


The ethos of Islam – as opposed to its theology of Creational Oneness – is mercy, compassion and a love of knowledge; a love of knowledge underlined by a humility that tolerates differences of opinion, and respects the sanctity of human life.


However, we have to admit that there are instances when differences of opinion go beyond these guidelines. Fools unaware that they’re ignorant of what they’re ignorant, and dogmatic extremists – who think they’re right and you irredeemably wrong – are very difficult to deal with.   

Of course, the above problem – whilst not just confined to Islam – is still a problem. It still needs to be dealt with. What I’m referring to here is the despotic, law-breaking and often violent fringes of the faith being freely allowed to make claims on its Sunni centre, and to hide behind the silence.


The question is: how can a discredited 200 year-old sect (which is Wahhabism) assert that it has the only solution to the social, intellectual and political future of Islam? How can it blithely declare unbelief on those who disagree with it, and then shed blood without censure?


Is it not obvious that this sect has taken on the maxim that the ends will always justify the means, no matter what? Whither the Islamic ethos?


Whether it be Al-Shabab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Ansar al-Dine in Mali, ISIS in Syria or Ansar al-Shari’ah in Yemen, voices are much too soft in condemning their criminality; a criminality camouflaged by declarations of friendship with Al-Qaeda, a dilapidated media phenomenon that has only delivered suffering and stereotype.


Super-imposing a castrated version of Islam over serious socio-economic problems in the Muslim world by exploiting its hapless youth as foot soldiers, is certainly not going to solve any of its pressing problems. And this is exactly what the Al-Qaeda phenomenon has done.


In March 2010 the Organisation of Islamic Conference did, to its credit, issue an urgent fatwa via the renowned Shaikh Abdullah Bin Bayah of Mauritania, condemning Al-Shabab’s tactics in Somalia. The fatwa was ignored in a blaze of suicide bombings in Mogadishu and the Westgate Shopping Mall siege in Nairobi.


What further evidence, then, does the community need that in our midst are elements that need serious redress?


Closer to home, the kidnapping of the Korkies, allegedly by the Al-Qaeda affiliated Ansar al-Shari’ah, is yet another travesty of the Islamic ethos that human life is sacred. What holy book can ever justify the cruelty of demanding money for an innocent human life? How can this ever be done in the name of Islam?


Obviously, the silence needs to be broken. New ground has to be turned in dealing with the spectre of extremism within the Islamic community. Whatever has gone before, has failed. 

In my view, the answer lies in the history of the Wahhabi sect centred in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that has spawned so much misery in the 21st century. This is because they are, historically, the genetic offspring of the Khawarij, a literalist sect that accused Imam ‘Ali, the Prophet’s (SAW) cousin, of weakness when he indulged in human arbitration.


Renowned for their austerity, but boorish manners, the Prophet (SAW) predicted that their understanding of faith would not descend beyond their collar bones, suggesting that their hearts would be hard and ignorant. The Khawarij ended up assassinating Sayyidina ‘Ali.

The significance and ultimate fate of the modern-day extremist lies in the lexical meaning of the word “Khawarij”, which means to secede, or go out – in this case, to go out of mainstream Sunni Islam.


Sayyidina ‘Ali, a merciful man, was always hopeful that the Khawarij would regain their senses. History records that he was successful in convincing almost half their number to return to classical Islam. Compassionate, almost to a fault, he did not declare them unbelievers, or push them away.


What is important is that there was no harshness in his approach as opposed to the Khawarij, who even pronounced unbelief – and sometimes death – on those who committed sin, or disagreed with them.


Today there are illustrative parallels. Modern Islam sits under siege, the media telescoping negative events perpetrated by the modern-day Khawarij and creating the impression that mainstream Islam is a maelstrom of hate, prejudice and hard-heartedness.


However the truth is far from this. Recent research by the Royal Strategic Centre in Jordan indicates that only 3% of the Muslim community falls into the extremist, or Khawarij camp.


This is a small minority, which indicates the potential power of the middle to move decisively on its troublesome fringes. The silence has to break, and those who act wrongly in our name need to be fingered.


For this, our scholars have to step up and be counted in real numbers. Those in the learned fraternity, who have already had the courage to speak up and lead by example, need to be supported in their untiring efforts to bring true human values to the table.


The Khawarij, therefore, need to be identified for what they are: people who have exited the fold of mainstream Sunni Islam, as those who because of their behaviour, have no right to belong to it whatsoever. In the Catholic sense they need to be publically excommunicated.
 
Of course, the declaration upon them is not reflected in the idea of kufr – or takfir – as they would do to us at the drop of a hat. There is a subtle, but critical distinction here. Nobody is being declared an unbeliever. The Khawarij are not unbelievers, because they do still believe in something.


They are, however, out of the embrace of Islam until they recant on notions of beheadings, suicide bombings, grave desecrations, hostage taking and naked violence against non-Muslims.