With the triumph of orthodoxy a vicious cycle ensued and Muslims rejected western institutions and the new ideas of science the more deeply they plunged into the black hole of backwardness and despair.
A cursory look at the Muslim world reveals that Muslims are at war with themselves and others. Muslim societies, with only a few exceptions notwithstanding, are marred by authoritarianism, sectarianism, religious extremism and obscurantism. The Judeo-Christian west led by the US is depicted as the primary cause of all the ills haunting Muslims across the globe. The ideals of democracy, fundamental human rights and pluralism are considered to be the products of westerncivilisation and, therefore, detrimental for the faith of Muslims. From Syria and Iraq to Pakistan and Afghanistan, a wave of violence has been set in motion to revert to the old order based on the pristine faith for regaining of past glory.Muslims by and large are finding it hard to come to terms with the realities of modern life. This cognitive conflict is pushing vulnerable Muslims towards violent and extremist theology so as to find solace and salvation.
The understanding of the genesis of this violent religious extremism is quintessential to devising an effective strategy to root out militancy from the Muslim world.Muslimcivilisation touched the zenith of glory during the heyday of the Mu’tazilites movement under the patronage of the Abbasid caliph, Mamoon-ur-Rashid in the 9th century. The religious doctrines were subjected to reason and an attempt was made to reconcile reason with religion. That movement was greatly influenced by the Hellenic thought. Opposition emerged in the form of the Ash’ari movement led by thethen theologian al-Ashari. This movement opposed the idea of free will and the influence of reason in theological matters. The advent of al-Ghazali, another theologian, tilted the balance in favour of religious orthodoxy by demonising reason beyond repair. Though IbnRushd, popularly known as Averroes in the west, tried to counter this onslaught against reason,he failed to find an audience with the Muslims, a matter that still defines usto date.The de-Hellenisation of Islamic thought plunged the Muslim world into deep, dogmatic slumber.
On the other hand, in the 19th century, the European powers, animated and strengthened by the Renaissance and Enlightenment,unleashed their colonising spree against the Muslim world of the east. The dogmatic Muslims were awestruck by the technological wherewithal and military might of the western powers. This colonisation brought the religious orthodoxy into an open conflict with modernity and science. The future course for the Muslim world depended on the response of the religious orthodoxy vis-à-vis the ideals and institutions of the colonisers.
The Islamic world responded in two different ways to the colonisation by the west. The first school of thought was led by people like Jamaluddin Afghani of Iran, Muhammad A’bduh of Egypt and Sir Sayyed Ahmad Khan of India, who advocated that their co-religionists adopt the scientific and rational approach of the colonisers to match their strength.They advocated the adoption of western institutions and ideas for economic prosperity and self-reliance. They tried to reconcile the scientific ideas based on reason with the religious doctrines based on revelation.
They termedholy scripture as the word of God while science as the work of God. They genuinely believed that modern science based on human reason is compatible with religion. However, like Averroes, they too failed to find the right numbers in the respective audiences in conservative society. The views of the second school of thought were diametrically opposed to the former. They considered the decline and subsequent conquest of the Muslim world byEuropean powers as the result of moving away from the original religion. Theyadvocated a reversion to the old religious order as the panacea for all the ills of the Muslim world. The eminent proponents of this school of thought were SayyidQutb and Hassan al-Banna of Egypt, Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab of Nejd and Abul-Ala-Maududi of Pakistan.They tried to revive religious orthodoxy through their teachings as an alternative to the western ideals of democracy and popular sovereignty.
History once again repeated itself and the message of the latter like the Ash’rites of the ninth and tenth centuries, found a greater audience withMuslims as compared to the former. With the triumph of orthodoxy a vicious cycle ensued and Muslims rejected western institutions and the new ideas of science the more deeply they plunged into the black hole of backwardness and despair. Resultant poverty and desperation made the environment conducive for the emergence of violent extremist organisations across the Muslim world. The violent overthrow of western civilisation became the cornerstone of their ideology. The ruling elite in Islamic societies espousing the western ideals of democracy and economic prosperity were also put on the hit list by militant organisations.
Unless and until this deformed theology based on centuries olddogmas is thoroughly overhauled, the problem of militancy will linger on for the foreseeable future in the Muslim world. A genuine and indigenous movement for reformation and enlightenment should be the bedrock of any strategy for countering violent extremism.Sane voices have always existed in the theMuslim world but they hardly get the right kind of audience and the numbers that matter. These voices need to be strengthened and organised into a coherent movement for reformation.