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Misuse Of Islamic Values Indicates Crisis In Arab Thought

by Wahid Abdulmejid Friday, May. 23, 2003 at 10:25 AM

During the Iraq war we were bombard with fetwas, often contradicting one another -- most were associated with the positions of governments or expressed the interests of conflicting groups.

Misuse Of Islamic Values Indicates Crisis In Arab Thought

Wahid Abdulmejid, Al-Hayat, 2003/05/22

For years, the Arab mind has entered what might be described as a state of confusion that threatens the future of the nation. All political currents have failed to address the crises that the nation faced at different times.

The liberal thought failed to find a new starting point after it had been excluded from power in the 1950s, while the leftist thought failed dramatically to convince anyone that the fault lies in the execution.

But these crises have only marginally contributed to the creation of the prevailing intellectual confusion. They are basically elitist trends which influence was restricted to elites rather than to the society at large.

The main reason for this confusion could be attributed to the crisis in Islamic thought, which started around three decades ago as the leftist thought started losing ground. But this crisis manifested itself by assuming a popular dimension, as a large share of the population appeared ready to confuse Islam as a religion and Islamic thought.

Islamic groups found it expedient to reinforce this confusion in order to gain more popularity. An important part of its role interfered with that of the Imams and religious advocates. This interaction produced an unprecedented expansion in the use of certain Islamic values and perceptions to the extent that fetwas, religious opinions, began to be issued on any subject by any one. Even retired artists began to issue such fetwas and to find those who propagate them.

But that is only a small illustration of the phenomenon of fetwas that create confusion in the minds of people and harms Islam and Muslims. Most harmful is the confusion of fetwas that was made possible with the proliferation of satellite TV channels and Internet sites, which publish fetwas without any criteria. The danger peaks during crises when fetwas are issued by anyone, with no consideration to the status of the fetwa and its serious implications. We have seen during the Iraq war how we were bombard with fetwas, often contradicting one another, as most were associated with the positions of governments while others expressed the interests of conflicting groups. A third criterion, while expressing good intentions, lacked the religious or political awareness.

Moreover, such confusion was associated with confusion in the use of other Islamic perceptions such as that of Jihad and martyrdom, which has been present for years but assumed a serious turn recently.

During this time of confusion, a wide latitude in the use of the notion of martyrdom has reduced its importance to the extent of depleting it from its contents. A Palestinian who blew himself up killing Israelis was considered a martyr, while according to Islamic teachings his act is one of suicide.

The matter reached the extent where those who were killed in the train accident in Egypt last year are considered "martyrs." The Egyptian government failed to realize that the aim behind granting them such status was to blame the government and thus legitimize a jihad against it.

Consequently, we should not wonder how Muslim youths are driven to commit outrages against their country under the guise of jihad. And extremism under the cover of religion would not have found fertile ground had it not been in the excessive misuse of some Islamic principles. Al Qaeda and other groups would not have found followings within our media had such media not been involved in the misrepresentation of Islamic principles.

And while it is true that our media faces a challenge in the sense that it has to defend the Palestinian cause at the time when the Palestinian struggle is acquiring a religious dimension more than any time in the past, it seems that the use of the terms jihad and martyrdom is somewhat adequate. The Arabs have fought many wars in which many were killed who were never described as martyrs. The reason is that the religious dimension of that struggle had not yet attained the level it currently occupies.

Yet the problem rests more with the confused use of Islamic principles to the extent where Muslim youths find little difference between resisting the Israeli occupation and practicing terror against their own countries. Those who truly understand jihad are aware that they must contribute to building their countries even if they disagree with its rulers. They must also realize that confronting any foreign power, if such a confrontation is unavoidable demands strengthening the country and not weakening it by terrorist operations.

Mr. Abdulmejid is an Egyptian writer and the assistant director to Al Ahram center for political research.

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