The ISIL Renaissance

Over the past few weeks, no four letters have been more prominent among the mainstream news media than the threat of I.S.I.L or the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. What started as an organization called ISIS (Islamic state in Iraq and Syria) claiming to fight the tyrannical regimes in Syria and Iraq today has captured almost the entire world’s attention with their beheading videos and their claim to establish an Islamic Caliphate. 

What is discerning to me in light of recent events is that, again like the aftermath of 9/11, Muslims all around the world are being looked at with suspicion. I find people asking questions on why Muslims cannot control these so called extremists within their communities. There is a sense that Muslim communities are weak in that, such a cancerous ideology cannot be unjustified and contained. 

To make matters worse, the times of distress are upon us also called the ‘Fitna’ in Arabic. With wars raging endlessly across the Middle East, Ukraine and Africa, journalists all around the world no longer look at reporting raw and real boring news but instead look to fuse information with sensationalism thus giving a much distorted picture of the reality that confronts us. Like I have mentioned in my earlier posts two things happen as a result – 
  1. The depressed and lonely turn to other outlets for news such as the internet to gain their information and consequently get sucked into the vortex of extremist thought.
  2. The media constantly looks at weaving a good guy vs. bad guy rhetoric by profiling such individuals as belonging to a bad organization with militants who have designations, titles and a hierarchical order in which they go about doing their business; In fact my personal opinion is that almost all these so called terrorist organizations have no sense whatsoever of where they are headed, why they are headed that way and how it all came to this. There is no “structure" within their “organizations” and they are guided by an ideology that has no place in Islam, of which they are fully aware of but are fearful of admitting given that they are already at the point of no return.
If I look though history, I see parallels here with gloomy Europe just before the renaissance period. Though it took 400 years to culminate, the end result was an astounding era of rational thought that wiped out false beliefs, turned grief into a creative outlet and brought a sense of positivity all across Europe. What the Islamic world needs today is exactly that renaissance.  In my opinion there are 4 goals that need to be aimed at to bring about this change.  Ironically, I call these goals the ISIL goals- 

Intention –
In the Islamic faith, the intention or ‘Niyat’ forms an important part of every act of supplication and action. It follows from the idea that in order to have a positive action, you need a positive thought first. Similarly, there has to be a ‘consensus in thought’ among Muslims of today that a change is indeed needed towards reformation. There are still large sections within Muslim societies that are afraid to review Shariah law for fear of offending Islamic principles. Frankly, I find this silly since Islamic principles were designed to be forward looking in essence and certain laws governed by Shariah no longer seem to be forward looking (though they might have been at the time of the prophet and shortly thereafter). The day the major Muslim leaders converge on the idea that we as a people (Ummah) want to be forward looking will be the day in my opinion, Islam wins its greatest ‘Jihad ‘.

Sectarian Peace –
Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) is said to have predicted the split of the Islamic faith into two distinct sects – The Shias and Sunnis, 200 years before it actually happened. It therefore follows that there might be no going back and uniting these sects. That said, I am surprised of the utter hatred these two groups have for each other, given that we have the same concepts in place – Tauheed , the oneness of the Almighty and a love for our dear prophet. The hatred in my opinion is all politically instigated and it is therefore necessary that we have governments in Muslim lands that are free from such prejudices. Saudi Arabia and Iran are examples of governments that have used their political influence to arm twist other secular countries to have Sunni-Shia divisions within their lands. Sectarian peace can only exist if these governments preach peace and portray a sense of oneness to all sects within their lands.

Interpretation –
Perhaps the most influential part of how the world sees Islam is in the interpretation of the laws under the Shariah. There is a massive difference in the way countries like Malaysia and Turkey follow Islamic law vs. countries like Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Somalia. I am not professing what is right and wrong. The point I am trying to make is that there has to be uniformity in what works in today’s society and what does not work. In what might be a controversial thought, I feel the need to have an equivalent to a new testament for the hadith. What is the hadith after all? – A collection of historical actions and stories about the prophet that may or may not have stood the test of time in terms of being accurate. The highly learned and respected within the Islamic world will need to come together, review the Quran and Hadith and finally come to laws that make sense in today’s generation, free from ambiguity and interpretation. There should ideally be only the Quran for divine guidance and a ‘reformed’ book that takes from the hadith and Quran to serve as a textbook of living in the Muslim community.

Leadership –
For all the goals mentioned so far to work effectively, Islam’s need of the hour is a strong and robust leadership. Though the caliphate model would seem ideal to most Muslims, my sense is that we need a more innovative solution in this day and age. Unlike, the Rashidun caliphates (first four leaders after the Prophet), the subsequent leaders till today have for the most part been corrupt, unaccountable and unapologetic.  I would prefer a corporate style of leadership where Islam’s ‘CEO’ is completely accountable and is constantly kept in check by a ‘board of directors’ comprised of respected and highly learned leaders from all walks of Islamic society.

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