Sunday Seminar: Islam & Extremism

ISNA Canada’s monthly Sunday Educational Seminar takes place on the last Sunday of the month and features relevant issues facing the Muslim community.  Other features of the program include free admission, free refreshments, and free babysitting for children.

This month, Dr. Ali Barghouthi spoke on the topic “Islam and Extremism: Reality, Causes, & Solutions”.  His captivating and informative talk, accompanied with a detailed presentation, succinctly covered 4 main points:

  1. Extremism in Islam: where he provided examples from our sacred Islamic history where the Prophet (SAW) and Sahaba (AS) dealt with extremist behaviour and ideology.
  2. Common features of extremism.
  3. Defining extremism in a religious context.
  4. How to fight extremism.

Dr. Ali stressed the importance of moving beyond apologizing for Muslims and to refrain from viewing extremism through a religious lens.  There are extremes in many areas including politics, economics, and social activism.  He explained that in almost all aspects of human behaviour, there is an extreme thought or path that one can follow.  We must rethink our view of extremism to encompass human behaviour rather than religion.

Dr. Ali shared an early example of extremist behaviour in the time of the Prophet (SAW). The Prophet (SAW) had a sum of money that he decided to distribute among 4 important individuals who belonged to the Eastern side of Arabia.  This distribution brought objections from the Quraysh and Ansar who questioned the Prophet’s wisdom as to why he did not distribute the money to them.

The Prophet (SAW) answered, “I’m trying to soften their hearts.”  Even after that explanation, a person came and said, “Fear Allah, Oh Muhammad!”  Suggesting that the Prophet (SAW) wasn’t being just in this decision.  He was challenging a religious authority and the uprightness, honesty, and morality of the Prophet (SAW).

One of the Sahaba asked to kill him, to which the Prophet (SAW) replied, “Do not kill him because only the offspring from the tribe of Islam will be some who recite the Quran and the Quran will not reach beyond their throats…they will kill the Muslims and not disturb the Idolaters.”

This prophecy is telling us that there will be people like this man who will read the Quran but it will not mix with their hearts or change, educate, or edify them.  They will quickly enter and exit from Islam as quick as an arrow will enter and exit a body.

The Prophet (SAW) follows by saying, “They will kill Muslims and leave the non-Muslims. Muslims will be the greatest enemy of these people.” The prediction of the Prophet (SAW) has proven true, “There will rise from my Ummah people who will read the Quran, and your reading will seem insignificant compared to theirs, so is your prayer compared to theirs, and your fast compared to theirs.  They read the Quran thinking it supports them, but it is against them.”

Over 1400 years ago, the Prophet (SAW) said that this group of people will read the Quran thinking it supports them but it is speaking against them.

Another prediction by the Prophet (SAW): “In the last days, there will appear young people but with foolish minds and ways of thinking.  They will speak the best speeches.”  A common feature is that many extremists are young and without wisdom which explains their actions.  Until the time of the Dajjal, extremism will be a recurrent problem.  The first glimpse of the emergence of that type of extremism was in the time of the Prophet (SAW) when the person challenged the Prophet’s (SAW) authority and piety.

During the time of ‘Uthman (RA), people began stirring unrest around him while he was the caliph.  A group of people were able to sneak into Madina in an attempt to dethrone him and when he refused, killed him.  This was the beginning of the spiral that lead to unrest that was based on rumour spreading like with the Prophet (SAW), the killers of Uthman (RA) took matters into their own hands and thought they were restoring the justice of Islam through murder which is actually the opposite of Islamic teachings.

Dr. Ali says that we need “to understand it as a human attribute.  Every human in every field of knowledge and practice is susceptible to extremism.”

Some of the common features of extremism include:

  • Ignorance, superficial knowledge.
  • Extreme sense of piety.
  • Alienation from a corrupt society.
  • Arrogance.
  • Faulty interpretation and takfir (the idea of apostasy, leaving Islam).
  • Most of the harm from these groups is directed against Muslims.
  • Lack of balance.  Extreme in worship will lead to neglecting other parts of Islam which will lead to a lack of balance in other parts of your life.  If you lack the balance, you will see it in your life and society as a whole.  There is non-religious secular extremism.  There is atheistic extremism.
  • Destruction and violence is a very common feature throughout their history.  Wherever they go, they do not build, they destroy.  Their slogan does not change; they want to bring the original piety of Islam.  In actuality, they are killing Muslims and destroying the piety of Islam.
  • Fragmentation: because they dispute authority so much, they are eager to challenge the piety of the leader, thus they fragment easily.
  • The young are specifically vulnerable to it.  Idealist, hopeful of change.  This will especially be appealing if this person lacks direction in their life.  If someone is alienated from society, dissatisfied with it, feels like they don’t belong – they get persuaded to join the camp.

After providing examples of extremism from Islamic and secular history as well as analyzing the common features found in extremist behaviour, Dr. Ali reviewed Allah (SWT)’s definition of extremism in the Quran. Allah (SWT) says, “Do not commit extremism in your religion by inventing lies against Allah”.

Dr. Ali defines extremism as “The opposition to Allah and His Messenger of any time in history and to the path that they have set.  It is wrong to say “Islamic Extremism” because extremism is in contradiction to Islam.”

Dr. Ali stated that if you accept Allah (SWT) as your Guide then you accept the path He (SWT) sets for you.  When we deviate from the path, we have gone into extremes and when we stay on it, we are on the balanced, middle way.

Dr. Ali concluded his talk by highlighting how to respond to extremism.  He reviewed the following points:

  • It has to happen within Islam, not outside of it.
  • Extremists emanate from individuals that lack Islamic education and commitment.
  • To combat this, you need Islamic education – religious education on a deep level.
  • You need, especially for the young, a purpose in life.
  • Change takes time, you need patience.
  • Invest in education and community because community gives you emotional and social depth, a sense of direction/belonging that gives validation.
  • Role models, if they are absent, they will be sought somewhere else.
  • Never lose sight of what Allah (SWT) is teaching you.  He has provided a moral compass according to what He’s (SWT) revealed.

The audience was then given time for Q&A and the discussion was lively. Attendees left feeling well-informed on the topic and one attendee shared “Dr. Ali’s breakdown of extremism was both thought-provoking and well-informed.  It was great to see an intelligent breakdown of extremist ideology.  Learning from our Islamic History in order to help us deal with the same issues they faced in this day and age was really eye opening and beneficial.  I especially liked how Dr. Ali focused on extremism as a feature of human behaviour and not a consequence of religious orthodoxy.”

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ISNA Canada is an Islamic organization committed to the mission and movement of Islam: nurturing a way of life in the light of the guidance from the Qur’an and Sunnah for establishing a vibrant presence of Muslims in Canada. ISNA exists as a platform for all Muslims who share its mission and are dedicated to serving the needs of Muslims and Muslim communities.

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