By Aalia Khan
“Extremism” as understood by most people today can take a myriad of forms. It is a concept that has produced white fascists and so called “Islamic Terrorists” alike as well as any number of other extreme groups. Commonly it has as its core a set of beliefs and views held by its exponents that they believe are the only ones that are valid.
In this way it has become an ideology which is abhorred by the remainder of society. Extremists will hold views and sometimes carry out actions for a supposed greater aim or cause. Extremism is not a new concept and has been around for many years with many different groups. It takes on many forms such as political, religious and economic.
Since 2001 and the bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York, Islamic extremism has risen and become a major topic within mainstream media. One of the early protagonists of Islamic extremism was the group known as the Khawarij, believed by many to have been assassinated by Hazrath Ali (RA). It was against the evil of the Khawarij that the companions of the Prophet (pbuh) waged war. Indeed it is believed in some quarters that ISIS is the modern day Khawarajites. Of course there are innumerable other extremists groups that have sprung up.
Although there may be a minority of people who will hold extremist views or go down the path of extremism the majority of people across the world, especially Muslims, do not feed into the absurd viewpoints and ideas. The issue of tackling extremism has become a matter of major concern for Muslims across the world. The moderate Muslim majority have embarked on a journey, in some instances with the non-Muslims, to eradicate extremism and bring about world peace.
Attempts are taking many and varied forms. For example, The Muslim Women’s Council held a Bradford circle event in Bradford recently in which they welcomed speaker Ahtsham Ali. Ahtsham is the Muslim Advisor for Her Majesty’s Prison Service. He spoke of the history of Islamic extremism as well as the ways of eradicating it.
He went on “Extremism is everywhere and you can’t avoid it unfortunately in this day and age. Although thankfully the majority of Muslims have common sense and they see what it is and they stay away from it. However unfortunately it is in every aspect of society.”
He also explained how many people are working towards tackling it and do not believe in the “Twisted” ideology of the extremists. In this regard he said “Everybody’s helping to prevent extremism; they’ve jumped on the band wagon and realised how dangerous these groups are across the spectrum in different denominations. Everybody is doing their little bit to counter this nasty virus within our communities.”
The signs of an extremist group can be clear cut says Ahtsham “if people look out for the obvious signs then it can be easier to tackle the issues”. The main signs he spoke of were “Calling for the killing of innocent people, intolerance, another sign is when they tell you who to listen to and who not to listen to.” Ahtsham explained that killing is the ultimate form of extremism, but there are earlier signs to be looked out for such as extremist’s declaring that Muslims cannot be friends with non-Muslims.
The main footing that Islamic extremists stand on are the verses of the Holy Quran that are misinterpreted and misused. In this way horrors such as terrorism, kidnapping, murder and even genocide are committed.
Bana Gora CEO of the Muslim Women’s Council says “Extremism is being justified in the name of Islam through the misinterpretation of the verses of the Holy Quran.” Ahtsham took this view one step further by explaining that extremists will use a twisted idea of the verses, “They’ll take one verse and not look at the ones coming before and after, or not look at any other verses or hadiths on that issue”. He believes that the way this issue can be challenged and tackled is through “Knowledge”; if people read and understand what is being said in the Holy Quran then the portrayal that extremists use of the verses can be intellectually challenged.
Some people also hold the viewpoint that imams are helping extremism to grow. Imams are effectively clergy men who lead prayers at a mosque and are sometimes used as points of reference for Islamic knowledge and insight. Some may believe that this position, that an imam holds, gives him the opportunity to feed extremism into youthful minds.
Mehmood Naqshbandi, a writer who has written extensively on the subject of extremism, believes that the weakness in parents and imams of children seeking answers in their faith leads them down the path of extremism. He also blames “The failure of mainstream Muslim mosques and organisations to meet the needs of converts and young Muslims returning to the faith” on the youth seeking alternatives, potentially leading to extremism.
However Ahtsham Ali disagrees with this view, and argues that “I don’t believe for one minute that they are the cause of it. They are tackling extremism but in different degrees and depending on the capability of the imam.”
Ahtsham believes that communication is key, especially between imams and the youth. He says that “Not every imam has the language capability or the cultural resonance with the youth. So depending on the imams; the younger they are, if they’ve graduated from this country that’s extremely tremendous and it helps a lot. But if they come from overseas and they don’t understand the culture or the language the youth will be turned off from it.”
Therefore in his view being able to speak and understand English is vital in an imam’s role. He also says that different imams are doing different things to tackle extremism and they are certainly not the cause of it.
The Ramadan Foundation, a leading Muslim organisation which was established to bring the educational and welfare needs of the Muslim community to the forefront, has also worked on tackling extremism. Mohammed Shafiq, Chairman of the Foundation says “I think we live in a time where the threat from terrorism is real, there are people within our communities, a very small minority, who think using violence is acceptable and we’ve got to confront them. We’ve got to expose them and bring them to justice.” Shafiq says that the main point is that “Islam completely forbids the killing of innocent people and terrorism; anybody who thinks that they are acting in the name of Islam are seriously misguided.”
Members of the Foundation themselves were subjected to death threats from a terrorist group for fighting to eradicate extremism. Shafiq says he not only has a personal interest in the matter but has also been subjected to it.
Other organisations helping to tackle extremism are; Inspire, Gen Next Foundation, West London Initiative and many more that are helping in the fight to exterminate extremism.