12 July, 2007

Muslims must aim higher, further

Muslims must aim higher, further
by: The Forum Against Islamophobia & Racism (FAIR) date: 2007-07-10

London - The recent bomb plots to wreak devastation on the cities of London and Glasgow are an urgent reminder not only of the need to sustain collective efforts in the fight against terrorism, but that perhaps it is high time we critically rethink our methods in dealing with this challenge.

Centring on what must be done domestically, it is important to realise that Muslim communities have denounced, in force, all forms of terrorism and view this violence as an attack as much on themselves as upon broader society. It is widely understood that acts such as these are designed to disintegrate community bonds and isolate the indigenous Muslim population, fostering a climate of alienation and fear rather than one of confident multiculturalism.

A short-term method of extinguishing violent radicalism includes, most obviously, disrupting the ability of such views to develop and spread. But we need to work together - the Muslim community, various government departments, non-Muslim NGOs and the police - within a carefully thought-out long-term strategy that will also include short and mid-term measures.

In tandem, Muslim organisations must learn to shed their differences and to support and cooperate with each other rather than compete and undermine one another's efforts. Confronting a serious multi-dimensional problem such as this can only be addressed if action goes beyond games of self-interest, dogma and the fulfilment of narrow agendas. What is more, knee-jerk reactions resulting in ill-conceived measures will solve nothing and fail to address the complexities of the issue. As the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, has positively reiterated: we must not resort to panic.

What we need to do is to win minds and hearts by focusing on the intellectual and theological dimension. Shari'a (Islamic jurisprudence) specialists, Muslim social scientists and scholars must pool their resources to reinforce the ongoing work to develop and disseminate a set of legal guidelines for minorities based on a methodology incorporating the extremely important but generally neglected discipline of maqasid al-shari'a, that is the higher aims and objectives of Islamic law. Maqasid is a discipline which, if understood and intelligently taught, employed and applied, would seriously challenge and undermine the extremist discourse that portrays itself as inspired by Islam.

Developing a system of laws for minorities inspired by the higher aims of Islam, meaning the practical translation of faith in a non-Muslim context or society, is to be based on the philosophy of citizenship and the concept of positive integration. This will help develop a positive understanding and application of Islam which also creates fertile ground for respect of different cultural identities and faiths.

The public and wide dissemination of scholarship in this area offers the best possibility of defeating violent radicalisation as it will provide both understanding and actual rulings within Islamic jurisprudence with the intent of supporting democratic principles, equality, freedom, peaceful coexistence, respect for difference and human rights. All these are inherent within shari'a, but are either ignorantly or intentionally misinterpreted or misrepresented. Part of this approach's benefit is the psychological alienation it can potentially mend when Muslim youth are given the tools to strengthen a sense of identity and moral responsibility in their respective societies.

Unfortunately, inclusion and participation, and the efforts by the Muslim community to confront extremism and violent radicalisation, are made almost immediately impotent by sensational, negative coverage by the media. We have to appreciate and realise that the relentless media assault is having alarming effects and is damaging these efforts. In addition, we strongly caution against former so-called jihadis who have happily "seen the light" and who now court media attention as "the new experts on Islam". Some, without a shred of guilt, revel cavalierly in the limelight when they should be seeking forgiveness for the contributions they may have made to the spread of radicalisation during their militant days.

In conclusion, the concepts of humanism, citizenship, democracy, co-existence, pluralism and shared values will be better taught, understood and realised once such set of guidelines for minorities is developed and trust is built. The ethos of a multicultural society based on equality, respect and trust is today an unrealised ideal, and what we have in its place is a climate of fear and, at best, tolerance. We must seek to go beyond creating a culture of tolerance only. Toleration is dangerous and fickle, a thin crust which separates reason from violence, and which can easily crack under the slightest pressure, and neither community will fully live at ease with the other unless we understand how to stop the anger being deliberately provoked and spread on both sides, and how to deal with it.

Knee-jerk reactions underscored by panic driven panaceas have not, and will not, solve anything. Comprehensive, carefully developed strategies will.

* The Forum Against Islamophobia & Racism (FAIR), founded in 2001, is an independent charitable organisation which works towards establishing a safe, just and tolerant Britain in which Islamophobia and racism have no place. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 10 July 2007, www.commongroundnews.org



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