Sunday, February 06, 2005
On an ideological level, we must confront a speciﬁ c interpretation of Islamic law, history, and scripture that is a danger to both the United States and its allies. To win that ideological war, we must understand the sources of both Islamic radicalism and liberalism. We need to comprehend more thoroughly the ways in which militants misinterpret and pervert Islamic scripture. Al-Qaeda has produced its own group of spokespersons who attempt to provide religious legitimacy to the nihilism they preach. Many frequently quote from the Quran and hadith (the Prophet Muhammad’s sayings and deeds) in a biased manner to draw justification for their cause.And later...
Lieutenant Commander Youssef Aboul-Enein and Dr. Sherifa Zuhur delve into the Quran and hadith to articulate a means by which Islamic militancy can be countered ideologically, drawing many of their insights from these and other classical Islamic texts. In so doing, they expose contradictions and alternative approaches in the core principles that groups like al-Qaeda espouse.
The authors have found that proper use of Islamic scripture actually discredits the tactics of al-Qaeda and other jihadist organizations. This monograph provides a basis for encouraging our Muslim allies to challenge the theology supported by Islamic militants.
This monograph reviews Islamic scripture and the complexity of Islamic rules of war. It notes that classical Islamic scholars wrote about truces, types of combat, prisoners of war, division of spoils, and debated and developed principles that are very similar to St. Thomas Aquinas’ precepts of just war. A glossary of Islamic terms, personalities, and organizations is provided at the end of this monograph for readers less familiar with Islamic terminology.Finally, the Monograph concludes:
The monograph encourages moderate Muslims to mount a major ideological campaign to counter those who have hijacked Islam with their destructive interpretation of Islamic scripture. Comprehending this endeavor will be vital to any strategy that seeks to dissuade young Muslims from the nihilism of Islamic militancy.
In a 1938 speech urging greater U.S. involvement against the Nazis, Winston Churchill pleaded: “We must arm. Britain must arm. America must arm . . . but arms . . . are not sufficient by themselves. We must add to them the power of ideas.” With this in mind, U.S. policymakers should:
- Become more cognizant of the complexity of Islamic law and the debates among Muslims. This does not mean that policymakers should direct the process or outcome of these debates.
- Be aware of the danger of simplistic characterizations of Islam as a “violent religion.” Such characterizations inflame the emotions of Muslims everywhere, heighten perceptions of Western hostility, and limit our own ability to understand the future of the war on terrorism.
- Understand how jihadist groups manipulate, hide and deemphasize aspects of Islamic history, law, and Quranic verses. Jihadists and the madrasas and study groups they sponsor are not creating theologians who will contribute to the spiritual growth of Islam but suicide bombers and foot-soldiers involved in Islamic nihilism.
- Recognize that what al-Qaeda and its franchises fear most are Islamic laws, histories, and principles that do not conform to their militant ideologies. Therefore, the struggle between liberal and radical interpretations of Islam is a key aspect of the global war on terror.
- Acknowledge that a perfectly defined delineation between “mainstream” and extremist views is not evident. Al-Qaeda and other jihadists proselytize with interpretations such as those of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, Ibn Taymiyya, and Sayyid Qutb. But Wahhabism is at the core of today’s Saudi Arabia, and Saudis must decide how to best counter interpretations that lead toward extremism. Ibn Taymiyya’s and Sayyid Qutb’s notions of social justice, the necessary Islamic character of leadership, and the importance of the Quran are highly palatable ideas to most Muslims, in contrast with other key jihadist notions in these theorists’ work. That mixture of palatable and offensive ideas compounds the difficulties of the Egyptian government in seeking to limit radical influence. We nonetheless must understand the implications of the measures our allies choose to adopt.
- Realize that the majority of Muslims do not speak Arabic. This means that Islamic teachings can be manipulated, as evidenced by the varying English translations of the Quran ranging from the moderate to the radical. To the non-Arabic speaking masses in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Indonesia, Arabic is a sacred language. Therefore, a radical cleric preaching and lacing his speech with Arabic and Quranic words takes on an air of holiness, even though the sentiments he expresses reﬂ ect jihadic opinion.
- U.S. forces, particularly those involved in psychological operations, need to be educated in aspects of Islamic history, law, and culture. As Islamic militants quote and violently interpret verses from the Quran and hadith, U.S. and allied forces should not plead ignorance, but achieve a higher level of familiarity with religious and other aspects of Muslim culture. U.S. and allied forces may better comprehend the speciﬁ c dilemmas of our Muslim allies if they are familiar with the messages of jihadist and moderate Islam. Alternatively, they should consult experts who are well-versed in these matters.
- Recognize the simultaneous impracticality of armistices and reconciliation with Islamist militants, and the Islamic rationale for attempting such solutions. Such efforts were attempted in both Saudi Arabia and Iraq, but, in fact, those already passionately committed to the jihadist worldview will not be won over, and only those less committed might waver. We might therefore conclude more pessimistically.
- Factor in the possibility of failure in the battle against jihadist sentiment, while working as assiduously as possible for a different outcome. That Islamism consists of moderate as well as radical, extremist groups operating in a politically unstable environment may rather point to a protracted struggle and period of reformulation. Knowledge of Islamic discourses will still be helpful and necessary in determining our responses to such a situation.