(RNS) American journalists routinely report on Islamist extremists such as the group that calls itself the Islamic State, or ISIS, without mentioning one of the key doctrines that inspires them.
Whether translated loosely as "us vs. them" or more precisely as "allegiance disassociation," "wala wal- bara" is a foundational doctrine of Salafism, the Sunni purist movement that has become a major force in Middle Eastern politics.
In the Salafis' understanding, "wala" means the allegiance that Muslims must give only to God, the Prophet Muhammad and fellow Salafis while "bara" refers to disassociating with anything un-Islamic or anything that threatens belief in the One God ("tawhid").
It is crucial to note, however, that the Salafis do not come in a one-size-fits-all: only a minority are militants. Yet, according to the Singapore-based counterterrorism expert, Mohamed Bin Ali, all strands of the Salafi movement believe that the us vs. them doctrine is an obligatory part of faith.
Salafis replace the core Quranic message of mercy for all of humanity with their tribal notion of morality in putting forward an absolute notion of "allegiance disassociation." To do so, they give precedence to the human-transmitted Hadith (reports on the words of the Prophet Muhammad) as well as the words of a 13th century scholar who wrote "the dissimilarity between the Muslims and non Muslims must be total."
Bin Ali says this meaning of wala wal-bara is a new one that has become "the basis of extremist Salafist ideology that calls for the killing and elimination from the earth of the 'kuffar' (unbelievers)."
He quotes the extremist Salafi ideologue and leader of al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahri, stating: "As for wala wal-bara, its meaning is, in condensed form, a total and complete break with the West and its civilization, and perpetual war against it until its final defeat."
The us vs. them doctrine enables these radical extremists to sleep peacefully at night even while they flagrantly abuse the rights of others, including those of moderate Muslims who do not subscribe to the extremist Salafi view of jihad.
In addition, they cover up the fact that the Quran was revealed for humanity (al-Zumar 39:41) and that the Prophet was a "mercy to the worlds" (coincidentally the Arabic term "kufr " that some Salafists frequently employ to discredit others, both Muslim and non-Muslim, also means to "cover up").
Not only do they forbid American Muslims from integrating with those elements of mainstream American culture that do not contradict Islamic teachings, they ignore the fact that Islam has always flowed through distinct cultures and was able to integrate with non-Arabic speaking peoples in Central Asia, Europe, and East Asia, among others.
The form of Islam they follow also holds a negative view of other faiths, which is at odds with the Quran's actual description of wala to mean "protector" or "friend," and bara to mean "released from obligation." The Quranic chapter al-Maidah 5:55 says: "Your friend (wali) is only God and his messenger and those who have believed" while al-Mumtahinah 60:4 states: "I am released from obligation (bara) to you and what you worship."
According to Princeton University scholar Bernard Haykel, Salafism "legitimizes the use of violence against the person or entity that is deemed to be non-Salafi. One consequence of this is that armed rebellion is considered not only legitimate, but a religious duty incumbent upon the individual believer." The end result is that all of humanity - minus the Salafis - is fair game.
In Islam, this is a minority perspective at best. Traditional Muslims worldwide subscribe to the idea of a middle, or moderate community ("ummatan wasatan ") who are "witnesses to humanity." (al-Baqarah 2:143) As the majority, we have to realize that the Salafists are hijacking the Quran.
The price of its ransome is to develop discernment (furqan) and a critical reading of the Quran as an antidote to blind, uninformed interpretations. Muslims everywhere should intellectually engage with the Quran, open it, study it, “own” and take it back in any language that they understand as they continue to listen, recite or memorize the Arabic for spiritual reward.
If groupthink is the disease, what I call Quranic critical thinking brings self-awareness that is the cure. Quranic critical thinkers recognize that extreme views are seldom correct. As moderation is the key, practicing fair-mindedness requires a balanced view, and we become conscious of the Quran's many questions, including: Will you not be reasonable? (al-Baqarah 2:44)
(Laleh Bakhtiar is an Islamic scholar, translator, editor and author based in Chicago. Her latest work is a teacher's manual called Critical Thinking Quranic Perspective, part of her Mobile Minaret campaign.)
believe: http://www.amazon.com/Roots-Religious-Extremism-Understanding- Insurgency/dp/178326392X?ie=UTF8&keywords=roots%20of%20religious%20extremism&qid=1462224039&r ef_=sr_1_1&s=books&sr=1-1&tag=vglnkc2797-20
wrote: http://www.amazon.com/Roots-Religious-Extremism-Understanding- Insurgency/dp/178326392X?ie=UTF8&keywords=roots%20of%20religious%20extremism&qid=1462224039&r ef_=sr_1_1&s=books&sr=1-1&tag=vglnkc2797-20
idea: http://www.amazon.com/Middle-Path-Moderation-Islam-Wasatiyyah/dp/0190226838?ie=UTF8&key- words=hashim%20kamali&qid=1462224631&ref_=sr_1_2&s=books&sr=1-2&tag=vglnkc2797-20
Critical Thinking Quranic Perspective Teacher’s Manual: http://www.amazon.com/Critical-Thinking-Quranic- Perspective-Teachers/dp/1567445594/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1456155028&sr=1- 1&keywords=Critical%20Thinking%20Quranic%20Perspective&tag=vglnkc2797-20
Nu’aym ibn Hammad narrates in Al-Fitan, that the 4th Caliph, Ali ibn Abi Talib said:
When you see the black flags, remain where you are and do not move your hands or your feet. Thereafter there shall appear a feeble insignificant folk. Their hearts will be like fragments of iron. They will have the state. They will fulfill neither covenant nor agreement. They will call to the truth, but they will not be people of the truth. Their names will be parental attributions, and their aliases will be derived from towns. Their hair will be free-flowing like that of women. This situation will remain until they differ among themselves. Thereafter, God will bring forth the Truth through whomever He will.
People are asking: does this narration by Ali bin Abi Talib (k.)—that is related by Al-Bukhari’s teacher (Nu’aym bin Hamad) over one thousand two hundred years ago in his book Al-Fitan—refer to the ‘Islamic State’? Is it possible to understand the narration as follows?
‘When you see the black flags’: The flags of the ‘Islamic State’ are black.
‘Remain where you are’: i.e., stay where you are, O Muslims, and do not join them.
‘And do not move your hands or your feet’: i.e. do not help them financially or with equipment.
‘Thereafter there shall appear a feeble insignificant folk’: i.e. ‘weak’ and ‘insignificant’ in terms of understanding of religion, morality and religious practice.
‘Their hearts will be like fragments of iron’: i.e. they will ruthlessly kill prisoners of war and cruelly torture people.
‘They will have the state’: For almost a century, no one has claimed to be an Islamic Caliphate other than the current ‘Islamic State’ in Iraq and the Levant.
‘They will fulfill neither covenant nor agreement’: The ‘Islamic State’ did not fulfill its agreement with the Shaetat tribe after the tribe pledged allegiance to them; indeed the ‘Islamic State’ slaughtered them by the hundreds. They also killed journalists.
‘They will call to the truth’: The ‘Islamic State’ calls to Islam.
‘But they will not be people of the truth’: The people of the truth are merciful.
The Prophet Muhammad said: ‘Have mercy and you will be shown mercy.’
‘Their names will be parental attributions’: Like: ‘Abu Muthanna’, ‘Abu Muhammad’, ‘Abu Muslim’ and so on.
‘And their aliases will be derived from towns’: Like:‘Al-Baghdadi’, ‘al-Zarqawi’, ‘al-Tunisi’ and so on.
‘Their hair will be free-flowing like that of women’: ‘Islamic State’ fighters have hair precisely like this.
‘Until they differ among themselves’: Like the differences between the ‘Islamic State’ and its parent, the al-Nusra Front (al-Qaeda in Syria). The fighting between these two has led to around ten thousand deaths in a single year.
‘Thereafter, God will bring forth the truth through whomever He wills: through a clear and correct Islamic proclamation .
The sage Luqman says in the Quran:
‘O my son! Even if it should be the weight of a grain of mustard-seed, and [even if ] it be in a rock, or in the heavens, or in the earth, God will bring it forth. Truly God is Subtle, Aware.’ (Luqman, 31:16)
As American Muslims many of us are trying to play our part in defending our religion against Islamist extremism. We have repeatedly condoned ISIS. We have held press conferences and taken to social media to denounce their hateful ideology. It’s also a fact that law enforcement depends on Muslims to call-out extremists. But how can we be more proactive in fending off radicals here at home?
Many young Muslims in America grow up with no formal Islamic education. The internet is the tool they turn to when seeking information and also justifying violence, leaving some vulnerable to radicalization. The greatest fear of extremists is that young Muslims move from being passive to active Quranic thinkers. Let’s present Quranic critical thinking through a series of YouTube videos that are engaging, shareable, and open to all to view and study.
Muslim-American students learn history, sociology and all others subjects in public high school through a process of critical thinking. However, a disconnect grows when it comes to their faith. A vacuum is created which is easily filled by extreme, puritanical Islamist ideology leading to radicalization.
Extremists teach a strict literal reading of the Quran. For example, when the Quran says: The Face of God, the Hand of God and other physical characteristics, they say: “Why ask what this means? It means just what it says. God has a Face, a Hand, He sits upon the Throne” and so forth.
In addition to this scriptural rigidity, they cherry-pick verses to suit their own purpose. The Quran clearly states that it is forbidden for a Muslim to kill another Muslim. How do they circumvent this prohibition? They developed a practice that is called takfir, that is, whoever does not follow their ideology is not a Muslim, so it is not prohibited to kill them along with everyone else!
Many Muslim scholars, such as Professor Mohammad Hashim Kamali of Malaysia, assert that the way to defeat extremist ideology is to teach Muslims Quranic critical thinking. “More recently, a certain abuse of Islamic authority operates with a dogmatic radicalism that has exacerbated the decline of critical thinking among Muslims. The situation is not helped by the prevalence of passive thinking in popular culture in regard to the dogmatic excesses of [these extremists]. One of the salient features of this mindset is a certain ignorance of the essential impulse of the Quran on critical thinking.” (“Reading the Signs: A Quranic Perspective.”)
Many studies have also been done in the West that emphasize the importance of Muslim-Americans learning Quranic critical thinking. For example, Dr. Tawfik Hamid (Inside Jihad) of the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies’ International Center for Terrorism, speaks from first-hand experience of his radicalization at the hands of Islamist extremist groups. He states that many Quranic verses teach critical thinking and that “it is vital that Islamic education systems teach young Muslim the value and skill of critical thinking.” When referring to Islamic extremism, Hamid points specifically to alienated Salafi jihadists and says “Passive thinking is central to global Salafi jihad—be it in the movement’s ideological basis ... or members’ recruitment.” It is his belief that the first step in defeating these extremists group is by attacking them at the ideological level.
Another study by Samurai Atallah (https://browntia.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/poster.pdf) argues that the lack of critical thinking skills are central in explaining the radicalization of youth to extremist ideology. The author’s view is that work needs to be done at the grassroots level against the “passive-thinking model” by teaching critical thinking skills.
However, as it is not possible to teach Quranic critical thinking in an American public school setting nor it is possible to teach it in the present American full-time or weekend schools because in many cases elements within these organizations are themselves beholden to the extremist ideology—not violent, but extremist.
Critical thinking brings self-awareness. As the late Richard Paul and his long-time collaborator, Linda Elder, of the Critical Thinking Community write if ego- and socio-centricity are the disease, the cure is critical thinking that brings self-awareness where Muslim students can use “their reasoning and behavior; to make their assumptions explicit, to critique them, and, when they are false, stop making them.”
Chapter I: Critical thinkers apply the Nine Standards (clarity, accuracy, precision, relevance, depth, breadth, logic, importance and fairness) to:
Chapter II: The Eight Elements of Reasoning (point of view, purpose, questions, inferences, concepts, information, implications, assumptions): Whenever we think, we think for a purpose within a point of view based on assumptions leading to implications (consequences). We use vocabulary (concepts, ideas and theories) to interpret facts (data, evidence and experiences) in order to answer questions, (solve problems, and resolve issues) in order to develop:
Chapter III: The Seven Moral Traits (belief in One God, God-consciousness, integrity through moral discipline, empowering courage, persevering in goodness, empathic altruism and being fair and just).
As previously noted, critical thinking is a process that analyzes how we think. This is the key to critical thinking. We do not learn “what” to think, but, rather, “how” to think. In English, the words “critical thinking” and “critical judgment” both refer to basically the Quranic concept of discernment (furqan). While our first reaction to the word “critical” may be that we think it means something negative such as “to criticize,” this is not what critical thinking or critical judgment is about. There are no negative connotations. Critical thinking (judgment, discernment (furqan)) refers to analyzing thoughts in order to become better at thinking. In this case, it is analyzing the Quranic text by studying HOW to think.
Students best develop Quranic critical thinking skills through dialogical learning. Dialogic learning is learning that takes place through dialogue. It is typically the result of dialogue where those engaging in dialogue relate to, or believe in the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities. In other words, the consequence of a dialogue in which different people provide arguments based on validity claims and not on power claims. Through dialogue with the Quranic text with classmates, with a teacher or mentor, the goal of the students is to achieve ethically rational development, that is, a genuine sense of justice or fair-mindedness.
If critical thinking is taught simply as atomic skills, separate from the empathic practice of entering into points of view that students are fearful of or hostile toward, they will simply find additional means of rationalizing prejudices and preconceptions, or convincing people that their point of view is the correct one.•
In order for students to develop into Quranic critical thinkers, they have to engage in questioning as the sacred text does through many of its signs (ayat). Learning from the Quranic way of questioning deepens students’ understanding and strengthens their belief. They are then able to put what they believe into practice in a fair and meaningfully way. As emerging critical thinkers who learn to deeply question what they believe, they bridge any gap that may be present between their beliefs and their practice.
Join our campaign on Indiegogo and help promote teaching Quranic critical thinking skills through the Mobile Minaret to prevent radicalization.
(RNS) As American Muslims, many of us are working hard to counter Islamist extremist ideology. We have repeatedly condemned ISIS. We have held press conferences and taken to social media to denounce its hateful ideology.
But how can we be more proactive in preventing radicalization here at home?