31 January 2013, 14:13

Jihadists targeting Sub-Saharan Muslims?

Jihadists targeting Sub-Saharan Muslims?
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Valentina Colombo, a Brussels-based expert in Islam and senior fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy, talks on pecularities of Sufi Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa and the threat it faces from Islamist radicals

The problem with this kind of people whose ideology is very-very much linked to the theory of unicity of God, of Muhammad ibn 'Abd Al-Wahhab which is the founder, the theoretician of the Saudi monarchy, for those kind of people it doesn’t matter, for instance in the case of Mali whether it is something Islamic. Yes, the manuscripts they’ve burned are Islamic but they belong to an Islamic side they don’t like, and not only don’t like, I mean Sufism for people linked to Al Qaeda, to a Jihadi movement Sufism is heresy, it is not true Islam. So, their aim is to destroy whatever is outside the right path, and for them the right path is just Quran and the Sunnah, the Hadith of the Prophet. Whatever is not inside this path is heresy. If it is a man – he has to be killed. If it is a book – it has to be burned. And the main problem is that these kinds of people are destroying their own culture.

Well, extremism is something which is there in any culture, which could be found there. But could it be that really in reality it has so little to do with the faith?

I think that for Islamic extremism culture and other interpretations of Islam are a mistake. For instance, as far as Sufism is concerned, Sufism which is an Islamic mysticism, which is the closest form of Islam to Christianity for instance, for Sufis, and Sufism is not just one thing, there are many sects, there are many ideas, there are many ways of being Sufi, but as a matter of fact any Sufi saying – I want to destroy myself to become God, to reach God. And this for Islamic extremists, like Al Qaeda, Jihadi people and for some parts of the MB as well, this kind of reasoning is heresy. It is saying – you become God – so, since the Quran says there is no God outside except for Allah, if you want to become one thing with God, even if the aim is based on love, you are a polytheist, you are an unbeliever and so you have to be killed, anybody saying this has to be destroyed.

Valentine, but doesn’t this kind of approach exasperate ordinary people how could be Muslims but who are not that extreme?

You know, we don’t have to forget that in the Sub-Saharan Africa, and it is not only Mali, but it is Senegal and other countries, there are many scholars that have written this – Islam is Sufism. But in the ten last years, more or less, Wahhabism has been spreading thanks to money, thanks to mosques, thanks to some kind of preaching. And so in the Sub-Saharan Africa nowadays there is a very strong fight between an imported kind of Islam, which is a very extreme Islam, very literally conservative kind of Islam and native Islam, which is a perfect mixture of Islam, mysticism, animism and it is very Sub-Saharan, it is very typical of the area.

So, what is happening is that there are many people coming also from the outside, they want to kill history of Sub-Saharan Africa, they want to kill universal history, as it was the case for the Taliban and the Buddhists. So, there is no respect at all – the true Islam – it is me. But not only this, we don’t have to forget, and we can read it in the Islamic declaration on human rights which was signed in Cairo in the 90’es, in one article the declaration says – Islam is the natural religion of men. And for those kinds of people, I mean Jihadists and really extreme Islamists, this is very daring point, this is the starting point of every fight.

So, it is no matter whether you believe in Jesus, if you are a Christian, if you are a Buddhist, if you are a Sufi – that is a Muslim having a different kind of approach to religion than I have – but the problem is that I am the truth and all the rest in nothing, and all the rest have to be destroyed. And it is very dangerous, and this means that it is a fight not only between the West and Islam, but it is a terrible dangerous fight inside Islam.

So, what I’ve been doing last years is working on intellectuals. I think that the time has come for the West to discover the reformers inside Islam. They are the only ones that can fight back that very dangerous kind of Islam which is more dangerous for Muslims themselves than for the Westerners. I’d like just to take an opportunity to say that today one of the most important reformers of Islam died in Cairo. His name is Gamal al-Banna. He was 93, he was the brother of the founder of the MB. And his ideas were totally different from the ones of his brother, and today he died. He wrote plenty of books and one of the books explaining that a reform can and has to be done inside Islam itself, otherwise they won’t and we won’t go anywhere.

Those extremist approaches, they actually are running contrary to the Quran.

You know, the Quran is a text and for every Muslim is the word of God, it is the text revealed in the 7th century. So, of course inside the Quran you can find incitement to kill, incitement to use violence against women. You can find that woman is a half of a man, you can find everything. You can also find tolerance if you want. But of course there is a part of the Quran which is the part revealed in Medina, this is the second part of the Islamic Revelation in which Mohamed had to fight against the Meccans who didn’t want to convert into Islam.

So, it was in the 7th century, it was the Arabian Peninsula, it was a beduin society so killing and using whatever violence was very normal. And the problem now is that reformers inside Islam say – ok, the Quran is the word of God but we have to respect and we have to follow only the universal part of the Quran – that is monotheism, the respect of the others, tolerance and whatever.

As far as the Jihadists are concerned the whole Quran is the word of God eternal and it is still valid in all its parts. So, when it says you have to kill the infidel – ok, you have to do it. It is not linked to the past, it is something you have to do now because the word of God is eternal. So, they just take it as it is with no reasoning at all. The Quran is a text revealed in the 7th century but still valid in the 21st century.

Which means that they actually deprive the holy book of its holiness. When they are taking it so literally, they really tend to ignore the mystic aspect of the Revelation, don’t they?

Yes, of course. And the main problem of Islam is that there is no authority. So, whoever, a Jihadi as an ordinary man, can read the Quran and say – ok, my interpretation is this one. And it is valid because there is no Islamic authority that can say that the right interpretation of this Quranic verse is this one. So, whoever can read the Quran and say – ok, for me this verse means that I have to kill whoever is against Islam and I have to kill every Muslim that I think doesn’t follow the Islamic preaching, the Quranic preaching.

This is the main problem. Islam has no authority. Every Muslim, a Jihadi, ordinary can understand, can read and act in an Islamic way on his opinion, and his opinion for him is a good way of interpreting the Quran. It is not true. A Jihadi can read the Quran and say – I have to kill. And ordinary man or reformer can read another verse at the Quran and say, and it is written in the Quran, that if you kill just a small insect, it is as though you killed the whole humanity.

So, you can find both things, so you just have to choose the one that suits you. And the problem is that they are really, when it comes to events, like the one in Timbuktu with the library and burned books, that they are destroying people, history and memory, they are destroying the past but at the same time the future. There is a saying of the Prophet that man has to seek knowledge, even though it is in China. So, there are some sayings of Mohamed preaching inviting to knowledge and so why do you have to destroy knowledge.

There is a wonderful 8th century writer, he is one of the most important writers of the Arabic literature, his name is Jahiz. And in the 8th century he wrote a wonderful book and it started saying – a book is vase full of knowledge. And he was a Muslim. So, I think it is really high time to rediscover this kind of Islam, this kind of culture which is inside the Islam itself and to spread this kind of knowledge among Islamic peoples.

It is a long term project but I keep on saying this. If we with Islamic, Muslim, Arabic whatever authorities don’t start this kind of project, which is a cultural project, which is not a political project, which is not a religious project, but it is a project so that those people could rediscover their good past. When there is ignorance, poverty and lack of instructions it is very easy to spread these kinds of ideas. If knowledge, if instruction, literacy goes further – I think that this could be the first step to victory. It is not easy but it is the only way – culture.

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