A Muslim Confronts Radical Islam
Raheel Raza, the Pakistani-born award-winning author of Their Jihad…Not My Jihad, spoke to JINSA audiences in Houston, Dallas and Westchester County, New York in early May.
Raheel Raza, the Pakistani-born award-winning author of Their Jihad…Not My Jihad, spoke to JINSA audiences in Houston, Dallas and Westchester County, New York in early May.
Ms. Raza discussed the growth of Islamism and its potential to influence the current turmoil in the Middle East. She also addressed the issue of why the majority of peaceful Muslims refrain from speaking out against radical Islamism, and the implications of the culture of victimization within Islam, as well as the dangers of political correctness, that has replaced frank dialogue.
A tireless campaigner for human rights, Ms. Raza actively promotes interfaith relations and appears frequently in print, radio and television media to discuss Muslim issues. The following is an edited transcript of her remarks.
I’m Pakistani by birth, Canadian by choice and Islam is my spiritual journey. I’m neither an apologist nor defender of my faith. I call the work that I do “damage control” and this is my ongoing journey in the struggle against radicalization and those who have hijacked my faith. The leader of these hijackers now lays fathoms below the sea. Traditionally, one does not celebrate death but in recent history two deaths have been celebrated, Adolph Hitler and now Osama bin Laden.
Usually, when I address audiences, I come bearing good news and bad news. Today, there’s more of the latter. Soon after 9-11, our largest Canadian television network held a town hall meeting where Canada’s Foreign Minister, Defense Minister and a journalist were on the panel. After a brief outline of the War on Terror, the panel opened for questions. My question to them was that they had named Pakistan and Saudi Arabia as their partners in the War on Terror. Since both of these countries are deeply entrenched in promoting terror, how could this be possible? I never did get an answer and, even today, this question remains the elephant in the room that no one wishes to acknowledge – but I will.
Some of you may know this already but let me remind you that Saudi Arabia is where the severe Wahhabi ideology was born and Pakistan is the stage where Wahabbism is played out. In essence, whatever the Saudis want, Pakistanis deliver. Pakistan was in denial then, and it is easy for me to see through their denial today, but it is clear that the Pakistan government and intelligence agencies had kept Osama bin Laden well and alive as a bargaining tool. Anyone in Pakistan who mattered knew where he was.
Let me give you a brief insight into the psyche of Pakistan. In the late 1970s, the country and the faith it professed to follow began to fragment and Pakistan started playing a cat-and-mouse game with the West, requesting more and more foreign aid to survive. In effect, blackmailing the West with threats that Pakistan’s nuclear facilities could fall into the hands of extremists without the ever-increasing aid.
Then-President General Zia ul Haq implemented “in-your-face Islam”, supported by petro dollar donations from Saudi Arabia provided on the back of a strict unfriendly, non-compromising Wahhabi ideology. Pakistan started on a downward spiral straight into the arms of jihad and radical Islam. This message was spearheaded and spread from the pulpits of mosques and unfortunately, that hallowed sanctuary was turned into a vehicle for hate.
I’ve personally seen and experienced the devastation wrought in Pakistani politics, religiosity, social structures and the destruction of Pakistan’s institutions. The warmth and hospitality that was part of my heritage has been replaced by hate, suspicion, ignorance and conspiracy theories. I was there this past March and the educated elite were supporting the blasphemy law that provided legal justification for the murder of the governor of Punjab Province and later the murder of the Minister of Minorities. It hit me like a ton of bricks when someone told me that the recent floods in Pakistan were part of a U.S./Zionist conspiracy! I can’t even begin to share the conspiracy theories afloat about Osama bin Laden’s death. It saddens me to no end to see this happening.
On a lighter personal note, being a rebellious young girl brought up in a Sunni family, I fell in love with and married a Shia man. I said farewell to Pakistan in 1978. Not because I didn’t care for my land of birth, but because I didn’t care for what Pakistan was slowly becoming – a state with a hard core Islamist ideology being thrust down our throats, where there was no tolerance for minorities and women. Pakistan was slowly losing its moral compass, and the differentiation between right and wrong was blurred.
The 1973 oil embargo had major ramifications on the Arab world, empowering the ruling sheikhs with the rise of oil prices supplemented with the rise in radical Islam. The 1979 Iranian revolution gave encouragement to Muslim groups to start movements as a revolt against corrupt governments and puppet regimes. Because they couldn’t do anything within their own states, they directed their animosity towards the West, using the Palestinian cause as they rallying cry to gather support.
Unfortunately most of these movements spiraled out of control. The most dramatic and influential was the Wahhabi movement. Named after the religious reformer, Abd al-Wahhab, who died in 1791, this puritanical movement acquired an explosive energy after its founder allied himself with a petty Arab chieftain, Muhammad Ibn Saud. To propagate their particular brand of Islam, the Wahhabis attacked fellow Muslims whose practices they considered “un-Islamic” only because they differed in interpretation. Wahhabis steadily expanded their power over Central and Western Arabia until they were able to effect the political unification of the peninsula into the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Once established, the Wahhabi authorities instituted a religious police force, which, among its other functions, compels Muslims to perform ritual prayer at the appropriate times of the day in direct contradiction to the Quran’s commandment, “Let there be no compulsion in religion.”
Not surprisingly, this movement considers Jews and Christians to be infidels and keeps women under cover. To this day, Saudi Arabia’s state version of Islam is founded on an exclusivist, misogynist interpretation of the Quran, intolerant of both interreligious and intra-religious plurality. Their mantra is that you will go to hell and we will help you get there faster! Through the use of billions of petrodollars, the Saudis’ extreme interpretation has been exported all over the Muslim world, much to the dismay of the liberals and pluralists. The Wahaabis are also supported in Saudi Arabia by the Salafis – salaf means pious ancestors. The Salafi movement holds that in order to be a good Muslim you must live like a 7th century Muslim.
The Arabs believe that their governments have usurped Islam by imposing Western values so they have started becoming more fundamentalist with an idea that they must internationalize Islam and have a global Umma – a Muslim Brotherhood so to speak. This is also the mandate of the actual Muslim Brotherhood that has found a home in Europe and North America and had the insidious 50-point manifesto and agenda to first integrate into the West, and then destroy it from within its institutions.
It is no longer a Muslim problem, it’s an American problem and has to be dealt with by all Americans. In this regard, organizations like Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) are very questionable.
You have to know your enemy. In this case, the enemy is radical Islam because radical Islam threatens the whole world and so it is only fair to explain what radical Islam is and what it isn’t.
We refer to this ideology as Islamism or political Islam primarily because faith is not politics, and politics is not faith. Once faith is coerced into politics, and politics masquerades as faith, then what we have is an Inquisition.
According to Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum, Islamism is a political ideology, an armed political ideology similar to Fascism, Bolshevism and Maoism. And just as communism was an internationalist movement with an internationalist agenda of subverting freedom and defeating democracies, similarly today Islamism is engaged in a worldwide effort to subvert democracies and expand the space for the implementation of its ideology manifested in sharia.
Radical Islam has been described as deriving from Islam but is an anti-modern, misanthropic, misogynist, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, triumphalistic, jihadist, terroristic, and suicidal version of it. It is Islamic-flavored totalitarianism. By contrast, the spiritual message of Islam, the religion, has within it the potential to be part of a world civilization, with “civilization” taken to mean the opposite of “barbarism.”
There are many books being written today which speak of a clash of ideologies versus a clash of civilizations and herein lies the problem. It is impossible to fight an idea with weapons of mass destruction. What we need are weapons of mass instruction.
But there are other opinions. In his newly published book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis, political scientist Robert Reilly argues that “Islamism is grounded in a spiritual pathology based upon a theological deformation that has produced a dysfunctional culture and that the clash is between reason and revelation.” He believes that mainstream Sunni Islam, which comprises the majority of the faithful in the Muslim world, “has shut the door to reality in a profound way.”
Muslims are not new immigrants to the West. The first Muslims came to North America as slaves as far back as 1517 followed by others down the years. This early generation of Muslims lived by the laws of the land – some of them even changed their names and they worked side by side with other Americans forming a strong American-Muslim indigenous identity. This sense of identity or loyalty is almost non-existent today and Muslims are largely ghettoizing themselves. Muslims globally and specifically in North America, who thrive on a “hate the USA” diet, should take a moment to think of the alternative and realize that the United States is still the leader of the free world and it is these very freedoms that enable them to criticise the West without repercussion. They must align themselves with loyalty and inculcate a sense of responsibility.
Thirty-five years ago, the Wahhabi ideology crashed upon North America, overtaking the mosque structures. According to a Washington Post survey, Wahhabis control almost 80 percent of the mosques in the United States. This ideology of identifying everyone as “the other” is manifested in the idea of “in-your-face Islam” in every aspect of life. The religious right and leaders speak eloquently and passionately in sermons about the struggle between Dar-Ul-Islam or the “Abode of Islam” – a country where Islamic laws are followed and the ruler is a Muslim and Dar-Ul-Harb – the “Abode of War,” a land ruled by infidels that might, through war, become the “Abode of Islam.” For example, in the nineteenth century, some Muslims argued that India had become Dar-Ul-Harb because of British rule. It’s interesting to note that in the Quran, there is a clear indication that Muslims who migrate must follow the law of the land where they live, unless it goes against the core teachings of the faith. Of course, this point is rarely raised by the religious right.
With a huge vacuum in religious authority, this movement grew and today we are witnessing the results of this movement which has already brainwashed an entire generation with their ideology.
They continue to use many different tactics including:
Prisons, especially the fast radicalization of black prisoners. Saudis are known for placing their own chaplains in prisons, ostensibly to give the prisoners ‘spiritual support’ which often turns into anti-establishment rhetoric brainwashing them with a hatred for the West and its values.
Victim ideology – they are trying to prove that there is a Clash of Civilizations by misusing verses from the Quran. If we let them do this, they will succeed.
Today there is a form of cyber space Jihad – al Qaeda is no longer calling its shots from a cave in Tora Bora – it has a transnational agenda to make the world an Islamic state and impose sharia.
Coupled with the massive amounts of funding being funneled into educational institutions in North America, we have a volatile situation. Did you know that right in your own backyard so to speak, Georgetown University boasts the Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding? The kind of Arab funding that is coming into our universities allows them to host events like Israel Apartheid week. Last time I spoke, I said to the organizers that I may have missed seeing the apartheid in Israel when I was there, but I have personally witnessed and seen the gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan so shall I also host a Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia apartheid week – or perhaps a month?
One of the issues that I’m most challenged for is my support for the recognition of Israel, and my travels there. When my detractors discovered that I was most recently invited by President Shimon Peres, they were even more enraged.
My support for the existence of Israel is rooted in my understanding of Israel and Pakistan as two countries created almost at the same time in history on the basis of faith. Today, Israel is a vibrant, progressive, diverse country where I felt safe and walked the streets alone at night – something I can’t do in my own homeland anymore. Accepted that Israel has its own set of political problems but there is an awareness that they exist and work being done in many quarters to find solutions.
We, as Muslims, need to take an example about bringing about change from within, about having think tanks to discuss where we are going wrong and reforming our understand of Islam. Europe today is a simmering cauldron ready to boil over at any point and I would hate to see NA become like them. I was in Geneva at the UN Human Rights Council trying to get in a word edgewise about making honor killings an international offense. I saw the power wielded by the Organization of the Islamic Conference at the UN. They have such a strong hold, that they block all dialogue and look upon any use of the word Muslims or Islam as “Islamophobia.”
This over used term Islamophobia, coined only in the 1980s, is a huge misnomer and is used by Muslims to perpetuate a victim ideology anytime they are criticised. The only agenda the OIC has at the UN is to support all Arab and Muslim states regardless of their human right records and to block the United States and Israel at every step – which is why recently at the UN meeting in New York City, Canada was not allowed into the Security Council due to its support of Israel.
Let me also mention liberal white guilt – a term I had used for Mayor Bloomberg when he supported the mosque at Ground Zero. White liberal guilt has become a green light for Islamists to promote their agendas in North America. Well meaning, naive white liberals support some of the demands for un-reasonable accommodation citing “human rights” and feminist mantras and totally distorting the issues that we are battling everyday such as the wearing of the niqab in Canada.
Let me offer some solutions.
Scholars and academics working on the reform say that Islam will “evolve and change,” but that it must happen from within, as in the case of the Christian Reformation, and not by others standing outside and denouncing it because voices from the outside are easily ignored or challenged. The trouble with this is that I find myself caught between the two extremes – those who have left the faith yet continue to bash it and those who have hijacked my faith and turned it into a violent ideology.
Of course, heading down such a path comes with its own challenges. You may know that my name is number four on an Internet list of the most hated people in the Muslim world and I would like to become number one.
Right after 9/11, a Rand report concluded that to win the war against terror, moderate Muslim forces need to be elevated and this does not happen frequently. President Obama has for his advisers some of the same people who are funded by the Wahhabis and have an agenda. The important point to remember is that this fight against radicalization has to be beyond politics and parties because when the twin towers fell, they did not discriminate against anyone and we were all swept away.
While law-abiding Muslims must be insured a right to practice their faith freely and be given the opportunity to become law abiding citizens wherever they live, there have to be programs in place to ensure that the oxygen that fuels hatred and intolerance in some Islamic organizations and mosques must be cut off so that their influences don’t overshadow voices of reason and sanity who are trying to build bridges. The important point here is to monitor very strictly the funding of these organization and mosques and have locally trained Imams. In this respect, I can report that Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto has started classes to teach Islam within a Canadian context for imams, chaplains and anyone else interested.
At the same time, these voices of reason need the support of all citizens.
Often people ask me if the work I do is dangerous. Well, danger is a relative term but I can share with you that I’m the recipient of a death threat, a verbal threat by the developer of the New York mosque, a lawsuit and a fatwa. And all this makes it worthwhile when the youth and my protégés support me.
In conclusion, let me share with you an e-mail I recently received. It read, “You have taken up such an impossible mission on your shoulder that you must get frustrated sometimes. But, don’t ever give it up, and do your noble work no matter what. Slowly but surely, time is not too far when religious cleansing will occur and new generation of Secular and educated Islamic youth will be born, and make our world better place to live, and let live. You are doing fantastic job for our community and I admire it. Wherever I go and whoever I meet, I talk about your project.”