Sunday, July 10th 2016
“While a confirmed minority of people in comparison to the over 1.4 billion Muslims worldwide, [violent extremist groups like ISIL’s] media savvy has projected their evil far beyond their numbers and dominated discussions about Islam in the public square.” This opened Dr. Tarek Elgawhary’s testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on June 22, 2016. The statement by the Director of Religious Studies for the World Organization for Resource Development and Education (WORDE), “Understanding ISIS in order to Better Protect the Homeland,” was concerned less with the media savvy than with ISIL’s interpretations of Islam.
Public diplomacy specialists gaining a better understanding of Islamism will find Dr. Elgawhary’s discussion of the Quran, hadiths, meta principles, interpretation of texts, shari’a, takfir, jahiliyya, al-Hakimiyya, and normative Islam informative. They will also be reminded of the influence of Sayyid Qutb and his period of study in the U.S. in 1949. (Exchange programs have hits and misses. For more on Qutb in Colorado, refer to this article on National Public Radio.) Here are a few quotes from Elgawhary’s essay:
- Violent extremist groups like ISIL are not only a national security threat to the United States, but represent one of the major existential threats facing Islam today. Their distortion of primary, agreed upon texts and their fundamental lack of a coherent interpretative methodology, the hallmark of normative Islam, have led them to conclusions and interpretations that no other group in the vast intellectual history of Islam has ever concluded.
- . . . how then is that [wrong and obvious violations of agreed upon interpretations] have lasted as long as they have?
- In the mid 1940s an obscure Egyptian literary figure visited the United States on an exchange program. In February of 1949, February 14th to be precise, Sayyid Qutub read of the news that the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hasan al-Banna, had been assassinated. Mistaking American’s observation of Valentine’s Day for a national celebration of the death of the Islamist leader, Sayyid Qutub concluded that Islamism was his true calling. Completely untrained in the Islamic sciences, Qutub spent the rest of his life, until his execution in 1966, writing what was to become the main works and intellectual paradigm of the modern global Islamist movement. The three concepts described briefly above are profuse in his writings, most importantly in his commentary.
- Every single violent and extremist organization claiming to adhere to Islamic principles since the middle of the 20th century have relied, in some cases exclusively, on the writings of Sayyid Qutub.
- These groups, fueled by the gross, misinformation posited by Qutub, have perpetuated these concepts and used their resources to slowly infect the minds of thousands.
- The solution, in my opinion, is education and literacy. Normative Muslim leaders need to be empowered to teach normative Islam that is grounded in the discursive, interpretative tradition outlined briefly above.
- Part of this instruction needs to be a clear and unequivocal counter narrative to help average Muslims understand why the narrative of ISIL and related groups is wrong. Until this happens in a mass way, the rhetoric of ISIL and related groups will only grow.