Sufism thrives in all Muslim countries from Morocco to Indonesia, in spite of Salafism, Wahabism and terrorism. Everywhere, except Saudi Arabia, the vast majority of Muslims practice Islam in ways that are far closer to Sufism than to Salafism
(Daily Times, 28 August 2013)
Given the current environment, it is hardly surprising that even a very erudite atheist like Sam Harris gets his facts wrong when castigating Islam. For example, he writes in praise of Sufism and then asserts: “Sufism is reviled as heresy throughout much of the Muslim world”. In fact, Sufism thrives in all Muslim countries from Morocco to Indonesia, in spite of Salafism, Wahabism and terrorism. Everywhere, except Saudi Arabia, the vast majority of Muslims practice Islam in ways that are far closer to Sufism than to Salafism.
In the same piece, letting his bias prejudice his views, Harris refers to the “experience of innocent Muslims who are treated like slaves and criminals by this religion”. On the contrary, one particular strength and attraction of Islam is precisely the opposite, that, theologically at least, it regards all Muslims as one community or nation (ummah) and proclaims the equality and dignity of every individual within this community.
By contrast, Christianity declares every individual to be a sinner by birth. Hinduism treats the three lower castes as second, third and fourth class Hindus and consigns the “untouchables” to a life marginally better than that of street dogs. Widows fare even worse. Considered inauspicious, they are ostracized, forbidden to remarry, to inherit property or to take part in any festivity of any kind.
Recently, an intelligent and well-read Anglo-Australian friend of mine was asked in an email by a Chinese researcher about his “thoughts on the historical and psychological factors that led to the hostage taking situation in Algeria.” His long reply began thus: “Islam is a religion and a political system which has been steeped in violence since Prophet Muhammad failed to nominate a clear line of succession upon his death. This led to the Shia-Sunni divide and the absence of an overarching unifying ideology to which all Muslims can subscribe. . . . We need to remember that the Muslims spend a lot more time killing one another than they do westerners (over one million died in the Iran-Iraq war).”
The ignorance revealed here is matched only by the arrogance of the writer. Firstly, the hostage-taking in the Amenas Gas Plant earlier this year had absolutely nothing to do with the Shia-Sunni schism, but with the French intervention in Mali. Secondly, if there is any major religion with “an overarching unifying ideology”, it is Islam, with every Shia and every Sunni, indeed every Muslim, subscribing to the belief in “one God (Allah), one Book (Quran) and one Prophet (Muhammad)”.
Thirdly, it will take roughly 76 wars between Iran and Iraq to equal the number of Christians who were killed not so long ago by fellow Christians in the two world wars, in which 76 million people were killed. And, finally, the Iran-Iraq war was no more about sect or religion than were the two world wars, Franco-Algerian War (1954-62), India-China War (1962), Bangladesh War (1971), China-Vietnam war (1979), Falklands war (1982), or the two Iraq wars (1991, 2003), to name a few.
Even the Saudi-Iranian antagonism is generally regarded by most non-Muslims in theological terms, as another expression of the Sunni-Shia schism, rather than a rivalry between two civilizations, the Persian and the Arab. This rivalry is exacerbated, since 1979, by a republican, “revolutionary” Iran posing a threat to the Saudi and other absolute monarchies of the Arabian Peninsula and Persian Gulf.
The current Shia-Sunni murderous frenzy witnessed in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan may superficially seem to be sectarian, but are the product of economic, historical, social, political and territorial factors, aggravated by the Saudi-Iranian tussle for ascendancy, fuelled by their reserves of petro-dollars. In the case of Pakistan, there is the added factor of state sponsorship of some Jihadi militias as a tool of foreign policy, now out of control.
Of the over fifty Islamic states, none has ever been accused of deliberately allowing its territory to be used for Jihad against the West. In fact, the armed forces and intelligence services of almost all Muslim countries are so closely cooperating with the US in the Anti-Jihad that they have earned the ire of their own people.
Even Taliban-ruled Afghanistan (1996-2001) did not engage in any kind of terrorist activity against the West. We now know that the Taliban were unaware of Osama bin Laden’s anti-US terrorist plans and were, in fact, prepared to cooperate with the US on that issue after 9/11, but President Bush fired from the hip, so to speak. Iran has been more a victim of American interference and machinations and of Israeli threats than a threat to them.
One does not need a great knowledge of history to know that things happen and pass, phases come and go, mindsets change, abnormalities prove transient and peripheral, normality returns. Think of the Catholic-Protestant schism, Franco-German animosity, US-Japanese hostilities, Soviet-Chinese enmity and the McCarthy Era of the early and mid-1950s, when some Americans saw “a Red under every bed” and West Europeans braced for an invasion by the Soviet Red Army!
The decade from 1961 to 1972 witnessed a hijacking epidemic. More than 150 flights were hijacked in American airspace in this period. According to a BBC report (11 July 2013), “at the height of the trend, aeroplanes were hijacked at a rate of nearly one per week. The hijackers’ reasons were varied. Some wanted to escape to countries like Cuba and Algeria. Others used the planes and their passengers as leverage to extort ransom or to promote a political cause.”
Brendan I Koerner, author of The Skies Belong to Us, is quoted saying: “Each air piracy incident inspired others. It was a time when people kind of embraced outlaws,” he said, “because there was so much distrust of the establishment.”
Similarly, the 19th century and the second half of the twentieth century saw the upsurge of anarchism, the Baader-Meinhof gang, the Japanese Red Brigade and many more. All are now history. And although some are very recent history, they sound so distant that most people will struggle to recall.
By Razi Azmi