Synopsis: Many of the intellectual strata of the Muslim world have found that Islam as depicted by political Islamists is unworthy of trust and belief. There has been a gradual move away from all religions and move toward atheism.
Over the past few years the news media has focused on the threat of political Islam, or Islamism, as I prefer to call it. In many respects, it seeks to transform Islam from a religion to an ideology. Movements such as Al Qaeda, Islamic State (IS), and the Muslim Brotherhood, or even Shia Hezbollah, are the tips of the Islamist spear. The most toxic aspect of Islamism is not the threat to the Western world but to the religion of Islam itself.
These kind of movements have undermined Islam and the Islamic community in several ways and caused some irreversible damage to the image of Islam not only in the western world but also inside Muslim countries. Many of the intellectual strata of the Muslim world have found Islam as depicted by the extremists as unworthy of trust and belief. There has been a gradual move away from all religions and move toward atheism.
Those who speak Arabic are probably familiar with how many social media accounts that are now promoting atheism openly. Such trend seems to echo the frustration of the Muslim community especially in countries where political Islam failed to improve people’s standards of living such as Iraq’s Dawa or Egypt’s Muslim Brothers.
This has had another adverse effect in that while the upper intellectual classes move away from Islam, the great mass of the poor and destitute, the homeless refugees, move closer to a more extreme version of Islam. They have nothing else to cling to.
Furthermore, with the illusion of a caliphate, an unattainable fantasy based on a tribal confederation 1300 years ago, Islamists are undermining the unity and patriotism of the modern state system. Even the dream of a unified Arab world, envisioned by the dreamers in the 1960s, has proven to be another chimera.
The way states have been ruled in much of the Islamic world has been execrable, but there is no viable substitute for the state concept. The problem has not been the concept of the state, but rather the authoritarianism inherent in the Arab/Islamic culture. Despite all the academic and journalistic blather forecasting the end of the state system, and erasure of the “colonial borders” it has not happened. States have shown amazing viability.
By constantly emphasizing the fantasy of a unified Umma (Islamic community) they seek to undermine the state system and secular leadership advocating some sort of rule by powerful clerics.
Equally, the Islamists and their hatred toward other religions, as well as Muslims of other Muslim sects, such as the Shia, Ahmadiya, Alawi, Druze, etc. have created a disunited sectarian society. Even Sunnis who do not follow the archaic rules and regulations of the Salafi/Wahhabi doctrine are considered not true Muslims.
The sectarian violence has been greatly exacerbated by the intolerance and selective use of hadiths and passages of the Quran to justify violence against those who refuse to conform to their totalitarian concepts. A recent example of this sectarian tension is the case of a well loved Kuwaiti comedian Abdul Hussien Abdul Ridha who was in a London hospital with a serious medical problem. On social media among the many hoping for his recovery there is also vicious vituperation hoping he dies, for the simple reason he is a Shia Muslim. Such hatred was ignited by extreme Sunni clerics from Saudi Arabia and even some Kuwaitis.
The status of women in most of the Islamic world has declined in the last 50 years. The women I knew in the Arab world in the 60’s and seventies do not have the freedom they once enjoyed. One could say that the women’s dress does not fully indicate their status. But in fact it does, From pants and short skirts to Abayas did not come about because of some mass religious fervor. It came about due to political, cultural pressure, the pressure exerted by the men and the all-important cultural factor, which dictates that the woman carries the honor of the family.
For instance, take the case of an Egyptian female swimmer Farida Osaman who won Egypt’s first ever medal in an international swimming competition. Social media users were busy criticizing her “non-Islamic” swimsuit ignoring her winning events. Not surprisingly much of the criticism came from female users as one columnist observed.
This is not surprising for many women are brainwashed from infancy by fathers and brothers, and then husbands, to believe they have only a specified role in society, but more importantly as carrier of the family honor. A minor indiscretion can blacken a family’s reputation and lead to a drastic decline in the fortune and well being of the family.
Meanwhile, Islamist propaganda seeks to convince the young impressionable people that living within a cloistered extreme fundamentalist society will not prohibit any activities or enjoyments of the secular world such as Islamist female “Dear Abby” types that dispense advice on love, relationships, and especially sex, to create the impression that embracing Islamist ideals does not entail much sacrifice and loss of freedom. In fact such approach has been used ISIS lure young Muslim women in western countries for the purpose of recruitment. It has also been used widely to attract youthful local audiences by Egypt’s Islamists as well.
Few days ago I came cross a video that so many Egyptians ridiculed that it went viral. It showed a woman wearing Niqab while giving instructions on how to dance Zumba, for physical fitness. The Islamists’ total emphasis on the outward displays of religious piety, some based on dubious Islamic literature or disputed hadiths, actually ridicules the essence of Islam as many are debating nowadays in the Arab social media. This absorption in what color underwear men should wear or what the length of their beards should be, and the detailed proscriptions on women’s wear, etc,. trivializes Islam, creating it as a topic for jokes and cartoons, not only in the western world but also inside the Islamic community.