Sunday, September 13, 2009
The Five Islamic Ulama by Farad Khosrokhavar
There are five general groups in both Shiite and Sunni Islam. First the traditionalists who try to remove thenmselves from secular developments and the political state. They maintain their connections to ethnic, tribal and local community identities. These groups are becoming increasingly marginalized in the rush of modernity, especially in urban areas. For those who formerly depended on these social and religious networks for support, this gives rise to considerable frustration, alienation from the society and culture of which they are a part. The second group are the Fundamentalists who share many of the viewpoints of the Jihadist in regard to the long-term degradations occurring in Islam but are willing to cooperate with state authorities in whatever slight advantages those regimes offer. Then there are the Hyper-Fundamentalists who struggle to recapture 'Islamic purity" and overturn the status quo but reject violence as a means to do so.
Jihadists are divided into various factions, all committed to the violent overthrow not only of their respective national governments but the World System as a whole. Their goal is the triumphant of Islam on a world-wide basis. Within Jihadist groups there is a very small minority that might be classified accurately as martyropaths, followers of a cult of death, who intend to die first and formost because they feel that the shortcomings of Islam are the result of their own lack of abnegation and selflessness. Defeating the enemies of Islam is secondary to washing away their own sins, which have become unbearable to them.
There are a number of violent Jihadi theorists and polemicists about in the world today and their work is widely available on the internet. Indeed, until 9/11 they preached quite freely in places like London and Paris. Activists followers of the Jihadist line, however, are quite limited in number. Never-the-less, they glean alot of sympathy and respect from Fundamentalists. Osama bin Laden himself has obtained a certain heroic status among many Muslims who themselves do not wish to be violent, often referred to as a kind of 'Robin Hood". Operating in small, independent cells as "vanguards" of the islamic revolution, their capacity to deal out mayhem and murder is great( mostly against other Muslims- whose acquiescence to modernity is considered heretical) .
"The major problem in Muslim societies is the lack of an influential Reformist ulama (the fifth group) who could oppose the Jihadist interpretation through lectures on the Koran. Of course, many reform-minded intellectuals exist in the Muslim world, but they are far outnumbered by Fundamentalists and Jihadists, and they do not yield the same influence and do not have the powerful networks within religious institutions. The Reformists' view of Islam is at best marginal, compared to that of the Fundamentalist and Jihadist thinkers.
Violence is vindicated by the Jihadists' exegesis of the Koran, many of the verses they quote being unacceptable to the modern mind and in dire need of reinterpretation in the same fashion as biblical interpretation was developed by Protestants beginning in the sixteenth century. The advantage of the Jihadists over Reformists in the interpretation of the Koran is that in many respects, religious institutions, mainly dominated by conservatives, are in agreement with them regarding the principles of exegesis but not in their application to social reality. Most Islamic Fundamentalists, influenced by Wahhabism and financially sustained by its proponents, share the intolerance of the Jihadists, but they propose peaceful ways to achieve their goals rather than violence.
Reformist theologians in the Sunni and Shi'ite world propose a pluralist reading of the Koran and the Sunna (sayings of the Prophet outside the Koran), but they are intimidated, rejected, repressed, or simply marginalized. Sometimes they are forced to migrate to the West, for fear of being assassinated by fanatical Muslims. Religious institutions in the Muslim world are not prone to open up to Reformist intellectuals."