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Religion and Society

The Role of al-Azhar in the Battle against Fanaticism

Al-Azhar Mosque

Extremists read superficially and selectively the Islamic sources. Some possible solutions

Extremism has different causes, amongst which the following:

 

 

1. Scarce knowledge of the religion

 

Some people dare to issue legal norms, especially regarding doctrinal issues, basing themselves on a superficial analysis of certain verses of the Qu’ran and sayings of the Prophet, without any understanding of the other texts linked to martyrdom and its fundamentals, considering the allegorical passages of the Qu’ran (mutashabihat) and excluding the explicit ones (muhkamat) and taking certain specific aspects at the expense of general rules. Those who issue fatwas, especially if concerning doctrinal issues, should possess the necessary scientific knowledge in order to preach and present their Islamic vision of life to other people. This confirms the importance of devoting themselves to the study of religion and a specific preparation. Those who act without knowledge risk doing more harm than good.

 

 

2. Blind imitation

 

Blind imitation (taqlid) stems from fanaticism and from trust in a guide that becomes a model, and in one’s methodological and interpretative approach. Nevertheless, regarding legal matters taqlid is a legal necessity because we cannot expect everyone to form a personal interpretation of the Law (ijtihad). If the door of interpretation (bab al-ijtihad) was opened to those who do not have a scientific preparation, we would fall into an infinite amount of errors that would distance us completely from the religion. Just like a scholar once admirably affirmed: “Not following a madhhab [school of law, Ed.] is the door to irreligion”. […]

 

 

3. Self-retreat

 

Fanatics base themselves on their particular understanding and their own reflection. They don’t allow themselves to be persuaded by the opinions of others and they are not able to persuade others because of their fanaticism. Each one of them believe that their own thought and their own point of view is the religion and that all other points of view are evidently flawed. With the passing of time the individual retreats within themselves, closing the door for dialogue and mutual understanding. […] The majority of fanatics concentrate on one sole idea and limit themselves to reading specific pages of certain books, believing that there is nothing else beyond them. This, along with many other factors, brings to self-retreat and doctrinal isolation which impedes them from benefiting of the work of many generations of jurists, intellectuals and researchers.

 

 

4. Failure to consider the nexus of causality

 

Amongst the causes of fanaticism is also the absence of a scientifically and methodologically formed mentality that respects the laws of historical movement, the absence of the idea of causality (sababiyya), the destruction of the necessary criteria for correction, for critique and for revision, the elimination of the aims (maqasid) of human action and the proclamation of deviating slogans presented with a strong religious nuance and to which we are called to take action without considering the effects of our actions. These factors lead to conceptual confusion and backwardness, feeding isolation and intellectual immobilism regarding the laws that regulate life.

 

The values of the noble Qu’ran and of the Sunna of the Prophet confirm the connection between premises and consequences, between cause and effect, and make social equations with them, with the same precision and strictness of mathematical equations, rendering them a philosophy of life, a guide for action and a method of procedure. […]

 

 

Solutions for fanaticism

 

 

Among possible solutions stand the following […]

 

 

Managing diversity

 

To resolve fanaticism, in all its forms, it is necessary to know how to manage diversity. We must educate people to accept it and to recognise that diversity is a human right, or rather an Islamic right and duty. We must learn how to not get along with each other, which is not less important than learning how to get along with each other, and how to manage to recognise the “other” with all their rights to their own opinion, just like our right to our own. Diversity is one of the most noble of human laws (sunan) and it is the highest level of ethics (akhlaq), while closure and fanaticism correspond to an adolescent and youthful phase of humanity.

 

 

To recognise the other and their thought as a reality does not mean to confirm their position or profess that they are right. It is sufficient to remember that what is at stake is their choice, their opinion, their responsibility. These opinions and these convictions deserve respect.

 

 

If we learn to manage diversity and its rules well, diversity will transform itself into variety, complementarity, mutual collaboration and development, a sign of well-being and enrichment.

 

 

It is not exaggerated to affirm that our legal and intellectual tradition, our interpretative schools and our historical-political interpretations, even within the same school of thought - from the interpretative efforts of the Companions [of the Prophet] and their divergences (and they were the best generations), to the and doctrinal schools and the schools of law - constitute proof of a level of freedom of thought within Islam far from ideological terrorism (irhab fikri) or doctrinal fanaticism (ta‘assub fiqhi) and efforts to banish the opinions of others. When cases of extremism and fanaticism emerge, one can safely call them exceptions to the rule.

 

 

Al-Azhar affirmed that pluralism and human diversity is a natural fact recognised by the noble Qu’ran and is treated according to the law that within Islam regulates international relations. What our contemporary world needs in order to exit the suffocating crisis is mutual understanding (ta’aruf), which necessarily implies the principle of dialogue, both with those with which we do not agree, and those with which we do. Therefore it is difficult for a Muslim to imagine people, communities and bodies of people converging into one sole religion and into a single culture because God, in his will, created very different human beings, to the point of giving them very distinguished finger prints. The Qu’ran recites: “Had thy Lord willed, He would have made mankind one nation; but they continue in their difference.” (11,118). […]

 

 

*Extracts of Muhyi al-Din ‘Afifi Ahmad’s speech, General Secretary of the Islamic research Academy of al-Azhar, at the Seminar of the Joined Committee for Dialogue between the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and al-Azhar. The speech was delivered in Arabic.

 

 

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