Monday, 12 January 2015

Islam’s front line is not in Europe or Ulema: time to catch up with your flock

After the recent spate of attacks by Islamic extremists in Europe many have suggested the international media mans the front line against Jihadist Islamic terrorism. Undoubtedly, the Western media constitutes a prime target for Islamic extremists, especially since the provocative cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed became a rallying cry for opposing sides in the debate. However, the real front line for the war of ideas rests neither in Paris nor the rest of the Western world. The true battleground lies in the conservative Islamic heartlands of countries like Pakistan, Egypt or Turkey.

This is a war for the soul of Islam. A war which will be won not by American or NATO soldiers but by Muslim theologians reinterpreting religious edicts in line with the aspirations of the modern Muslim community. These aspirations do not include killing civilians, denying girls' education, making women sit at home or killing polio vaccinators doing their job.

Similar to their non-Muslim counterparts across the world, most Muslims lead humdrum, boring lives. Muslim adults send children to schools, watch their kids start families, become grandparents and lavish affection on their grandchildren. Muslim adults, too, visit dentists and doctors, socialize with friends, watch television and movies.

Muslim hopes and fears are no different from non-Muslim hopes and fears.

Thus, it was encouraging reading the transcript of Egyptian President Sisi's speech to senior Muslim theologians at Al-Azhar University. The Cairo based university is one of the world's oldest and most respected institutions of Islamic learning.

In the speech, Sisi essentially exhorts the Ulema (qualified Islamic theologians) to play a genuine leadership role by returning Islamic dialogue to the realms of normalcy, especially in so far as Islamic law deals with interactions with non-Muslims. In actuality, theologians are simply being asked to endorse the common sense approach to life already employed by the majority of Muslims around the world.

One must applaud Sisi's efforts to galvanize Islamic clerics in the battle for the Islamic mind. Unfortunately, the influence of ultra-conservative clerics fed by a steady diet of petrodollars by oil rich nations remains powerful. It may take many more Islamic philosophers with the fervent vision of Allama Iqbal before a clear consensus about the Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam becomes a reality.

Meanwhile, the ordinary Muslim walking the streets of Karachi - not Cannes - is the one in the firing line for her 'moderate' beliefs. By challenging ideas propagated by Islamic extremists in her daily life, she moves us closer to the final victory against obscurantists currently polluting Islamic beliefs.  
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at