BY resorting to indiscriminate suicide bombings against military and civilian targets, slaughter of soldiers and non-combatants, intolerance of dissenting views and modernity, Islamic extremists have succeeded in presenting Islam as one of the most barbaric ways of life ever.

Yet, their influence is rapidly increasing. They are never short of recruits, their area of operations has expanded, and there is a growing support for them among the vulnerable Muslims. Ignorance or lack of self-confidence or both are the main reasons for the spread of such harmful attitudes.

While ignorant people can easily be influenced and won over, the educated, but insecure, individuals are equally prone to fall in the trap of clever, confident, and determined jihadi elements. Didn't Adolf Hitler transform the Germans into a machine bent on destroying all that opposed his ideas of nationhood? Weren't the Germans an educated and advanced people of their times, particularly, keeping in view the number of Nobel laureates the country was producing?

They had excellent education, but they faced grave insecurities. The man who seemed like guaranteeing a secure future was immediately hailed as the saviour and was obeyed slavishly. As we know, it was followed by the destruction of Europe and the Holocaust. The exploitation of Germany at the hands of one man should make it easier to understand how ignorant and deprived Muslims can be so easily manipulated by some religious leaders.

This is how things work. The majority of the population consists of uneducated Muslims living in poverty, suppression, and with little hope of an end to their miseries in Pakistan. Islam, as religion usually does, offers them solace and peace of mind. However, most of the believers are not as much aware of the teachings of Islam as one ought to know it. They know Islam as much as the local cleric knows it, who, on his part, blindly follows a certain senior cleric, his mentor.

Then, instead of consulting the Quran and the Sunnah in order to know the correct Islamic position on different issues, all these clerics prefer to follow the interpretations given by certain scholars. More often than not, these interpretations are regarded as binding in nature, not persuasive.

Thus, ignorant people are kept ignorant. They remain totally dependant on the cleric, who can drive them in any direction he wants or as instructed by his superiors. Islamic extremists - Al Qaeda, the Taliban, etc - are doing exactly this in order to gather support for their agenda among Muslim population in various countries but particularly by focusing on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Suicide blasts, beheading of enemy prisoners, degrading attitude towards women and non-Muslims are all strictly prohibited by the Quran and the Sunnah. However, the unaware people are told by the Taliban and some scholars that all these acts are not only justified, but also needed to further the cause of Islam. Just as the Germans obeyed the Fuhrer, these Muslims thus follow the Taliban leaders.

Now, how can this un-Islamic movement be stopped? Should we pound them all with heavy artillery and kill each one of them? Should we try to convince them to surrender? And if we do decide to talk to them, what arguments should we employ?

Well, we should first try to convince all such Muslims that their beliefs and actions are wrong. As the Taliban have no regard for anything western, it is useless talking to them in terms of universal human rights, etc. We will have to use what they believe in arguments from the Quran and the Sunnah.

In fact, only the actual Quranic and Hadith texts must be relied upon, no interpretations. It is so because while interpreting the fundamental Islamic texts that extremist scholars get an opportunity to present Islam as supporting their outrageous ways and ambitions. Thus, if we show one interpretation against them, they would show two in their favour. And what are the chances of the success of this method? If done properly, it will work.

Those who say that economic development of Muslim communities that are supporting the Taliban is the real answer to the problem are simply overlooking the religious dimension of the situation. Money and infrastructure will not help unless Islamic arguments are used first. The Taliban don't care about better roads, schools, hospitals; all they want is the imposition of their version of Islam and a ticket to heaven. We must be absolutely clear that the Taliban, and others like them, are not blowing themselves up for economic uplift; they want the Sharia. They need to be shown that the Sharia they want is not the Sharia that has been laid out in the Quran and the Sunnah. Once these people have been convinced, then we must focus on their individual and collective economic development.

In fact, Saudi Arabia, which has exported more Islamic fighters than any other Muslim state, is implementing measures to debrief and reform Islamic extremists in the kingdom. Rehabilitation centres have been set up for captured members of militant Islamic groups. There, in a friendly environment, Islamic scholars discuss with the inmates issues like jihad, terrorism, etc., and, ultimately, convince them to change their radical approach.

It is like fighting an idea with another idea. Upon their release, these former militants are assisted in their plans for education, employment, marriage, etc. Egypt and Yemen have also made similar efforts. The Religious Rehabilitation Group, Singapore, is another good example of how the influence of Islamic terrorist organizations can be countered.

Of course, as in all conflicts, there will be some among the Taliban who will refuse to accept any reasoning. For them, the verdict of the Quran is absolutely clear “The only punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is that they should be murdered, or crucified, or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides, or they should be imprisoned.... Except those who repent before you overpower them; so know that Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” (The Quran, 5 33-34)

The writer is a graduate of Harvard Law School, specializing in Islamic constitutional law.

syed_asad@post.harvard.edu

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