Seyed Mostafa Azmayesh is Religious scholar and researcher in the field of spirituality and Gnosticism. He is the author of the new book, "New researches on the Quran"
The recent tragic events in Brussels once again demonstrated that Islamic extremism is continuing its efforts to divide and conquer our society.
As I have outlined in my book, New researches on the Quran, this issue is nothing new. In fact, it dates as far back as to the time of Prophet Mohammad, and his struggle to bring forth Islam-ol-Madani, Islam of civilisation, as opposed to Islam-ol-Badavi, tribal Islam –those who only verbally converted to Islam but maintained their tribal traditions. It is this latter group that unfortunately took control of common Islam after the death of the Prophet.
Given that the problems caused by extremism have been around for centuries, policymakers should not expect quick solutions, but focus on long-term policies. Moreover, given the number of Western-educated or Western people who have been lured to this type of ideology, it is clear that radicalisation within European society is an issue that needs to be addressed.
European counter-extremism policies need to evolve from their current reactive state to a formalised structure. The first step in this process is to delve into the roots of the problem, which requires all of us to become familiar with the Quran and its teachings and not fall victim to misinterpretations. The Quran is the common denominator between all different Muslim factions. The correct study and understanding of its teachings should therefore go to the heart and soul of the text as an important point of reference when separating Islam-ol-Madani from the fundamental egotistic interpretation.
The second step is to define the extremist mind-set, so as to understand and identify its origins. The litmus test for this is the degree of disregard for human rights, which are based on tolerance and equality for all. As a society, we cannot remain silent and show tolerance towards intolerant behaviour. Those who sponsor intolerance see our silence as an opportunity to fill the airwaves with their own divisive rhetoric and often misuse the principles of democracy, such as freedom of speech, to undermine democracy itself.
Those who sponsor intolerance see our silence as an opportunity to fill the airwaves with their own divisive rhetoric
So how can our leaders of today counter the threats of extremism and division? My first suggestion regards education. It is important that certain groups within our society’s Muslim community, who are susceptible to the adoption of Islamic extremist ideas, are educated about the values of democracy and human rights that form the foundation of our society. A similar approach must be applied to immigrants from Islamic countries. They should understand that the Quran, the very basis of Islam itself, is not only consistent with these values, but is a strong advocate for peace and justice, regardless of faith, gender or race. By adopting such values, they too would be adhering to the codes of behaviour that the Quran encourages for every Muslim.
It is important for the credibility of this education that teachers who embody the values of human rights lead this process, which must also address the mind-set of people who are tightly attached to tribal traditions that go against the principles of human rights, and are often wrongly attributed to Islam.
Marginalised individuals within our society, who are most susceptible to manipulation by those with an extremist agenda, already feel neglected and believe the only way for them to take revenge is to attack society itself or join those who wish to tear down our defences. The focus against such radicalisation should be on helping these individuals feel more included. This is best done through community activities such as sports or the arts in addition to inclusive education. We need to positively empower these people and instil in them a sense of belonging.
As we all know, the effectiveness of a policy often rests with the credibility of those who create and implement it. It goes without saying, therefore, that for European policies to be seen as effective in the eyes of Muslims both within and outside Europe, European foreign policy must be consistent with the values of European society, in particular with regard to human rights. It cannot be advisable to pursue policies that counter this principle, for example, trading with countries that violate the basic rights of their citizens.
The Quran is a strong advocate for peace and justice, regardless of faith, gender or race
In a globalised world that is becoming ever more interlinked, the EU must act with speed to stop conflicts wherever they arise. The Syrian civil war has clearly shown that Europe is not immune to the effects of conflicts outside its borders, which in this instance has brought the migration crisis and the spread of extremist ideology. The EU’s foreign and domestic policies must actively counter the influence of extremist regimes and organisations that sponsor terror cells in Europe through the indoctrination of groups within so-called religious centres, as has come to light for example in the UK and Denmark.
My final piece of advice concerns the committees responsible for these policies. In order to avoid issues associated with Islamophobia, it is best that the members of these committees gain a genuinely thorough understanding of the Quran and Islam, so they can set policies from a position of knowledge and credibility. It is also important to note that as Europe is a region with open borders, it would be best if these policies were implemented on a pan-European basis. Only by acting in a united manner to understand the true spirit of the Quran can we separate violent extremism from the religion of Islam. These extremists are in reality not interested in following any true religious teachings, but merely in propagating their fundamentalist agenda using religion as a tool to achieve their goals.
IMAGE CREDIT: CC / FLICKR – Vik.
New researches on the Quran by Seyed Mostafa Azmayesh