ISLAM VS. ISLAM

On Islamic Alternative to Extremism and Terrorism

Leonid SJUKIJAINEN


Leonid Sjukijainen, Doctor of Law, Professor, leading research associate, Institute of State and Law, Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow, Russian Federation)


Much is being said and written about Islam in Russia yet attention is mainly focused on certain sides only. “Islamic extremism” is the pet subject understood as political extremism that uses Islam as a banner and an ideological basis. “Fundamentalism,” “Wahhabism,” “Islamism,” “political Islam,” and certain other concepts are viewed as close or even identical ones. Those who try to assess the place of Islam in Russia mostly look at it as a factor of danger that threatens its national security and the interests of its citizens. The events of 11 September, 2001 strengthened this opinion. It was for some time before the terrorist attack at the United States that the Russian public opinion was used (or was taught) to associate Islam and the Muslims with violence and political radicalism. This image was mainly created by the tragic events of summer 1999 in Daghestan when armed terrorists invaded the republic under the banner of Islam to justify their aggressive plans. It is logical, therefore, to begin our analysis of the forms of opposition to Islamic extremism and the roads such opposition should follow with an assessment of the role of Islam in those events.

The Islamic Test Has Not Yet Been Passed

In August 1999 the Russian media concentrated on the events in Daghestan. The journalists were mainly concerned with the social and economic causes that ignited the military operation and with what came out of it. Islam was mainly ignored, yet the Islamic factor played an important role in the crisis and its consequences. Everybody wishing to predict future developments should take Islam into account.

Islam played an important role at the stage when the causes of the armed conflict were ripening. However, it is hard to identify the Islamic component amid the multitude of factors that triggered the conflict. It is much easier to talk about extremism and the stubbornness of those who supported the so-called “pure” Islam (often called “Wahhabis”), who refused to obey official authorities and the Russian law and who proclaimed “an independent Islamic territory ruled by the Shari‘a.” They also went as far as proclaiming an “Islamic state” by a decision of the “Islamic Shura.” Some people even preferred to deny any connection between these events and Islam and insisted on their purely political nature.

The longer we insist that Islam had no role to play in the developments in Daghestan the harder it will be to sort out the crisis’ real causes. It seems that both secular authorities and the republic’s official Islamic leaders fell into this trap. On the eve of the conflict they were saying: “Either the Wahhabis will defeat us or we shall uproot Wahhabism.” This was the beginning and end of a “dialog with Islam.” It is extremely naïve and useless to oppose those who have already taken up arms and shed blood with quotes from the Koran. Yet it was extremely important to fight for the souls of those Muslims who were listening to the “Wahhabis” and accepted their slogans. Islam and its heritage are worth a decisive battle.

Regrettably, the state structures at the republican and federal levels were not ready to talk to the radicals. The authorities and the official Islamic centers in Daghestan could not counter the arguments of the other side with similar arguments within the Islamic framework. They were not ready to offer an Islamic solution to the crisis in which the republic had found itself. In the dialog with the “Wahhabis” they failed to offer Islam a suitable place in the battle with corruption and arbitrary rule of the criminal clan and ethnic groups that were dividing the spoils of criminal business and corrupted power. Islam, and its huge potential influence on human minds, was surrendered to the opponents. The authorities failed to enlist it as their ally—it became a factor that mobilized people to oppose the authorities. In other words, even before the armed conflict flared up the battle for Islam had been lost.

On the eve of the September 1999 events in the Buinaksk District members of the Spiritual Administration of the Muslims of Daghestan and respected theologians tried to explain to the people living high up in the mountains the danger of Wahhabism. However, it is not enough to expose what the opponent offers. No trust can be gained by rejecting the radical Muslim ideas. The position should be carefully substantiated and positive solutions should be offered. It was necessary to fight for Islam, its principles, and its dignity. The genuine pillars of Islam are the best alternative to Islamic extremism. The authorities should have formulated those of the Islamic values, ideals, and principles that they regarded as pivotal for their policy, ethnic and sociopolitical consolidation, stability and consistent attention to the problems the Muslims found important.

There is no doubt that distribution of Kalashnikovs and ammunition among volunteers was a necessary measure in emergency. It was equally important to arm the people with firm and clear principles, Islamic values and ideals to make them immune to the Islamic radical rhetoric. People should have been convinced that the authorities were resolved to shoulder all problems and to do this from Islamic positions. The authorities know what they think about the fighters but they do not know what they think about Islam. Consequently, the military victory over the bandits did not spell an ideological defeat of the supporters of “pure” Islam.

The Islamic problems (religious, ideological, moral, and legal) are still unresolved in Daghestan. What is needed is a complex of measures to be translated into practical terms by the authorities and Islamic religious centers. The secular authorities should not treat Islam as an instrument to be used to attain any aims. They should realize that Islam and the Shari‘a are vehicles of popular cultural traditions, they are important for ethnic self-identity, and they offer a system of moral, spiritual, and legal values that should become part and parcel of people’s lives. All democratic forces fighting for high morality and law should arm themselves with these values. Otherwise, positive Islamic heritage will be replaced with extremist ideas.

It is hard to undermine the extremists’ ideological positions while remaining outside Islam even if the social, economic and political problems in the republic are resolved. To use Islam in this way one should identify the elements in the enormous body of Islamic heritage that would allow Islam to play this positive role. It is not easy but there is no other way out. Indeed, when one of the influential Russian newspapers wrote that Daghestan had passed a test of Islam it was obviously indulging in wishful thinking.1 The Republic of Daghestan, the Caucasus, and the Russian Federation as a whole, still have to pass the test. The mark will depend on how diligently they will prepare themselves for it and whether the country is able to learn the lessons of the past blunders. Euphoria caused by military successes will hardly help. The authorities have to answer the question: which Islamic values is it protecting and relying on? Otherwise there will be no popular trust and no mandate to rule over the Muslims.

Should We Ban “Wahhabism”?

In August 1999 the opposition between the “Wahhabis” and the Russian state reached its peak: armed extremists invaded Daghestan from Chechnia and found support among the local “Wahhabis.” The invasion incurred serious losses on the republic and created an impression that it was not merely an armed aggression of militants but rather deliberate actions by the Wahhabis who support the radical Islamic ideology and exploit the slogans of “pure” Islam that knows no religious tolerance. From this it followed that “Wahhabism” was a criminal political movement, the ideology of which stemmed from Islamic dogmas and led to anti-state activities and a war.

This explains why in September 1999 the Popular Assembly of Daghestan passed a law banning the Wahhabi and other extremist activities in Daghestan.2 Art 1 of the law banned Wahhabi and other organizations intending to change the constitutional order by force, undermine the state’s security, destroy public order and safety, set up armed detachments, propagandize war, fan ethnic, racial, and religious strife, encroach on the human rights and freedoms, and urge people to stop fulfilling their legal civil duties and to violate law and order in other ways.

In May 2000 the Daghestani legislature formulated a draft law to be passed by the State Duma based on the main provisions of the republican law. I disagree with what Alexander Ignatenko said about the draft.3 I believe that from the legal point of view the draft should not be supported, first, because it contains nothing new as compared with the already existing laws related to extremist activities of religious organizations. I object to the use of the term Wahhabism in the political, rather than religious, meaning without any justification of such use. The draft offers no definition of Wahhabi activity that is described as a variant of extremism. Meanwhile, there are no, and can hardly be, descriptions of the Wahhabi activity that put it apart from other forms of extremism. Without this all attempts to speak about Wahhabism as a separate type of activity is meaningless.

The use of the terms “Wahhabi activity” and “Wahhabi organizations” will deprive laws of clarity and prevent their legally correct application to cut short illegal activity of religious organizations. If adopted the draft will allow bringing to court structures and individuals not because they violate laws but because they defend opinions and political ideas that can be called “Wahhabi.” In fact, the very tag will be enough to accuse people of extremism.

Journalists can use the tem “Wahhabism” though it would be much wiser to employ more exact terms. The law cannot use it because the legal concepts should belong to the realm of law rather than religion. The main thing is: What exactly do we not like in Wahhabism? Are we displeased with its religious dogmas shared by certain organizations and individuals or with their criminal activities that infringe on the interests of citizens, society and the state? I think that the answer is criminal activities, at least from the positions of law and power. This is what we should oppose to within the limits of law; this activity should receive its true name: crime, banditry, terrorism, etc. Religious questions belong to religious leaders to be discussed within theological disputes.

The term “Wahhabism” should not be used in legal and other official contexts for political reasons, too. The rivaling Muslims leaders are throwing accusations of Wahhabism at each other: if the draft becomes a law the conflict will become even more acute. The relationships between Islam and secular power will deteriorate together with the opinion of the Muslims of Russia about their authorities. If “Wahhabi activity” is legally recognized as a form of criminal extremism Islamophobia in Russia will increase. People will become even more convinced that Islam is a religion of terror; in addition, this will create a dangerous precedence of an official recognition of religious inequality in Russia where the state looks at Islam as a vehicle of anti-state ideas.

Islamic extremism cannot be wiped off by banning “Wahhabism”—this is an illusion. Strict application of the acting laws is no solution either. The problem can be resolved through a consistent state policy in relation to Islam that should disseminate the knowledge about true Islam and support values and aims of the Shari‘a that have nothing in common with extremism. The state should resolutely reject, and support this rejection with arguments, all efforts of the “Wahhabis” who use the Shari‘a to justify their crimes and their claims that their interpretation is the only true one. An ideological alternative to the extremist ideas within Islam is badly needed—this is a job for the state.

The problem has a foreign political aspect as well since the attempts to legally ban “Wahhabism” causes tension between Russia and certain Muslim countries. It is commonly believed that “Wahhabism” is an official ideology of Saudi Arabia and certain other countries. Experts know this is not true: “Wahhabism” is not recognized as an official doctrine there.4 The Russian media think differently. If “Wahhabism” is legally recognized as a form of extremism this may mean that Saudi Arabia is officially accused of extending its state support to political extremism in Russia. Obviously, some of the Muslim countries, Saudi Arabia in the first place, would not like this.

Which Islam Has Saudi Arabia Opted For?

Domination of the Shari‘a in the political system of Saudi Arabia, its social processes, and the people’s private lives is one of the key reasons why the state is described as a “Wahhabi” one. Those who do this have in mind the policy of Saudi Arabia rather than its dedication to the Islamic ideals. They insist that the state is actively (aggressively and in a bellicose way) planting its own interpretation of Islam in different parts of the world, demonstrates its intolerable attitude to followers of other religions and even to Muslims who support different ideas about Islam, and supports Islamic extremists that threaten the national interests of many countries, and of Russia.

It was back in 1946 that King Abd al-Aziz offered an official attitude to this opinion of his country: “They say that we are Wahhabis. In fact we are Muslims who live according to the Book of Allah, the Sunnah of His Apostle and the traditions of our righteous ancestors (as-salaf as-salih).” Laws, the fundamental nizam on power of 1992 and speeches of Saudi leaders are peppered with references to as-salaf as-salih, therefore the regime is rather a Salafi than a Wahhabi one.

The term “Wahhabi” cannot be used to describe the Saudi state for the following reasons. There are several interpretations of the traditions of righteous ancestors and the forms of their practical application. One can blindly follow the way of life of the early generations of Muslims, their code of conduct, and avoid any discussions of the meaning of these norms and practical aims. One can interpret the dedication to the righteous ancestors as mastering their fundamental ideas of the world and applying them today in the way this is done by Islamic science.5 I shall demonstrate below that these opposite positions can be used when looking at the heritage of those philosophers whom the so-called Wahhabis count among their teachers.

In Saudi Arabia I personally met those who followed the Islamic tradition to the letter and the rules recommended by books called in Russia “Wahhabi.” I also met those who understood the way of life of the righteous ancestors in an opposite way. The official Saudi leaders have deliberately removed themselves from the positions described as Wahhabi in our country. Political practice, rather than theoretical constructs is the best proof of this. If Saudi Arabia followed the “Wahhabi” prescriptions it would have been unable to follow its present economic and international policies.6 Indeed, the state and the majority of its citizens are living according to different principles; even the declared principles formally based on tradition are being normally modified. For example, a fatwa of one of the respected Saudi theologians forbids a Muslim to shake hands with the unfaithful (by whom the document means Christians and Jews).7 I shook hands with the Grand Mufti of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia the late Bin Baz, the former Minister for Islamic Affairs Abdullah al-Turki who is now Secretary General of the Mecca-based Muslim World League, which is one of the most influential international organizations. Nobody can reproach them of violating the Islamic norms that they have to preserve as Muslims and as high officials. The same applies to the Saudi Minister of Oil or the Saudi ambassador to Moscow who, contrary to the literal interpretation of the well-known hadith, shave their beards.

A rational approach to the tradition has penetrated even those Saudi organizations that are charged with the task of protecting the purity of Islam. This is true even of the religious and ideological heart of Saudi Arabia, the Collegium of the Senior Ulema (Major Religious Scholars) headed by the Grand Mufti. According to the corresponding nizam8 the structure that should protect the country’s orientation toward the Koran, the Sunnah and the traditions of the righteous ancestors includes experts in the Shari‘a from among the “salafiyyun” who support this tradition. At the same time, the Collegium does not look into the past—it also reflects the present. There is a Standing Committee on Scientific Research and Fatwas (also headed by the Grand Mufti) that invites for cooperation specialists in various fields of contemporary science when it discusses financial, economic, banking, and social problems and formulates fatwas.

Here is what the Grand Mufti of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Ahal Sheikh (who belongs to the family founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab) has to say. When answering the question to which extent Islam can tap the latest scientific discoveries he said: “Everything that can be used in secular life and that does not contradict our religion can be accepted; the main thing is: these achievements should not go against the Islamic principles and religion.”9 This means that the Grand Mufti left a room for interpreting which of the latest scientific and civilizational achievements can be accepted by Islam as directly corresponding or not contradictory to it.

Out of these two variants various Islamic trends prefer the one that corresponds to their initial provisions. In the same way out of the vast Islamic heritage, including the part that belongs to the outstanding theologian and legal scholar Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1327) especially loved by the so-called Wahhabis, they select those ideas that confirm what they think of Islam and the Shari‘a. Some of their ideological leaders even sharply criticize their theoretical narrow-mindedness and aggressive practices. One of the greatest Muslim legal scholars Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah (1292-1350) wrote: “As for the fanatics, they can place any problem upside down. When they turn to the Sunnah they borrow only what corresponds to their pronouncements and contrive tricks to push away evidence that does not suit them. If they come across a similarly convincing or even less convincing evidence that supports their positions they immediately accept it and use it as an argument against their opponents.”10 This can hardly be better said. Here is what Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792) thought: “Some of the religious minded people stop banned practices and they are right doing this. But in their zeal to do this they drive brothers to quarrels—and this is wrong.”11 In Russia the so-called Wahhabis throw mud at their ideological opponents and sow discord among the Muslims. What does Saudi Arabia think of this?

When talking to me one of the Saudi princes has said that the Shari‘a stands on the sources of fiqh (both divine and rational) complete with the aims of the Shari‘a (that protect religion, life, reason, human dignity and property) and the main principles of fiqh. Without them it is senseless to follow the specific prescriptions of the Shari‘a. A highly placed diplomat from the Saudi embassy in Moscow presented the official line of understanding Islam as a religion of moderation in the Islamic newspaper published in Moscow. While commenting on the positions of radical Islamic leaders in Russia he said that the norms of the Shari‘a should be introduced gradually, and this was the key principle.12

There are two opposite approaches to the Shari‘a in Saudi Arabia (like in any other Muslim country): a dogmatic one oriented toward a limited interpretation of the hadiths and the traditions of the righteous ancestors (ahl al-hadith) and a rational one concentrating on a creative approach to the Shari‘a meanings and aims (ahl al-ray.) The orthodox thinkers emphasize an aggressive interpretation of jihad; the moderate thinkers lean toward ijtihad (a rational quest for answers to the questions to which the Koran, Sunnah or the practice of the righteous ancestors provide no answers). Typically enough the Islamic Jurisprudence Academy of the Muslim World League confirmed that the “gates of ijtihad are open” and emphasized that the contemporary problems should be addressed in the context of contemporary conditions and the Shari‘a general aims.13

The rivalry of two interpretations of the Shari‘a and the traditions of the righteous ancestors is directly related to the global problem that lately acquired special urgency. I have in mind international terrorism that presents real danger to mankind.

On the Islamic Ideological Sources of International Terrorism

The terrorist acts of 11 September, 2001 pushed political Islam back to the center of attention of scholars, journalists, national state structures and international organizations. People are inclined to think that it is Islam that is mainly responsible for the spread of terrorism and political extremism worldwide.

I should say that the leaders of the international anti-terrorist coalition, including the Russian president, never tire of repeating that they are fighting terrorists, not the Muslims or Islam. Such statements are easy to make—it is much harder to apply them in practice. Those of the Islamic leaders who say that Islam has nothing to do with terrorism indulge themselves in wishful thinking. There is an ideological link between them.

To justify terrorism Islamic extremists quote the Koran that says, in particular: “Fight and slay the Pagans wherever you find them… O Prophet, strive hard against the Unbelievers and the Hypocrites, and be firm against them” (9:5, 73.) Those who support the idea of an uncompromising struggle for Islamic consolidation at all costs like to quote from the Prophet Muhammad who allegedly permitted to use violence against unbelievers: “I was called to fight people until they testify that there is no god but the God, and Muhammad is His Apostle, until they start praying and pay “zakiat.” If they do all this I shall protect their lives and property. Otherwise they should be treated according to the laws of Islam, and they will be judged by Supreme Allah.”14

There is a popular conception based on several ayats from the Koran used to justify violence over all those who refuse to obey the will of Allah. According to it the Muslim should encourage everybody to obey the Shari‘a and prevent violations of its rules: “Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong” (3:104.) The following words of the Prophet are taken for an instruction: “If anybody of you see anything that the Shari‘a forbids he should alter it by his own hand. If he is unable to do this with his hand let him stop it with his tongue. If he cannot do this either—let him do this with his heart and this will be the weakest manifestation of his faith.”15 The terrorists prefer to concentrate on the first part that instructs to use hand, that is, violence, to prevent any digressions from the Shari‘a.

Finally, the central plank in the terrorist platform is rejection of any form of power that parts way with the Shari‘a. The terrorists use the following Koranic proposition: “O you who believe, obey Allah, and obey the Apostle, and those charged with authority among you” (4:59) as their main argument. The Islamic radicals translate this as a categorical rejection of any “unfaithful” power. They also quote other ayats: “And never will Allah grant to the Unbelievers a way (to triumphs) over the Believers” (4:141) and “Therefore listen not to the Unbelievers, but strive against them with the utmost strenuousness, with the Koran” (25:52).

Significantly, the terrorists refuse to recognize power not only of the unbelievers but also of those Islamic rulers who have abandoned the Shari‘a. To justify their position they quote the Prophet Muhammad: “Obedience and submission to the ruler belongs to him by right if he does not order his subjects to sin. If he orders them to sin there is no duty of obedience.”16 The Islamic radicals believe that in this latter case any Muslim has the right to stop the ruler “by hand,” that is, to use force. What is more, they liken the apostatic ruler to the unbelievers whose lives are not inviolable; any actions against him are considered a jihad. It is believed that this treatment is based on a fatwa of Ibn Taymiyyah who treated the Mongolian conquerors who had adopted Islam but ignored the Shari‘a as infidels. For this reason he permitted to murder negligent Muslims and their relatives.

Islamic Thought Against Extremism

The above postulates that serve the terrorists as an ideological Islamic shield contradict a different interpretation of the Shari‘a that concentrates on its major aims rather than on blind obedience to the words. It stresses the need to compare possible losses and gains of the practical implementation of the Shari‘a. This is mainly related to the jihad.

Contrary to what the terrorists are saying jihad is much more than a war against the unbelievers. Prominent Muslim jurists say that jihad is, first and foremost, a call to follow the road of Allah; it is an effort to achieve self-perfection and to create a genuinely Islamic society based not so much on literal obedience to the Shari‘a but mainly on a creative application of its guiding principles, values, and aims. The call to the non-Muslims to follow the will of Allah excludes violence. The Koran says about this: “Let there be no compulsion in religion” (2:256), “Invite (all) to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious” (16:125).

Armed struggle as one of the forms of jihad is allowed for defense only. In other words, a war against the non-Muslims is not a means of uprooting the lack of faith but a means necessary to fight an aggression. In addition, the word jihad can be applied only to armed struggle waged to protect the Islamic values and to strengthen them.17 Obviously the acts of the terrorists who claim that their interpretation of the Shari‘a is the only correct one do not fit the above criterion.

Their positions have nothing in common with the ideas of the most respected Islamic thinkers (including those whom the Islamic extremists regard as their teachers) where many other points of radical ideology are concerned. This includes the key thesis of the terrorists who treat the contemporary state (in the Muslim countries as well) as imposing lack of faith on the Muslims; the radicals refuse to cooperate with the state and even call on people to fight it arms in hand.

Formally, this corresponds to the Shari‘a and is even confirmed by what the Prophet said: “The subjects should not obey their ruler who sins.”18 A closer look, in fact, reveals that the greatest Muslim lawyers are not equally straightforward: they go deep into the Shari‘a and take into account its entire range of values and priorities. Put in a nutshell their ideas say that even an unfaithful ruler is a boon for the Muslims because the Prophet said: “It is only the imam that can give a better life to people, no matter whether the ruler is faithful or unfaithful. If he is unfaithful his faithful subjects will venerate the Creator until the unfaithful ruler has lived his life.”19 By way of explanation Ibn Taymiyyah said that if the ruler did not follow the Koran and the Sunnah the Muslims had to obey those of his orders that are in line with the will of Allah and quoted from the Koran: “Help you one another in righteousness and piety, but help you not one another in sin and rancor” (5:2). He further wrote that experience had confirmed the truth “Sixty years with a despotic imam is a greater boon than one night without a ruler.”20

How should Muslims treat those actions of the authorities that digress from the Shari‘a? How can they “disobey the sinning ruler”? The answer is simple and clear: such rulers should be admonished, people should consistently insist that they should retract. This position is based on the words of the Prophet that Allah wished that the Muslims “should advice those whom He charged with settling their affairs.” This should be done in good faith without rudeness. There are numerous hadiths about this. This is one of them: “Truly, Allah is kind and prefers softness; He returns softness in the way He never responds to rudeness.”21

I should like to stress here that this pronouncement is quoted in connection with the way people should treat the unjust power. As for cutting short “unfaithful” policies with open attacks this is dismissed with the following words of the Prophet: “Those who will see in the actions of their emir something revolting should remain patient and continue obeying him.”22 Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah commented on this hadith: “If the effort to cut short the prohibited inevitably causes grave sins and even greater displeasure of Allah and His Apostle then it cannot be tolerated… In this way cutting short the authorities’ unjust actions by acting against them leads to all sorts of evil and troubles for all times… Those who will give thought to the causes behind the great and small troubles pestering Islam will see that they are a result of the total oblivion of this principle, an unwillingness to tolerate the prohibited that should be uprooted. This leads to even greater harm.”23

This warning is directly related to the position taken by the Muslim jurisprudence in relation to terrorism. It points out that Allah treats man as a creature superior to all other creatures of the Creator in a special way: “We have honored the sons of Adam” (17:70). The Koran openly prefers peace to a war against the unfaithful: “But if the enemy incline toward peace, you (also) incline toward peace” (8:61.) Allah is always prepared to severely punish robbery and all other actions that spread evil and mischief: “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Apostle, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land” (5:33). Finally, the Muslim lawyers point out that religious fanatics and terrorists sow havoc in Muslim souls that does them harm contrary to the Shari‘a. The Koran says: “And those who annoy believing men and women undeservedly, bear (on themselves) a calumny and a glaring sin” (33:58).

There is another much-quoted pronouncement of the Prophet who said: “For each Muslim blood, honor, and property of another Muslim are forbidden.”24 Muhammad also said: “It is forbidden to a Muslim to sow fear among the faithful.”25 The Prophet said the following: “None of you should take up arms against your brother because none of you can know whether his hand is guided by Satan.”26 What was more the Apostle condemned even those whose glances might spread fear: “Those who cast a frightening glance at a Muslim without a reason will be frightened by Allah on the Day of Judgment.”27

Here is one of the examples of the fundamental difference between the extremist and moderate trends in Islamic thought and political practice that approach the same phenomena from opposite positions. Abd al-Rahman bin Abd al-Khalek, an ideologist of radical Islam well known in the Gulf countries, in his book about Ibn Taymiyyah pointed to the above-mentioned fatwa on the Tartars (by the Tartars the Mongols who conquered Syria in the early 14th century are meant) that called the occupants who had embraced Islam infidels. The author described the scholar’s personal participation in burning the shops of wine traders and the vessels the Tartars used to drink wine from as an example of “cutting short practices forbidden by the Shari‘a.”28

Another well-known Islamic thinker of today Yousuf al-Qaradawi pointed to a different fact that had taken place during the same events. In one of his articles he recounted a story by al-Jawziyyah about his teacher Ibn Taymiyyah. The latter, together with friends and students, passed a group of Tartars who were drinking wine. His friends wanted to stop those who violated the Shari‘a but Ibn Taymiyyah said: “Let them drink and be merry: Allah prohibited wine because it interfered with remembering Him and with prayers. These drunkards are kept away from bloodshed and plunder by wine.”29 In other words, the scholar believed that by allowing the Tartars to violate the Shari‘a he prevented an even graver sin. He was convinced that the meaning of the Shari‘a was not in following blindly all norms but in comprehending their meaning and realizing their general aims.

There Are Allies Not Only in the West

Those lawyers who support this approach agree that the Shari‘a condemns terrorism.30 Legislation of many Islamic countries is based on this principle. This is true even of those that are frequently reproached of supporting international terrorists. For example, Saudi Arabia has lived through several terrorist acts perpetrated by extremists that appealed to Islam.

The official position of Saudi Arabia is clear. The country guides itself not only by the interests of its own security but also by the legal Islamic principles. It was in 1999 that the Collegium of the Senior Ulema passed a decision about punishments for terrorist acts. It is interesting to note that this was a response to terrorist acts of Islamic extremists because the document directly points to terrorism of those who have lost values and have no strong faith. They introduced death penalty for terrorism by analogy with the punishment the Shari‘a envisages for plunder (spreading mischief in the land as is said in the Koran), and rioting. It is especially interesting to note that the document underlies the fact that terrorists aim at the values protected by the Shari‘a: religion, life, reason, dignity, and property. In the wake of the events of 11 September Saudi Arabia severed relations with the Taliban because it was discrediting Islam in the eyes of the world community. In other words, what the Taliban was doing was aimed against religion as the main value protected by the Shari‘a.

The Grand Mufti of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was guided by the same considerations when he called the terrorist acts in the United States actions that contradicted the Shari‘a and had nothing in common with Islam. He has pointed out that the Islamic principles do not allow anybody to cause injustice and violate laws in relation to others even if there are reasons for enmity and hatred. The Al-Azhar Academy of Islamic Research supported this position by stating that Islam proceeded from the principle of plurality of cultures, civilizations, legal systems and nations, as well as of their cooperation. It also said that jihad in Islam aims at the triumph of law, at cutting short evil and establishing justice and security. Armed struggle and violence are allowed in exceptional cases such as defense of the land of fathers, stopping strife among the Muslims and protect their faith. Even under these circumstances the Shari‘a categorically forbids encroachments on the lives of old people, children, and women and all those who have not taken up arms against Muslims.

These examples provide convincing evidence that the Islamic ideological heritage contains opposite trends: some of them justify extremism and terrorism under Islamic banners while others stake on moderation, caution and realization of the Shari‘a’s major aims. The trends have been competing among themselves for a long time: the events of 11 September added intensity to their rivalry. The terrorist acts in the U.S. and the military operation they caused will obviously strengthen the positions of the most radical and uncompromising interpretation of the Shari‘a. We shall live and see whether the humanitarian interpretation of Islam is able to take the initiative. The outcome of this opposition depends to a great degree on whether the so-called civilized world is able to approach Islam in a civilized way that will help separate Islamic radicalism from the genuine Islamic and Shari‘a values.

This opens up wider horizons for Russia of international cooperation aimed against terrorism. It should be fought not only in the Western coalitions but also side-by-side with those Islamic states that have already been victims of terrorists. It is hardly enough to fight together against something—there should be joint efforts for positive prospects. Here I have in mind Russia’s future cooperation with Muslim states in an effort to strengthen the genuine Islamic values as an alternative to extremism and terrorism under the banner of Islam. This is an evil that threatens not only the West but also the Islamic, or to borrow a contemporary term, civilized Islamic world. The United States and the West are main Russia’s allies where military, financial, organizational and information levels are concerned. In its ideological and theoretical opposition to Islamic terrorism Russia should join forces with the moderate Islamic regimes and the authoritative centers of enlightened Islamic thought. The Islamic factor should become an important part of Russia’s relationships with the Muslim countries designed to strengthen security and protect national interests. In other words, Russia and the Islamic states can, and should, ideologically disarm the Muslim radicals. The remedy for extremism and terrorism under the Islamic banners should be sought for in Islam.


1 See: Izvestia, 19 August, 1999.

2 For the text of the law, see: Musulmane, No. 1 (14), February-March 2000, p. 43.

3 See: A. Ignatenko, “Pravovernost, dokazyvaemaia nenavistiu. Wahhabism v izlozhenii ego storonnikov,” Nezavisimaia gazeta, 14 September, 2001.

4 See, for example: I.A. Aleksandrov, Monarkhii Persidskogo zaliva: etap modernizatsii, Moscow, 2000, pp. 184-204; V.V. Naumkin, I.A. Aleksandrov, Korolevstvo Saudovskaia Aravia: proshloe i nastoiashchee, Moscow, 1999, pp. 40-86.

5 See: Suleiman al-Shawayshi, “The Concept of the ‘Righteous Ancestors’ and Salafiyya in the Past and Present,” Journal of the Shari‘a and Islamic Studies (Al-Kuwait), Vol. IX, No. 22, 1994, pp. 207-238 (in Arabic).

6 See: A.I. Vavilov, Saudovskaia Aravia na perekrestke vekov i tysiacheletiy, Moscow, 2001.

7 See: Fatwas of the Collegium of the Senior Ulema, Part 1, Riyadh, 1990, pp. 95-96 (in Arabic).

8 For the text of the document, see: Nizam and the Decision on the Collegium of the Senior Ulema, Riyadh, 1394 (in Arabic).

9 Ash-Shark al-Awsat, 23 January, 2000.

10 Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, Instruction for Those Who Speak in the Name of the Lord of the Worlds, Vol. 1, Beirut, [s. a.], p. 76 (in Arabic).

11 Important Advice about Three Problems, Riyadh, 1995, p. 50 (in Arabic).

12 See: “The Main Thing Is to Progress Gradually,” Islam Minbare, No. 9, 1998.

13 For the text of the decision, see: Journal of Contemporary Research of Fiqh (Riyadh), Vol. 1, No. 3, 1985, pp. 208-210 (in Arabic).

14 Quoted from: Muhammad Said Ramadan al-Bouti, Jihad in Islam. How Do We Understand and Carry it Out?, Beirut, Damascus, 1993, p. 25 (in Arabic).

15 Imam Abu Zakariyah Yahya bin Sharaf al-Nawawi, Gardens of the Righteous, Beirut, 1996, p. 125 (in Arabic).

16 Sahih al-Bukhari in Concise Exposition, Riyadh, 1992, p. 322 (in Arabic).

17 See: Muhammad Said Ramadan al-Bouti, op. cit., pp. 44-72.

18 Ibn Taymiyyah, The Sharia Policy as an Instruction for the Shepherd and His Flock, Beirut, 1988, p. 8 (in Arabic).

19 Important Advice about Three Problems, p. 48.

20 Ibn Taymiyyah, op. cit., p. 138.

21 Imam Abu Zakariyah Yahya bin Sharaf al-Nawawi, op. cit., pp. 302-303.

22 Sahih al-Bukhari in Concise Exposition, p. 563.

23 Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, op. cit, p. 4.

24 Qahtan Abd al-Rahman al-Douri, “Islam and Terrorism,” The State and Terrorism, Baghdad, 1988, p. 11 (in Arabic).

25 Ibid., p. 12.

26 Ibid., p. 15.

27 Ibid., pp. 16-17.

28 See: Abd al-Rahman bin Abd al-Khalek, Sheikh of Islam Ibn Taymiyyah and Activities of the Muslim Community, [s. l.], 1990, p. 13 (in Arabic).

29 “The Muslim Jurist and Challenges of Contemporary Life,” Papers of the Cultural Season of 1408-1409, Riyadh, 1997, p. 22 (in Arabic).

30 See: Jumaa Amin, The Problem of Terrorism: Analysis and Solution, Cairo, 1998 (in Arabic).


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