A few weeks ago I was both verbally abused and physically assaulted by an ‘ex’ member of banned organsation, Al Muhajirioun. Since leaving the organsation, I had not seen this particular person for quite some time and I happened just by chance to come across him at a local petrol station at, of all places. I still remember quite vividly the expression on his face, he was like a bull that had seen red. As he threatened me, he repeated the words: “you’re a murtad, a murtad!”. For those unfamiliar with the term, ‘murtad’ it’s the Arabic term for apostate and for some apostates are despised with a view that the death penalty should be applied to them. So what motivated this recent attack? Well it was my recent television appearance talking about ‘his’ faith and him wanting to educate me with his fists as he howled, “let me teach you a lesson get out of the car”. He also hit my vehicle and hit me through the half open window. Thankfully, I was not hurt and the police are now handling the matter. His attitude towards me can be traced back to a major problem we have within the Islamic tradition known as Takfirism. Takfir is the excommunication of a Muslim, denouncing them as outside the fold of Islam. A variety of Takfiri movements have reared their ugly heads throughout Islam’s history and its modern manifestation can be found in the development of Wahabsim from the 18th century.
…traced back to a major problem we have within the Islamic tradition known as Takfirism.
Its founder Abd al-Wahhab was vehemently schismatic. He sought to rid Islam of what he deemed ‘corruptions’ in the form of rationalism, mysticism and Shi’ism on the basis of Takfirism. If a Muslim weren’t a ‘true believer’ according to Abd al-Wahhab’s arbitrary standards he would have no hesitation in calling that Muslim an apostate and such a judgment meant they could be killed. His writings repeatedly refer to deferring jurists as “devils” or “spawns of Satan”. It is documented that ‘Abd al-Wahhab and his followers ordered the execution and assassination of large numbers of jurists with whom they disagreed, not to mention ransacking and pillaging differing neighboring tribes. Today we see the harrowing effects of such a doctrine; Takfirism is central to the ideology of militant groups such as ISIS. ISIS are not shy about their undivided commitment to the Wahhabi movement. The group openly circulates Wahhabi religious textbooks and writings of Wahhabi ideologies. Following in the footsteps of Wahhabism’s founder they embrace whole-heartedly the Takfiri tradition of killing those deemed apostates, this is regarded as an essential tool in purifying the Muslim community. Shia, Sufi and virtually anyone deemed non-salafi/wahabi are labeled apostates and subject to beheading. What is disconcerting is that puritanical preachers living in the West may condemn ISIS, but some hold very similar intolerant views of differing Muslims.
This type of doctrine or attitude can be described as form of Intra-Islamophobia or Intra-Muslim hate.
Bernard Haykel, a scholar at Princeton describes the ISIS’ ideology as “…a kind of untamed Wahhabism,” and that “Wahhabism is the closest religious cognate.” Personally, I would not describe ISIS‘ ideology as an ‘untamed form of Wahhabsim’. For me, this overshadows the fundamental problem of Islamic theology that leads to Takfirism. A former imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Sheikh ‘Aadel Al-Kalbani, Al-Kalbani, criticized aspects within the Salafi stream for permitting the killing of opponents. He announced that ISIS was the result of the ‘Salafi’ version of Islam, and therefore the Salafi sect needed to change. There is no taming a theology, which consists of noxious principles. Takfirism is essentially grounded within an ancient theology surrounding the status of apostates, namely Muslims who willingly denounce their faith under an Islamic state should be killed. Although, at odds with the Qu’ran, this problematic theology has taken an authoritative and dominant position within classical Islam and is propagated to this day in varying forms. Although this particular ‘Islamic’ ruling in the West is only a theoretical matter, its very existence creates a mindset that fosters intolerance and hatred. Takfirism can be viewed as an extension of apostasy laws, born out of an authoritarian reading of Islam, which seeks to impose one’s narrow interpretation on other Muslims and if resisted, they are subject to death. This type of doctrine or attitude can be described as form of Intra-Islamophobia or Intra-Muslim hate. Often used to silence, intimidate and ostracize those that go against the status qua. Combine this with the coercive force of a state, as we see in Saudi Arabia, ISIS and others, it is the most powerful form of Islamophobia that leads to state sanctioned murder. The murtad theology that underpins takfirism, is part of a broader problem of intolerance and fanaticism which impacts how extremist Muslims relate to differing Muslims and a barrier for progress (which is not exclusive to Wahhabi teachings). For this reason, our commitment to such a toxic theology desperately needs to change in order that we see the development of a more tolerant and pluralistic Islam. In any event, as Einstein said: “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we crated them”.
…belief could not be compelled
Many prominent ideas that shape current Western values, namely religious freedom, freedom of speech and pluralism were products of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment championed human reason and regarded it as having the power to change society and unshackle man from the restraints of religious tyranny. The thinkers of this movement were open to taking knowledge from tradition and scripture, if and only if they stood up to the standards of reason. Before the Enlightenment Christendom was embroiled with its own version of Takfirism, which lead to cruel religious persecution and suffering. Such manifestations of cruelty had a resounding effect on John Locke. In his ‘A letter concerning Toleration’ he begins by expressing that he is greatly troubled by the observation of Christians who “…deprive (men) of their estates, maim them with corporal punishments, starve and torment them in noisome prisons, and in the end even take away their lives…” in attempt to save their souls. Locke argues the separation of state and religion is fundamental for tolerance. “I esteem it above all things”, he writes, “to distinguish between the business of civil government and that of religion, and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other”. Locke’s reasoning was motivated by the conceptual premise that belief could not be compelled. A change of faith by coercion lacked the necessary condition of inward acceptance; faith by force had no value. Thus, for Locke religious authorities should not have any coercive power. Locke then addressed the abuse of power within religion, he writes: “The religion of every prince is orthodox to himself”. What is deemed orthodoxy is simply the opinion of whoever is in power at the time. Locke concluded that since coercion is a central characteristic of the state, and that coercion for religious matters is futile, the State, can have no responsibility for the salvation of souls. Hence, this essential feature of the State, namely its coercive power, renders it incompatible with religious matters and the direct consequence of rendering religion beyond the state’s remit, is the implication of tolerance.
ISIS has created a colossal stain on Islam’s public image
Just as the Enlightenment used the lantern of reason for radical change to eradicate the darkness of religious tyranny, all scripture and theological principles within the Islamic tradition should similarly be reevaluated and able to stand up to the scrutiny of reason. ISIS has created a colossal stain on Islam’s public image demonstrating the logical outcomes of a puritanical reading of Islam. Such displays of brutality have forced Muslim thinkers and theologians to address problematic classical interpretations that were once immune and shielded by the cover of ‘orthodoxy’. Islam is far removed from its true light, when it returns, the shadows of tyranny and dogma will vanish. The potential for change can only happen if Islam has its own Enlightenment and renaissance: then and only then will we see elements like takfirism and murtad theology fall and when they do, all the other intolerant noxious interpretations will follow.
 Khaled Abou El Fadl, The great theft: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists.