In ‘Religious Extremism: Causes and Solutions’ Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed repudiates violent Jihad and defines extremism as deviation from the authentic teachings of Islam and its cardinal value of moderation in favour of personal prejudices and arrogance, which leads to “excessive stringency” in religious matters.
Extracted below are the final chapters of the manuscript. Translated from Dhivehi by Ismail Nizam.
Characteristics of Extremists
1- Deficiency in the knowledge of Islam: This is the most recognizable feature of such people. In the least, they will not be converse in Arabic language. They will also not be to understand the meaning of an Arabic writing. Nevertheless, they will try to challenge the scholars of Ummah, issuing verdicts concerning Qur’an and Sunnah, producing CDs, publishing writings on Islam and lecturing on various topics.
2– Open denial of the belief of the Ummah: This is the second most distinguishable attribute of extremists. These people would refuse issues on which scholars have reached consensus, and would prioritize their personal judgments over the consensus. For instance, refusing to join prayers in congregations is something that they do against the belief of the ummah. Following a specific school of thought does not mean bowing to the thought and the leader of that school of thought. There are few differences among the four major schools of thought, yet the scholars of Muslims world have reached consensus and considered all these four school of thought as the Sunnah of the Prophet. Therefore, from a fiqh perspective, following a specific school of thought is not an issue. The problem is egoism and stubbornness, denial of Prophetic traditions and holding solely onto the school of thought. It is compulsory upon each and every believer to hold onto the book of Allah, Qur’an and the traditions of the Prophet. The basis of the schools of thought is also the same. It is not the words of the leaders of the schools.
3- Polytheistic labeling of people who commit major sins: According to the belief of the people of the Prophetic traditions, those committing the major sins cannot be regarded as Non-Muslims. The door of repentance is open for them. If they die without repentance, their case is for Allah to judge. If Allah wills, they will be pardoned. He is just in His judgments. Those sinners will not abide in the hell forever. Equating major sin committers to Non-Muslims is the way of extremist groups such as Khawarijun, Mu’tazilin and those have crossed the limits of Islamic principles. These groups of people believe that the hell is the eternal abode of such sinners. This kind of beliefs contradicts with the consensus of the Ummah. This is because the judgment of our deeds in the Hereafter is for Allah.
4- Breaking relationships with people and preferring isolation.
These are the four major characteristics of extremists.
How to Safeguard Society from Extremism
There are various alternative methods to safeguard society from extremism. The methods include religious solution, social solution and use of media.
A) Religious Cure
Ø Educating the society about the contents of the Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet without any furnishing or censoring, and reforming the actions to match the Qur’an and Sunnah.
Ø Increasing the awareness of the principles of moderation in Islam.
Ø Instead of giving severe punishments to extremists, they must be debated intellectually and counseled to reach a solution.
Ø Scholars who lecturer in the mosques should give their lecturers addressing these issues.
B) Social Cure
Ø Teaching and practicing religion within the family from childhood.
Ø Recognizing the effort to overcome extremism as a duty of everyone in the society, and standing together to achieve status of extremism free society.
Ø Youths must be provided with facilities to engage themselves in something constructive during the free times.
Ø Scholars must do a collaborated effort to teach the true teachings of Islam.
Ø Radio and TV stations can play a prominent role in overcoming extremism by airing programs about these issues with the help of qualified scholars and intellectuals in the society.
Ø Increasing religious publications in magazines and newspapers to raise the awareness. The most effective solution could be collaborated efforts of scholars in the community. One of the factors that lead to extremism is disputes among the scholars. A platform where all scholars can gather to debate and discuss religious issues can be arranged so that individual differences can be avoided and consensus can be made in the form of official fatwas.
D) Legal Cure: In the efforts to curb extremism, a legal cure is necessary. This means making laws concerning extremist activities, amending the Religious Unity Act and terrorism laws, and enacting laws that facilitate rehabilitation while in detention.
E) Establishing Rehabilitation Centers
In the international efforts to overcome extremism, the most successful method in overcoming extremism is rehabilitation. The experts also advise the use of knowledge and reason to change the belief of extremist. Therefore, establishing a Rehabilitation Center in Maldives is very important.