New Delhi – Amid the turmoil and chaos of the fierce ideological and sectarian battles and civil-war-like situations in the Muslim world, there is hardly any good news to come by. However, every other day, I strenuously look out for hope and gratification in the news coming from Muslim lands, particularly the Arab world. At a time when we are in the sacred Islamic month of Ramadan, I would particularly focus on good and positive news with an aim to eliminate the darkness by way of spreading the light. For me, one of the first good news emanating from the region in this month is the courageous stance of moderate and peace-loving African Muslims to root out the ideologies of hatred and intolerance from mosques. After a long period of extremists’ radicalisation of mosques and destruction of holy Islamic places and shrines, Morocco’s 50,000 mosques and their imams are now being worked upon to resist extremism penetrating into them. A “Religious Guidance Support Plan” has been framed with scrutiny to give clear instructors and guide sermons and discourses delivered by the imams to the audience of their mosques.
According to Magharebia, an online Arabic news website dedicated to new coverage of North Africa, Some 1,300 senior imams, Muslim chaplains and Islamic spiritual counsellors will train imams to free the mosques from all kinds of discourses inciting intolerance or hatred. The prime concern behind this project is aimed at helping help and guiding imams to preserve the essential message of Islam in mosques of Morocco, based on the Maliki school of thought, which is contrary to takfirism (declaring Muslims disbeliever and apostate). The Islamic Affairs Minister of Morocco, Mr. Ahmed Toufiq said at the project’s unveiling on Friday (June 13) in Rabat that “Ttakfirism is constantly invading the minds of our young people. Therefore, our mission seeks to tackle all forms of continued exploitation of religion, with an aim to root out Takfirist ideology at its core.”
Given the widespread phenomenon of mosques and special religious sermons (khutbas) being misused for vested interests and political ends, this initiative should have long been taken, not only in North Africa but also in other parts of the Muslim world, particularly in Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Pakistan. Against the backdrop of jihadist and radical Takfiri tentacles spreading in the Arab and Pakistani mosques, such sagacious steps need to be urgently taken in our mosques too so that common Muslims can prevent anarchy and disorder in the religious domain.
Unfortunately, a growing number of our mosques all over the world seem to be dominated by hardliners and less progressive Muslims. Having great veneration for the prestigious and the noblest job of being an Imam, I would question how many of our imams, the world over, strongly and clearly spoke against the ISIL’s vaunting un-Islamic atrocities, except for a few moderates of them? Why did we not hear strong, courageous and unwavering words from our religious leaders on the notorious video showing a Takfiri terrorist eating a dead soldier’s liver? Was this not what Hind (a back-then enemy of the Prophet (pbuh), who later accepted Islam) did? Are these terrorists not showing the same colours that the arch enemies of the peaceful Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did?
After all, it is their first and foremost duty to refute all such horrendous acts tarnishing the image of Islam. Maybe they are still living in denial, because this is the best proposition for them to keep mum!!!!
Not only Sunni imams but also Shiite religious clerics have to come out with open, unambiguous and unequivocal terms in this regard. The ISIL’s Takfiri terrorists have recently killed dozens of Sunni imams who refused to swear allegiance to them, while, on the other hand, they slaughtered the Shia community indiscriminately. It is about time our imams told their followers that these terrorists are violating the tenets of both Sunni and Shiite schools of thought. They have to make it clear that the nefarious version of faith espoused by the ISIL, ISISI, Boko Haram, Taliban, al-Qaida and other Takfiri terrorists is an extreme version of the Wahhabi ideology, far away from the mainstream Islamic faith. Contrary to the mainstream Muslims, these ultra-extreme cults reject all the four major and canonised Islamic jurisprudential schools (Hanafi, Shafai, Maliki and Hanbali). But ironically, while they vehemently and openly reject all the four Sunni schools, almost all media outlets call them “Sunni terrorists”.
We must marvel at this sheer naivety!!!! However, it was gratifying to see that both Shi’ite and Sunni leaders in Iraq have recently made a joint call for national unity and an end to sectarian violence of these takfiri terrorists seizing the northern cities. I am sure it will help the media analysts realise that the dangerous radicals within Muslims are neither the Sunnis nor the Shiites, but rather from among the Wahhabi-Takfiris.
Having said that, let us not forget that we cannot successfully combat the menace of extremism and takfirism, on a grassroots level, unless we engage the imams of both our local and international mosques in this gigantic task. They have an acute grip over the Muslim community and may do wonders if they really wish. As change agents, there are no better and more suitable leaders than the imams of the mosques who get several chances to personally meet and collectively address the community members to redress issues of their concern. Therefore, they have to be trained by the expert Islamic scholars and clerics to tackle the religious extremists who try to recruit innocent worshippers. The first step towards it would be preaching sermons backing law and order of the country. Secondly, they need to be courageous enough to speak out against radicals and their nefarious ends especially after Friday prayers. Thirdly, they should focus on societal reforms in their sermons urging the worshippers to avoid ideological extremism and uphold moderate views. Besides educating the worshippers about the essential Islamic teachings and moral virtues, they should be addressing issues of moderation and extremism, national unity, social integrity, women’s rights, education system, youth issues, the rights of non-Muslims or even atheists and non-believers in an attempt to guide them on a right and moderate track.
Regrettably, our imams, especially the moderate and Sufi-minded, are not capable enough to tackle current and vital issues of national and global concern due to lack of the sophisticated skills they require. However, they may influence modern and thinking Muslims with their moderate thoughts based on their classical Islamic studies. More moderate religious views, peaceful Qur’anic verses, pluralistic Prophetic traditions and harmonious jurisprudential injunctions should be incorporated in their sermons in an attempt to transform the prevailing intolerant mindset into an inclusive Islamic bent of mind.
A supreme committee of religious experts should be formed to monitor sermons of imams in all mosques and ensure they do not spread extremist views. The committee should privately meet every imam who is found guilty of peddling hatred or intolerance of any sort and reason with him to bring him back to the righteous path. They should ensure that imams pray for the all-round development of the country and repeatedly urge Muslims to maintain national law and order.
In any case, we Muslims cannot discredit the role of the Imams in their efforts to educate the common Muslim masses about the basic tenets of Islam. They have been the main torch-bearers of the Islamic and Qur’anic messages in our mosques and societies throughout the history. Today, all we have to do is provide them with an accessible forum for the discussion and incorporation of the true moderate Islamic views for the rejection of extremist ideology that continues to radicalise many in our society. Besides producing the desired result of de-radicalisation, this initiative will also strengthen the channels of communication and intellectual dialogue between imams and modern organisations and individuals within every Muslim country.
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