Professor Mir Faizal is an Adjunct Professor in Physics and Astronomy at the University of Lethbridge. Here we talk about terrorism and Islam.
The conversation started on the idea of global terrorism and the forms of religion in the world. It began, in other words, on the definitions of things. Dr. Faizal or Faizal sees the problem in its complications due, in part, to the proliferation of terms and the plethora of meanings intended by each of the words, often more than one meaning per word.
Faizal stated, “Let us start from the simplest definition of terrorism, a terrorist organization as an organization that deliberately kills civilians to achieve an ideological purpose. To be more precise, let us add that, an origination can be called a terrorist organization only if at least two democratic countries (on two different continents, e.g., North America, Africa, and so on, or in two different recognized regions, e.g., Middle East-North Africa, and so on) recognize it as such.”
The other form of restriction can limit the level of abuse of the word. For example, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the definition of atheism is a criminal offense, i.e., a terrorist offense or terrorism. In this, we can see the emphasis of Faizal.
“This definition of terrorism is also important, as it helps us identify the real practical problem when dealing with real issues rather than, possibly, invented legalisms. This is the terrorism that governments have to be careful about when they are considering a visa application, or when they are checking someone for security reasons,” Faizal noted.
In terms of the relationship of Islam to terrorism, the situation is simple on some facts, but also complicated in some other means of analysis. The positive correlation between Islam and terrorism is true. It is a fact of the world.
“To say all Muslims are terrorists is clearly unreasonable and incorrect, and to say all terrorists are Muslims is also wrong (as there are many non-Muslim terrorists too); on the other hand, to say that Muslims are like any other religious group is also not correct,” Faizal explained, “the number of violent events from Muslims seems to be far more than non-Muslims (if we again neglect the wars between nation states for the moment, as that is beyond the present definition of terrorism).”
When Faizal looked at the number of terrorist attacks in the month of December in 2018, he found about 170 attacks, internationally speaking. From this set of terrorist incidences, there were about 20 of the 170 were done outside of an Islamic ideological framework. In other words, a real correlation, in December of 2018 alone, exists between Islam and terrorism. The questions then arise about the roots or the sources of it.
Faizal posed, “We need to first accept this problem, scientifically analyze its causes, and finally come to a proper, rational solution. It could be interesting to carry out this analysis further and observe the variation of this probability with different sects of Islam. The first observation is that some sects of Islam are more violent than others. In fact, there are sects of Islam, which have almost zero histories of violence.”
These sect differences in the rates of violence are incredibly important in the advancement of peace, dialogue, and the work for the reduction in terrorist incidences in the world. If someone belongs to one branch of Islam, then they may be more likely to commit acts of violence than others. These denominations, as with Catholics and Protestants in Christianity, may live within different geographic and cultural areas, in which the violence rate may not be completely or entirely attributable to religion; and if so, then the issue is which ideological stances are the issue.
Faizal clarifies, “This means the if someone belongs to those sects of Islam, then there is almost a certainty he/she will not commit any act of terrorism. For example, Ahmadi Muslims (both Qadiani and Lahori Ahmadis) or Quranist Muslims (Muslims who follow only Quran) have a zero history of violence. In fact, they have been the targets of violent attacks and have never responded violently. On the other hand, most of the global terrorist moments come from Sunni Islam. Some sects of Shia Islam have been involved with many forms of violence at the state level, but using our definition consistently, we cannot classify it as terrorism.”
Indeed, Faizal was unable to find an act of terror done by Shia Muslims in December of 2018. Think about that, as a simple factual account, the issue of violence and religion becomes complicated and, therefore, should be not taken within a context of simple violence to religion correlation.
As Faizal observed, “The Shias are also focused on Israel and the Middle East, and do not commit violent acts against other countries. On the other hand, it is Sunni Islam, which seems to have a monopoly on global terrorism.”
Then this led to some further analysis of the directions of the violence within the sects or denominations of Sunni Islam based on the preliminary analysis of the data on terrorism and Islam by Faizal. He found only three sects or denominations associated with terrorism or terrorist acts: Salafi, Deobandi, and Barelvi.
“The Barelvi and Deobandi are Sufis, and so, it is incorrect to say all Sufis are non-violent. Barelvis are only obsessed with blasphemy and tend to limit the violence to those, who they think have insulted Muhammad,” Faizal stated, “The person who killed the Salman Taseer (governor in Pakistan) was a Barelvi. The Taliban are Deobandi. However, both Barelvi and Deobandi have almost no influence beyond the Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan), and are only concerned with local issues. So, the only group which has international global influence are the Salafis.”
Not the Shia, only the Sunni and simply a minority within the Sunni, the Salafi, appear to commit the majority of the violent terrorist acts in the world, in December of 2018. After the name of the founder of the movement, and within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Salafis can be called Wahhabis. Some may hyphenate the title into Salafi-Wahhabi. Thus, we come to Salafi-Wahhabi Islam within the Sunni tradition as the narrowed-down definition of Islam within the correlation found between terrorism and Islam.
Faizal reiterates, “It may be noted Salafis are called Wahhabis (named after their founder, who is closely related to the founder of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). I could not again find any act of terrorism done by Barelvis in December 2018, and around forty terrorist attacks done by Deobandis. However, most of these attacks done by Deobandis were limited to the Indian subcontinent. This leaves more than one hundred international terrorist attacks, which were done by Salafis. However, Salafis make up less than one percent of the total Muslim population, and even in Saudi Arabia, they are a minority, and only form twenty-three percentage population. Furthermore, not all Salafis are violent.”
Faizal described how the official sect or denomination of Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabi bans protests against the government. Those who simply blindly follow the government are called the Madkhalis. That is to say, those are who Salafis and government-oriented fundamentalists are Madkhali Salafis. However, others exist who are the non-violent ones, who are non-Madkhali Salafis.
“As they form a small population of the total Muslim population, this correction becomes a more direct one. It may be noted that like the Shias, the violence promoted by Barelvi and Deobandi is circumstantial, and not intrinsic. However, the violence by certain Salafi sects (such as the ISIS) is intrinsic, and not circumstantial. Even with this difference, it may be noted that there are some deep common features between Salafi, Deobandi, and Barelvi. In fact, as the main concern of different governments is that they want to reduce the probability of someone blowing himself/herself up,” Faizal stated.
Faizal central point was that you cannot make this number or probability zero. However, the number can be brought down to a low level. So low in fact, you can simply ignore it. The work that needs to be done is around the source of the problem and the comprehension of some of the derivative effects too.
When we look into the global news, Faizal states, “For example, if a country is in global news about remakes on blasphemy they need to be careful of Salafis and Barelvi, and if a country is involved in Afghanistan, they need to be careful about Salafis and Deobandi. However, as both Barelvi and Deobandi are not concerned with international news, they need to only warn their citizens visiting Indian subcontinent. So, internationally, they only need to worry about the Salafis. As Salafis form a very small portion of the Muslim population, and Salafis can also be from peaceful sects (like Madkhalis), it is only a specific kind of Salafis that any government has to be worried about when it comes to terrorism.”
As the conversation developed, the level of specificity of the type and geographic locale of Islam and its association with terrorism, in this preliminary analysis, continued onward. Islamic scriptures can be a juncture of conversation for some. In that, if the purported holy texts of the religion of Islam relate to the full and theological foundation as a grounds for war, for terrorist incidences, then this should be dealt with in a theological manner. But there may be a more effective means by which to see a relation between religion and violence, and religion and peace.
Faizal, as a mathematician, deals with the issue “mathematically and statistically here. He notes the totally peaceful interpretations of Islam with the Ahmadis and the Quranists. Then he also described the “totally violent” ones with the Barelvis, Deobandis, and Salafis. Most Muslims, Faizal argues, are within the range of these two sets of extremes of the totally peaceful and the totally violent.
“So, instead of getting involved in an academic theologically discussion, we can analyze this problem mathematically, by simply identifying the common features of peaceful Muslims and violent Muslims. This way we can get a better more accurate practical understanding of the problem. It may be noted here that even though not all Salafis, Deobandis, and Barelvis are violent,” Faizal stated, “but all acts of violence, with a Sunni Islamic justification, comes from these groups. On the other hand, no act of violence with an Islamic justification has ever been conducted by the people in the first group, such as Ahmadis and Quranists.”
This can lead to some analysis, of the features of those who would be peaceful Muslims and violent Muslim sects – or interpretations of Islam with the possibility of leading to more peacefulness and more violence. By implication, this can be applied to other political, social, religious, and secular ideologies.
“There is an interesting correlation between what peaceful and violent Muslims sects believe, and this holds for most sects in the two groups. To understand that we need to first understand that apart from Quran and Mutawatir practices (collective practices which most Muslims perform, like prayers), theirs is a huge body of ahad Hadith literature, which describes what Muhammad did, and it was written some two hundred years after Muhammad,” Faizal explained, “The idea of Muhammad marries a six-year-old girl comes from this literature, the idea that apostates should be killed also come from them, the idea that homosexuals (as well as people who commit adultery) should be killed also come from them.”
The ahad Hadith literature is filled with both peaceful and violent passages based on the interpretation, where these ahad Hadith pieces of literature were written about 200 years after Muhammad. Most or all terrorist organizations have a common belief in some of the verses from the Quran abrogated from these ahad narrations.
Thus, the ahad narrations rather than the Quran in this context becomes the basis for the violent interpretations. Faizal argues that the peaceful verses of the Quran, for the terrorist organizations, were abrogated for violent purposes. For those who do not adhere to the abrogation theory of the narrations, they can be see in their own outcomes, which, apparently, are far more often mostly or completely non-violent, as in the Ahamdi Muslims and the Quranist Muslims.
That is to say, the Ahmadi and Quranist interpretations of Islam do not adhere to the ahad narrations and, by implication, can be seen as less violent or completely non-violent compared to those who believe in this theory of abrogation with the ahad narrations.
Faizal continued, “Even Sunni Muslim scholars, such as Adnan Ibrahim and Javed Ghamidi, who actively preach against violence, do not hold to this theory of abrogation, and base their belief on the Quran rather than ahad Hadith. In their theory, the violence in any verse is contextual (and those verses only refer to war), and has to be read in the light of general more peaceful verses of the Quran. So, we can again establish a mathematical relation between Muslims who not hold to a textual discontinuity in Quran (the discontinuity between a Meccan and Medinan verses), and peacefulness.”
Such is the working of a mathematical mind, there is the basis for some means of hope and reasonable discourse, especially for much of the West that does not seem to know much about Islam or the ways in which various sects or denominations function in the terms that seem to matter to most Westerners: violence and the relation to textual-theological discourse on the Quran, Hadith, and the life of Muhammad.
” In fact, there is a direct statistical correction between those Muslims who base their belief on the Quran (rejecting the theory of abrogation) and peacefulness. Furthermore, there is also a direct statistical correction between those Muslims who base their beliefs on ahad Hadith (accepting the theory of abrogation) and violence. It is important to realize that not all Muslims, who hold to textual discontinuity in Quran are violent, but all Islamic terrorists, believe in the existence of a textual discontinuity in the Quran,” Faizal said.
Faizal asserts, based on this analysis, that no terrorist incident has occurred within the framework of textual continuity rather than textural discontinuity or, for example, the theory of abrogation proposed with such interpretations as the ahad narrations applied to the Quran within many terrorist organizations. Therefore, individuals who claim to be Muslim and take a textual continuity approach will not be a terrorist.
Faizal explained, “In fact, there has never been a terrorist, who holds to the textual continuity in Quran. So, the probability of anyone who believes in textual continuity of Quran, and basis his beliefs on it, to commit acts of terrorism is zero. In other words, it is almost certain that any Muslim who bases his beliefs on the Quran, rejecting the theory of abrogation cannot be a terrorist.”
Then the questioning comes to the issue of having the government involved to prevent and stop terrorism for the good of the general population. Faizal claims, based on the above analysis, that the there should be a scientific approach by the governments in order to deal with the problems of terrorism and terrorist attacks.
“For example, they can identify the right kind of questions that are being asked during a visa application, or other application. If you ask a person about his sect, and come to know he is an Ahmadi or a Quranist, then you can be certain he will not commit any act of violence. Furthermore, any person who is a potential terrorist will never identify himself/herself as such,” Faizal proposed, “In fact, for a Sunni Muslim, a good test could be a question (hidden in lots of other questions), where he/she is asked if they think that Ahmadis should be allowed to pray like other Muslims, and consider themselves as Muslim.”
With an affirmation or a “Yes” answer, this can indicate the possibility of this individual being a terrorist. Faizal proposes governments gathering and database of terrorist attacks that have happened into the present. Then there should be a mathematical and statistical analysis. From these, we can see if common features exist in the total population, e.g., education, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sect, and so on.
This would not be a basis for discrimination with the data but a foundation for discriminating within specific probabilities. For example, there can be specific statistical weights given to the demographic characteristics within the general population.
Faisal stated, “They can weight each aspect of a person, give them a statistical weight, and then subject them to different levels of security checks. As this will be done scientifically, no one will feel discriminated by scientific data (discrimination is a human attribute, and mathematics cannot discriminate). It is also important to realize that whether Islam is a peaceful or violent religion, is an academic question, and it is not important for dealing with terrorism.”
He – Faizal – was firm on the argument that the perception of Islam preaching violence as a serious issue, where the perception can lead to real acts of violence by individuals who follow the religion of Islam. He notes the discontinuity interpretation exists in Muslims and non-Muslims who perceive the ahad narrations of the Quran.
“In fact, we can easily state one statistical fact, that it is this belief in textual discontinuity in Quran that is directly proportional to the intrinsic (not circumstantial) acts of violence by violent terrorists (like the ISIS), and everything that can be done to counter it (with the constraint that it does not violate the freedom of speech), should be done, to minimize the probability of terrorist attacks,” Faizal concluded.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen founded In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: [email protected]
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