April 6, 2009

Who is a Radical Muslim?

A few days ago, when I wrote my post CSM: Ten Terms Not to Use with Muslims, I had also cross-posted it to the website Street Prophets as well. The post there, not surprisingly, has generated a lot of commentary (44 comments so far). One person, "Sandbox" (an Islamophobe), has been trying to peddle their definition for a "Radical Muslim." I reject that definition, and I've explained why down below:

FYI, my definition of Radical Muslim is someone who wants to "legally" institute sharia law to govern the host country's Muslim community or who supports violent jihad as a way to settle international disputes.

First, I'm aware of your definition; you've written it before at DKos [Daily Kos]. I reject it. You paint Muslims with such an overly broad brush that, to us Muslims, your "definition" is meaningless. All Muslims would be "radical" by your definition. Here's why:

The notion that a Muslim is a "radical" if he or she wants to legally institute Shari'ah to help govern a country's Muslim community is patently absurd from both a theoretical and a practical perspective. First, as a Muslim jurist from Nigeria said in a BBC documentary, "Islam is Shari'ah; Shari'ah is Islam." This is true. The basis for Shari'ah is the Qur'an and Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). If one is a practicing Muslim, one will by definition be following Shari'ah. Much of Shari'ah is internalized, meaning that Muslims follow Shari'ah law in their own lives without sanction from the State (to give a Christian example, a person fasting during Lent is following the equivalent of "Christian Shari'ah"). In that regard, no one can stop Muslims from implementing some (probably most) aspects of Shari'ah. The aspects of Shari'ah that are externalized, i.e., need to be legally instituted, tend to be in the following areas: family law (marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc.) and criminal punishments (hudud). Here in secular Singapore, Shari'ah with regard to family law has been part of the country's legal code since the beginning. The Shari'ah Court system here was started over 50 years ago. Muslims are governed by Shari'ah; non-Muslims have their own code of laws. The system works very well. Only hudud isn't implemented here, and there is no pressing claim by Singaporean Muslims to implement it. So, practically speaking, Shari'ah in Singapore works very well. No one is considered to be a "radical" Muslim if he or she supports Shari'ah law. But people like you have tried to transform Shari'ah into such a bogey monster word that, without understanding how Shari'ah really works in the real world, you perpetuate misunderstandings between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

With respect to your second qualification, once again, by not understanding the difference between jihad and qital and harb, you malign a word that is very dear to Muslims. The other day I attended a seminar on fundamentalist and extremist Muslims. One non-Muslim participant's statement was a much better definition (IMO) than yours. He said, "Fundamentalists are people who are just trying to figure things out, versus extremists, who want to hurt other people." That works much better for me. By your definition, you would have to condemn the United States for the war in Iraq and Israel for its wars in Gaza and Lebanon because both countries have used "violent jihad" as ways to settle their international disputes. Somehow, I don't expect to hear any denunciations from you anytime soon.

The irony is that the real extremist Muslims are those people who would seem to be most like non-Muslims. At that same seminar, the professor who led it pointed out that one of the surviving 7/7 (London) bombers (whom he interviewed) did not know the basics of Islam such as how to pray or even how to perform wudu, the ritual ablutions that are required before prayer. Likewise, it's well known that the 9/11 terrorists were known to go drinking, gamble and visit strip clubs. These are not the actions of Muslims, but it is what non-Muslims might do. Your so-called "secular Muslims," the ones who non-Muslims support, are more likely to be extremists than observant Muslims. But you'd never know because they've hidden themselves in plain sight by acting like the rest of non-Muslim society.

14 comments:

Kay said...

Love your response! :D

bambam said...

not that i agree with his definition but i can hardly see yours in a better light,it's slightly skewed ...
Radicl's don't want to "institute Shari'ah to help govern a country's Muslim community"
They want to apply it on everyone.
Singaporian law is strictly inspired by english and partly indian ... no shariah there but i think you meant malaysian. Even then Your example of implementing shariah law is not exactly genuine since being inspired by sharia law means that you can stray and adapt it accordingly (i thought ur in malaysia).
Like you said the application of shariah is limited to marriage, inheritance and apostasy mainly. So that takes a big chunk away from the public laws, and even in this limited application it still conflicts with civil laws (for instance freedom of religion). As for the second part thats just calling somebody militant, jihadist or not.
Personally my definition of a "Radical Muslim" is one who opposes the move towards secularism and aspires to establish islamic rule(in a salafi fundamental reading of religion) on the population, and not content with an islamically inspired law.
On the other hand a muslim extremist is one that takes his religion beyond the personal aspect and tries to apply to others and bases his dealing with others based on his interpretation of religion.
that's how i see things. there are a lot more extremists than radicals in my world.

JDsg said...

BamBam:

not that i agree with his definition but i can hardly see yours in a better light,it's slightly skewed ...

I agree that my (the other seminar participant's) definition is weak, but even in its simplified state I think it's better because it discriminates between an extremist and a non-extremist much more accurately than Sandbox's definition. Sandbox might as well say that all Muslims are radicals; that's certainly how her (I believe Sandbox is a she) definition comes across to me.


Singaporian law is strictly inspired by english and partly indian ... no shariah there but i think you meant malaysian.

I don't know about the Indian inspiration for Singaporean law; English, definitely. After all, this used to be a British colony. Shari'ah is definitely part of the law of the land in both Singapore and Malaysia.


Even then Your example of implementing shariah law is not exactly genuine since being inspired by sharia law means that you can stray and adapt it accordingly

I'm not exactly sure what you mean by this. It does bear remembering that what Shari'ah is incorporated into the legal code here is done with the government's blessing. The Malay/Muslim community, being a minority group in the country, is not completely in control of which parts of Shari'ah are put into the legal system. The example of hudud laws and penalties is a good example. The government decided that there would be only one criminal penal code for everyone, as opposed to say marriage law, where there is both the Muslim Law Act and the Women's Charter (which is applicable for non-Muslims).


(i thought ur in malaysia).

No, I'm in Singapore (hence the "sg" in JDsg). Malaysia's less than an hour's drive away, though, so I've been there a number of times.


Like you said the application of shariah is limited to marriage, inheritance and apostasy mainly. So that takes a big chunk away from the public laws, and even in this limited application it still conflicts with civil laws (for instance freedom of religion).

I think the potential conflict would depend on the individual government's priority given to which set of laws. In S'pore, the conflict is minimal as Shari'ah has very specific limits and the government uses its own secular laws for everything else. In other countries (e.g., Muslim countries), maybe there's more of a conflict.


Personally my definition of a "Radical Muslim" is one who opposes the move towards secularism and aspires to establish islamic rule(in a salafi fundamental reading of religion) on the population, and not content with an islamically inspired law.

On the other hand a muslim extremist is one that takes his religion beyond the personal aspect and tries to apply to others and bases his dealing with others based on his interpretation of religion.


I'll have to think about your definitions.

Anonymous said...

Its a very grey area with no right or wrong comments.
http://www.eloquentbooks.com/InTheEyesOfTheBeholder.html

JDsg said...

@ Anonymous: The issue isn't whether it's a grey area or not; it is. The problem is when non-Muslims, either out of ignorance or malevolence (usually the latter), use the rhetoric of "radical Muslims" or "extremist Muslims" to generalize against all Muslims. That happens all too often, and it needs to stop.

bambam said...

JD :D it's new to me that singapore allows for a limited muslim court, as for the indian part of law it's the penal system is taken from the indian system.
What i meant by straying from sharia law and adapting is due to the conflicts that occur when the application of shariah law is not opt in (isn't funny that we have been talking about shariah law application lately, i need to or maybe you should open up that topic, i wish there would be others who join.)
For example if a muslim women marries a man of another faith that marriage is null by shariah law but she can have a civil marriage in singapore while she can't have that under shariah law, thats just one example of many conflicts that occur when you want to opt out of islam because the system is designed against it.
for the record i'm not against the limited application of shariah law for those who choose to, it's their choice :D

Naeem: said...

AA- JD,

Interesting post and ensuing comments. I'm more keen to think that all these terms to describe the good Muslim vs the bad Muslim are more an indictment against those using the terms. It really exposes them for their ignorance and failed attempts at understanding this 'other' (the Muslim) that has suddenly jumped into their lives.

Whether its Radical, Extremist, Fundamentalist, Islamist, or just plain ol Terrorist, the problem isn't as much the label as it is the prejudice, stereotype, and extreme bias that permeates the societies from which these terms emanate.

Not sure if I'm making sense here...

kinzi said...

Hhhmmmm.

Now both JD and Bam have given me more to think about.

I understand Bam's better, but I think that is because I am used to his line of thinking.

So what would you say was an "Islamist"?

I understand the problem of using a term of religion, which should be spoken with respect, like a slanderous condemnation. Being a Christian, that is how the name of my faith is usually used in media. :)

Being a Christian minority in a Muslim country, I am very aware of the bias, stereotype and prejudice that I am labeled with as well.

Naeem, I had a post discussing ugly acts of Muslim men in the name of Islam. I got in big trouble with several readers for that. I wasn't intending to slander or be prejudicial, it's just that they believed they were doing the right thing as Muslims.

When Christian leaders blow it and make the news because of their hypocrisy, I mention that they are Christians.

According to your preference, saying "Good" or "Bad" Muslim (or Christian) would be better than trying to find another word?

JDsg said...

@ Kinzi: According to your preference, saying "Good" or "Bad" Muslim (or Christian) would be better than trying to find another word?I don't think I would use this terminology either, if only because the notion of "good" and "bad" in peoples' minds is so subjective and gray to begin with. Who decides who is "good" and who is "bad." How would anyone define "good" or "bad" Muslims (or Christians or Jews or Hindus, et al)? In some regards, the difference between radical and moderate Muslims is like Justice Potter Stewart's famous comment about pornography: "'hard-core pornography' was hard to define, but that 'I know it when I see it.'"

Naeem: said...

Kinzi,

In addition to what JD said, its actually quite condescending when any non-Muslim labels me a 'good' Muslim and outright insulting if called a 'bad' Muslim.

What does each term mean anyways?

kinzi said...

Naeem, I get that all the time here, people are surprised, "oh, you are a good Christian". To be a Christian means I am morally loose to them, but to be a 'good' Christian means I act like a Muslim.

I don't think that people of faith are ever going to get around being labeled.

I think that is because we both have books with standards of behaviour that people know we are supposed to live by. when we don't, our hypocrisy is news.

If mentioned a person of faith commits a crime, it is one of the first things mentioned. It seems that when violence is committed in Britain, the key word for "Muslim immigrant" is 'youth' in their media. 'Youth' now carries the same negative connotation was what it replaced.

I used to label myself as an evangelical Christian, but now that puts me in the box with knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing, homosexual-hating neocons. None of which I am, so I don't use it much anymore, I just say Christian.

You said: "The problem is when non-Muslims, either out of ignorance or malevolence (usually the latter), use the rhetoric of "radical Muslims" or "extremist Muslims" to generalize against all Muslims."

I need a word to describe Muslims as you and many of my friends practice from those in committing atrocities in the name of Islam.

JDsg said...

@ Kinzi: I need a word to describe Muslims as you and many of my friends practice from those in committing atrocities in the name of Islam.
I consider myself a Muslim; more specifically, an orthodox Muslim. The thing is, I wouldn't be surprised at all if the so-called extremist or radical Muslims would consider themselves orthodox Muslims as well.

Anonymous said...

Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan said: "There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.”

There may be 'moderate' Moslems, but they are 'bad' non-practicing Moslems. Moderate Moslems are avoiding 2/3 of the Koran that calls for jihad against the evil kufaar to subjugate and humiliate them. Most of you 'moderates' are disobeying Allah in this, so you will all go to hell.

You do not believe in real Islam anymore and cannot admit it to yourselves.

You're self-deluded about 'nice' Islam. Islam is a world-conquest, information-control and thought-control death cult.

If you don't like all the blood, swords and murders, then get out, but stop kidding yourselves.

JDsg said...

@ Anonymous: Thanks for the laugh. Try not to remain clueless about Islam all your life, will you? And please review the comment policy before you think of responding once more.