Religious extremism (ghuluw) has been going on well from the past and continues to the present day. It is astounding how something associated with religion can lead a person far from religion for doing something that is forbidden itself. Lately, sentiments of hate towards Muslims are increasing, especially in Western countries and most non-Muslim countries. There are increasing reports on Muslim women being assaulted for wearing the hijab, and other instances where Muslims have become victims of hate crime – most recently in Christchurch, New Zealand, where more than fifty people were killed and many more injured when a gunman opened fire on congregants at a mosque on 15 March 2019. On the other hand, we cannot deny that the same extreme tendencies also occur in other religions.
The rise of Islamophobia and the trend of hate crimes against Muslims is indeed worrying. In Singapore, we were recently shocked by the report where a 16-year-old Christian boy was detained in December 2020 under the Internal Security Act. Influenced by the Christchurch incidents, he allegedly plotted to kill Muslims in two mosques in the Woodlands area on the second anniversary of the Christchurch attacks. Nonetheless, from a particular perspective, one can argue that Islamophobia and hate crimes against Muslims partially result from the actions of some groups of Muslims who claim to act in an Islamic manner but in reality, do not. Since the early 2000s, several new Muslim radical groups have emerged, intending to build Islamic states. They include Al-Qaeda, ISIS and many others. These groups strive to uphold their aims via armed struggles in the killing of innocent civilians. However, religious extremism’s tendency is not only limited to the actions of terrorists but also other behaviours.
Manifestations of religious extremism
It is, therefore, essential to distinguish various types of religious extremism with regards to the modern-world context among contemporary Muslim scholars, who have argued that the manifestations of religious extremism could be divided into various categories:
Firstly, extremism related to belief (`aqidah).
Generally, it is the most destructive type of extremism. It is far more damaging than any other form of extremism. This beliefs-related extremism leads to the Ummah’s detachment and hatred, which later develops into factions that fall off the straight path, and worst of all may lead to kufr (disbelief) (Al-Luwayhiq, 2001).
There are several types of extremism under this category, such as extremism in fundamental principles and faith (`aqidah) which is related to the basic tenets of shari`ah and faith. An example of this type is belief in a prophet after Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. as professed by the Ahmadiyyah (Qadiyani) sect.
Religious extremism in beliefs is generally as violations of religious boundaries because it exaggerates religious commands. Extremism this area occurs when someone resorts to false statements, lies, and fabrications to defend their religious views, despite their contradiction of the Prophet’s teachings and Quranic injunctions (Al-Farfur, 1993).
Secondly, extremism related to shari`ah (Islamic jurisprudence).
There are numerous forms of religious extremism with regards to shari`ah. One example is ruling what is prohibited (haram) as permissible (halal) or obligatory (wajib) as non-obligatory or vice versa, without valid scriptural evidence and rational argument (Kamali, 2010).
Similarly, is the view that promoting the detestable (makruh) acts, are not wrong and believe that these forms of ibadah are encouraged in Islam. Theologically however, this is a violation and an infringement of God’s limit set in His shari`ah. The cause of this extremism is often traced to certain clerics who have no authority in giving fatwa and religious instructions to public. (Al-Farfur, 1993).
The understanding of the texts is another example of religious extremism in fiqh (jurisprudential) matters. It happens when the text is framed in a manner that is not in line with the shari`ah’s overall characteristics and its maqasid (high objectives), and, as a result, causes hardship for oneself and others (Al-Luwayhiq, 2001). For instance, when someone attempts to interpret and understand revealed scriptures beyond the established methodologies in the field of Islamic studies (Pergas, 2004). There are also some Muslims who believe that being conservative and strict in ijtihad and fatwa is more preferred by Islam, while in actual fact, Islam prefers ijtihad and fatwa that provide ease for and removes hardship from Muslims (Al-Farfūr, 1993).
Thirdly, extremism related to `ibadah (rituals).
There are several kinds of `ibadah-related extremism. Examples are:
• forcing oneself or others to do, in the name of `ibadah, when, in actual fact, it is not obligatory in Islam, (Pergas, 2004).
• performing a legitimate act of `ibadah in an overburdening manner
• living a life totally isolated from wordly enjoyment as a form of “Islamic monasticism” (Al-Qaradawi, 2006).
• prohibiting things what is permissible in Islam on self and others Allah has allowed as worship acts, such as eating, drinking, sleeping, or marrying, believing that all these will effect quality of `ibadah (Al-Luwayhiq, 2001).
From this perspective therefore, extremism is not only about overdoing but also neglecting. For example, someone who performs his religious duty beyond the stipulations of the religion as renouncing marriage, performing prayers all night without sleeping, offering alms to the extent of failing to provide for one’s own family, abandoning work to devote himself to worship at the expense of providing sufficient nafaqah (provision) (Pergas, 2004). According to Ba Sallum, these are not commendable ibadah but a form tanattu` (over-doing in religion) and they contradict the notion of wasatiyyah in Islam, which emphasises equilibrium, equity and balance (Ba Sallum, 2004).
Fourth, extremism related to behaviour.
Unlike the other forms of extremism, this practice is related to the perception and action towards another person or people.
One of the prevalent manifestation of this extremism is bigotry and intolerance towards others who hold differring view, looking at them with bias and prejudice. This contradicts Islam’s command on Muslims to respect differing views (Al-Qaradawi, 2006).
Accordingly, imposing wara` and zuhd on others could lead to extremism. Examples are,
• attempting to apply Islamic values to individuals who reside in non-Muslim countries or who have only converted to Islam without due regard to the priority of Islamic teachings as stipulated the Prophetic advice. In this event, Prophet alludes to Mu`adh r.a. to gradually spread Islam’s message, beginning with the testimony of faith, that is, testifying to God’s oneness and Muhammad as God’s Messenger before advocating other teachings of Islam. (Al-Qaradawi, 2006)
• being strict in minor thelogical issues such as observing certain adab (ettiquette) during eating and drinking regardless of the context (Lemu, 1996)
• performing takfir (calling a Muslim as kafir) is also a component of the religious extremism-related behavioural faith. It must be emphasised that judging a Muslim as a disbeliever is a very serious judgment with serious implications. Unless there is a clear evidence and unquestionable evidence, no Muslim should make such judgment because the Prophet has warned that whoever calls an individual with kafir, while he is not an infidel, the ruling will fall on him. Scholars consider this transgression of the religion, even if it done on a Muslim who known for committing grave sins (Al-Luwayḥiq, 2001).
• using of terror in the name of defending Muslims against injustice and oppression (Al-Luwayhiq, 2001).
Types and forms of religious extremism vary from beliefs to actions, including behaviour towards other people. Although the motivation behind all of these may be the desire to seek God’s pleasures, but they are still considered religious extremism because they transgress the limits set by the shari`ah.
Al-Farfur, Muḥammad `Abd Al-Latif (1993). Al-Wasatiyyah Fi Al-Islqm. Beirut: Dar Al-Nafa’is.
Al-Haqil, Sulayman bin `Abd Al-Rahman (1996). Al-Islam Yanha `An Al-Ghuluw Fi Al-Din Wa Yad`u Li Al-Wasatiyyah. Riyadh: Al-Mamlakah Al-`Arabiyyah Al-Sa`udiyyah.
Al-Luwayḥiq, `Abd Al-Rahman bin Mu`ala’ Al-Mutairi (2001). Religious Extremism in the Lives of Contemporary Muslims. (Jamaal Al-Din M. Zarabozo, Trans.). Denver: Al-Basheer Company for Publications and Translations.
Al-Qaradawi, Yusuf. (2006). Islamic Awakening Between Rejection and Extremism. London: The International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT).
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