Religion is not the source of terrorism

Western Academia Versus “Imam” Tawhidi Jahili

by Ibn Anwar, BHsc (Hons), MCollT

A self-proclaimed “Muslim leader” named Tawhidi has been making rounds on Australian media with scandalous and controversial remarks with which he lambaste Islam and Muslims. He claims to represent Muslims but takes every opportunity to deliver hate-filled sound bites against Muslims and Islam. He is fast becoming a household name for those predisposed to Islamophobia. And Australian media seem to love his TV presence.

Little is actually known about this individual and what his background really is. He decorates himself with the title ‘Imam’, but hardly anyone in his locality knows who he is or recognises his religious standing in the community. As a matter of fact, on 2nd March of this year, the Australian National Imams Council or ANIC put out an official statement that Tawhidi has no recognition as a religious leader anywhere in Australia and the organisation states unambiguously that “ANIC states clearly that this individual, is not a recognised Imam, Sheikh or Muslim leader.” [1] With such an obscure background and zero accessible credentials, no thinking person should take Tawhidi seriously, especially when he forwards outrageous claims that are without substantiation.

“Indonesia was invaded by Muslims”

In a latest fit of rant, Tawhidi, out of his own volition, let the cat out of the bag. Just a few days ago, on national Australian TV, in his unbridled excitement to put all the blame he could muster on Muslims and Islam for the recent Manchester violence and similar other terrorist acts in recent times, Tawhidi said the following:

“These are not something I’m imagining. These are facts. We’ve had many wars. How did Islam spread from Saudi Arabia down to Indonesia and Bosnia. All spread by the sword.” [2]

A little knowledge can be dangerous but the above quote from the horse’s mouth reveals a deep-seated incompetence that must be taken as foolproof certificate of Tawhidi’s unreliability as a source of information for Islam. A small child, having studied world history, would be able to correct Tawhidi’s serious blunder in claiming that Islam came down all the way from “Saudi Arabia to Indonesia by the sword.” It is a matter of incontrovertible fact that Islam reached the shores of Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and the rest of Southeast Asia many centuries ago through trade missions by Arab and Indian traders and Muslim missionary work. No Muslim army from anywhere in the world reached Southeast Asia to colonise or convert anyone to the religion. This serious error that Tawhidi made publicly, which he has yet to retract, is sufficient reason to discredit him as a reliable commentator on Islam. It takes a whole new level of foolishness to completely revamp Islamic history and fabricate a whole new obscurantist narrative for one’s own agenda. But Tawhidi managed to do just that in front of millions and remains completely oblivious to the amount of rancid beans he has actually spilled. He has successfully, out of his own ignorance, and without much assistance from Muslims, discredited himself.

“Islamic scriptures cause terrorism”

Tawhidi’s main thesis is that Islam is really the cause behind all those atrocious acts of terrorism. He claims that Islam as a religion is the impetus that pushes Muslims towards terrorism:

“For someone to come and say these Islamic scriptures have nothing to do with that [wars and violence], I mean, that’s against the facts. That’s not true. The Islamic scriptures is exactly what is pushing these people to behead the infidels.” [3]

One could easily mistake those words to belong to renowned Islamophobes like Walid Shoebat or Robert Spencer, but they’re really Tawhidi’s and so one wonders if this unaccredited “imam” is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Many scholars in western academia have in fact refused such simplistic and superficial assessment of the motivations behind terrorism. Ioannis Tellidis of the College of International Studies, Kyung Hee University and Juan Carlos Antúnez state:

“However, it is of utmost importance to highlight that what Islam does not do is to teach or call Muslims to kill innocent people in the name of a political agenda (USIP 2002). Religion does not cause terrorism (Gunning and Jackson 2011).” [4]

The notable American sociologist and scholar Mark Juergensmeyer agrees with the assessment made by Tellidis and Antúnez:

“Islam does not cause terrorism, nor does any other religion with which terrorist acts have been associated.” [5]

Susan Griffin argues that no religion can claim to be the driving force behind terrorism:

“Taken together, the essays in this chapter open up the boundaries of though and imagination by inviting us to enlarge our picture of terrorism by including the purposeful creation of conditions that lead to destitution and starvation, for instance, or by reminding us that whether speaking of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, religion does not cause terrorism.” [6]

Although some western academics have factored in religion (or a specific brand of religious worldview) as one of the underlying motivations behind a person’s choice to commit terrorism, they typically do so with the caveat that “religion is not the sole inspiration,” but numerous other factors must be considered as more fundamental such as political ideology, cultural, foreign policies of some countries toward other countries, historical grievances, poverty and lack of identity. [7] Terrorism is without a doubt an existential problem to the world, but the causes behind it are not as simple as black and white as Tawhidi tries to paint. As the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University says, “Religions are ideologies that do not cause violence in and of themselves.” [8]

Professor of Catholic Social Thought and Chair of the Institute for Systematic Theology at the University of Innsbruck Dr. Wolfgang Palaver states under the heading ‘Human Beings, not Religions, Cause Violence’:

“Not only believers or people with a positive attitude towards religion recognize that it is much too simple to see religion as the sole root of violence.” [9]

To put religion on the pedestal of blame as if it is the primary push that drives young men and even women to commit senseless acts of terror is not just ahistorical but it completely derails constructive work that aims to alleviate the problem. To misconstrue the reason/s behind terrorism is to hamper much needed progress in our ongoing battle against the scourge of our time that all mainstream Muslims disapprove and condemn.

We should thus be wary of our sources of information and relegate precarious individuals with precarious claims into the forbidden section of our library, accessible only to those with the knowledge and ability to discern truth from fiction, but the dustbin would do just fine, too.

Notes:

[1] [Digital Mimbar]. (2017, March 4). FAKE Imams Stir Hatred And Fear by Pretending to be Muslim Leaders. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lK6HngLXIOU

[2] [LegitRy]. (2017, May 25). Imam Tawhidi debate with Dr Jamal Rifi on Sunrise. [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYuHJ1mrsLI

[3] Ibid.

[4] Antunez, J. C. & Tellidis, I. (2014). The power of words: the deficient terminology surrounding Islam-related terrorism. In Harmonie Toros & Ioannis Tellidis (eds), Terrorism, Peace and Conflict Studies. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. p. 123

[5] Cited in Y. Alp Aslandogan & Bekir Cinar (2011). A Sunni Muslim scholar’s humanitarian and religious rejection of violence against civilians. In Paul Weller & Ihsan Yilmaz (eds), European Muslims, Civility and Public Life: Perspectives On and From the Gulen Movement. London: Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 166

[6] Griffin, S. (2011). Terror and Terrorism. In Karin Lofthus Carrington and Susan Griffin (eds), Transforming Terror: Remembering the Soul of the World. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 7

[7] Siddik Ekici (2015).Countering Violent Extremism Among Youth: The Turkish Case. In Marco Lombardi, Eman Ragab, Vivienne Chin et. al. (eds), Counering Radicalisation and Violent Extremism Among Youth to Prevent Terrorism. Amsterdam: IOS Press BV. p. 173

[8] Charters, D. A. & Walker, G. F. (2005). After 9/11:Terrorism and Clime in a Globalised World. Halifax: Centre for Foreign Policy Studies. p. 65

[9] Palaver, W. (2017). Violence and Religion: A Complex Relationship. In Ednan Aslan & Marcia Hermansen (eds), Religion and Violence: Muslim and Christian Theological and Pedagogical Reflections. Berlin: Springer VS. p. 42

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