Making Peer Pressure Work

by on July 22nd, 2005

When I heard on the news last week that a group of imams had issued a fatwa against terrorism in the wake of the London tube bombings, I thought it was about time. Now, not even a week later, there are more bombings and attempted bombings, and I discover that the imams have issued lots of fatwas against terrorism. Unfortunately, it seems that, just like Christians, Muslims have a tendency to obey the rules that please them and ignore those that displease them.

In an article in the Tablet, Abdal Hakim Murad acknowledges the problems of using censure and public condemnation against disaffected young Muslims. The trouble lies in a schism in Islam. A group called Wahabis regards everyone else as infidels: Christians, Jews, other religions, and most importantly, other Muslims. The Wahabis are the Aunt Maudes of Islam. Aunt Maude was a Pentecostal who was confident that everyone except Pentecostals was going to hell. The Wahabis have given themselves permission to stamp our tickets and send us there.

At times, tolerance is overrated, particularly the tolerance of intolerance. If every imam and mufti in every country not only condemned the violence of the Wahabis, but also exposed their plans for terrorism to the authorities, there might be a chance to control the violence. Exposing extremists to the authorities is both the crucial factor and the sticking point. Because Wahabis consider mainstream Muslims infidels, mainstream imam’s fatwas are ignored. Mainstream imams, aware of being ignored, or worse, of becoming targets of violence themselves, increasingly shrink from criticizing Wahabism.

No one likes the prospect of living where anyone could call the authorities and make allegations that would cause the victim’s incarceration. But who wants to live in a society where anyone standing next to you could blow themselves to kingdom come and take you with them?

One of the key precepts of the radical fundamentalist fringe is the principle of dissembling. Simply put, it is acceptable to pretend to live at peace with your neighbors if they are unbelievers and your goal is to spread Islam. Perhaps Muslim elders could take a page out of that book and use it for the goal of repairing the reputation of Islam in the world.

Ann Weaver Hart