Muslims, Terrorism, and “Overarching Allegiances”

بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيم

Recently, I happened to come across the quote, oft-repeated in our days, that “all Muslims are terrorists”. I do not wish to take the normal route and say that “No, Muslims are not terrorists” or “there are always bad apples in every bushel”, since such lines of defense are not relevant to many of those who hear it.

Rather, what I see is that there is in fact a clash of civilizations between the Islamic worldview and the non-Islamic worldview. What we see is that there is always a war, at least on an abstract level, with respect to which overarching ideologies will command the allegiance of any given person. Thus, there are many who say that Islam is a type of “overarching ideology” that seeks to control the person from all sides, and I will not say that such a statement is wrong, since Islam is after all about submission to the will of Allah, and it is indeed the case that there is an element of control and coercion in many of Islam’s rulings.

But what many people fail to notice is that the modern world order has its own elements of “overarching allegiance” planted inherently within it. This is because in any “order”, there will have to be a hierarchy of allegiances, in order for anarchy not to dominate the land. Yes, in the case of Islam it is the Islamic polity and the religion of Islam which undergirds it; people of other persuasions are given permission to worship, but this permission is restricted by the Islamic government. But we cannot be blind to the fact that for any given land, we have first the allegiance to the nation’s supreme law, often embodied in its constitution; and it is this supreme law from which all subsequent rights of the people derive.

It just so happens that in the modern world, these “overarching allegiances” are owed to ideologies that are inimical to Islam’s worldview – even if the Muslim presence in negligible. The truth is that the modern world is based on a number of assumptions, such as the ever-growing knowledge of mankind and the irrelevance of scriptural revelation; this assumption itself is based on the view that revelation “freezes” our knowledge and “keep us held back”, while progress and the accumulation of knowledge should be free of all such constraints. It is these types of assumptions will naturally incline towards viewing religions (and the Islamic religion in particular) with such deep-seated suspicion.

Indeed, the secular liberal democracy may allow for “freedom of religion”, but this is a very paternalistic style of freedom, and it is akin to the freedom parents may allow their children with respect to their “imaginary friends” when they are 4 or 5 years old. Sure, they may allow them to play with their imaginations, their dolls, and so forth, but they will expect such kids to grow out of these “delusions” as time passes on and they gain more knowledge about the world. If the kids do not grow out of these childhood habits, then there will be lots of embarrassment and pain for such parents, and they will try to remedy the situation through many different means.

It seems that the same is the case with the dominant world order and Islam. They may allow Muslims to practice their religion, but this is mostly a case of accommodating a “human need” within confined spaces such as Masajids. Such an approach is intended to corner and ultimately do away with Islam as a whole, since in such polities, the allegiance to the overarching non-Islamic supreme law, and of the assumptions underlying it are the final goals that are to be worked towards, not the allegiance to Allah and His Messenger .

But as far as the Muslim is concerned, his ultimate allegiance will always be to Allah and His Messenger . We are members of a certain ethnicity, language group, and nation, but as far as where our “overarching allegiance” should lie, it is with Islam. We can contribute to our society, whatever their beliefs may be, but we cannot forget that we will be questioned in the Hereafter if we go against any of the injunctions of Islam in order to uphold our ethnicity or national politics.

And this is from where the most serious problems emerge: What is seen by the secular liberal democracy as a temporary “childhood game” we should little by little grow out of is taken extremely seriously by the Muslim community. It does not mean that attacks targeting civilians is the correct response in resisting the overwhelming formal authority of the non-Islamic “supreme law”, but it shows that there will always be a state of conflict between these two world views wherever they come into contact.

It also shows that every non-Muslim who knows about this conflict is responsible for finding out about Islam from its learned scholars. It is not enough for the non-Muslim to hurl vituperations at an ideology he is not intimately familiar with, on the basis that the unfamiliarity with Islam and uneasiness with its regulations automatically indicates its invalidity. Finally, it presents with the Muslims with a chance to move beyond the talk of “terrorism” to study Islam properly and really understand what the long and illustrious tradition of Islam is in all its breadth and depth.