In Ramadan and Shawwal 1401 AH/1981 AC, al Ummah magazine published my two-part article on the awakening of Muslim youth. In this study I drew attention to the positive and negative aspects which concerned observers, duah and Muslim scholars attributed to the awakening. I also suggested that we should have a dialogue with and show paternal sympathy toward these young Muslims, and then channel their reawakening in order to strengthen rather than to impoverish Islam. The response to this study was so warm throughout the Muslim world that the study was translated into several languages. Furthermore, the youth in many Muslim universities tolerantly studied my views despite the fact that my views were critical of many of them.
I would like here to acknowledge with pleasure the attitude of the Islamic Group at the University of Cairo who adopted my study during their ninth camp in the summer of 1981 and printed and distributed it to all those interested. This indeed reflects a laudable awareness as well as a readiness to support moderation.
I shall not indulge here in discussing the recent events which occurred in some Muslim countries and which involved serious and bloody confrontation between the youth and the authorities, not only because I do not want to aggravate the matter further, but also because al Ummah magazine has always catered to the whole Muslim Ummah, not any particular group. What concerns us here is the prolonged and heated discussion aroused by these events on so-called "religious extremism, in which not only learned people participated but also those whose knowledge of Islam is characterized by ignorance and whose attitude is characterized by animosity, sarcasm, and cynicism.
I was also asked a few years ago by al Arabi magazine to write the subject of "religious extremism" with special emphasis on its nature and its characteristics. When the article appeared in the special edition of January 1982, some friends blamed me for contributing an issue where the truth, they believed, was being generally distorted in support of batil Although my friends did not question either contents or the essence of the article, they were nevertheless suspicious of the motives and aims behind the campaign which has lately been launched against "religious extremism" They were not convinced that the campaign genuinely sought to resist extremism or to guide the extremism to the path of moderation, but rather that is sought to crush the Islamic reawakening before it could become strong and popular enough ultimately assume a significant political role. My friends noted that the authorities did not begin to pay attention to the religious youth until latter began to oppose, on religious grounds, some of the government's policies. This is supported by the fact that the people in power act, patronized certain religious groups which had demonstrated extreme trends in order to use them against other Islamic movements, then crushed the former when their appointed role was over. As such, my friends insisted, the reasons behind the confrontation between the authorities the Islamic groups could not be the emergence of extremism. They further believed that the authorities in our Muslim countries considered the Islamic movement a most dangerous enemy. Such authorities could, and did make alliances with either the extreme right or left, but with the Islamic movement. Sometimes a temporary truce was declared with this movement; at other times the authorities tried to involve, confrontation with their own political and ideological opponents. Eventually the authorities and the opponents discovered that they had affinity of aims and means than they realized, and therefore united against the Islamic movement. Allah (SWT) says in the Qur'an: "Verily the wrongdoers are protectors to one another, but Allah is the protector the pious who fear Him and avoid evil" (45:19).. Recent events support this very strongly. The emergencies of Islamic groups in Egypt was characterized by extremism. However, they eventually began to show a temperate and moderate attitude thanks to the efforts of a variety of Muslim thinkers and duah who managed to influence the thinking as well as the conduct of these young Muslims to the extent that temperance and moderation became characteristic traits of the majority of them. Surprisingly, the people in power kept silent when extremism was dominant, but crushed these groups when moderation prevailed.
I was not unware of these disheartening considerations. In fact, they made me begin my article in al Airabi with the following:
Despite my conviction of the noble aim which motivated al Arabi to open a dialogue on what has come to be known as "religious extremism," and despite my unshakable belief in the importance of the issue and the gravity of its impact on our contemporary affairs, I will not conceal the fact that I hesitated at the beginning for fear that what I may write, especially these days, could be misinterpreted or even deliberately exploited to serve something contrary to my intentions or to that of the journal itself.
Moreover, "religious extremism" is currently in the dock and a target of accusations and criticism by writers and by orators. I do not like to side with the strong against the weak, and it is a fact that the authority is always in a stronger position than its opponents. suffice it to say that an Islamist does not even enjoy the right to defend himself. There is no freedom of expression in the media, nor can he even use the platform of the mosque for that purpose.
My hesitation was strengthened by the fact that for decades Islamists have been flooded with accusations by their opponents. They are labelled "reactionaries," "die-hard traditionalists," "bigots," "agents" of enemy countries, although no observer can fail to see that both the East and the West and the right and the left are united in their hostility to them and look for any opportunity to crush the Islamic awakening.
However, after much thought I concluded that the issue concern the whole Muslim world and not a single country; that silence is not a solution, and that refusal to contribute is, like fleeing a battle, un-Islamic. 1 have therefore put my trust in Allah (SWT) and decided to clarify the truth. The Prophet (SAAS) said in a hadith: "The reward of deeds depends upon intentions, and every person will get the reward according to what he has intended''.
Many writers who are either ignorant driven by ulterior motives, who have no insight into the nature of the issue have felt free to voice their opinions. Such a situation inevitably invites all Muslim scholars to throw their weight behind the campaign and confront the issue in order to clarify the truth. My determination was further strengthened by my long interest in the I issue of "religious extremism" A few years ago I published an article in al Muslim al Mu'asir on "The Phenomenon of Excessive Takfir. Another article, "The Reawakening of Muslim Youth", mentioned earlier,' was published several months ago in al Ummah. In addition, I have had the opportunity to meet many young Muslims face to face in their camps and during their seminars, and also to discuss with them issues that focus on one theme-the call for moderation and the warning against extremism. However, what I wrote in al ArabI was limited to the specific topic required by the journal as well as the limited space allocated for it. For these reasons, I have for some time felt obliged to return to this issue, the phenomenon of "religious extremism", and to conduct an objective study of its reality, causes, and remedy within a genuine Islamic I framework. My determination to go ahead will not be discouraged by the participation of those who seek to distort and exploit the issue. The Prophet (SA'AS) said: [The banner of Islamic] knowledge will be carried from one generation to the other by the moderates who defend it against the distortion of bigots, the claims of falsifiers and the misinterpretation of the ignorant." This hadith pinpoints the duty of the learned who should clarify, not conceal, the truth so that they may avoid Al's curse. But the responsibility extends to various other parties who are concerned directly or indirectly with the issue under discussion. It is neither just nor honest to hold only the young responsible for being excessive in thought or in conduct. Many others, especially those who have neglected their commitment to Islam and its teachings, share this responsibility, although they always try to exonerate themselves. Nominal Muslims, whether parents, teachers, scholars or others, have made Islam, Islamists, and du 'ah outcasts in Muslim lands. It is strange that we readily disapprove of extremism among the young but fail to recognize our own extremism, our negligence, and our laxity. We ask the young to show temperance and wisdom, to relinquish extremism and excessiveness, but we never ask the elderly to purify themselves from hypocrisy, Iying, cheating, and all forms of self-contradiction. We demand everything of our youth, but we do not practice what we preach, as if we are naturally entitled to all the rights while the young must be burdened with all the duties. Yet we always emphasize that there are duties as well as rights for all. What we actually need is the unflinching courage to admit that our youth have been forced to resort to what we call "religious extremism" through our own misdeeds. We claim to be Muslims yet we do not follow the teachings of Islam. We recite the Qur'an but we do not apply its ahkam. We claim to love the Prophet Muhammad (SA'AS) but we fail to follow his Sunnah. We declare in our constitutions that Islam is the offical religion but we never give Islam its due place in government legislation or orientation. Our own hypocrisy and self-contradictions have alienated the young, who have sought to understand Islam without assistance or guidance from us. They have found parents discouraging ulama indifferent, rulers hostile, and counselors cynical. Therefore, in order to rectify this situation, we need to begin by reforming ourselves and our societies according to Allah's decree before we can ask our youth to be calm, to show wisdom and temperance.
It may be worthwhile here to draw attention to a point on which those in authority, as well as some writers, usually concentrate: the duty and the role of the "official" religious establishments in eradicating extremism and in guiding the Islamic reawakening among our youth. Some hold these "official" religious establishments responsible for what has happened-and is still happening-as well as for all forms of extremism and deviation. It appears that despite their importance and deep roots, these establishments are now incapable of carrying out the mission entrusted to them unless the political authorities cease to manipulate and exploit them, using them as instruments of support and praise for official policies. The official religious establishments in the Muslim world could indeed play a positive role by giving guidance and genuine Islamic knowledge to the youth if they were free to manage their own affairs without interference from people in power. However, in the absence of that freedom they remain lifeless skeletons.
We must also remember that advice is meaningless unless the adviser enjoys the trust of the youth. In the absence of such essential mutual trust and confidence, every advice given is reduced to mere rhetoric. Our young people have no faith in these religious establishments or in their leaders who have been appointed by the authorities. There were circumstances and reasons which actually convinced the youth that these establishments do not reflect the teachings of Shariah but have merely become the mouthpiece of the regime. Such establishments can, therefore, exert influence only when they put their own houses in order: They should refuse to enter the ever-changing, vicious circle of politics; rather their activities should center on the upbringing of generations of Fuqaha well-versed in Islam, and fully conscious of, and having insight into, the problems of their age, i.e., "those who convey the message of Allah, and fear none save Him" (33:39). Our modern contemporary societies urgently need such righteous scholars who are blessed with insight and who can instruct our young people in their faith and give proper guidance to the Islamic awakening. Those who stand aloof and who are indifferent to the Islamic resurgence or who criticize it without sharing its sufferings or feeling its aspirations as well as its disappointments cannot play a positive role in its guidance. One of our ancient poets wrote: "None knows well the sting of craving, nor the pains of longing except he who suffers to no avail."
Those who do not live for Islam and for its spreading and do not share the suffering and the hardships that beset the Ummah are self-cantered. Such people have no right to tell those who believe in Islam and live by it that they are wrong and should change; and if they seize that right by force, no one will ever listen to them. In conclusion, my own advice to whoever undertakes to counsel the youth is to abandon his ivory towers, forsake his intellectual heritage, and come down to earth with the young. He should identify with their great expectations, warmth of affection, genuine determination, noble motivation, and good deeds. Furthermore, he must also distinguish between their negative and positive conduct and attitudes so that he can give advice based on insight, and make judgements based on evidence.
May Allah (SWT) guard us all against excessiveness and extremism and direct us toward the straight path.
Yusuf al Qaradawi
Shawwal 1402 AH
August 1982 AC