Dr. Abdul-Rahman ibn Muala al-Mutairi
Source: Religious Extremism in the Lives of Contemporary Muslims
Extremism occurs in many spheres, be it ideological, religious or non-religious, regardless of whether it be among a subsection of the community or the whole nation. Its existence in the Islamic Nation therefore is not something unusual. Indeed, it is consistent with the reality of the intellectual lives of humans.
This is not meant to be a rationalization for its occurrence. However, it is just an explanation of the reality. Knowing the nature of extremism must be considered one of the means to evaluate the problem and seek its cure in any era. Without this knowledge, the researcher will set out on a path that is truly purposeless and haphazard with respect to solving this problem. Many of the mistakes that researchers make while studying this problem are because they fail to recognize the nature of extremism itself. One may summarize the questions whose answers will provide the nature of extremism in contemporary times as the following:
Is the problem or phenomenon proactive or is it simply a reaction?
Is it a temporary or a permanent problem?
Is the problem one of social and political upbringing and maturity or is it more general than that?
Is it a regional problem in one area or is it universal?
Is it a problem that has sprung internally from the Muslim society or have external factors been the main influence?
Is it an individual or group phenomenon?
I shall eagerly attempt to respond to these questions which should uncover the nature of extremism in the lives of contemporary Muslims.
1- Is the Problem or Phenomenon Proactive or Is It Simply a Reaction?
Extremism, in its essence, is a behavioral response that human behavior is normally inclined to, such as a reaction to a number of factors: internal factors related to the depths of the individual psychological life and external factors that are related to the influences of the environment. Usually, the extremism that occurs in an unstable environment is, in reality, a reaction and is not proactive. The evidence for that is that most of the extremist acts that have taken place throughout history have been during crises and unstable times.
This point is not refuted by the fact that there was extremism during the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and during the time of his Companions. The extremism that took place in their times was actually a reaction to, in their [mistaken] view, something wrong. Extremism like distorted thinking and deviations from the truth can appear in a pious, sound environment, as it occurred during the time of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). However, in such cases it will only be due to the deviation of the extremist himself as he perceives something as falsehood while it is not falsehood at all.
Extremism is a reaction to something wrong, regardless of whether it is something wrong in reality or only in the perception of the extremist. The man who objected to the Prophet’s division of the war booty after the Battle of Hunain went to an extreme and violated the rule of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). He did so because he believed that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) had performed an unjust and oppressive deed as the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) did not set the portions exactly equal among the combatants. His claim was that perfect equality alone was justice.
Similarly, the Khawaarij who revolted against Ali ibn Abi Taalib argued that he had done a wrong deed by accepting the arbitration.
Therefore, extremism certainly has a strong connection to the social and political environment, actions and circumstances. It is not the child of thought only. A specialist in psychology wrote, “If a person finds himself in a situation that he cannot accept, he unconsciously seeks a resolution by reacting in opposition to that situation. Whenever the driving forces are stronger, the reaction becomes stronger. This could even lead to radicalism and violence.”
This fact led one researcher to state that extremism is “a repercussion or reflection of the political and social systems’ inability to handle internal and external crises.” This is not meant to be a justification or rationalization for extremism and what it entails, as the extremists are sick with what could be termed the “factors conducive or dispositions to extremism.”
These factors are:
– They are not sound with respect to the knowledge of the law of Allah.
– They are not sound in thought with respect to the methodology that they use in understanding the texts of the Shareeah.
– They have very little contact with the people of knowledge and remembrance of God.
These factors conducive for extremism or this “ripe soil” for extremism put the burden and sin of becoming fit and ready to cultivate extremism first and foremost upon the extremists themselves.
Failure to understand these two important aspects of the problem – (1) that unusual or unacceptable occurrences produce a reaction and (2) the extremists themselves possess qualities conducive to extremism leads to a shortcoming in one’s conceptualization of the problem. And this is what leads to failure in evaluating it properly and curing it appropriately.
The stated principle that extremism is a response to unusual or improper circumstances in Muslim society applies with respect to contemporary extremism. A secular judge who has experience with this problem confirms this. He stated that extremism was a reaction to political and social factors and it was these factors that led to the appearance of the [extremist] groups.
Indeed, most Muslim societies today abound in negative aspects that enrage the most prudent and calm. These societies suffer from the harshness of social m1ustices, economic deprivation, oppression, cultural dispossession, immorality and corruption. The harshness that is used by those accused of extremism is simply a response to the harshness they are facing.
One professor stated, “My analysis of the stance of these fanatic youth has brought me to the conclusion that their extremism is a result of the extremes they are facing. In other words, it is a reaction and not a proactive position. This conclusion is supported by the fact that throughout the history of the revivalist movements in the different lands and eras that had a measure of freedom, interest in meeting the needs of the Muslim nation and some application of the law of Allah, those movements never had to take to extremism or violence. The phenomenon of extremism did not exist or if it did it was on such a small scale that it did not deserve the attention of serious study. Therefore, the conclusion that contemporary extremism is a reaction is virtually agreed upon by all those who researched this problem. However, [it must be pointed out] that no matter what the mistake [occurring in society is] its only cure must be according to the balanced Shareeah method of reformation and not via extremism.
What are the factors that form the “action” that produces this reaction? What is the setting that produces these attributes conducive to extremism? These questions have already been answered in the first section of this chapter.
(To be Continued)
 Cf., Muhammad Amaarah, al-Watan newspaper, 10/24/1 988.
 Cf., Rad Abdul Jaleel, al-Tatarruf al-Deeni fi Iraan, p. 20.
 Cf., Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Baari, vol. 6, p. 619.
 Dr. Muhammad Shalaan, Professor and Department Head, Department of Neurology, University of Cairo, Interview in al-Akhbaar newspaper, 1/7/1989.
 Saad al-Deen Ibraaheem, Msir Turaaji Nafsaha, p. 22.
 Cf., Fahrni Huwaidi, al-Tatarruf wa Abaaduhu al-Silbiyyah, p. 14.
 Cf., Rajaa al-Arabi, Al-Tatarruf al-Deeni wa Abaaduhu al-Salbiyyah, pp. 2-3.
 Cf., Muhammad Amaarah, interview in al-Watan al-Kuwaitiyyah newspaper, 10/28/88.
 Abdul Saboor Shaaheen, interview in Ukaadh al-Saoodiyyah newspaper, 6/15/88.
 In addition to what was referred to, see Saad al-Deen Ibraaheem, Misr Turaaji Nafsahaa, p. 22; Ahmad Kamaal Abu al-Majd, al-Tatarruf al-Deeni wa Abaaduhu, p. 6; Fahrni Huwaidi, al-Tatarruf al-Deeni wa Abaaduhu, pp. 3 and 1 6; Taariq al-Bishri, Sayabqa al-Ghulu ma Baqi al-Taghreeb, p. 58.
 [This is undoubtedly one of the most important points that the author makes in this work. Muslims cannot allow their emotions to get the better of them. This is what leads them to perform many acts that, at the very least, are questionable in the light of the Shareeah. Indeed, they are required to act according to the Shareeah and for the sake of Allah and not according to their desires and for the sake of revenge, personal hatred and so on. When Muslims act within the limits of the Shareeah and act sincerely for Allah, Allah will then bless them and grant them the victory that they are seeking. However, if the goal is simply some sort of victory at any cost in this world over the enemies and unbelievers, then Allah may not bless them and they are left in their miserable plight of a weak band of renegades who can do little against the major forces against them.]