December 6, 2016 Special Dispatch No. 6702

Qatari Writer: Religious Extremism's Roots Are In Muslim Society, Not External Elements

December 6, 2016
Qatar | Special Dispatch No. 6702

On September 7, 2016, Qatari writer and intellectual Dr. 'Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari, former dean of Islamic law at Qatar University, wrote in his column in the UAE daily Al-Ittihad that the Arabs must stop thinking that external elements such as the West or economic woes are to blame for Islamic religious extremism. The Arabs, he said, should examine themselves and their school curricula, raise the younger generation to be tolerant and open, and fight political Islam and prevent mosque pulpits from being used to spread extremist ideas.

Following are excerpts from his column:[1]

Dr. 'Abd Al-Hamid Al-Ansari (image:

"Religious extremism is not, as many believe, a new phenomenon or the result of current events. It has accompanied Arab societies throughout Islamic history, but was [at first] limited to individuals, not to [entire] groups and organizations – until the arbitration between 'Ali and Muawiya, [which led] to the Kharijites'[2] breakaway [from Islam]. They were the first armed terrorist organization, and their violent attack was against the best Muslim society [of all] – the righteous caliphs and the righteous caliphate state – [and was launched] under the slogan of 'there is no rule but Allah's.' This [Kharijite] slogan gave rise to Al-Mawdudi's, and later Sayyid Qutb's, espousal of perception of hakimiyya,[3] which forms the ideological lynchpin of all subsequent extremist organizations.

"Had the Kharijites been satisfied with armed rebellion, had not accused the Companions of the Prophet of apostasy and made [taking] their blood [i.e. lives] and property permissible, we would have said that they were like all separatist rebel groups that gnaw away at the united Muslim corpus. But the Kharijites were known for their aggressive religious extremism that did only accuse their political rivals of apostasy, but also declared their blood, property, and honor [permissible] – and today this is what we call terrorism.

"I oppose the politicization of religious extremism, or justifying it on the grounds of political oppression, suppression of liberties, and the spread of tyranny. I also [oppose] blaming religious extremism on economic factors such as unemployment and poverty; attributing it to international conflicts such as the problems in Palestine, Kashmir, and Chechnya, or to the American presence in the region and the American occupation in Iraq; or [claiming] that Muslims have been the target of an external plot. These and other excuses are spread by various media outlets, a large portion of writers and intellectuals, pan-Arabist preachers, left-wingers and Islamists, and especially political Islam preachers, who justify religious extremism by calling it a response to oppressive international policy and the result of totalitarian Arab regimes and secular [desecration] of religious symbols.They even tie religious extremism to the torture inflicted on Muslim Brotherhood [members] in the prisons.

"In my opinion, all these explanations and excuses serve one purpose: politically exploiting terrorism for the benefit of various groups' partisan agendas (pan-Arabist, leftist, and Islamist), by means of winning over public opinion, stirring it up, and inciting it against the regimes.

"Thus, extremism, just like [religious] fanaticism, is the result of internal causes and elements that are rooted in a misguided, unilateral, and closed-minded education that does not foster critical thinking and is not open to humanistic cultures. [It is the result of] religious discourse aimed strictly at depicting the world as plotting against Muslims, [the result of] media that incites against the other and sows hatred in the hearts and minds of young people, and [the result of] of an unwise policy that discriminates among citizens, and fails to establish an egalitarian 'embracing citizenship' for all elements of society.

"How do we deal with religious extremism?

"If we want to tackle the causes of religious extremism, we must first reexamine early childhood upbringing methods – because as education and psychology research has shown, most extremists are the product of a failed upbringing that is the result of unfettered [population] growth or the breakdown of the family. Furthermore, we [must] overhaul school curricula, teaching methods, and the teaching environment as a whole – and not only develop and improve curricula and textbooks. One of the most important things in this context is to remove extremists and hate preachers from the educational environment... We must also oversee the pulpits from which religious sermons are delivered, and classify as a crime their use for any purpose besides the legitimate roles they are meant to play, such as exploiting them for a partisan agenda or [in order to spread] extremist ideas.

"The mosque pulpits of all religious schools of thought and trends must unite and not divide, and must stress commonalities and foster the sublime Islamic principles and values... We should also develop the religious discourse so that it is open to the other and to shared human values, and should work to limit the religious establishment's influence and shatter its custodianship of society... along with banning fatwas that accuse others of apostasy, that incite, and that question the beliefs of others.

"Ultimately, extremism is the symptom of a disease, and if we truly want to tackle extremism, we must first dry up its sources and remove its roots that reach deep into the social soil – because the foundation of extremism is an ideology that drives its proponents to think that they possess the ultimate truth and that others [believe] in mistaken things..."



[1] Al-Ittihad (UAE), September 7, 2016.

[2] In 657 CE, Muawiya I fought a battle with Caliph 'Ali bin Abi Talib in an attempt to topple him. When the battle ended with no clear victor, it was decided that the two would undergo a process of arbitration to determine the leader, after which Muawiya was appointed caliph. A group of Ali's supporters objected to the results of the arbitration, arguing that the transfer of leadership is solely in the hands of Allah. This group therefore set itself apart from the rest of the Muslims and received the name Khawarij (Kharijites).

[3] The view that rule is Allah's alone, which is not the case in modern Muslim societies, which rely on man-made laws. The ideological fathers of radical Islam such as Al-Mawdudi and Sayyid Qutb claimed that the absence of hakimiyya takes Muslims back to the pre-Islamic jahiliyya (ignorance) period, in which people did not honor the rule of Allah.

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