Islam is a religion and Muslims are the people who follow Islam. Islamism is the ideology that promotes the idea of imposing a particular interpretation of Islam over a community. The word “Islamist” was coined by a few members of the Muslim Brotherhood who were put in jails under the regime of Gamal Abdul Nasser. They started saying that only they are Muslims and Gamal Abdul Nasser is a disbeliever. However, this was a tiny section of Muslim Brotherhood, the mainstream Muslim Brotherhood opposed their idea and said no we are the Islamiyun (Islamists) and people like Nasser are Muslimoon (Muslims). A Muslim is someone who believes in Islam and the main principles of Islam. Similarly an Islamist also believes in Islam and its main principles but he also believes that the religion of Islam must be implemented all over the world and that Islam has given us the responsibility to impose it over the different communities whenever we have the chance to do so. Unlike normal Muslims, an Islamist is different because he believes he has some political and social responsibilities assigned to him by Islam. Not all Muslims are Islamists but every Islamist believes in Islam (and hence is a Muslim).
The history of Islamism or political Islam can be traced back to Imam Ibn Taymiyyah. Ibn Taymiyyah is considered to be the first person who interpreted Islam in a political manner. In this elucidation, Islam has been presented to us as a deen and not just a mazhab, which means that Islam is not merely a set of rituals but a complete code of life that cannot be separated from the affairs of the state. It says that Islam has assigned some political and social responsibilities to us and it is our prime responsibility to impose Islam in every corner of the world whenever we have the opportunity to do so. This interpretation demands control over the entire world. In the last couple of centuries, this school of thought has come to prominence dominating the intellectual thought process and hence cannot be ignored. Jihad is central to this interpretation and the very purpose of jihad according to this school of thought is to spread the dominance of Islam over the world.
This elucidation of Islam was further expounded thoroughly by Syed Abul Ala Maududi, Syed Qutb and Hassan Al Bannah. Muslims are in denial when it comes to realising facts regarding radical Islam. They become paranoid if someone tries to highlight the points like I have above. Anyone who tries to say that radicalism has a strong basis in Islam is immediately labeled as an Islamophobe. Instead of realising the facts and the weaknesses that lie within our doctrine, or in our interpretation, Muslims have started playing the blame game. We have been making lame excuses in order to prove that Islam has nothing to do with extremism.
One excuse is that poverty is responsible for extremism. More than fifty percent people live below the poverty line in Pakistan but the question is how can it be a cause of extremism? If I am living in poverty, if my rights are being trampled, and despite being educated I am unemployed, I should fight and target those who are in charge of these matters, but extremists are not targeting the ones responsible, but poor and innocent people. How can poverty make someone throw gay men off a tall building (like Isis does) or deny women their individual rights and freedom? Osama bin Laden was not from a poor family. Saad Aziz who murdered Sabeen Mehmud and was also involved in the Safoora carnage did not come from a poor family. Born in Karachi, he got educated till O level from Beaconhouse Gulshan-e-Iqbal branch, passed A level with excellent grades from The Lyceum Clifton in 2007, and got admission in one of the most renowned and reputable business institutes of Pakistan, IBA. He completed his BBA in 2011 and started working in his own restaurant Cactus situated at Sindhi Muslim Cooperative Society, Karachi. He also did an internship for a month at a multinational organization in 2009 as part of his degree. Does he look like a poor or uneducated person? Of course not. Saad Aziz later on confessed that he attended the lectures of Tanzeem-e-Islami (an organization founded by Dr. Israr Ahmed) and those lectures were responsible for radicalizing his mind.
Another terrorist involved in the Safoora carnage was Mohammad Azfar Ishrat alias Maajid, an engineering graduate from Sir Syed University of Engineering and Technology and also an expert of electronic time bombs (again not a poor or uneducated person).
Yet another similar story is that of Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, who is famous for his role in the kidnapping and the murder of Wallstreet Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. The background of Omar Sheikh tells us that he too was from a well-off family. In his youth he attended Forest School, Walthamstow, an independent school in North-East London. Between the ages of 14 and 16 he attended Aitchison College, a high profile boys’ boarding school in Pakistan, where his family had temporarily relocated. He returned to England and continued studying at Forest School. Later on he attended The London School Of Economics to study statistics. Does he look like a poor, helpless or uneducated person to us?
I think it’s time we Muslims stop playing the blame game and start facing up to the harsh realities.