Tag Archives: extremism

Extremism has no religion.

If you have seen the film American History X, you’ll be struck at the similarities between white supremacist demagoguery and that of “Muslim” extremist demagoguery. The psychology of extremism transcends religion; fundamentally it is about hatred of the “other”.

The ingredients to motivating youngsters to extremism are universal. Take some disenfranchised youth, give them an “enemy” to blame for their problems and predicament. Add to that some twisted logic, back it up by selective statistics, de-contextualused scripture or some myths and hearsay about the other, re-enforce some identity (religion, race, ideology, tribe, etc.) and use a charismatic, eloquent and forceful frontman to deliver, using very heavy rhetorical devices, “solutions” to the “problems” that you have made people believe they have and you have a recipe for extremism that is both convincing and seductive. 

As a British Muslim, I advise you: Don’t be alarmed by Schwartz

Aftab Ahmad Malik*

Like Daniel Pipes and Steve Emerson of the United States, Schwartz feeds on ignorance and fear to create, justify and foster a climate of suspicion and hostility. Whereas Pipes believes that between 10 to 15 percent of US Muslims are potential killers, Schwartz settles for casting suspicion on one million Muslims as potential Jihadis (read: terrorists). Rather than seeking out and defining the nuances of the debate, Schwartz opts for the easy option of reducing the Muslim world into a black and white canvas, ironically, something that all extremists are rightfully condemned for doing. To assert that radicalisation among young Muslims has little to do with (British) foreign policy is to deny one of the very root causes of radicalisation, rendering any genuine attempt to eliminate it impotent. While two of the 7/7 suicide bombers left us their recorded messages and blamed British policy in Iraq for their actions, a Home Office and Foreign Office dossier ordered by Tony Blair in 2004 confirmed that Iraq was a “recruiting sergeant” for extremism. The bottom line is that foreign policy has every bit as much to do with this cancerous pathogen as does a literal interpretation of Islam’s sacred texts. Trying to understand the cause of terrorism should not be interpreted as a justification of it; that is as insane as denying that it has multiple causes.

Far from being breeding centres of radicalisation, the only thing that mosques are guilty of is employing imams from “back-home” who have alienated a generation of young Muslims. Increasingly, most young Muslims cannot speak or understand their mother tongue-the first language of most imams. While there are exceptions, the fact remains that most imams tend to have a limited understanding of the complexities of modern secular life and the challenges faced by young Muslims who seek an identity and just want to “fit-in.” Very rarely do imams attempt to make sense of the political climate or equip themselves to do so; they prefer to focus on matters of piety and faith. The young radicals that I have spoken to over the past five years typically have become more and more frustrated at and alienated by this general attitude in mosques and so looked elsewhere to acquire their Islamic “education”. The internet has been a great source for the propagation of a literalist theology and the multi-media experience of seeing footage of Muslim men, women, and children killed by secular “collateral damage” adds fuel to a fire that is ripe for exploitation. Yes, published books heavily subsidised by certain Middle-Eastern countries have nurtured this hate crime that Schwartz is so apt at repudiating, however, most mosques in the UK have fallen victim to their literalist, a-historical reading of Islam and Muslims are warned to look out for tell-tale signs of damnation. As such, both Barelwi and Deobandi Mosques are labelled as places of “evil-innovation” and Muslims are warned to avoid them.

So far, we have learned that identifying which mosque Muslims attend won’t help a lot in profiling potential terrorists. Sajad Badat, the would be suicide bomber, who at the last minute decided not to go through blowing up an airplane, came from a Deobandi background, whereas Asif Mohamed Hanif who actually did blow himself up in Israel came from a Barelwi-Sufi background. I doubt that Schwartz would claim that all Sufis are therefore potential killers, so why castigate suspicion on the Deobandis? Today, one can no longer simply brush both the Deobandis and Barelwis with one colour (despite the temptation) for each have their varying flavours and varieties, particularly when we have second-generation scholars of British origin who are trying to reconcile their traditions with the modern context with varying degrees of success.

While Tariq Ramadan insists that he should be judged not by his lineage but by his message (which is fair enough) and Tariq al-Suweidan actually hasn’t spoken on the “Radical Middle-Way” programme, it is genuinely sad to see Schwartz trying to demonise Hamza Yusuf.ii In most of his articles that he has written of late, Schwartz, in a most unscholarly way, has repeatedly and unfailingly attempted to convince his audience that Yusuf is a Wahhabi and/or a secret/closet radical/Jihadist. Schwartz either chooses to remain ill-informed or he is deliberately trying to sabotage Yusuf’s credibility – an attempt which only serves to discredit his own work and sets the “agenda” alert flashing. Schwartz’s approval of Dr. Irfan al-Alawi as “an outstanding British Muslim adversary of the extremists” is apt to prove the point. Dr. al-Alawi would find it very difficult to even contemplate Schwartz’s libellous description of Yusuf. I know – I called him after reading Schwartz’s article and asked him for his thoughts. Like many others, al-Alawi knows that Yusuf was instrumental in purging the extremist theology that haunted young Muslims during the 90s. He filled the void that had been created by a dearth of English-speaking imams and in truth was (and is) the reason why many Muslims (from diverse backgrounds) reaffirmed or adopted all the things that Schwartz would readily identify with mainstream Islam. This wasn’t the first time I had to call al-Alawi for his thoughts. In yet another article, Schwartz implied that al-Alawi had indicated that Yusuf was an extremist – something which al-Alawi robustly denies even having entertained or even mentioned at the Washington conference that is cited by Schwartz. Perhaps because Yusuf is outspoken on current affairs he is labelled a radical? Well, surprise: many secular people would agree with his comments and concerns about the “war on terrorism”, so would that make them secular radicals/terrorists? I am not sure what point Schwartz is attempting to prove or allude to when in passing, he unfailingly notes that Yusuf also has an English name (which actually isn’t Joe). Unless I am mistaken, even Schwartz has his own Muslim name: Stephen “Suleyman Ahmad” Schwartz, so should that be sufficient to raise concern about him?

Leaving aside for the moment his gaping factual errors, I would agree with Schwartz in that Muslims need to do more to bring about imams that are trained at home; citizens of the West that are at ease with both modernity and their tradition. Narrow readings of Islam will only leave us orphaned from the evolving story of Muslim civilisation and those who accuse others as deviating from a pristine, idealised Islam should not deter us in the least. There must also be a serious reassessment on the prolonged dependence on ideologically-driven texts written during the twentieth century against the backdrop of colonial resistance that serve no benefit in the context of Muslim minorities living in the West. The Muslim community also needs leadership that is rooted in traditional learning, encapsulated in a moral and ethical outlook. Myopia has robbed our intellectual discourse of any coherent vision for too long. Spirituality that has proven its transformative power time and time again, must once again find a major role in the lives of Muslims and relearning its sciences will provide us with some hope in producing great Muslim souls, as was once done in the past, and with that, the ability to enrich Great Britain.

*Aftab Malik is the Editor of The State We Are In: Identity, Terror and the Law of Jihad (Bristol: Amal Press, 2006) and Visiting fellow at the Center of Culture and Ethnicity, University of Birmingham (UK).


A reply to Schwartz’s article: “As an American Muslim, I warn you: Britain has a unique problem” Spectator, pp. 14-15, vol. 301 # 9288

See my Shwartz’s Words of Mass Distortion posted at: http://www.masudblog.com/Schwartz_Words_of_Mass_Distortion.htm

http://www.amalpress.com || http://www.masud.co.uk

Schwartz’s Words of Mass Distortion

as-salamu ‘alaykum,

Stephen Scwartz, the neo-Con Muslim, seems to have a grudge and agenda against Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. At every opportunity he twists and interpolates news to suit his own neo-Con agenda and pander to his neo-Con friends. Aftab Malik masterfully dissects and exposes Schwartz’s lies and a distortions, please circulate freely and as wide as possible:


Schwartz’s Words of Mass Distortion

Aftab Ahmad Malik*

In his recent article: Is California an Islamic Republic? (The Family Security Foundation, Inc., October 25, 2006), Stephen Schwartz, in his tireless search for an opportunity to profess his undying patriotism, has written a personal attack against Hamza Yusuf Hanson. The nominal basis for his attack is an article in a Saudi newspaper, in which Hamza Yusuf ?was described as “the mufti of California”. It is not clear how accurately this was translated for him, particularly as he later states that “It is Hamza Yusuf Hanson who is dishonest, when he calls himself, ridiculously, ‘the mufti of California’, and when he claims to be a Muslim moderate”. Schwartz’s claim then, is that Yusuf has been called or has called himself the mufti of California and, therefore, Schwartz claims, “propagandizes for the Islamicization of America”, based on how Yusuf has “built himself up as a major Western Muslim leader”.

My immediate response is to question why Schwartz has searched out this reference (of questionable accuracy) to denounce Hamza Yusuf. Why does he go to such pains to try to convince his readership that Yusuf is an extremist who does not speak for the majority of Muslims? The implication of course, is that Schwartz is a moderate Muslim (struggling for plurality) and in fact speaks for the majority of mainstream Muslims. In fact, Schwartz has a long record of denouncing other Muslims as either being Islamists, Jihadists, or Wahhabis?all words that the public has been taught to ?understand? represent three incarnations of everything evil in the world today. While the reality remains that many Americans still cannot make sense of Islam, Schwartz?s simplistic articles only offer a dangerous black and white view of a complex landscape. I find it astonishing that Schwartz, the executive director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism cannot even recognize the plurality within the Muslim community itself, and rather than acknowledge this, he demarcates disperse communities into moderates versus extremists.

Schwartz?s unabashed attack on Hamza Yusuf is at best misguided and at worst libelous. His continued character assassination of one of the most distinguished, loved, and brilliant Muslim scholars in the Western world is enough to discredit him in the eyes of many mainstream Muslims. The respect that Yusuf commands from numerous sectors of the Muslim community throughout the world is unquestioned; it is based on nearly fifteen years of studying with scholars throughout the world, in a tireless effort to grasp the depth of traditional Islamic scholarship. Schwartz himself wrote a moving obituary of the late ?famous Sufi teacher? and scholar, Shaykh Muhammad Alawi, in which he highlights the authority that Alawi commanded. And it is this very same Muhammad Alawi that is counted among the teachers of Hamza Yusuf, who was awarded a hand-written diploma by the Shaykh?something that Alawi rarely did?conferring upon Yusuf the licence to teach the Islamic sciences, which include Sufism.

I find it lamentable that Schwartz maintains this misguided assertion that Hamza Yusuf is dishonestly portraying himself as a Sufi and hiding ulterior motives that only Schwartz has been able to decipher (the rest of the gullible world has failed to recognize these ill-intentions). Surely this, above and beyond his other outlandish claims, clearly indicates that Schwartz is a man with an agenda and far from a serious or scholarly commentator on Islamic affairs. I question Schwartz?s intentions because he is most likely aware of and has met many contemporary Sufi shaykhs from America to Great Britain; West Africa to the Middle East; the Subcontinent to the Arabian peninsula, who confirm and acknowledge Yusuf as being counted among the qawm?a sufi term that refers to ?the people [of spiritual excellence].? Could Schwartz?s accusations stem from such a superficial fact that Yusuf does not dress like a Sufi shaykh, but wears western clothes? (I have actually met some individuals who criticize his ability to be a shaykh precisely because of this.) Or, perhaps Schwartz is irked by the fact that Yusuf is invited by a wide range of people to speak to diverse audiences, some of whom may not see eye-to-eye with the spiritual tradition of Islam?

Ironically, back in 1997 at Stanford University, the late expert on Sufism, Annemarie Schimmel, Hamid Algar of the University of Berkeley, and Hamza Yusuf spoke on the theme of ?Sufism and its influence on Europe.? In closing the program, Yusuf stressed that Sufism was an integral part of Islam, stating that ?in the tradition of Islam Sufism has always been part of the traditional Islamic curriculum in every single Muslim university.? He continued to remark that he knew of ?no period in the Islamic tradition in which Sufism was not taught in the universities and not seen as an important and fundamental aspect of the tradition of Islam.? More ironic yet is the fact that this favorable write-up of the event was (and remains) posted on the Naqshbandi.org website, a prominent Sufi group that operates under the auspices of the Sufi sage, Mawlana Shaykh Nazim al-Haqqani. If we believe, as Schwartz proposes, that Yusuf decided to transform himself from a ?radical? Muslim preacher into a spiritual Sufi, the author of the lengthy article would not have concluded by saying that this event took ?great courage? and was a ?courageous stand? in the light of the fact that (at that time) Sufism was perceived by many Muslims as something alien to Islam?clearly a result of the strength of a Wahhabi-brand of Islam.

I actually agree with Schwartz on one issue: it is ridiculous for Hamza Yusuf to call himself ?the mufti of California?; I daresay that Yusuf would consider it ridiculous as well. I doubt that Schwartz?s reference to the article in the Saudi newspaper is accurate. But I would correct Schwartz on the role of a mufti. He confusingly defines a mufti as a ?religious judge, directing sharia courts in Sunni Muslim countries,? (one would think a fairly substantial position of authority), then says that California does not need a mufti, ?because Sharia governs such minor aspects of Islamic life as the issuance of halal butchers? licenses?and the propriety of certain financial transactions.? Schwartz reveals his ignorance of the sharia, not to mention the role of a mufti. Then he goes on to clarify (for those unaware!) that California does not have sharia courts.

By way of clarification, a mufti fulfils a role that goes beyond merely declaring meat halal. The role of a mufti is more akin to that of a rabbi and an imam to that of a cantor. A rabbi explains Torah and Mishnah to his congregants and the function of a mufti is to explain the Qur?an and the Prophetic way to his followers; this can relate to everything from how to prepare oneself for prayer to whether insurance is a halal financial transaction. A mufti gives non-binding legal opinions and has no state authority, nor can his opinions be enforced by the state in most matters. Muslim nations often appoint a Grand Mufti, as in Egypt, but most muftis actually have no state affiliation. Muftis are also noted for their intellectual ability and moral character. Indeed, the late Dr. Zaki Badawi of London was, in one of his obituaries, referred to as the ?Grand Mufti? of England. There were no sensationalist headlines the following day that sought to explain how all along, Zaki Badawi the mild-mannered moderate Muslim, was a stealth Islamist by night, because it simply would not be true. Rather, the title was bestowed upon him as a mark of respect and acknowledgement of his intellectual prowess, authority and admiration he had earned from many people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike in the UK.

In his article, Schwartz has manipulated the facts in order to create a fictional scenario in which a fictional character (only nominally based upon the real Hamza Yusuf) has a fictitious aim of establishing an Islamic republic in California. The only credence that Schwartz has that lends itself to this mythical construct is a quote by Zaid Shakir (who he inaccurately refers to as Ziad Shakir), in which Shakir remarked that he would ?like to see America become a Muslim country.? Had he known Shakir personally, Schwartz would have understood the inaccuracy of his explanation. Shakir?s remark is no more than an imitation of the Prophet Muhammad?s words: ?Love for humanity what you love for yourself.? Shakir, a dedicated savant and intellectual giant, said that to love what he loves (and clearly, Zaid Shakir loves Islam), how could he not wish for other people to enjoy what he enjoys from Islam? As the late Betty Shabaz remarked, only people of violence read violence into Malcolm?s words and I would add that only those who want to feed the current climate of fear, announce it wherever they can.

Hamza Yusuf has been vociferous in the past as well as the present, on the topic of those who seek to subvert the lands in which they live, and has said in no uncertain terms that these people should leave?if they wish to live under Islamic law, there is nothing preventing them from moving to those lands in which it is the rule of the land. At the same time, Yusuf has not made secret his views on what he sees as the ailments of the society in which he lives. There is gross inequality in the distribution of wealth, the educational system is not producing rounded human beings, and there are areas in America where there is intense racial tension and segregation. While Yusuf has openly criticized the country?s foreign policy, he has emphasized that foreign policy should not be seen as synonymous with the American people; this is a message that he has particularly stressed when speaking in the Middle East. The problem we face is that despite the Internet and talk about a global village, there still remains a huge gulf between the West and the Muslim world.

To be patriotic (and Schwartz implicitly implies that Yusuf is not), does not mean to turn a blind eye to injustices. To be loyal or zealously support one?s country can be dangerous if it is merely another name for crude nationalism. True patriotism?to truly have a great love for one?s country?would include exercising one?s judgment, evaluating policies, and engaging in discussions. When Yusuf says that most Americans do not comprehend Islam or that racism is a real concern, he is not revealing a conspiracy of hate toward America. These are issues that have been debated for decades by many (non-Muslim) social scientists and (non-Muslim) religious/political commentators. It is only at the mercy of Schwartz?s pen that such concerns are twisted and morphed into a sinister and threatening menace. In an environment that is plagued by a virtual avalanche of tracts, writings, and publications that express unrestrained animosity to Islam and Muslims, written by so-called experts on Islam (the vast majority of whom do not read, write, or speak Arabic), the quest for sanity and balance seems lost within a quagmire of suspicion and self-appointed ?moderate? Muslim leaders. The only losers in the end will be the principles of equity, integrity, and justice. When these are lost, what reigns is anarchy, and this will ultimately lead to the perpetuation of hate crimes.

*Editor of The State We Are In: Identity, Terror and the Law of Jihad (Bristol: Amal Press, 2006) and Visiting fellow at the Center of Culture and Ethnicity, University of Birmingham (UK).