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Extremists, the Majority and the Moderate Minority

This is a guest post by Amjad Khan

It is fashionable to talk about the ‘extremist minority’ and the ‘moderate majority’ when discussing Muslim extremism. This is usually followed by statements such as ‘we must empower the moderate majority’ and ‘isolate the extremist minority’.

But, as recent events in Pakistan have demonstrated, this simple dichotomy – though politically expedient-   is not entirely accurate. In truth their are various camps, many of which are problematic in their own way. These can be broken down into:

1)      Jihadists – those who motivated by Islamist ideology and believe in terrorism

2)      Islamists – those who are motivated by Islamist ideology but don’t believe in terrorism

3)      Wahabis – those who are inspired by an ultra-conservative Bedouin understanding of Islam

4)      Traditionalists – those who are rooted in ‘traditional’ Muslim theology

5)      Moderates/Liberals – those who are seeking to reconcile Islam with the modern world

The assassin of Salman Taseer, the governor of the Punjab, was a traditionalist. He wasn’t a Wahabi nor an Islamist, yet he was apparently inspired by his faith to kill a man in cold blood simply for seeking to repeal Pakistan’s archaic blasphemy laws. Following the internationally reported assassination of Mr Taseer, the assassin (Mumtaz Hussain Qadri), now has a supportive Facebook page and has been widely praised by Pakistans Brelwi clerics, who constitute the majority of clerics in the country. In fact many of them have condoned the attack and forbade other Muslims from attending Mr Taseers funeral.

This illustrates that whilst much of the focus of counter-extremism efforts is on Jihadism and Islamism , ‘Traditionalism’,  as represented in most Muslim majority countries, is also deeply problematic. Traditionalists, who comprise the majority of religious Muslims around the world, by and large still hold many beliefs that are supremacist, racist, homophobic and potentially can lead to violence. Hence, the much needed reform that is often spoke about, can’t be expected to come from traditionalist circles.

In my view, the fight against Muslim extremism in all its exotic varieties needs to come from ordinary people, members of civil society who are not rooted in one religious camp or another. This is not about ‘good religion vs. bad religion’. This is about galvanising individuals who don’t believe that their every action needs to carry sanction from medieval religious scripture. Individuals who are interested in promoting universal values, consensual democratic politics and opposing bigotry in all its forms. And there are many Muslims who do fit the criteria, but they are often ignored in policy circles for being ‘not credible’ with religious Muslims.

For too we have been relying on a mythical moderate religious majority to stand up and be counted. It’s time to realise, it isn’t about to happen.