The opposing manifestations of Islam: from Afghanistan to Morocco

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The return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan and their theocratic attitudes have once again put the spotlight on the various forms of Islam that have found their way into the Muslim world. The Taliban claim the Islam they practice is untouched. However, their version is not upheld by the authorities in most parts of the Muslim world. Morocco is one of the Muslim-majority states where Islam is revered and practiced as a way of belief and way of life, but in contrast to the extremist brand of the Taliban, which is more “back to the future”.

Undoubtedly, at the macro level, all followers of Islam, regardless of their sect and sociopolitical shade, believe in three essential components of religion: that Allah (God) is the Creator and Mover of the universe, and He is omnipotent, omnipotent, omniscient and of all form exalted from reproach; that the Prophet Muhammad is His Messenger charged with creating God’s Kingdom on earth; and that the Koran (Holy Book) is an unconstructed text of the words of God.

The Koran and the deeds of the Prophet (Sunna) are the main sources for the construction of Sharia (Islamic) law, within the framework of which Muslims can organize and behave on the righteous path and manifest God’s greatness on earth.

At the micro level, different manifestations of Islam have emerged in the course of history. After the Prophet’s death in 632, Islam became pluralistic inside and out and could not be as monolithic as originally thought. Islam experienced an internal split with the emergence of two main sects – the majority of Sunnis and the minority of Shiites – each with different sub-sects and schools of thought, and interacted with different cultural and social norms and practices while spanning different societies. In doing so, religion Islamized many aspects of these societies, but also gave way to some of their social and cultural influences. Hence there are various ideological interpretations and applications of religion and its nuanced use as an ideology of resistance and reassertion for a range of social transformations in different parts of the Muslim realm.

There are different types of Islam in today’s world. The theopolitical version of the Salafist and deobandi Sunni Hanafi of the Taliban, which in some Sunni variations is also persecuted by militant groups such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State, stands very independently. The group’s literary and narrow interpretation and practice of belief contrasts with many others, including the specific Shiite model of Iran, the changing Wahhabi genre of Saudi Arabia, and the Moroccan “moderate” brand.

In order not to throw our net too far, let’s take a quick look at the Moroccan case, which is the opposite of that of the Taliban. As a predominantly Sunni-Muslim state, Morocco’s version of promoting a lovable Islam on a societal level exudes two important aspects. One is that the hereditary King Mohammed VI, whose ancestry goes back to the Prophet, used his title of “Commander of the Believers” and Protector of Islam, along with his extraordinary constitutional powers, to be an anti-extremist or whatever? could be described as “progressive” Islam. He pursues this goal with a two-pronged approach that enables Islamists to participate formally and informally in political events and at the same time to regulate their religious tone and attitudes according to the changing times.

He has used the constitutionally anchored multi-party electoral system of the government to give the Islamists a participatory space in the political arena. In the five-year general election, the Islamist Justice and Development Party is allowed to run for 325 seats alongside other parties from the right, middle and left spectrum, with the king appointing the prime minister as head of government from the party that wins the most seats. In the 2021 elections, the Islamist party suffered a historic defeat, winning only 13 seats. The fact that it is given the same opportunities to participate in the elections, no matter how regulated they may have been, is in contrast to many other Arab states, in which the Islamist parties are either banned or politically completely marginalized.

At the same time, compliance with an anti-extremist Islam is enforced. Under the leadership of the king, the state organizes conferences, fertilization forums and educational enterprises for religious figures to affirm the virtue of Islam as a religion of peace and a tolerant form of community. While historical educational institutions such as the University of al-Qarawiyyin and its peers, including the Ulema High Council, serve as sources of consensus building, the revival of Sufism or Islamic mysticism is also increasingly emphasized around “the truth of divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God ”.

In this context, Morocco has meanwhile also become a center for the training of imams from many West African Muslim states and communities – an initiative that has enabled the country to stand up for the cause of anti-extremist Islam beyond its own sphere.

Of course, the Moroccan approach has its critics; the country is not exactly a liberal democracy, but rather a form of constitutional monarchy. Yet it has shaped the possibility of restricting the space for violent religious extremism through workable inclusive and non-exclusive processes.

Whichever direction the Moroccan religious march takes, it leaves Taliban Islam high and dry. The Taliban believe neither in elections nor in an elected head of state or a participatory system of government. A shame about Afghanistan and where else Islam is used for fictitious profits and where violence and human rights violations are perpetrated in its name.


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