The Maroon

In My Opinion: Finding answers in unexpected places

Sudanese+men+pray+at+the+tomb+of+Al+Mahdi%2C+a+leader+of+rebellion+against+the+British+and+a+self-declared+Caliph%2C+in+Omdurman+Sudan%2C+Friday%2C+April+10%2C+2015.+
Sudanese men pray at the tomb of Al Mahdi, a leader of rebellion against the British and a self-declared Caliph, in Omdurman Sudan, Friday, April 10, 2015.

Sudanese men pray at the tomb of Al Mahdi, a leader of rebellion against the British and a self-declared Caliph, in Omdurman Sudan, Friday, April 10, 2015.

(AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)

(AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy)

Sudanese men pray at the tomb of Al Mahdi, a leader of rebellion against the British and a self-declared Caliph, in Omdurman Sudan, Friday, April 10, 2015.

Adam Al-Baari, English writing sophomore

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To someone who is not a Muslim, the question of Islamic leadership can be a confusing one to answer. Who is the official authority on Islam? What is the correct way to interpret the Qur’an? Who do Muslims look to in times of religious turmoil? These questions are likely ones that even Muslims themselves may ask. I know because growing up in a Muslim household, the question I would often find myself asking my parents, when confronted with multiple interpretations of the same text, is who is right and who is wrong?

In the Arab world, the official authority on Islamic interpretation is Saudi Arabia. This is the holiest geographic location for all Muslims, as Saudi Arabia is home to Mecca and Medina, the two holiest cities in Islam. The Saudi’s have their own very unique interpretation of Islam, called Wahhabism, which is the most orthodox and conservative interpretation of the Qur’an and Islamic scholarship and is deemed by many outside observers as fundamentalist in its teachings.

Because Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam, and one of the wealthiest Muslim countries on the planet, their religious influence is far-reaching. The most grandiose mosques and Muslim cultural centers in the world are Saudi-financed, and therefore Wahhabist in their interpretation of Islam. For westerners, it is likely that a non-Muslim’s first encounter with Islam could be the most strict and orthodox interpretation of that religion.

It is not enough to simply say that Wahhabism is a strict but harmless orthodox interpretation of Islam. On the contrary, taken out of its Saudi Arabian context, Wahhabism can be dangerous. People who are not familiar with the diversity of opinion in Islamic scholarship who adopt Wahhabism as their model of religious practice can often times become enthralled with fundamentalist thinking.

I implore you to examine what is happening all over Western Europe. From Great Britain to Belgium, Islamic interpretation in the mainstream is becoming dominated with ultraconservative Wahhabist thought. The influence of Saudi Arabian and other Wahhabist countries like Pakistan are clashing dangerously with the values and beliefs of the secular European culture.

Upon closer examination, one can find the true cause of this cultural tension. There is a place for Wahhabism. However, that place is not modern Europe or the western world. Saudi Arabia is allowed by the sovereignty of its statehood to practice whatever beliefs or interpretations it may have; however, exporting such beliefs in the form of funding religious centers and mosques can be problematic. The inability for many Muslims in Europe and other western countries to fully acclimate and blend with the dominate secular culture is the result of forces outside of that culture imposing their influence.

What would seem like a natural solution would be to adapt and develop Islam within its European cultural context, rather than push against this transformation. But the devout believers in any religion would argue that a religion should be kept pure, and that to bend to the will of a culture outside of itself would be nothing short of heresy.
This line of thinking is one shared by not only devout Muslims but all religious ideologies. The idea of “we are right, and they are wrong” can quickly develop into “we are right, and they are sinful” and devolve into its final logical step “we are on the side of God, and they are on the side of sin.”

This separatist thinking is the principal cause of cultural tension in the western world among Muslims who are influenced by Wahhabist thinking. There is no room for negotiations or compromise, as they are the chosen, ordained by God, and those against them are against the very word of God.

When one examines the contemporary state of Islam in this way, it is easy to become cynical. How do you change the minds of people who believe their lifestyle is ordained by God, no matter how conflicting and out of place they may be in current society? The answer is you don’t. They must change their own minds first.

The current president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, made a historic speech in January of this year in which he called for a “religious revolution” in Islam, much like the social revolution of the Arab spring, in order to fight against extremism.

He stated that, “It’s inconceivable that the thinking that we hold most sacred should cause the entire Islamic world to be a source of anxiety, danger, killing and destruction for the rest of the world.” He clarified by stating that he did not mean the religion of Islam itself, but rather, the “thinking” or interpretation of Islam that, in his mind and in the mind of many other moderate Muslims, has simply gone out of control. It is an unprecedented moment in time when a leader of a Muslim country calls for a reexamination of the Muslim faith.

What, then, is the next move for the Muslim world? How will this “religious revolution” come about? One might examine other Muslim nations that are non-Wahhabist for answers; however, in Europe, it seems that one nation has already forced its answer on their Islamic population.

Earlier this year, Austria passed a historic and controversial law banning all foreign aid to mosques and Islamic religious schools in their country. Austrian foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz stated that, “What we want is to reduce the political influence and control from abroad, and we want to give Islam the chance to develop freely within our society and in line with our common European values.” Although many Muslim leaders in the country condemn the law for what they see as an unfair ruling, I believe this legislation could bring about the very “religious revolution” that el-Sisi believes will be the saving grace of modern Islam.

If all Western countries adopted such a law, Islam could be given a chance to freely develop within the country, and acclimate to the nuances of each culture it finds itself in. Islam could finally be given a chance to evolve without the influence of Saudi Arabian Wahhabist, and become a religion that melds with the secular world instead of resisting against it.

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In My Opinion: Finding answers in unexpected places