Extremism usually refers to the holding of extreme political or religious views or holding of views in a dogmatic and fanatical manner.
Amongst Muslims, and even non-Muslims, there are people who could be described in such a manner.
However when we consider Islam itself, the revelation received by Muhammad (saw), it is difficult to see how it could be understood as such.
The political views of Islam are encompassed in the Caliphate system and its sharia system of rule. They were implemented for over a millenium and produced progressive civilisations such as those of the Khulafah Rashida, the Ummayads, the Abbasids, the Ottomans, Andalus and various forms of Islamic rule in the subcontinent such as the Mughals.
Many nations accepted the political rule of Islam, its sharia and policies, embracing Islam, and living by it in regions as diverse as Morocco through to China, Turkey through to Indonesia.
Throughout this period peoples never rebelled or opposed Islam en masse. This contrasts strongly with colonial rule, whether it be of the French in North Africa, the British in the Middle East and India or the Russians in southern Russian states, where various independence movements have sought to remove their rule and systems for centuries.
Islamic religious views have been practiced by Sufis for over a millenium, with ascetics leading the way in conveying Islam across India. Had they been extreme, it is unlikely tens of millions of Hindus would have been attracted to them, let along embraced Islam.
Islamic religious practice has generally been tolerant of other faiths, creeds and worships. The Prophet (saw) organised his first city based on autonomous communities of faith where multi-legal, multi-cultural and mult-racial practices emerged. Each community would have laws based on its own faith, its own judiciary, its own places of worship, food, culture and so on. This was always visible across the Muslim world, the Ottoman millet system well known for this form of organisation.
This is considerably different to contemporary nation states where multi-culturalism permits practice of various cultures but elite mono-legal systems and values that would be enforced on all.
Widespread dogmatism and fanaticism are more contemporary phenomenon, seen on the periphery of Muslim societies in history. The causes are political.
Following colonisation of the Muslim world by European powers, independence movements failed to achieve total freedom. Colonialism morphed into neo-colonialism - a more subtler form of exploitation, with new elites who were imbued with Western ideologies, suppressing their people whilst allowing extraction of resource hand over fist.
It is this exploitation that has led to impoverishment, ignorance, extremism and violence across the Muslim world where various reactions are visible that are pejoratively labelled as terrorism, extremism and dogmatism by those causing the oppression and benefiting.
Islamic extremism for instance has been defined by the British government as any form of Islam that opposes:
"democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs."
Similiar patterns were seen with the European colonisation of the America, Africa and Asia and the consequential responses included violence and extremism.
Muslims are obliged to hold power to account, resist tyranny and oppression and seek to restore justice and order:
Tariq ibn Shihab reported: A man asked the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, "What is the best jihad?" The Prophet said, "A word of truth in front of a tyrannical ruler." (Musnad Ahmed)
It is this that is visible across the Muslim world today, that is usually presented by elites and their media as extremism and terrorism.
Islam doesn't teach extremism. It sets out a worldview explaining the origins of creation and its purpose. It provides us with a moral framework of what is right and wrong, that which pleases or angers god and that which benefits us in this world and the hereafter. Within this is the expectation that Muslims should stand up to tyranny and oppression and hold those with power to account.
Taylor, Jessica (2015) "Should The Phrase 'Islamic Extremism' Be Used? It's Debatable"
Casciani, Dominic (2014) "How do you define Islamist extremism?", BBC News
Pankhurst, Reza (2013) "Woolwich, "Islamism" and the "Conveyor Belt to Terrorism" Theory", Hurst Publishers
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