These few days (especially from the day the 11th anniversary of 9/11 was celebrated) have been regrettably chaotic in most of the Muslim world, with the crisis now spreading to London, Sydney, and elsewhere around the world. The imbroglio is the byproduct of a newly released anti-Islamic movie “Innocence of Muslims”, which is widely considered a grievous insult to Prophet Muhammad and Islam. Without any fear of contradiction, I believe anyone who knows what religion and religious identity mean would most probably condemn in the strongest term possible deliberate efforts to disrespect and rubbish a people’s religion and sacrilegiously insult its founder, or its foremost prophet, or its supreme leader – admittedly, and without being apologetic, with series of anti-Christ movies and anti-papal or anti-sacerdotal films in the West and Africa (even in the young Nigerian Nollywood movie industry), Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular have received more than their fair shares in this regard.
Be that as it may, while the violent conflicts generated by the infamous anti-Muhammad film appear to be mere coincidence with the 9/11 anniversary, the ongoing scenario is repugnantly symbolic, giving us another opportunity to assess (or if you like, re-assess) the Islamic religion vis-à-vis the behaviour of its adherents all over the world.
Recently, I decided to further my study on the relationship between religion, social justice and violence in my quest to better understand the sectarian movement ‘Boko Haram’ in Nigeria. Inter alia, the debate on the nature of the interaction between religion and violence is very interestingly germane. While some people hold that there is a necessary connection between the duo, others argue that they are only contingently related. These positions invariably lead to a somewhat subtle distinction between what is ideologically enshrined in the tenets of a religion and what is empirically verifiable in the history of the religion.
Zeroed in on Islam, on the one hand, some (Islamic) scholars contend that the religion does not ‘ideologically’ prescribe violence, but ‘conditionally’ approves it – ‘conditionally’ because some Qur’anic passages unambiguously highlight when violence could be used in pursuance of ‘noble’ or ‘just’ causes, which sometimes compare with the Christian views about the controversial Medieval-developed ‘just war’ theory. On the other hand, it has been advanced that what is (not) ‘ideologically’ stipulated should be distinguished from what is ’empirically’ observable: history ’empirically’ testifies to the fact that most of the violence that has presented religion in the most pathetic light in the lengthy drama of humanity is painfully linked to (some) Islamic faithful. I feel, and strongly too, that this is rather unfortunate and disturbing, since it re-echoes the fundamental question that many a people have asked over and over again about the nature of the relationship between religion and violence.
At this stage of the history of our common humanity, it is thus my candid opinion that it is high time our Muslim brothers and sisters demolished the barrier between the ideological understanding of Islam and the empirical practice of Islam: they expediently need to honestly go beyond the ‘fanciful’ etymology and ‘theoretical’ ideology of Islam, critically re-evaluate their empirical behaviour in relation to violence as Islamic adherents and followers of Prophet Mohammad, and imbibe the culture of non-violence in protesting infringements upon their interests and making their grievances known to the world – the culture of non-violence and forbearance so much preached in words and deeds by the trio of the 20th century apostles of peace (the non-Christian Mahatma Gandhi, the black American Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Catholic Blessed Pope John Paul II) remains ever invaluable for all peoples, cultures, religions, and epochs.
So, I unequivocally submit that some ‘behavioural’ reformation in the light of the culture of non-violence and forbearance is urgently necessary among the Muslim faithful if the position that Islam is a religion of peace is to be logically and realistically sustained in a simple manner that makes sense to the ordinary, illiterate market woman who does not understand the nuances of the difference between what is (not) ‘ideologically’ prescribed and what is ’empirically’ observable around her. Just like the Second Vatican Council reformation brought so much freshness to the Catholic world, a well-focused ‘behavioural’ reformation promises to re-invigorate the global Muslim community, endear the Islamic followers to everyone, and ultimately attract and change both their perceived and real enemies to true friends.