Going back to the roots by looking forward (by Yeghig Tashjian)

14 Aug

Going back to the roots by looking forward

 “Everyone is from Adam and Adam is from clay”- Prophet Mohammad

It was May 2011, a friend and I were in a coffee restaurant as usually arguing about the regional developments, suddenly we saw from the TV Syrians were protesting against their regime and shouting “the people want to overthrow the regime”. For a minute we were shocked and stunned, then he turned to me and said in Arabic “allah yestor” (God help us), he was pointing to our ambiguous future as Christians in the region. For a moment I was thinking that as a Lebanese Armenian whose ancestors experienced Genocide and deported from their historical lands, am I ready to experience another one? What should I do if radical Islamist movements hold power in Syria, and how it will shape the Lebanese politics? Questions that have no easy answers made me to worry about our destiny, as minorities, in the boiling Middle East.

As the Arab Uprising broke up, Syria took the attention of the regional and global interests, due to its significant geopolitical position and sectarian structure, the country turned into a battleground, the blood was flowing from its rivers and the smoke from its ashes already was covering Lebanon…, having witnessed their dark fate in Iraq, Christians were in alarm again, we were in the middle of the battle. It was in Fall 2012 when my professor encouraged me to write a paper about the Islamic movements in the region, after reading several books and making online interviews with Muslim Brotherhood figures, I realized that as a Social democratic person I have some similarities with them, we believe in social justice, democracy, human rights…though the ends were the same but the means were different, but didn’t Machiavelli claimed that the end justify the means? Although I tried to be as optimistic as possible but I found that I need to know more about them, their religion and way of thinking, VICISU gave me that chance. Two professors, Dr. Seljuk from Turkey and Dr. Barazangi from UK influenced my thoughts, helped me to develop my critical thinking and to know more about the Holy Quran, Islamic teachings and its laws, and most importantly the concept of Ta’aruf (co-existence) change my view towards Islam. According to Dr. Seljuk, it has been reported that Prophet Mohammad has warned to his followers against the idea of superiority of a group and has warned us against ghuluw (extremism) in religion. The Holy Quran also justifies this by insisting that religious education should have a particular focus on the issue of equality and pluralism, mutual respect and solidarity between peoples of different faiths and cultures can contribute immensely to the prevalence of peace and co-existence in our world. Quran reinforces the need for qist (balance) in faith. Therefore in order to coexist first of all we should recognize our self and control our behavior towards others, thus here the concept of “knowing thyself” comes into arena.

In order to study about Islamic movements one should go back to the roots, the history. Generally speaking Arabs experienced a golden age during the Islamic Caliphate area, such as the Fatimate and Umayyid periods, where debates about religion, politics, science, sex, and economics and so on would take place in mosques; even women had participated in these debates. Interestingly, during these periods Christians held key positions in the government and some of them were advisers of the sultan, and were protected, a clear example was the Holy city, Jerusalem, where peace was prevailed between the three Abrahamic religions…but what happened then? Why women lost their social status? Why minorities were persecuted? And why most Islamic societies became economically, scientifically and politically backward? What about their future? A modern case study can be the Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt in 1928, a pan-Islamic movement. The Brotherhood has placed emphasis on social justice; closing the gap between the classes became one of its main objectives and its founder Hasan al Banna declared: “Islam is equal for all people and prefers nobody to others on the grounds of differences in blood or race, forefathers or descent, poverty or wealth. According to Islam everyone is equal… However, in deeds and natural gifts, then the answer is yes. The learned is above the ignorant… Thus, we see that Islam does not approve of the class system”[1]. Al Banna even defined the term Jihad (struggle-“holly war”) as following: “it referred not only to armed struggle to liberate Muslim lands from colonial occupation, but also to the inner effort that Muslims needed to make in order to free themselves from an ingrained inferiority complex and from fatalism and passivity towards their condition”[2]. From al Banna’s arguments we can claim that Muslim Brotherhood has some socialist views and rejects radicalism. Therefore it’s the duty of these organizations to control extremism, lets us not forget that Christians in the MENA region had attributed a lot in modernization of Islam, hence Christians are a need for Islam, and this issue should be a sign for the West that indeed Islam is a tolerant religion and it has nothing to do with so called “terrorism”.

In conclusion, the region has suffered a lot as a result of attempts to exclude Islamists and deny them a role in the public sphere. Undoubtedly, Islamists’ participation in governance will give rise to a number of challenges, both within the Islamic ranks and with regard to relations with other local and international forces. On their turn, seculars and leftists, who failed to bring prosperity and democracy in our countries, must monitor the Islamists within the governmental institutions and hold them check for every wrong step they take. While Islamists should be careful not to fall into the trap of feeling overconfident: not to take extreme measures, thus they must compromise and respond to the demands of the people and protect the minorities and women’s rights. Hence there is nothing wrong in going back to the roots and in the fundamental laws of Islam as long as we look to the future and liberate ourselves from mental oppression and together try to build a better future.

Yeghia Tashjian

VICISU Magazine

[1] Carnegie papers, The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood: Islamist Participation in a Closing Political Environment, Number 19, March 2010

[2] Hassan al-Banna, “Jihad” http://www.youngmuslims.ca

VICISU refers to the Vienna International Christian-Islamic Summer University that took place from 1-19 July 2012, at Stift Altenburg, Austria


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