How can ISIS and other Muslim terrorists be defeated? This is the question of our generation and maybe of the century.
First, a simple quiz. What is the foundational problem in most Muslim countries? Who is to blame? Why is Muslim terrorism so prominent? What is the solution? Why are Islamicity Indices the best instrument for changing the Muslim world and thus eradicating the scourge of Muslim terrorism?
Let's begin by clearing the deck -- Islam is not the problem, but is instead the solution for a better future for Muslim countries. The fact is that Islam has been undermined and hijacked by corrupt hereditary rulers, clerics and strongmen to "legitimize" their illegitimate rule. And their illegitimate rule -- with its absence of the rule of law and representative government -- has been supported by the Great Powers, from the East and especially from the West. The intervention of foreign powers, in the guise of national, corporate and personal interest, has enabled illegitimate Muslim rulers to perpetuate their oppressive rule at the expense of their people. As a result, average citizens in most Muslim countries have been robbed of their freedom and live in societies that afford little opportunity for a better future, with strongmen using their false interpretation of Islam to justify their oppression.
It is not difficult to see why these conditions provide the perfect breeding ground for anger and violence against Muslim rulers and their foreign supporters. Western righteousness and pronouncements of human rights, undermined by their support of dictators across the Muslim World, in turn provide the likes of ISIS with unlimited propaganda material for recruits. Ironically, all sides -- oppressive rulers and terrorists such ISIS and Al-Qaeda -- use Islam to justify their actions.
Yet to our surprise the number of Muslim terrorists is still small. With an estimated 1.5 billion Muslims around the world and less than 150,000 belonging to organizations such as ISIS, terrorists represent less than 0.001 percent of all Muslims. As bad as terrorism may be today, with so many Muslims in the world (and their numbers growing more rapidly than any other religion), the future could be truly disastrous if the root cause of terrorism is not correctly identified and extinguished. The message is clear. The wrong diagnosis and treatment could destroy the world we know today! We had better get it right and adopt a comprehensive policy for addressing terrorism.
How best can Muslims take charge of their countries, address their societal malaise and create free, egalitarian and prosperous societies with justice as the hallmark? In previous posts we have outlined Islamic teachings and the scaffolding they provide for Muslim societies as envisaged in the Quran. So why can't Muslims create such societies? What is stopping them?
In most Muslim countries Islam has become so institutionalized and rigid that its teachings cannot be freely debated. Over the years, rulers and clerics have taken over the interpretation of the Quran. They insist that they are the ones who best understand the Quran and provide for pliant clerics to convey their message. Muslims are expected to behave as they are told. They are kept from discussing the interpretation and application of Quranic teachings. In fact, in many Muslim countries, questioning the state-sanctioned interpretation of the Quran and, even worse, providing alternative interpretations for discussion are crimes that may result in serious punishment. Debate, discussion and questions are seen as seditious. Why? Because Islam is used as an instrument of control.
In this space of false interpretation and of hijacking Islam for personal gain, ISIS has found a receptive audience for another false interpretation of Islam. ISIS is simply jumping on the bandwagon and following in the path of a long list of foreign-supported Muslim dictators with its own interpretation of Islam. If this problem remains unaddressed, others will be forthcoming with yet more extreme interpretations that best suit their agenda and the mood of the times.
As we have said in earlier blogs, Muslims must be encouraged to take charge of their religion. Study the Quran (the theoretical foundation of Islamic societies) and its interpretation by the Prophet Mohammad in Medina. But then what? If Muslims challenge state-sanctioned interpretations, they will be dismissed as ignorant and lacking the necessary religious education to interpret the words of Allah, or they will be accused of having been indoctrinated by Westerners. If they persist and demand reforms from their rulers they could be arrested, imprisoned and even executed for sedition.
This is where Islamicity Indices come into play. The indices are not focused on one verse from the Quran or on one chapter, but are intended to capture teachings in the Quran as a whole on topics such as justice, freedom, poverty, opulence, equality of opportunity, sharing of God's bounty, etc., and these can in turn be aggregated in a number of ways to provide even broader indices of prevailing economic, political or human rights conditions. The indices are intended to provide a benchmark for Islamic teachings to assess a country's performance. It is hoped that they can receive global support to eventually push aside the false interpretations that are propagated for personal gain. There are two types of indices -- cross-sectional indices providing comparison (a score and ranking) of all countries; and longitudinal indices for individual countries providing an indicator of performance for a single country over the years.
It is harder for clerics and rulers to dismiss these indices. If they object to any element in an index, adjustments can be made but the story will not change significantly. Islamicity Indices will reveal the performance of countries for all to see. It will become harder for rulers to hide behind blanket statements of false assessments of Islamic teachings. Their successes and failures can be assessed so as to derive better policies. The Muslim and non-Muslim world could begin to attribute the current state of affairs in Muslim countries not to Islam, but to its correct source -- non rule-compliant Muslim rulers and governments, their cronies and their foreign backers.
It is hoped that this endeavor will gain international recognition and endorsement and be the catalyst for positive change in the Muslim world. This in turn should help close the growing chasm between the Muslim and non-Muslim world to enhance the unity of humankind -- a principal foundation of Islam.
But as with anything in life a word of caution. Our Islamicity Indices have received much attention in the Muslim World. Young Muslims have downloaded discussions of these indices around the world. Prayer leaders have brought the result and application of our indices to the attention of their communities. The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) has organized two conferences focusing on developing a Shariah-based index of socio-economic development in 2014. In 2015, the government of Malaysia adopted its own index to measure the country's compliance with Islamic teachings, needed reforms and progress. While these are very positive outcomes, we have been advised to be aware of an emerging hidden agenda -- government-sponsored research in Muslim countries to develop indices that support their oppressive rule.
We hope to have our proposed websites (Islamicity-Index.Org and Islamicity-Indices.Org) up by the end of February 2016. We hope that this effort will generate much dialogue to engage Muslims and non-Muslims. We hope that Western and Eastern governments recognize the power of these indices to jettison their selfish policies of the past in support of dictators; and instead to usher in an era of cooperation among foreign powers in support of much needed reform in their client states, reform that would extinguish the flame of terrorism and create a better future for all humanity.
We end by emphasizing that what we see in the Muslim world is not Islam but its perversion. Foundational Islamic teachings of love, unity, freedom, representative rule, effective governance and justice are much more apparent in Northern Europe that in any Muslim country, an observation that was confirmed in the words of Mohammad Abduh, a founding member of the Muslim Brotherhood, over a century ago "I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but no Islam."