Iraqi scholar says fundamentalists are turning Muslims away from Islam

The basis of Islam, Qabbanji says, is not the Quran and the Prophet's traditions, as extremists think; the basis of Islam is the belief in God and love towards God's creation.

Sayyid Ahmed al Qabbanji gives a Ramadan lecture in Abu Dhabi on Monday.
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ABU DHABI // Fundamentalists have created a "silent apostasy" in the societies they rule, a prominent Islamic scholar said on Monday. Speaking at the majlis of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Sayyid Ahmed al Qabbanji, an Iraqi scholar, said the fundamentalist view of Islam, because it focuses on Islam rather than Muslims, has produced only terrorism, intolerance and ignorance.

Fundamentalists' interpretation of Islam and their practices have turned Muslims away from Islamic teachings, he said. "A large number of young people who live under the rule of fundamentalists have renounced their religion because fundamentalists forced religion on them," Mr al Qabbanji said. "Faith thrives on freedom and freedom is the basis of ethics. When a religious adherent is forced to give charity, then this charity means nothing and has no actual value."

He said that fundamentalists had "planted the seeds of hypocrisy" among religious adherents by forcing religion on public life. "Fundamentalists have made people hate freedom; they made freedom sound as though it is only for animals," he said. He said religion promotes ethics, but that ethics are not its basis, contrary to the fundamentalist's view of religion. The scholar also differentiated between "fundamentalist Islam" and "genuine Islam", saying that genuine Islam has been distorted by extremists "out of ignorance and out of good faith".

The basis of Islam, he said, is not the Quran and the Prophet's traditions, as extremists think; the basis of Islam is the belief in God and love towards God's creation. The Shiite cleric said the former understanding of Islam would turn Islam into rules and regulations that deal with issues only relevant to societies that existed 14 centuries ago. "Believing in God never changes; it could only decrease or increase. Our understanding of religion is never perfect, it changes and develops."

He said genuine Islam nurtures a genuine human being, while fundamentalist Islam creates a deformed human being, because each way has a different attitude towards the function of intellect. "Genuine Muslims use intellect to seek the truth, while fundamentalists use it to store rules," he said. "Extremists are dogmatic and they reject everything that contradicts the rules they stored in their brains."

He said it is not enough for Muslims to be tolerant; they should believe in pluralism, modernity, development and progress. Mr al Qabbanji studied in Al Houza religious schools in Najaf and Qom, and is the secretary general of the Liberal Islam Movement in Iraq.