Scholars warn against the threat of exploiting Islam for political gain

Exploitation of the religion by radical groups wrongly links it with terrorism and extremism, symposium hears.

Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research director general Dr Jamal Al Suwaidi at the symposium on Tuesday. Christopher Pike / The National
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ABU DHABI // Scholars from across the region gathered at the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday to discuss the threat of extremism and how to counter it.

The symposium themed The Mirage: Enlightened Thought in Countering Terrorism, also the name of book written by the ECSSR's director general, focused on one of the most pressing issues in the Arab and Muslim world – political Islam and the forces that exploit it.

The author of the book, Dr Jamal Al Suwaidi, talked about political Islam and the threat extremists posed to the security, stability and unity of the states and societies they inhabit, as well as global security.

“These groups insist you accept the exploited image of Islam. This conflict of ideas is no less dangerous than security conflicts,” Dr Al Suwaidi said.

In the book, he wrote that the Muslim Brotherhood tried to link democracy and the Shura principle to justify its involvement in politics.

He said religious extremism and terrorism flourished in dark social environments, poverty, ignorance and isolation, where groups of people have a weak or distorted sense of belonging as a result of blind fanaticism.

Extremism also grew when there was deep feeling of inferiority and humiliation, he said.

Such exploitation of Islam by radical groups defaces the religion and wrongly attaches terrorism and extremism to it.

But Islam has nothing to do with it – it is a religion of peace and humanity, he said.

Sheikh Waseem Yousef, preacher and imam of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, told the gathering: “In the Quran, Allah said that youth are the pillars of any developing society so they must be protected from exploitation by extremists and radical thinkers.”

He also said that using religion for political gain was incorrect.

Sheikh Yousef said that the media had a big role to play in fighting these extremist forces.

Lt Gen Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, head of general security for the emirate of Dubai, asked scholars if they believed the extremists themselves were to blame, or those in power who back them.

Sheikh Yousef replied: “These [extremist] groups are based with external support.”

He gave an example from Quran in time of the Prophet Mohammed, where Jews supported building a mosque and propagating against Islam through it.

The Jews invited the Prophet to pray in it. Then Allah revealed its reality to the Prophet and ordered him to demolish the mosque, Sheikh Yousef said.

Moroccan Dr Abdel Haq Azzouzi, professor of international relations and political science, said Islam and politics must be kept apart.

“We should differentiate between religion, politics and state. This keeps state independent of the religious arena, a very important pillar and one fundamental to the establishment of a modern state and democracy,” Dr Azzouzi said.

He praised Dr Al Suwaidi’s book and said it spoke clearly to scholars.

The first Arabic edition of the book was released this year and an English version was published this week.