There are patterns of rejection, alienation and otherisation practiced by conservative Islamist elites against minorities and other beliefs. When Islam is concerned, these practices mainly affect the Middle East and North Africa because they help religious elites to remain in power and control.
There must be some policies to defeat these dictatorial and discriminatory patterns by raising awareness, enhancing education and promoting reason and critical thinking. It has become more important than ever to address Muslims politics on other beliefs in the Middle East because, as we see now, the Middle East is witnessing a rise of sectarian tensions.
While some attribute the reasons of the rising sectarianism to the nature of the Islamic religion and culture, others, parallel to Islamist discourse, blame Muslims for not believing enough in their religion. So where to start? As a good start, Conservative Islamic elites (and Islamists) should be held accountable for what they say and for the interpretations of Islam they attempt to propagate.
Sheikh Fawzi Saeed is an Egyptian Islamic cleric and an Imam. He preaches on Fridays at Al-Tawheed Mosque in Cairo and hosts an Islamic show called Al-Asmaa Al-Husna” on Al-Hikma TV.
He has several accounts on Facebook, twitter, and on some other websites on the Internet. On his official page on Facebook, from which he spreads his knowledge to his over 500,000 followers, he posted the above shown post on Tuesday 18 February 2014.
The point of the post, according to sheikh Saeed is to point out the “poison in our houses (the houses of Muslims)” by listing “the corrupt, deluded, polytheistic and heretical Shiite TV channels”.
Saeed claims that these television channels must be removed from the satellite receiver, as it is shown above in the picture. Astonishingly, the post was liked by over 600 people in less than half an hour and vulgarly commented on by dozens calling Shiites and Shiite faction of the Islamic religion as the deluded and impertinent evil in the Islamic Umma (nation).
In Dale Eickelman and James Piscatory’s book: Muslim Politics, they make it clear that Muslim discussions on gender and family are inherently politicised. This political contentiousness also applies on the alienation and otherisation processes by which boundaries between the Muslim and the non-Muslim are politically drawn.
“Although Islamic discussions of cultural authenticity often present the West as the morally inferior ‘Other’, such discussions mask the real target of moral censure-local elites and their Westernized practices or ethnically distinct groups and their ‘deviant’ conduct.”
“Islamist discourses . . . that uphold the authenticity of tradition thus seek to draw boundaries not only between the Muslim and non-Muslim community but also between the ‘true’ guardians of community and the ‘internal other’”, they said in their book on page 91.
This model also holds when explaining Muslim discourses on other belief systems. The boundaries of what is Islamic and what is not, what is a pure version of Islam and what is not and who is right and who is not become the centre of such model.
Conservative Islamist discourse, especially of Sunni factions in the Middle East, tends to the alienation and otherisation of those who don’t follow their beliefs. Such discourse is inherent to Muslim politics on other belief or non-belief systems and is often politicised.
This model applies to Sunni as well as Shiite hard-line clerics, the most significant two factions in Islam in terms of number and impact. The above-stated example holds as a model for such a behaviour, in which Islamist discourse sees the ‘SELF’ as the best nation to walk on Earth and has the only pure version of Islam. Such Islamic discourses otherise those who don’t fall in the same faction and deem them corrupt and deluded. They should be fought against and boycott.
Based on this premise, the boundaries drawn here not only between Muslim and non-Muslim but also between “the ‘true'” guardians of community and the “internal other”.
Such model holds because it combines two persistent features in Islamic politics toward other groups regardless of their religion. The difference in the dogmatic belief is enough to deem others to infidelity.
The first feature is the arrogance of Islamists’ discourse regarding other beliefs as they (the Muslims) are those who represent authenticity, purity and righteousness, whereas the others represent the opposite until they comply with this fundamental version of the Mohammadian religion.
The second feature is the persistence of the controversy of modernisation. On the one hand Islamists tend to use means, more likely invented by infidels, to raid against non-Muslims and even against Muslims of different interpretations of Islam. Hard-line Islamists use internet, TV channels, TV shows, radio, Microphones, cars etc. to attack the secular and immoral “OTHER”.
On the other hand they measure their civilisational development by western standards. To call a community civilised means that its members have good western cars, brilliant western equipment, electricity etc. The controversy of otherising all belief and non-belief systems, and at the same time using not only their tools, but also their measures to define the boundaries between the true guardians of Islam and the internal and external other undermines the “desired” authenticity of the Islamic tradition.
An argument can be posed that this analysis is more generalising than it is supposed to do. Not all Muslims care for other beliefs and many of them even call for tolerance and world harmony. Many don’t seem to be arrogant and absolutely not controversial to modernisation. This is true…
However, the Likes as well as the aggressive comments under the post are enough evidence to give us a clue of how Muslim politics work in regard to the beliefs of others as a counter argument.
Not all Muslims feel the same as Sheikh Saeed and his followers and many probably oppose such alienation and otherisation processes. The scrutiny of such endemic patterns against other belief systems in West Asia and North Africa regions is crucial for such patterns constantly appear in journalistic writings, cultural and national discourses, social media outlets, and religious contexts.
It is a great risk for a Shiite, for example to show up in a Sunni majority area at a time of conflict such as in Syria, and perhaps the opposite is also true. It remains a risk for a woman to be free and independent, as is it also fatally risky to be an atheist, or Satanist etc. The sentiment of otherisation and alienation of other beliefs hardly fades in a believing Muslim person but it has different layers and levels.
It is noteworthy to mention that not all Muslims can be included under the two features underlying the otherisation model mentioned above. Therefore, Muslims can be broadly divided into two groups: The leaders who claim to have more religious knowledge than the rest of the members of society. The leaders mainly represent religious institutions and to whom such otherisation model completely applies.
And the followers, who have less religious knowledge and mainly represent the public, to whom this model variably applies but on different levels, ranging on a spectrum between hard-line radical Muslims to liberal Muslims.
While religious figures (and clerics), through the claim that they know the words of Allah much better than the rest and thus they know the meaning of life itself, enjoy an extraordinary authority on the Muslim public, they reach a detectable degree of arrogance. By effect, these who follow their teachings will seem or become arrogant toward others of different belief systems.
The controversy of modernisation is much less present to the public on the liberal side of the spectrum than it is on the more hard-line side.
All in All, to break this model down, it is important to cut the channels, by which such hard-line clerics like sheikh Fawzi Saeed of Egypt deliver their messages and simultaneously by raising awareness through education and promotion of reason.