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RADICAL ISLAM: A reaction to Western supremacy

Olivier Rey / Red Dirt Report
Professor D. Gershon Lewental gives a lecture on "Radical Islam" in Norman on April 1, 2016.
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NORMAN, Okla. -- This past Friday, the Cleveland County Democratic Party held an important and informative lecture by Professor D. Gershon Lewental with the University of Oklahoma's Schusterman Center for Judaic and Israel Studies.

The subject of Lewental’s lecture was “What Makes Radical Islam so Radical? Understanding Radical Islam and Salafism in the Middle East,” a topic regularly making news headlines and a subject on the minds of many around the world.

"Radical Islam," in recent years, has become a buzz phrase of sorts among reactionary and right-wing political figures and anti-Muslim activists. Here in central Oklahoma, fearmongers have stirred up animosity toward the Muslim community, as Red Dirt Report reported in 2014.

Lewental is cultural historian of Middle East and, since 2012, he has been the Schusterman Visiting Assistant Professor in the Departments of History and International and Area Studies at OU.

Beginning his lecture, Lewental explained that Muhammad, the founder of Islam, was not only a prophet but also among other military chief, political leader, and arbiter. After his death in 632 CE, none of his successors could claim the same leadership and they failed to keep the Muslim community united.

“(Of) the first four Caliphs, three were assassinated including two by fellow Muslims,” Lewental said, noting the consequences of the multiple civil wars led eventually to a separation of the Muslim believers in two groups Sunni and Shia.

Lewental also said the next leaders were principally political rulers despite their technical status as religious leaders, leaving spiritual and religious affairs to the Muslim religious scholars. Lewental added the Muslim scholars eventually started to challenge the political leaders. However the clerics ultimately recognized the necessity of political leaders as a necessary evil to maintain the order in society.

“Because chaos doesn’t allow believers to practice their faith,” Lewental said, adding that contrary to popular belief, there is actually a separation between politics and religion in Islam even if both are interdependent.

However, in reaction to the decline of the Muslim world and the rise of European imperialism, a new generation of Muslim leaders began to emerge in the 19th century.

“The first one to propose an alternative is Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī (1839 – 1897), who is the father of all Islamist movements,” he said, noting al-Afghānī tried to reform Islam and provoke Muslim unity.

He added Islamism or political Islam could promote a variety of political approaches, such as democratic, liberal, or radical.

Then Lewental said said that al-Afghani's disciple Muhammad 'Abduh promoted Islamic modernism, while another disciple, Rashid Rida, opposed modernity and called for a more literal interpretation of Islam that challenged not only Western politics, but Western ideas.

“All of the Islamic movements created in the last century take their roots to these figures,” he said, noting today radical Islam is not connected with anything seen before in Islamic history.

According to Lewental the principal reasons why radical Islam is radical is the use of violence, as well as the rejection of traditional Islamic political philosophy, noting that "this is obviously a complete break from Islamic tradition."

The founding personalities of radical Islam were Hasan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Abul Ala Maududi and Sayyid Qutb, all born in the early 20th century said Lewental. He added Qutb called for the destruction of the corrupt and decadent Muslim world in order to rebuild a new one, justifying jihad as an imperative form of resistance.

The promotion of jihad developed wtih the assassination of political figures in Egypt and eventually the ideas of Palestinian preacher Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, the "Father of Global Jihad," who created Al-Qaeda with the disciple Osama bin Laden in 1988.

"Osama bin Laden was more like a financier than an ideologue. He was a wealthy Saudi Arabian who had the funds to fiannce its operations," Lewental said.

Lewental said the strategy of Al-Qeada was to provoke the Western countries and thereby induce them to attack and to invade Muslim countries in the hope of unifying the Muslim community. He noted this theory was the reason behind the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

“This theory didn’t really succeed,” noted Lewental.

Concerning the growth of the Islamic State (ISIS) or DA'ISH in Syria, Lewental believed the organization took advantage of instability in Syria and Iraq.

“If this problem is resolved then the Islamic State will also decline," he said.

In his closing remarks, Lewental said radical Islam principally impacts the Muslim world and that the best solution to fight it is to improve Muslim education “in both Islamic and modern terms.”

“Radical Islam doesn’t represent the view of well over 95 percent of the Muslim community,” concluded Lewental.

*EDITOR'S NOTE: This story was edited for clarity at 10:01 a.m. on April 6, 2016.

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Olivier Rey

Olivier has traveled in 20 countries on six continents before landing in Norman. Native French...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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