Wednesday, July 6, 2016

TAREK FATAH - The historical roots of Islamist terrorism

Monday’s suicide bombing outside the tomb of Prophet Muhammad in Medina, Saudi Arabia, sent shock waves throughout the Islamic world. The fact a Muslim carried out this act of terror during the holy month of Ramadan has left many followers of the Islamic faith in disbelief. Too many Muslims have fallen for the common refrain, trumpeted by Islamists, that no Muslim could carry out such an act and hence neither Islam nor Muslims can be held accountable for it in any way.


These arguments have been used every time Islamist terrorists engage in mass killings, from 9/11 in New York to the massacre in Dhaka, Bangladesh, last week. But the facts tell us a different story regarding the turbulent history of Islam and the roles played by Muslims within it. Academics and scholars are reluctant to discuss these historical facts for fear of being accused of bigotry and racism.

Thus ordinary Muslims, to say nothing of non-Muslims, do not commonly know them. The result is a Muslim community unaware of its own often bloody history, going back centuries, when both our holy cities -- Mecca and Medina -- were attacked, ransacked and destroyed, not by the “kufaar” (non-Muslims), but by Muslim leaders. They fought for power, using Islam as a tool to enhance or entrench their political hold on the states they created.

Fanatical, politically motivated and radicalized Muslims have never hesitated to desecrate Islam’s holy sites. As early as October, 683 AD, the Umayyad caliph of Damascus invaded Mecca, then under the control of a rival caliph, and bombarded the ancient shrine of Black Kaaba, the holiest site in Islam. The Kaaba, where Muhammad preached, was destroyed in the fighting.  A new one was constructed.

Skipping over the centuries, we have the 1805 invasion of the Prophet’s city, Medina, by the first Saudi state.  Imbibed with a fierce zealotry, the Wahhabi warriors of Muhammad Ibn Saud overran Medina and started to destroy Islamic shrines. They even tried to destroy the magnificent dome structure over the tomb of Prophet Muhammad, removed all precious objects from his gravesite and looted the treasury of the mosque itself.

After occupying Medina these Muslims, who came from the neighbouring region of Nejd, systematically leveled the “Jannat al-Baqi” cemetery, the vast burial site adjacent to the Prophet’s mosque that housed the remains of many of the members of Muhammad’s family, close companions and central figures of early Islam, including his beloved daughter, Fatima.

These acts of sacrilege were re-enacted by a new generation of Wahabbi zealots led by Abdel-Aziz Ibn Saud during the second Saudi state, a century later.  On April 21, 1925 the rebuilt tombs and domes in Medina were once again bulldozed. Had it not been for intervention and diplomacy by then Prince Faisal  (later King), who was in command of the regular Saudi army, the Wahabbis would have destroyed Prophet Muhammad’s tomb as well. As recently as November, 1979, radicalized Muslims from around the world, including the U.S., Pakistan and Egypt, led by Saudi fanatic Juhayman al-Otaybi, took over the Holy Kaaba and killed many people during a two-week siege.  The moral of the story is that no matter how often Muslims refuse to acknowledge our history, it will not  hide the mess we have created that we now refuse to cleanse. 

Let us own up to it and stop blaming others for it.

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