My Critique of the Comments of Mr Sanneh on Jihadism versus Jihad article
By: Alhagi Manta Drammeh
First and foremost, I take this opportunity to thank Brother Sanneh for the comments he has made on my two articles as he said. I think it is a healthy thing to do. I was not keen initially to respond to the points he raised in his article for various reasons: Firstly, I am not in a beauty contest. Rather, I am an invitee to give my opinions based on my background in human sciences and Islamic studies. Secondly, the points the gentleman raised are too familiar and are based on dogmatic views of issues related to religion and society in general terms and Islam in particular. Thirdly, the style of presentation is more superfluous than having the rigour detached from emotions and parochial outlooks on worldviews. Finally, I think Brother Sanneh rushed to comment without having a thorough reflective read through the points I raised in my articles. However, I am encouraged to present a critique ideology to clarify the confusion my Brother might have about the issues I touched upon. I believe through cross-fertilisation of ideas, we will be able to learn from one another on the basis of mutual respect and academic ethos of detachment and objectivity as much as possible.
I am guided here by a saying attributed to a Muslim scholar Imam Al-Shafii that: “My opinion is right but has the potential of being wrong. The opinion of my opponent is wrong but has the potential of being right.” That is the spirit we should have. That I think comes through a long academic journey of discipline and humility, but I believe it is good to do so in order to clarify some of the points that he may have confused.
I am not sure if Mr Sanneh has read carefully the three articles I wrote in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attack in which innocent lives were lost. In addition I had a whole session with Mr Suntu Touray on this. In fact the article you mainly based your disagreement on came after I had already posted two articles. The first was on sanctity of human life in Islam and the second was on fallacy of clash of civilisations. I am sure if Brother Sanneh read the three together, he would make sense of my arguments.
Let me make it absolutely clear that I do not see myself as a cleric or Mufti. I see myself as a humble servant of God and a student who is ever keen to learn and unlearn. As Mr Sanneh, (presumably) I had the secular education in the Gambia from Primary One. I was though fortunate to have the Islamic education earlier on as well and that has given me the opportunity to look at issues from both Islamic and secular perspectives and in a broader and more critical manner. I am proud to be a Muslim, African and a global citizen. There is no contradiction to be a good Muslim and to be a good African or European. This is referred to by social anthropologists as hyphenated identity. That is to say a Gambian American, a Gambian British or a Gambian swede and so on. Equally, you can say a European Muslim, a Muslim European, an American Muslim as you have Jewish Americans and British Jews for example. This is as a result of globalisation and multiculturalism. In fact, Islam has that global and universalist perspective.
Islam would not have spread so quickly without much resistance if it had not embraced local cultures and universal human values.
We should not confuse Arabs with Muslims. Most of the Arabs are of course Muslims. But also you do have Arab Christians. I made mention of translation by Muslim thinkers and not Arabs necessarily. The Farabi and Averroes I quoted were not Arab but Muslims of other ancestry. Not all Muslim scholars are necessarily Arabs. Karang Baba Sillah, Sering Bamba, Imam Malik Sey, Sheikh Ibrahim Nyass, Sheikh Omar Futy and Foday Sheikh Sillah among many were Senegambian who played an important role in the dissemination of Islam.
Mr Sanneh lamented that I hardly mentioned Boko Haram. If he goes back, he will see that I have mentioned Boko Haram and its atrocities as many times as I have for ISIL.
As for the atrocities of the Assad regime, he can refer to human rights reports which claimed that crimes against humanity have been committed. Don’t we know that millions of Syrians have either been internally displaced or fled to other countries? Isn’t it that the Assad regime has used barrel bombs and chemical weapons against unarmed civilians? Isn’t it a known fact now that though the ISIL started in Iraq but they claimed to have their “state” in Syria now where they have their so-called “caliphate”? However, all that is beside the point. The fact of the matter is that in both cases innocent lives are being lost on a daily basis by both the Assad regime and the ISIL. They must all be stopped and stopped now in order to save lives and bring back sanity in that country where the capital of Islamic civilisation was once established and that is Damascus (dimashq). In fact, it was a testimony to how Islam and other civilisations co-existed side by side without any fear for centuries.
On the claim that I am (Arab centric) seems strange as I had all my education and career in Africa, Europe and South-East Asia. In fact, the project I am working on goes back to historical Timbuktu because of its historical significance as a crucible for dialogue of civilisations. But do not forget that we have more Arabs in Africa than in any other continent. We should not forget that Mauritania, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt are on the African continent. We should not forget that the history of relations between Africa and the Arab world goes back even earlier than the advent of Islam. However, the relationship has been reinforced and further cemented by the advent of Islam. As I alluded to in one of my articles, the first most important migration Muslims made was to Ethiopia. Also to note is that most of our languages are seriously affected by Arabic as they have been by English, French or Portuguese. According to some linguists, Mandinka has about 20% of Arabic. (words like sabaro, sama, qabroo, haajo, nafa, sulo, karamu, lalumo, qarang are all Arabic). At least we learned in our O’Level history that the lingua franca of Mali Empire was Arabic. Similarly, African culture has affected places like Morocco and Tunisia because of the sizable number of people of the African descent. The Hawsa language has more percentage of Arabic than Mandinka. Swahili is in fact a combination of Arabic and African languages. Thus, it has become one of the most widely spoken language in East Africa. The word Swahili is interesting to note is from Arabic sahil meaning coast. As a matter of historical fact, Arab traders came into East Africa and settled along the coast creating a new language through the interaction with the local Africans. A similar analogy is the Aku or Creole in Serra Leone and Liberia for example. Mr Sanneh asserts that I put the Arabs in the centre of the globe. Interestingly, I rarely used the word Arab in my previous articles apart from a couple of times with reference to translation. I have always in fact made a distinction between Arabs and Muslims. You can go back to my interviews on Kairo. I am very much aware that 1/4th of the Muslim population are Malay speaking!
Muslims are no strangers in Europe. I repeat they are part of the social fabric of Europe. It is not only third generation but there are European countries which have majorities of Muslims, namely, Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo. You have more Muslims in the Russian Federation than you have in the Gambia, Senegal, Bissau and Guinea Conakry together! What is the problem then for Muslims to be part of the social fabric of Europe? Of course, this does not mean that one cannot be critical of policies domestic or otherwise within the legal requirements.
It a historical fallacy for Mr Sanneh to claim that the Greek “mathematicians had taken mathematics and other scientific theories from the Arab scholars and lent them to …” in order to deny that the Muslims contributed to the European Renaissance and Enlightenment. For argument sake, he is in fact reinforcing my point. The historical fact is however that it was the Muslim scholars (not necessarily always Arabs) who translated into Arabic and commented on Greek philosophy critically between 9th and 14th centuries that were deemed as dark Ages within the European history. It was the golden age of Islam which went as far as the Mali Empire [State] and Turkey where scholarship flourished and progressed. We should not forget that Muslims ruled Andalusia (presently Spain and parts of North Africa) and left a big legacy and civilisation.
It will be self-denial that foreign policy issues have nothing to do with the frustration of some segments of Muslim societies. Prominent scholars like Noam Chomsky have a passionate view that foreign policy has a lot to answer. I am sure the awaited and promised Iraq War Report by Lord Chilcot will reveal and shed a lot of light on implications of foreign policy. In addition to that, I did mention that a number of variables internal and external need to be considered.
It is a big misjudgement for Brother Sanneh to assert that “Islam has been endemic to violence..” by referring to the Shia-Sunni conflict. Apart from the recent Shiite-Sunni conflict in Iraq and the historical conflict in which Imam Hussain was martyred , how many times have we witnessed conflicts between Shiites and Sunnis across the world? Those conflicts were purely political and religion is now used to magnify them. We should therefore not simplify complex sociological, political and ideological events and blame them on religion. It would be useful to examine the factors that led to the sectarian conflicts in Iraq for example on a very large scale. According to many analysts, it was a political failure of politicians who galvanised people around the sect to marginalise others. That has in fact radicalised some sectors of Iraq that consequently led to the rise of ISIL! Recently, the Western governments realised the failure of politicians in Iraq and forced its former Prime Mister Nouri al-Malik to step aside and to form a government of national reconciliation!
Europe went through a difficult period between Christian denominations. The First and second world wars claimed millions of lives in Europe. But would Christianity be blamed for that. I will say no. Christianity like Islam promotes peace and love.
Finally, I thank again Mr Sanneh for his comments to which he is entitled. I argue that with arguments and counter-arguments, knowledge can be advanced and confusion can be cleared. We should have the humility to learn the history of relations between religion and society. I also believe we should have new variables for analysis regarding such relations. On another note, I reiterate that extremism is colourless, without a race, region or religion. Terrorism is a threat to humanity and must be confronted ideologically, politically and culturally. On a final note, I must say that Islam is a religion and revelation. It must not be reduced to a political or national ideology of X and Y. Islam is a religion of peace, fraternity and compassion; it is indeed guidance for humanity towards their well-being here and hereafter. Lastly, I would welcome a live conversation with Brother Sanneh on Kairo.