Religious Extremism or Extremely Religious; A Feminine Perspective
By Inas Younis, New Age Islam
30 December 2015
Headline: Extremist Peace Lovers Unleash Violent Acts of Kindness on the World. Famous comedian responds, “You could easily spot any religion of peace. Its extremist members would be extremely peaceful.” His point of course, is that there is no such thing as moderate or extreme peace. Peace, like all religious principles does not require hyphenations. It is what it is. And since religion deals with the infinite part of human existence, it too should be immune to extremism. Once religion becomes extreme, it is no longer religion but a secular ideology. It changes nature the minute it steps out of its own atmosphere. But the restraints imposed by religion are not the only factor that keeps true men of God from becoming extremists. Reality also has something to say about the matter.
Extremism is a largely secular phenomenon, because extremism is actually a necessary condition to the application of natural law. The laws of physics do not change and one must be extreme and precise in applying them. A mathematical equation has only one answer, and an approximation no matter how close is not close enough. One cannot be moderately dead, or moderately pregnant. And when a tree falls in the forest it does make a sound, even if no one is there to hear it.
In the secular world our perceptions are irrelevant. In the secular world logic rules and all of existence is the result of an extreme commitment to order and precision. Religious extremism is no exception to this process. Religious extremism is really just the unsuccessful attempt at applying static laws to fluid timeless principles; an attempt that is both futile and fatal.
The desire to apply mathematical-like logic to govern a man’s consciousness stems from the masculine need for objectivity. Men function best in the physical realm because it is something they can master as masters of the material world. Men do not fare well in a world of ambiguity, and so it is tempting to reduce religion to the black and white formulas of science.
We often get defensive when we are told that our religion is full of contradictions, forgetting that the built in contradictions in religion, or what we euphemistically refer to as paradox, are injected to preserve the integrity of a thinking mind. They are there to provide us with flexibility. For example, we are called to make peace and make war. Turn the other cheek, but slap them with the other hand. Say yes to chastity and oh yes to sex. Choose mercy and choose justice. Accept that good deeds will save us but ultimately concede that its God’s will and not our actions that lead to our salvation. We must believe in free will and predestination. In order for man to negotiate his way through these, the paradoxes of religious jurisprudence, he must evolve the capacity to think abstractly. He must be able to integrate concepts and apply them to various contexts. To be religious is to be intelligent. To be religious does not mean to have an open mind, because those can be just as dangerous as closed ones. It means that you must have an active working gushing moving feeling one. To be religious means to be alive. Extremism on the other hand, is the negation of all such emotional considerations in the interest of social order at any cost.
All the various manifestations of extremism are clearly not driven by God or religion but by a man’s desperate need to prove that he can control the one thing that refuses to submit to static laws of nature- human consciousness. Extremists do not desire worldly pleasure, they desire predictability. Whether it’s a psychiatric condition or a politically induced one, anxiety and fear is at the root of all forms of extremism.
The tragic irony is that the greatest antidote to religious extremism is in fact religion itself. And we have made a terrible mistake in calling a man with a secular ideology, like Hitler, evil. But we refer to a man with similar designs, as a Muslim extremist. By associating extremism with religion, we may have neutralized the only power that can vaccinate men from this proclivity. And although we moderates are not responsible for the rise in extremism, we are in fact responsible for solidifying this association even in our own minds. For one thing, we have remained fixated on the mechanics of religious observance at a time when love and compassion should have been taking precedence. We have relinquished the spiritual ambiance of a religion that promises infinite possibilities to the daily drum rolls of religious limitations and opportunistic politicking. But even worse, we have made the mistake of equating moderation with social liberalism and relaxed religious observance, which has made some buy into the conservative smear campaigns against us.
A moderate is not a person for whom anything goes. A moderate is a person who honours pluralism and creative tension as a precondition to our social and spiritual evolution. A moderate person is uncomfortable with the status quo because he has surrendered himself to God, and does not feel the impulse to accrue social capital or achieve status by association. To be moderate does not mean being washy washy. On the contrary, it means being very firm in the belief that freedom of conscience cannot co exist with any institutionalized forms of coercion or psychological intimidation of any kind. Where moderates have failed, is in not appropriating enough juridical authority to officially make this case.
So until we iron things out to the extent that we have an identity that is impervious to the emotional blackmail of some of our co religionists, we should not be peaceful, but always struggling, always negotiating, always growing. We should never be peaceful but we should always be at peace, with one another and with ourselves. And peace be with you.
Inas Younis is a freelance writer residing in Kansas. She has written for Muslim Girl Magazine and her work was featured in the anthology Living Islam Out Loud. She contributed this article to New Age Islam.