We need a counter-narrative to the threat that is Islamism

By Ammar Anwer


Islamism is a serious threat to humanity. The harm that it has caused, and continues to cause, is indescribable, unspeakable and extremely horrendous. The most saddening aspect of this aching cruelty is that it has damaged the reputation of the entire Muslim community around the world

Although its extremist tactics have affected the entire human community across the globe, but the ones who have also suffered are peaceful Muslims, who carry the pain of the entire humanity in their hearts; those who do not hate other fellow humans because of their race, caste and religious beliefs and those who want nothing but the betterment of the whole world. In the same way, the image of the European Muslims is also greatly hurt whenever these Islamists strikes in a horrific way as we witnessed in Paris and Brussels.

I know most of the Muslims living in Europe and in different parts of the world also experience the same grievances whenever any terrorist activity takes place. However I believe that we Muslims have failed to renounce this Islamist ideology on a greater note.

The most saddening thing for me is that Muslims constantly live in denial by saying ISIS or other Islamist organisations have ‘nothing to do with Islam’. This denial, I believe, is the root cause of all the problems Muslims are facing today. We need to draw a clear distinction between Islamists, who want to impose Islam on others, and the Muslims who just want to practice their faith without imposing it on any other community.

Islam is a religion and Muslims are the people who follow Islam. Islamism is the ideology that promotes the idea of imposing a particular interpretation of Islam over a community. A Muslim is someone who believes in Islam and the main principles of Islam. Similarly an Islamist also believes in Islam and its main principles but he also believes that the religion of Islam must be implemented all over the world and that Islam has given us the responsibility to impose it over the different communities whenever we have the chance to do so.

Unlike normal Muslims, an Islamist is different because he believes he has some political and social responsibilities assigned to him by Islam. Not all Muslims are Islamists but every Islamist believes in Islam (and hence is a Muslim).

The history of Islamism or political Islam can be traced back to Imam Ibn Taymiyyah. Ibn Taymiyyah is considered to be the first person who interpreted Islam in a political manner. In this elucidation, Islam has been presented to us as a deen (way of life) and not just a mazhab (religion). The difference between these two terms is that the latter one applies only to an individual while the former one is actually a set of guidelines that must be implemented all over the world and they are not limited to a certain society or community.

According to this interpretation Islam is not merely a set of rituals but a complete code of life that cannot be separated from the affairs of the state. It says that Islam has assigned some political and social responsibilities to us and it is our prime responsibility to impose Islam in every corner of the world whenever we have the opportunity to do so.

This interpretation demands control over the entire world. In the last couple of centuries, this school of thought has come to prominence dominating the intellectual thought process and hence cannot be ignored. Jihad is central to this interpretation and the very purpose of jihad according to this school of thought is to spread the dominance of Islam over the world.

Abul A'la Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamist organisation in Asia
Abul A’la Maududi, the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the largest Islamist organisation in Asia


This elucidation of Islam was further expounded by Syed Abul Ala Maududi, Syed Qutb and Hasan al-Banna. Explaining this political interpretation of Islam, Banna (the founder of the Islamist organisation Muslim Brotherhood) said:

“It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its laws on all nations and extend its power to the entire planet”.

Similarly Sayyid Qutb, another famous Leader of Muslim Brotherhood in his book “Milestone” wrote:

“The abolition of man-made laws cannot be achieved only through preaching. Those who have usurped the authority of God and are oppressing God’s creatures are not going to give up their power merely through preaching” (Pointing towards an armed struggle).

Muslims are in denial when it comes to realising facts regarding radical Islam. They become paranoid if someone tries to highlight the points like I have above. Anyone who tries to say that radicalism has a strong basis in Islam is immediately labeled as an Islamophobe.

I remember when the Taliban attacked Army Public School in Peshawar and butchered innocent children, they justified this act from the incident of the Banu Qureyza in Arabia. Taliban spokesperson Mohammed Khorasani said:

“The Mujahideen were instructed to only kill the older children. The Peshawar attack is in complete accordance with the Prophet’s teachings because when the Prophet killed the Jewish Tribe of Banu Qurayza, he put the same guideline, that only the children who have hair below their belly button (pubic hair) are allowed to be killed. Killing of women and children is also in accordance with the teachings of the Prophet. Those who object to this claim can refer to Sahih Bukhari, Volume 5, Hadith 148.”


Candlelight vigil in London, UK for the victims of the terrorist attack in Peshawar. Pic Credit: Kashif Haque


Dr.Farooq Khan Shaheed (a well-known Pakistani Islamic scholar who was murdered by the Taliban), refuting this justification of the Taliban, wrote:

“When the Prophet came to the state of Al-Madinah, the Jews accepted him as their head and admitted to accept his decision as final under an agreement. They might have a conception that the Prophet would just emerge as a national leader. But when Islam started spreading very fast and even among the Jews several people started embracing Islam, they became busy in conspiracies against the Prophet.

First of all a Jew Tribe, Banu Qaynuqa refused to accept any accord. They were, hence, expelled from the state of Al-Madinah. Another Jewish Tribe, Banu Nazeer hatched up a conspiracy for the murder of the Prophet but the plotters were caught beforehand. Consequently, this tribe was also sent in exile. The crime of the Third Tribe, Banu Qurayzah was the most horrible one and the gravest nature.

During the war of Ahzab, when all forces of Arabia launched a untied attack on Madinah and the Muslims besieged themselves by digging a trench, Banu Qurayzah broke the accord with the Muslims in that crucial time. They assured the enemies of Islam that they would attack the Muslims from inside while there would be a sudden attack from outside.

The Prophet came to know about it and countered the action in time. When the enemy retreated, the Prophet besieged that tribe according to the orders of God. Banu Qurayzah appointed Sa’d Bin Mu’az as their arbitrator owing to his old terms with that tribe. Hence, Sa’d decided after consulting the holy book of Jews that such a tribe must be put to death because of their act of treason. If Banu Qurayzah had left the matter at the mercy of the Prophet, he would certainly have decided exile instead of death for them.

It should also be kept in mind that according to the Quran, the Jews invited towards Islam directly by the Holy Prophet, were punished by God directly. It is not a general rule. It is that specific rule under which all such people invited towards Islam by the Prophet himself and having received the message of Islam in its accomplished form, still remain adamant due to their carnal desires, stubbornness and pride are punished by God directly.

This punishment cannot be imposed after the Prophet’s time. Therefore, any faction, the Muslim or the non-Muslim committing such crime today within a Muslim state would be dealt with in accordance with the general laws of the state.”


As we can see, this whole event has been taken out of context by the Taliban to justify their unjustifiable atrocity. As far as the ahadith are concerned, it must be kept in mind that most of the controversial ahadith that the Taliban subscribe to were compiled 120 – 300 years after the Prophet’s (pbuh) era. Also in terms of authenticity, the Qur’an takes precedence over hadith.

This is just one example of how these Islamist organisations try to justify their acts from both the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Therefore, saying, “Terrorism has nothing to do with Islam” alone would not be sufficient unless we come up with a suitable counter-narrative against the Islamist interpretation of Islam.

ISIS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has a doctorate in Qur’anic Studies. Syed Abul Ala Maududi, Hasan Al Banah and Sayyid Qutb are the most influential Islamic scholars of the 20th century and they remain the driving force behind Islamism. Work needs to be done in order to undo the influence of political Islam. This can only be done when we come up with a counter narrative.


Ammar AnwerAmmar Anwer is an ex-Islamist who writes for the Huffington Post,  and The Quilliam FoundationHe believes in libertarianism and Democracy. He aspires to see Pakistan becoming a Pluralistic State. Follow him on Twitter and find him on Facebook.



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One thought on “We need a counter-narrative to the threat that is Islamism

  1. […] verses such as 4:24 and 7:80-84 that seem to justify it. This is a theological issue that I have discussed on various media outlets. It is the reason I support reformist scholars, like Javed Ahmed Ghamidi, […]

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