Forever young.

"Speak now or forever hold your peace in pieces."

So who is the real enemy here?

As seen and published on The Malay Mail Online on June 2, 2015.

I saw a tweet yesterday that said we had to stop Syiah from spreading because all Shiites are inherently violent people. So I wrote this tweet (which I then deleted):

“Jangan bagi Syiah berkembang sebab Syiah kejam? Kalau macam tu, Sunni pun jangan berkembang lah sebab puak ISIS tu semua Sunni.” (Don’t let Syiah spread because they are evil? If that’s the case, Sunni Muslims shouldn’t spread either because ISIS are Sunni Muslims.)

The kind of people that were found in my mentions:

  1. People who think I’m encouraging Syiah.
  2. People who think I’m anti-Sunni.
  3. People who think I am an ISIS apologist.
  4. People who think I am implying ISIS = all Sunni Muslims.
  5. People who think I shouldn’t have used ISIS as an example because they have nothing to do with religion.
  6. People who equate me to Donald Trump because I’m “bad mouthing” about Islam.

Almost immediately, I had people giving my name to @PDRMsia because apparently I was trying to wreak havoc and tarnish the name of Islam.

I honestly thought my point was pretty straightforward.

If you don’t want a bunch of violent Muslims (in this case, ISIS) to represent all Muslims, why let a bunch of violent Shiites represent those who are Syiah? How many of us actually know a Shiite personally?

I would like to redirect everyone to an infamous interview that Reza Aslan did on CNN (click link for YouTube video) regarding Islam and violence:


To the people who got so offended when I linked ISIS to Islam, please learn to accept the fact that they are our problem now. Although I do believe that ISIS was probably created on political grounds, we have to understand that soldiers who were recruited were made to believe that they are fighting for a cause, for Islam, for jihad.

Saying “ISIS isn’t Islamic!” does not solve anything. We’re only ignoring the glaring problem here, that is religious fundamentalism. People like ISIS believe in a different interpretation of Islam, a rather violent one, and they believe that whatever they’re doing is leading them to the “true” path.

Most of us believe that what ISIS is doing is not Islamic for it is against the essence of the faith that is compassion and mercy. However, this does not change the fact that they still identify as Muslims. Saying they are not doesn’t simply make them non-Muslims.

To eradicate them, or at least stop people from wanting to join them, we have to first acknowledge that there is a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam out there. Muslim terrorist groups like ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the likes are following these interpretations.

Saying ISIS are not Muslims is like saying the Crusaders weren’t Christians. They were all very much driven by religion.

We cannot simply say, “ISIS isn’t our problem.” As much as I want to believe so too, unfortunately, they very much are. As Muslims, we cannot simply wash them off our hands. It won’t make them go away. We’re only condoning in silence if we do. We have to fight against this violent ideology of Islam. We have to create a counter-narrative. But it’s going to be difficult trying to do so in Malaysia, and let me tell you why.

Radicalism does not only come in the form of bloodshed but can also be spread through diffused fundamentalism. I have written about this before here.

“Most people associate Islamism and Muslim fundamentalism with violence, advances that are physical. But there is one type of fundamentalism that is just as deadly, and that fundamentalism is given the term “diffused fundamentalism.” This kind of fundamentalism is naturalised into your daily lives, and most times we don’t even realise it.

They are absorbed and then spread through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, the internet, television, radio, sermons and word of mouth.”

There is a reason why I used ISIS as a comparison to Sunni Muslims. How many of us actually knew that ISIS started off as Sunni Muslims trying to kill off all Shiites? In Malaysia, we are taught that Shiites are evil, or even worse, that their blood is halal, but at the same time, we condemn the killings done by ISIS. Do you see the paradox?

We are condemning the very thing that we let happen here. And sure, the Sunni vs. Syiah divide in Malaysia hasn’t reached a point of mass murder, but these teachings that demonise the Shiites are the seeds that will eventually grow into militant thinking, into people like ISIS. We already have Malaysians leaving the country to join the terrorist group.

It genuinely scares me to think about the damage that ISIS has caused to the name of Islam, and how little we are doing to stop it. It isn’t enough to just throw around a few verses of the Qur’an that teaches peace, saying you don’t support ISIS because the Qur’an said so and so, but at the same time support the persecution and discrimination of Shiites. That’s not how it works. You don’t just say you’re against violence. You have to act upon it too.

The first step to solving a problem is to acknowledge that we have one. In the words of Iyad El-Baghdadi, “ISIS is not a wound to Islam, it is a cancer from within.” It is something that we have to fix from amongst ourselves, but how are we supposed to do that when we’re always at each other’s throats?

Last weekend, I was given the honour to be a part of a conference on countering radicalism. A few days prior to the event, some Islamist groups tried to shut us down. Some of their followers even went on to say that our blood was “halal” if we were killed.

But still, the event went on as planned. While the conference was running, news of the Paris attacks started surfacing.

It seemed ironic to me that Islamist groups tried to stop a discussion on countering radicalism, and right then, an act of terror was carried out in the name of Islam. While the attacks were devastating, I also felt that it was timely (for a lack of better word) to show that it is high-time that we acknowledge the rising radicalisation of Muslims.

The whole point of my tweet was not to say who’s religious practices are right or wrong, the Sunni Muslims or Shiites. It wasn’t a battle of theology. It was simply a plea to stop generalising people. It breaks my heart to see us fight each other instead of the common enemy.

Statistics below say that 11% of Malaysians are in favour of ISIS while 25% are still undecided. Do you know how extremely worrying those numbers are? I am genuinely afraid.


Here is something written by Iyad El-Baghdadi on his Twitter that eloquently put what I feel into writing:

“It’s no secret that we have a crisis of values in Islam. The word “Islamic” means very different things even to different Muslims.

Consider: Muslims can be some of the kindest and most compassionate people around – and cite Islam as their inspiration. But: Other Muslims can be some of the most evil, depraved, and bloodthirsty people around – and (also) cite Islam as their inspiration.

In response to ISIS, we had a much-needed debate about what is or isn’t Islamic. But that debate quickly took a wrong turn. The debate over “what’s Islamic” came to naught because it ended up being a tussle over traditions and history, rather than values.

The fact is, Islamic studies lack an explicit, formal, objective value system. It’s traditionally been more concerned with rules than values. Our dominant Islamic paradigm is obsessed with rulings and very wary of talking about values beyond the context of rulings. This dominant paradigm not only limits understanding and interpretation – it kicks off a confirmation bias that keeps it firmly in place. We end up with an Islam that tries to extract as many rules as possible, rather than compile and assert a coherent set of core values.

The Qur’an does indeed provide an objective, concrete value system, but we fail to see it because we go in looking for rules, not values. Fiqh is a particular case in point. It’s an integrated, sophisticated methodology to extract rulings from source texts. Rulings, not values. That’s not to say that fiqh scholars are unconcerned with values – but the fiqh methodology itself, in dominant schools, in value-neutral.

Islamic classical scholarship presents us with a formal legislative framework but does not present us with a formal, explicit value system.

And with ISIS pushing us, I hope we may be witnessing a major cultural shift from a rule-centric Islam to a value-centric Islam. I hope. It won’t be easy; it’s a monumental task. But it’s absolutely essential if we want to salvage and recover our faith and our humanity.

Just a final note: Historically, what is or isn’t mainstream has been a function of power, not of truth. And power balances shifts.”

Please, let’s just stop the needless fighting with each other. At a time like this where Islamophobia is on the rise, we Muslims have to stick together more than ever. The enemy is religious radicalism. Not your own Muslim brothers and sisters.


8 comments on “So who is the real enemy here?

  1. Sivananthi Thanenthiran
    November 26, 2015

    Good job! Nowadays it is impossible to make a stand about anything without getting hit at esp on the issue of religion. We seemed to have lost our ability to rationalise x

  2. Mon ☠
    November 26, 2015

    The kerfuffles 😦 It hurts to see people not being able to accept different opinions.

  3. fhmiisml
    November 26, 2015

    “You don’t just say you’re against violence. You have to act upon it too.”

    This line sums it up very well. As always, a brilliant read. I hope many of us will read your post with an open heart and open mind so they might be enlightened to find a way to look at Islam from a scholarly perspective… not just taking in whatever an ustaz/ustazah says without thinking about it.

    It’s not that those ustaz/ustazah’s dont know the value/reasoning behind a rule, I believe they do but it’s just the students who should take up one of our old tokoh Imams practice (the really old ones we read about in school eg. Imam Syafie) and SEEK for knowledge. Ask your teachers! Seek the deeper meanings behind the sayings and we would all be in a much better place.

    I think my comment is too short to convey what I’m really trying to say but if a reader does understand, then I’m glad.

  4. Mustak Shaik
    November 27, 2015

    Here’s my contrarian opinion: Not very intellectual..but it’s the message that counts…

    It’s prescribed for in our religion to do what they, the ISIS, the terrorists did. It’s not a ‘misquotation’ nor a ‘misinterpretation’ of the Qu’ran. Or radicalisation. The dream of a caliphate held dear by several categories of Muslims, the Jews and the VERSES OF VIOLENCE in some form or other, are present in the Qu’ran. The sooner ISLAM seeks for a change on how that religion is taught the better for all of us. The Qu’ran by the way is immutable, so they say and Muslims will die or kill before the Qu’ran is reduce from it’s ‘pristine’ condition. We will die for nothing too. So, big deal.

    “The first step to solving a problem is to acknowledge that we have one.” Exactly.

    How are these ‘misquotations’ and ‘intrpretations’ of the Qur’an’ taught to us? They are taught, preached, sermonized not as ‘misquotations’ but glorified exaltations of the Qu’ran and repeated over and over again till we die. We Muslim have to handle that part of how these ‘misquotations’ are taught to us before we globally accuse others of characterizing our religion as inherently violent. Because of the manner we are taught the Qu’ran since very young we believe those vilolent verses to be just that, violent verses, we inherently are violent because of that. Algeria, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Maldives, Mauritania, Somalia, Western Sahara, Djibouti, Tunisia, Yemen, Comoros, Oman, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey are all 99% and above, Muslim majority countries, not one person will give a peep on how Islam is taught by the religious teachers, imams and scholars in these countries.

    The other thing is, that the historical context of these verses demonstrates that all of these violent passages without exception relate to fighting against those engaged in warfare.

    Great reading those lines. What is the problem? Muslim tribalism at work, create a skirmish, burn a minority’s place of worship, kill a non-Muslim minority and expand it into a war. Bomb Paris. Or kill one and the other, the Sunni vs Shiah divide and make the non-Muslims a casualty of war. It’s been done through the ages, creating wars, which why Muslims countries are not safe, not progressive and in a perpetual state of war till this day.

    Terrorism will end when we MUSLIMS follow the Christians, the Jews and the Hindus in removing, ignoring, refining or silencing the VERSES OF VIOLENCE from passages in their holy books, the Torah, the Bible and the Danda and RETEACH how the Quran is taught, starting with our children in the madrassas, the Muslim religious schools. Islam is at war with all other religions as well as all atheists. Take away this equation, removing, ignoring, refining or silencing the VERSES OF VIOLENCE and most religious ‘eye for an eye’ violence ceases.

    Other than that, talk is cheap and hypocritical

    We Muslims can talk, we can takiyya, tawira, kitman, muruna, lie for Islam, all we want, history is replete with Muslim terrorism. Muslims, handle that part of your terrorism before POKING INTO other terrorisms, before we globally get it back, gobsmacked back, in our faces by all the other religions and then say, “See, they do it too!”

    This is the root, the trunk, the branches, the leaves and the whole forest of the ‘root’ of the problem.

    “The enemy is religious radicalism. Not your own Muslim brothers and sisters.”

    Sorry to say this, Sha. My foot.

    • clairechewable
      December 16, 2016

      Shafiqah did a great job writing this article, and it put a lot of thoughts I couldn’t quite express into words. But at the same time, I would like to know what are some thoughts on how to actually solve this problem. Like Mustak Shaik says, there are verses that are interpreted as violent and reading some of them made me feel that the reason they’d be interpreted as violent seem very straightforward.

      And I’m not very well read about this, so do correct me if I’m wrong or point out if my argument is full of loopholes, but even if radicalization is a political agenda under the guise of a religion, what can Muslims or religious institutions do about it? Again, like Mustak Shaik says, terrorism will end when we remove, refine or silence the verses of violence from holy books. That is my opinion as well, and I believe religious leaders or figures should be the ones to step out and do this. But i somehow feel that this isn’t a good enough solution to put an end to religious fundamentalism.

  5. Mustak Shaik
    November 27, 2015

    Sorry for this intrusion again, but someone finally wrote about what I tried to articulate about, that ‘to reconsider that Qur’an is not infallible’.

  6. ilm-seeking bride
    December 2, 2015

    Assalamualaikum sister.

    Firstly, I understand and agree with your originally tweet. I, too, am confused as to how people can misinterpret your view so badly.

    However, I have to disagree with some of your subsequent points.

    You hold the view that to solve this problem, we first have to acknowledge that this is *our* problem. We have to admit that Daesh *is* Islamic.

    Your words: “Saying “ISIS isn’t Islamic!” does not solve anything. We’re only ignoring the glaring problem here, that is religious fundamentalism.”

    But, like I have mentioned in a reply to you before, we first have to realize that religious fundamentalism has a root cause as well. It is not borne out of religion alone. It is almost always a gradual response to a threat – perceived, or otherwise.

    “Fundamentalism … exists in a symbiotic relationship with a coercive secularism. Fundamentalists nearly always feel assaulted by the liberal or modernizing establishment, and their views and behaviour become more extreme as a result. … When the secularist attack has been more violent, the fundamentalist reaction is likely to be even greater.” [1]

    Terrorism didn’t come from Islam. These people weren’t radicalized in the mosques. You had acknowledged that Daesh was created on political grounds but I feel like you haven’t given a deserving weight to this factor. These people didn’t simply learn about jihad and the caliphates, then decided to turn to violence. No. There was always something else that pushed them to violence; then they USED these Islamic concepts as an excuse to further their agendas.

    The definition of “jihad” has been skewed to mean primarily “armed resistance”. But how did this start? It was in 1979 when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan [2]. Abdullah Azzam, who was a mentor to Bin Laden, started the casting call for mujahidin but what was the driver? “Certainly galvanized by Israel’s military occupation of his birthplace (Azzam is Palestinian), Azzam explicitly made the anti-Soviet campaign the priority for all believing Muslims, not just Afghans.” [2].

    Oh, and an interesting point: Al-Zarqawi, who would be the founder of Daesh later on, was one of those who travelled to Afghanistan in 1989 with the intention to fight the Soviets [2].

    Even Daesh targeting of Shi’ites is politically motivated. “Al-Zarqawi had also exploited what was … a problem in Iraq’s political evolution: namely, the creeping takeover of state institutions by chauvinistic Shia politicians, many of whom were either spies or agents of influence of Iran’s IRGC” [2]

    The founder of Islamic fundamentalism for the Sunnis, Sayyid Qutb (1906-66), wasn’t always an extremist. In fact, he welcomed democracy and Western culture. It was only after he was put in a concentration camp by the secularists that he started to espouse a distorted practice of Islam [1].

    You think that Western modernity came to the Muslim world in the 1900s under a shining banner of freedom and morality, with a halo over their heads? No. It was *enforced*. Madrasahs were closed down. The ulama’s influence and endowments were taken. Hajj was forbidden. Soldiers tore up the muslimah’s veils with bayonets, ripping them to pieces in the street [1].

    It is clear as day: terrorism is NOT a cancer that grew within Islam. It is a disease brought forth from coercion and oppression.

    Now of course, I’m not saying that what the terrorists are doing is justified. My point is this – putting the blame on the religion only serves to draw attention away from the true root causes of the problem.

    If a Muslim man beats his wife to death, do you blame Islam? Obviously not. Any sensible person can come to the conclusion that his religion has nothing to do with it; a Muslim isn’t necessarily a Mukmineen. This man’s actions have obviously contradicted Islam; our prophet (s.a.w.) never lay a hand on his wives.

    If this Muslim man beats his wife to death, then claims that he is permitted to do so because of a hadith, do you blame Islam? Again, we don’t. It is obvious that this man has starkly misinterpreted the hadith, or is simply trying to use the hadith to as an excuse for his actions.

    Blaming Islam for this man’s actions is a shallow judgement. You have to delve into the root causes of the problem – what was his upbringing like? Has he always been violent? Did he observe abuse from his own father, or was he himself abused? How was his relationship with his wife like?

    It’s a similar case for terrorism, isn’t it? Islam is not the problem.

    Saying that Daesh is Islamic won’t solve the problem – it would only aggravate Islamophobia, widen the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims, and push the former group into radicalization. This is what Daesh wants. The “hate” towards Muslims would remove the grayzone that they so often mention.

    Acknowledging that Daesh is NOT Islamic doesn’t mean that we wash our hands off the problem. With your statement, you seem to imply that the Muslims have been doing nothing to deal with this problem, which isn’t true. We so often see Muslim imams, shaykhs, and organizations, from all over the world condemning Daesh’s actions. Every single lecture you go to nowadays, Daesh is mentioned. No matter what the topic. Still think Muslims aren’t doing anything? Say that to the Muslims in the Middle East – both Shia and Sunni – who are fighting Daesh head-on.

    You stated that “In Malaysia, we are taught that Shiites are evil …” Again, this obviously contradicts Islam’s teachings. You can’t blame Islam if you’re taught something radical.

    Like one of the other commenters have stated, we have to actively SEEK knowledge and always verify our information. There have been many occasions whereby I have heard statements from asatizahs or shaykhs which I found doubtful or even disagreed with. Several occasions some have even shared ahadith which were weak or fabricated.

    We don’t believe that our teachers are infallible, and at the same time, we don’t jump to conclusions and say they are deviant. Take what you deem to be “good”, then leave out the rest.

    Not all Shi’ites are deviant. You can’t over-generalize an entire group. There are some who don’t curse the sahabah nor venerate the prophet’s family members as divine. You say that you were taught to hate the Shia? I have asked you this before, sister – where are you learning your religion from, dear sister? You don’t have to announce it, but just consider it yourself and ask yourself if maybe it’s time to re-consider your sources of ilm.

    Also, Islamic education is only fiqh-centric? Values are rarely taught? Again, where are you learning your religion from?

    And to the other commenter Mustak Shaik – I completely disagree with your view, sorry. The Quran is the word of Allah; you can’t simply “remove verses”. The authenticity of our religious text is what makes our practice true. Why do we have to follow the other religions and distort our texts? What makes THEM the benchmark?

    No, the problem is not with the texts. Allah has made Islam complete; his words are perfect. It is our understanding that is imperfect. There are bound to be people who reject Islam or be misguided by their misunderstandings but this has been decreed. “If it were Allah’s will, He could gather them together unto true guidance: so be not you amongst those who are swayed by ignorance (and impatience)!” (Quran 6:35)

    All we can do is strive with patience and do what we can to rectify any misunderstandings of the religion. And it’s paying off, isn’t it? Daesh is dying out as we speak. Many have defected out from their ranks.

    This is a long comment, I’m sorry, but just to sum up my views:
    Are Daesh members Muslims? Allah knows best.
    Is Daesh Islamic? Definitely not
    Do Muslims have to deal with this problem? Yes, but so do the rest of the world.

    My sister, I completely agree with you that we, as muslims, as one ummah, has to stick together against this enemy. But to battle this enemy we really have to understand their roots. We can’t point the fingers at ourselves. I’m not even going to get started about the theories that Daesh was created by US/ Israel/ etc etc. But what’s certain is that the political context is a big, big factor. Like you said, some muslims don’t even know about Daesh targeting Shia. You’re right. To battle this enemy, we have to understand them – what are their grievances? They’re not following any Islamic ideology (they claim to be salafists but salafism isn’t some radical concept.), they’re CREATING their own ideologies. What makes them different from Al-Qaeda; how come they kill Muslims, but Al-Qaeda doesn’t?

    May Allah keep us all on the straight path and assist us in defeating this enemy that has tarnished the name of Islam.

    My sources (Sorry I’m lazy to format them properly)
    1. Islam: A Short History by Karen Armstrong, pp. 135-36, 141-42, 144
    2: ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror by Michael Weiss & Hassan Hassan, pp. 3, 5-6, 29

  7. Anonymous
    May 7, 2016

    I agree to your point. But,
    1. it is undeniably as Islam, shiite is a group that mispresent Islam as they are misguided (come back to their origin) worshipping ali more than prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) and other things. In Islam there is never in killing them. There is no translation of Quran that says we should kill Shiah/shiite. Islam promotes guiding them to the right path. (Correct me if I’m wrong) but Islam these days vast majority aren’t as pious as years centuries before. Arent we suppose to educate our people to the right understanding, teaching and practicing?
    2. Can you tell us, what should we do to show that we’re against violence in the form of act? It would really great to hear your recommendation on what to do besides all the talking? Please dont say taking up an army to go against ISIS. We are at disadvantage.

    P/s: I love ur articles. It makes people think.

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