Violent Extremism Overshadows True Islam

Since coming home from the US I have made it my business to attend Friday prayers in different mosques in Monrovia. So on May 28, 2010, I was at the Ahmadiya Mosque on Lynch Street. For most mainstream Moslems in Liberia or elsewhere in the world, this will be unusual because to many, the Ahmadiyas are not “authentic Moslems.”

My reason for attending prayer at the mosque on this Friday was to simply see whether there was any difference between the way they pray and the way we pray in our mosques.

When I entered the mosque, it was not jammed pack as would be the case with other mosques in town. The congregants were watching a video. Before I could make up what was being shown, it was turned off. But I will assume that it was a religious video. It was turned off because it was time for the imam to preach his sermon. The muezzin called the prayer as is the case in other mosques. After the muezzin, the imam went through his sermon.

The main message of the sermon was “violent extremism,” highlighting the bombing of two Ahmadiya mosques in Pakistan killing 64 persons. The imam in his sermon said these violent extremists and their violent actions are giving bad name to Islam; that they are sending the wrong signal about the religion.  

After the prayer, I followed the imam to his office where I asked him some questions as to why the Ahmadiya mosques were bombed. He said that there are those who think of them as not being authentic Moslems and as such they have always being targets for  such violent extremists.

When I asked what is the percentage of Ahmadiya Moslems in Pakistan he said they are a tiny minority of 10 millions out of the population of 150 million people. As Moslems, he said, they don’t believe in violence; that even when they are attacked constantly they don’t retaliate.

He said if their group were in majority, they would not have been treated the way they are treated in Pakistan. Asking whether they are persecuted in India also, he said India, being a secular state, they don’t have any problem there as they do in Pakistan. When I was leaving his office, he gave me some pamphlets about the Ahmadiya doctrine. But as a writer, I am not interested in whether their version or my version of Islam is the right one. As far as this article is concerned, I am only interested in violent extremism as a subject.

As I listened to the imam, I told him that violent religious extremism is not limited to Pakistan but also in Iraq between the Shiites and Sunnies. There have been many occasions where both groups have bombed each other’s religious shrines, killing hundreds of people. This shows that not only do these violent extremists attack non-Moslems, they also attack other Moslems. And all of this is on the basis of thinking that their way of worshiping is better or authentic than those of others. The way I pray is more pure than yours and therefore it is my duty to take your life. There are hundreds of cases like that in the Middle East and Asia.

As I ponder all of this, I am reminded of a sermon at a mosque in North Philadelphia, United States of America. The imam at this predominantly African American mosque preached that Islam is supposed to be a light in the darkness illuminating the way for those who are lost. He said Islam should inspire peace and love among mankind. He said the Holy Prophet of Islam was not a desperate man and only acted in self-defense rather than being the aggressor against other people because of their faiths. He asked, “How come the religion that should make the blind to see, make the dumb to speak, make the deaf to hear, and provide hope and guidance to the hopeless world being hijacked by those with violent extremist agenda?” He talked about the golden age of Islam when Islamic scholars contributed immensely to the spread of knowledge in science, arts, literature, and philosophy etc? He went on to say that if Islam must reclaim its former glory and mission of redeeming the world from darkness, Moslems have got to do the right things. They must not engage in act of terror against their fellow human beings.

It is the redemptive value of religion in general and Islam in particular that appeal to me as a Moslem. When someone is falling in the gutter, lift them up; when someone is drowning in the river, rescue the person; when someone is going astray, consul the person.

Don’t only tell me about heaven and hell in the hereafter, empower me and give me some hope about how to overcome all the worldly problems that are afflicting me. I want to know what solution you are advancing to alleviate human suffering in the world. Tell me how we can join forces with people of other faiths to make our common world a better place to live. That brings me to Imam Shamsi Ali, the man considered as “unconventional imam” at the 96th Street Mosque in New City, New York. He preaches moderation instead of extremism. He reaches out to others with whom we share the world so that together we can make it a better place. For such efforts the imam is highly regarded and respected in New York.

It’s true we are all going to die and go to heaven or hell but we can also make this world a better place while we are living here. Since we share the world with people of different faiths, it is imperative that we work with all those people in harmony to make the world a better place. This feeling of universal brotherhood of humanity is what I felt when I visited Bethlehem and Jerusalem 1997 while stationed on board the USS Detroit, a US navy ship. I was moved and touched by the close proximity of the religious shrines of the three monotheistic religions, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. I recounted that experience in the poem titled as followed


Here I come O Bethlehem

With the clear sky above Manger Square I stand

Witnessing to the glorious past and the bleak present.

Feel like mystery journey in a mystery land

A mystery so complex, so beautiful and pleasant

I am walking on the footprints of Jesus, the son of Mary.

Oh I hear the muezzin cry for prayer with the chant

Of Allahu Akbar, a clear manifestation

Of Allah’s power and glory.

I see the faithful gathering in the Masjid Omar

And some flocking to the Church of Nativity

Makes me feel the unity and oneness of God.

Here I come O Jerusalem

The City of Gold and enduring spirituality.

My soul has journeyed all these years

Entrenched in the holiness of the Noble Sanctuary.

Truth is one as it was in the time of Prophet Jesus

And as Prophet Mohammad ascended to the 7th Heaven.

Makes me wonder why all these endless wars

Among Abraham’s children.

Here I come O Lord in search of truth and redemption

Of which my soul is thirsty and hungry.

In the fullness of the given revelation

I submit unconditionally to your power and glory

Make me share with all people your spiritual love

That’s the common foundation for all your children

Who are lost between the Dome of the Rock

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Wailing Wall.

Quite recently I was in another local mosque here in Monrovia. The imam talked about how the “enemies of Islam” don’t want to see the religion prosper. I don’t agree with that view. The thing is that those extremists who think of nothing else but to wreak havoc on the world are bad PR for Islam.

Their ugly actions have overshadowed the real Islam which supposes to be like a train on the track to take people to destination salvation. These men are so limited in their thinking that they don’t think of anything that will advance the understanding of the religion. They lack the intellectual capacity to argue and win others with the beautiful life enhancing message of Islam. They don’t think about building hospitals that will heal people of the physical illnesses they are suffering. They don’t think of building schools that will educate the people.

They don’t think about building powerful media entities like CNN or BBC that can broadcast the beautiful positive messages of Islam. Even if these are been done by other Moslems, the ugly actions of these fanatic deviants overshadows everything. So instead of us thinking that other people don’t like our religion, we should be thinking of bringing the good things this religion offers that will benefit other people.

Can we provide good moral guidance that will help the people overcome the physical and moral challenges they face in their lives? Can we preach real life changing message instead of always preaching fear mongering fire breathing message of hell? Can we eloquently analyze the social political issues of our time instead of what happened 2000 years ago? Shouldn’t our personal conducts be refined to the extent of making our religion much more appealing to others so they may be encouraged to join our rank? These are the questions our scholars and imams should be asking themselves instead of thinking all the time that the “enemies of Islam don’t want to see the religion prosper.”


Nvasekie Konneh