Former Indonesian President Wahid urges Muslims to choose between "Right Islam" and "Wrong Islam"
Do you remember the first elected President of Indonesia? He was partially
blind, yet saw the dangers posed by international Wahabism. Removed from
power by questionable means, President Wahid, said to be a Sufi, continues
to influence the poltics of Indonesia.
In this essay for the Wall Street Journal, President Wahid challenges
Muslims to choose between the "Right Islam" and the "Wrong Islam", urging
them to defeat the Wahabbi ideology.
He warns that "The armed ghazis (Islamic warriors) raiding from New York to
Jakarta, Istanbul, Baghdad, London and Madrid are only the tip of the
iceberg, forerunners of a vast and growing population that shares their
radical views and ultimate objectives."
Read and reflect.
Friday, December 30, 2005
Right Islam vs. Wrong Islam
Muslims and non-Muslims must unite to defeat the Wahabbi ideology.
BY ABDURRAHMAN WAHID
The Wall Street Journal
JAKARTA--News organizations report that Osama bin Laden has obtained a
religious edict from a misguided Saudi cleric, justifying the use of nuclear
weapons against America and the infliction of mass casualties. It requires
great emotional strength to confront the potential ramifications of this
fact. Yet can anyone doubt that those who joyfully incinerate the occupants
of office buildings, commuter trains, hotels and nightclubs would leap at
the chance to magnify their damage a thousandfold?
Imagine the impact of a single nuclear bomb detonated in New York, London,
Paris, Sydney or L.A.! What about two or three? The entire edifice of modern
civilization is built on economic and technological foundations that
terrorists hope to collapse with nuclear attacks like so many fishing huts
in the wake of a tsunami.
Just two small, well-placed bombs devastated Bali's tourist economy in 2002
and sent much of its population back to the rice fields and out to sea, to
fill their empty bellies. What would be the effect of a global economic
crisis in the wake of attacks far more devastating than those of Bali or
It is time for people of good will from every faith and nation to recognize
that a terrible danger threatens humanity. We cannot afford to continue
"business as usual" in the face of this existential threat. Rather, we must
set aside our international and partisan bickering, and join to confront the
danger that lies before us.
An extreme and perverse ideology in the minds of fanatics is what directly
threatens us (specifically, Wahhabi/Salafi ideology--a minority
fundamentalist religious cult fueled by petrodollars). Yet underlying,
enabling and exacerbating this threat of religious extremism is a global
crisis of misunderstanding.
All too many Muslims fail to grasp Islam, which teaches one to be lenient
towards others and to understand their value systems, knowing that these are
tolerated by Islam as a religion. The essence of Islam is encapsulated in
the words of the Quran, "For you, your religion; for me, my religion." That
is the essence of tolerance. Religious fanatics--either purposely or out of
ignorance--pervert Islam into a dogma of intolerance, hatred and bloodshed.
They justify their brutality with slogans such as "Islam is above everything
else." They seek to intimidate and subdue anyone who does not share their
extremist views, regardless of nationality or religion. While a few are
quick to shed blood themselves, countless millions of others sympathize with
their violent actions, or join in the complicity of silence.
This crisis of misunderstanding--of Islam by Muslims themselves--is
compounded by the failure of governments, people of other faiths, and the
majority of well-intentioned Muslims to resist, isolate and discredit this
dangerous ideology. The crisis thus afflicts Muslims and non-Muslims alike,
with tragic consequences. Failure to understand the true nature of Islam
permits the continued radicalization of Muslims world-wide, while blinding
the rest of humanity to a solution which hides in plain sight.
The most effective way to overcome Islamist extremism is to explain what
Islam truly is to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Without that explanation,
people will tend to accept the unrefuted extremist view--further
radicalizing Muslims, and turning the rest of the world against Islam
Accomplishing this task will be neither quick nor easy. In recent decades,
Wahhabi/Salafi ideology has made substantial inroads throughout the Muslim
world. Islamic fundamentalism has become a well-financed, multifaceted
global movement that operates like a juggernaut in much of the developing
world, and even among immigrant Muslim communities in the West. To
neutralize the virulent ideology that underlies fundamentalist terrorism and
threatens the very foundations of modern civilization, we must identify its
advocates, understand their goals and strategies, evaluate their strengths
and weaknesses, and effectively counter their every move. What we are
talking about is nothing less than a global struggle for the soul of Islam.
The Sunni (as opposed to Shiite) fundamentalists' goals generally include:
claiming to restore the perfection of the early Islam practiced by Muhammad
and his companions, who are known in Arabic as al-Salaf al-Salih, "the
Righteous Ancestors"; establishing a utopian society based on these Salafi
principles, by imposing their interpretation of Islamic law on all members
of society; annihilating local variants of Islam in the name of authenticity
and purity; transforming Islam from a personal faith into an authoritarian
political system; establishing a pan-Islamic caliphate governed according to
the strict tenets of Salafi Islam, and often conceived as stretching from
Morocco to Indonesia and the Philippines; and, ultimately, bringing the
entire world under the sway of their extremist ideology.
Fundamentalist strategy is often simple as well as brilliant. Extremists are
quick to drape themselves in the mantle of Islam and declare their opponents
kafir, or infidels, and thus smooth the way for slaughtering
nonfundamentalist Muslims. Their theology rests upon a simplistic, literal
and highly selective reading of the Quran and Sunnah (prophetic traditions),
through which they seek to entrap the world-wide Muslim community in the
confines of their narrow ideological grasp. Expansionist by nature, most
fundamentalist groups constantly probe for weakness and an opportunity to
strike, at any time or place, to further their authoritarian goals.
The armed ghazis (Islamic warriors) raiding from New York to Jakarta,
Istanbul, Baghdad, London and Madrid are only the tip of the iceberg,
forerunners of a vast and growing population that shares their radical views
and ultimate objectives. The formidable strengths of this worldwide
fundamentalist movement include:
1) An aggressive program with clear ideological and political goals;
2) immense funding from oil-rich Wahhabi sponsors;
3) the ability to distribute funds in impoverished areas to buy loyalty and
4) a claim to and aura of religious authenticity and Arab prestige;
5) an appeal to Islamic identity, pride and history;
6) an ability to blend into the much larger traditionalist masses and blur
the distinction between moderate Islam and their brand of religious
7) full-time commitment by its agents/leadership;
8) networks of Islamic schools that propagate extremism;
9) the absence of organized opposition in the Islamic world;
10) a global network of fundamentalist imams who guide their flocks to
11) a well-oiled "machine" established to translate, publish and distribute
Wahhabi/Salafi propaganda and disseminate its ideology throughout the world;
12) scholarships for locals to study in Saudi Arabia and return with degrees
and indoctrination, to serve as future leaders;
13) the ability to cross national and cultural borders in the name of
14) Internet communication; and
15) the reluctance of many national governments to supervise or control this
We must employ effective strategies to counter each of these fundamentalist
strengths. This can be accomplished only by bringing the combined weight of
the vast majority of peace-loving Muslims, and the non-Muslim world, to bear
in a coordinated global campaign whose goal is to resolve the crisis of
misunderstanding that threatens to engulf our entire world.
An effective counterstrategy must be based upon a realistic assessment of
our own strengths and weaknesses in the face of religious extremism and
terror. Disunity, of course, has proved fatal to countless human societies
faced with a similar existential threat. A lack of seriousness in
confronting the imminent danger is likewise often fatal. Those who seek to
promote a peaceful and tolerant understanding of Islam must overcome the
paralyzing effects of inertia, and harness a number of actual or potential
strengths, which can play a key role in neutralizing fundamentalist
ideology. These strengths not only are assets in the struggle with religious
extremism, but in their mirror form they point to the weakness at the heart
of fundamentalist ideology.
1) Human dignity, which demands freedom of conscience and rejects the forced
imposition of religious views;
2) the ability to mobilize immense resources to bring to bear on this
problem, once it is identified and a global commitment is made to solve it;
3) the ability to leverage resources by supporting individuals and
organizations that truly embrace a peaceful and tolerant Islam;
4) nearly 1,400 years of Islamic traditions and spirituality, which are
inimical to fundamentalist ideology;
5) appeals to local and national--as well as
6) the power of the feminine spirit, and the fact that half of humanity
consists of women, who have an inherent stake in the outcome of this
7) traditional and Sufi leadership and masses, who are not yet radicalized
(strong numeric advantage: 85% to 90% of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims);
8) the ability to harness networks of Islamic schools to propagate a
peaceful and tolerant Islam;
9) the natural tendency of like-minded people to work together when alerted
to a common danger;
10) the ability to form a global network of like-minded individuals,
organizations and opinion leaders to promote moderate and progressive ideas
throughout the Muslim world;
11) the existence of a counterideology, in the form of traditional, Sufi and
modern Islamic teachings, and the ability to translate such works into key
12) the benefits of modernity, for all its flaws, and the widespread appeal
of popular culture;
13) the ability to cross national and cultural borders in the name of
14) Internet communications, to disseminate progressive views--linking and
inspiring like-minded individuals and organizations throughout the world;
15) the nation-state; and
16) the universal human desire for freedom, justice and a better life for
oneself and loved ones.
Though potentially decisive, most of these advantages remain latent or
diffuse, and require mobilization to be effective in confronting
fundamentalist ideology. In addition, no effort to defeat religious
extremism can succeed without ultimately cutting off the flow of
petrodollars used to finance that extremism, from Leeds to Jakarta.
Only by recognizing the problem, putting an end to the bickering within and
between nation-states, and adopting a coherent long-term plan (executed with
international leadership and commitment) can we begin to apply the brakes to
the rampant spread of extremist ideas and hope to resolve the world's crisis
of misunderstanding before the global economy and modern civilization itself
begin to crumble in the face of truly devastating attacks.
Muslims themselves can and must propagate an understanding of the "right"
Islam, and thereby discredit extremist ideology. Yet to accomplish this task
requires the understanding and support of like-minded individuals,
organizations and governments throughout the world. Our goal must be to
illuminate the hearts and minds of humanity, and offer a compelling
alternate vision of Islam, one that banishes the fanatical ideology of
hatred to the darkness from which it emerged.
Mr. Wahid, former president of Indonesia, is patron and senior advisor to
the LibForAll Foundation (www.libforall.org), an Indonesian and U.S.-based
nonprofit that works to reduce religious extremism and discredit the use of