Killing of Imam Jalal Uddin Shows How Extremism Is Morphing
The brutal killing of Imam Jalal Uddin, a 71 year old respected Imam in Rochdale, by Mohammed Hussain Syeedy throws up an element that is part and parcel of Salafist Jihadist ideology.
Such ideology has been seen to drive the destruction of Muslim shrines in Afghanistan, Timbuktu, Egypt, Iraq and Syria. Shrines, taweez (or worn amulets with Qur’anic inscriptions used to ward off evil) and bowls in which water has been prayed upon for protection of the believer, all represent the spiritual side of Islam, mainly associated with Sufi influences and where spirituality and belief in unseen protections through Allah (God), make up the practices.
Much of this practice has sat side by side with belief in the Qur’an and the Hadith and has come from Islamic interpretations and from a desire for the practical from the spiritual. It has continued in some Muslim communities and through the work of people like the late Imam Uddin. From pirs (holy spiritual men), through to Imams, this work with people suffering mental health or emotional problems continued and with people who just wanted to feel additional spiritual protections. Many continue to visit such pirs or holy spiritual leaders today and this practice, will no doubt continue.
What Does This Murder Highlight?
Yet, this case highlights what many of us have known. That Wahabbism and Salafist ideology has been active in framing such practices as shirk, as though they are practices that are not of Islam but of the pre-Islamic era, known as the jahilliyah or the period of ‘ignorance of the divine’. A trajectory of this thought that has become part of the actions of groups like Daesh or the so-called Islamic State has meant that people who are influenced by IS propaganda will also take up such thinking. This means that practices such as taweez or the use of prayer bowls will be seen as heretical. Shrines or places where Muslims congregate to give prayers to long dead holy men, will also be seen in the eyes of those influenced by Wahabbism and Salafism, as being un-Islamic and subject to destruction.
Yet, we have also seen the systematic destruction of Islamic historical sites by the Wahabbi Saudi Government and which have been documented. This is driven by an ideology that believes that such sites may become places of worship and which therefore seeks to obliterate them and use the sites for other projects. Such is the systematic destruction of Islamic history in the hands of those driven by such ideology. Yet, globally, Muslims have not spoken out against the wholesale destruction of such sites.
This case therefore raises for us all, a red flag. The fact that intra-Muslim hatred and extremism has taken this form means that it may be an indicator of extremist rhetoric. This may not be the case in the vast and overwhelming majority of issues and cases and Salafists should not all be seen as potential extremists or terrorists. That would be disastrous and would be anti-Muslim in nature – where a whole section of Muslims are tarred with the same brush. However, where we should all be concerned is where threats and abuse are openly meted out by individuals against other Muslims suggesting that they are un-Islamic because they believe in taweez or other spiritual practices. If such threats continue and are sustained, at the very least, this should be a red flag for civil society, law enforcement and other agencies.
Imam Jalal Uddin’s death should not be in vain and if his murder can save others, then let us learn from it and not just put it down to another case involving extremism. We cannot simply brush it off like that.