How did Islam go from the teachings of Muhammad to ISIS we know today? Is Islam a religion of peace? Are the conflicts of Islam due to radicalization? The word Islam is etymologically related to salam, “peace” (Armstrong, p.24).
The Key Tenants of Islam
Islam is a monotheistic religion; they believe in one God. Shahada, the first pillar of Islam, the declaration of faith. They must say that “there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” There are four other pillars; salat, zakat, sawm, and hajj. Salat is the ritual of prayer that is to take place five times a day. Washing of the hands, mouth, nose, face, arms, and feet happens before prayer, and they are to face Mecca while praying. Zagat is an obligatory charity that Muslims are to give to the poor and needy. Sawm is the pillar of fasting. During Ramadan, adult Muslims are to refrain from food, liquid, smoking, and sexual activity during daylight hours (dawn to sunset). Lastly, every Muslim should, in their lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca known as hajj. Islam prohibits everything that is considered harmful either to the body, mind, soul, or society. Some of these include; Drinking alcohol, mind-altering drugs, gambling, taking interest, killing, lying, adultery, being greedy, and may more.
Split between Sunni’s and Shia’s
After the death of Muhammed, Islam became divided into what are known as Sunni’s and Shia’s. Sunni which comes from the word Sunnah, referring to Muhammad. Shia came from shi’atu ‘Ali, meaning followers of Ali. Shia believes that the successors of Muhammad should be descendants, whereas Sunni’s do not think that it is necessary. Following his death, his close companions made the decision that Abu Bakr should be the caliph. Abu Bakr ruled for two years then succeeded by Umar then Uthman, both of which was assassinated. At this time Ali steps in as caliph. The Shia felt the first three caliphs were illegitimate. The Sunni’s felt the first four caliphs were Rashidun, ‘rightly guided.’ The decision of ummah, “collective community of Muslims,’ had to be decided. Some felt it should take the form of a state, while others thought each tribal group should elect its leader, ‘imam.’ Raids for resources between tribes began to happen, Islam had to put a stop to it. Raids between tribes of the ummah were not permitted. The solution was to raid neighboring countries of non-Muslims. After Uthman’s assassination, Ali steps in as the caliph. Muawiyyaah, the son of Muhammad’s enemy Abu Sufyan, appointed governor of Syria by Uthman, was upset at Ali for not making enough effort to bring justice to the assassins of Uthman. Ali moves the capital of the caliphate to Kufah. The followers of Ali do not want peace with Muawiyyah, and bloody battles ensue. From arbitration come the decision that Ali or Muawiyyah should not be caliph and that the Muslim community should elect the next successor. Ali refused and was assassinated. Hassan, son of Ali, replaces the caliph of Kufah. Hassan and Muawiyyah enter into a treaty whereby Muawiyyah becomes the caliphate. Conditionally, upon his death, there is to be an election for the new caliphate by the Islamic people. Hassan dies, then years later, Muawiyyah dies. Before Muawiyyah dies, he appoints Yazid, his son, to be his successor. Husain, Ali’s second son, sees this as a broken treaty agreement. He heads to Iraq from Medina with followers including their wives and children. Hussain believed that the sight of the prophets’ family marching would remind the ummah of their prime duty. The Yazid troops intercepted Hussain’s caravan in Kerbala and massacred him and his whole family. Hussain died holding his beheaded infant son. The attack is known as the tragedy of Kerbala. Shia tradition mourns this as how Yazid the caliph murdered descendants of Muhammed, while the Sunni’s look at it as an unfortunate incident. Shia’s believe that imams of Muhammad decent should lead Islam.
Radicalization is when individuals or groups adopt extreme religious, political, or social ideals. Justice means punishing the one who mistreats us. Revenge means that we should be the ones who do the punishing. The underlying emotion of justice and revenge is anger. How does one become radicalized? Can anger be the underlying cause of radicalization through grievance? Perceived injustice from a perpetrator results in anger against the individual. Phycology of emotion has two theories on anger. The first, perception of slight or insult leads to anger and desire for revenge. Which means insult evokes anger and a desire to retaliate. The second is frustration-aggression theory, also known as pain-aggression theory. Any punishing experience leads to anger and an increased propensity for aggression. Punishment includes frustration, discomfort, or unpleasantness. People who experience pain or frustration may show increased and indiscriminate aggression. Punishment makes us irritable.
How does one go from personal grievance to political violence? With the phycology of attribution, both the victims and the perpetrators are labeled into a class or category. For example, some Americans blamed all Muslims for the attack on September 11th. Phycologists are studying how a brief instigating cause of emotion can lead to long term political action. They believe this points to the human capacity to care about abstract categories of people. Willingness to sacrifice for family and friends is understandable, but sacrifice for non-kin is less understandable. Altruism is the belief in or practice of disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others. Strong reciprocity is the predisposition to cooperate even when there is no apparent benefit in doing so. Positive identification is when we feel good when others are good and bad when others are bad. Negative identification is the opposite concern for welfare; we feel good when others are bad and bad when others are good. These seem to extend further than ourselves and immediate groups. An example is sports teams, celebrities, people in other countries, and even fictional characters. We invest real money, time, anxiety, tears, pride, and joy in the ups and downs of others whom we care. Moreover, when what we care about is threatened, conflict is likely to ensue.
Individual radicalization by grievance shows that personal and group grievance are not far apart. There are examples in which personal comes first, and others where political comes first, but eventually, personal and political join together. The mixing of personal and political happened for al-Zawahiri when he first hears about the suffering of his uncle Mahfouz Azzam and his uncles’ mentor Sayyid Qutb by the Egyptian government. Al-Zawahiri saw this as the suffering of devout Muslims. Qutb was imprisoned for over a decade and hanged in 1966. He was the developer of the ideological basis of Islamic activism that later manifested into radical and violent groups (Mawsilili). Al-Zawahiri at fifteen years old, the same year of Qutb execution, helped form an underground cell to move Qutb’s ideas. Zawahiri’s cell eventually merged with al-jihad. A military cell from within al-jihad put forth a plan to kill and executed president Anwar Sadat. Thousands of conspirators were rounded up and arrested, including Zawahiri. He left prison with these personal grievances framed as part of larger victimization of devout Muslims, that is, with a sense of grievance that integrated revenge with jihad.
A topic of radicalization that is known as ‘slippery slope,’ is where one thing leads to another. This method is how one can be led to violent action by another person or group, without feeling hostility toward the target. Can someone do something that they do not want to do? Stanley Milgram in the ’60s experimented with testing a theory; rather, someone can be led to violent action against another without any hostility towards the target. The experimenter explained that the teacher would ask questions and give an electric shock for each wrong answer and then increase the shock level for each successive wrong answer. The surprising results were that most would continue to raise the shock level into the posted ‘Danger zone.’ They proceeded to commit progressively more violent acts (shocks) because a person of authority told them to do so and because the slippery slope of closely graded violent behaviors made it hard to find a place to stop. Terrorist groups count on the power of the slippery slope in bringing new members to violence gradually, testing recruits for obedience, testing to find undercover government agents, and desensitizing to violence.
A brief story on Omar Hammami shows how a somewhat normal individual can go down the slippery slope into radicalization. He was from Alabama, American mother, and a Syrian immigrant father. He visited his father’s family in Syria during high school and converted to Islam after his return. In college, he followed Salafi, a form of Islam that discourages politics and attacks on civilians. He ended up dropping out of college because in Salafi mixing men and women, is forbidden. He ended up following a fellow convert to Toronto, where the Muslims there were much more opposed to the US war in Iraq. While in an Islamic bookstore, he was asked to pray for the people of Fallujah. This initiated a political awakening and an abandonment of Salafi. He started looking up information on the internet and idolizing jihadist. He married a Somali refugee and moved to Egypt in hopes to study at Al-Azhar. He then started to follow the conflict happening in Somalia and getting involved with another US convert. They began going to underground mosques and listening to radical imams. They then began to write passion calls of action on the infidel invasion, and that the jihad obligation had been upon him. Omar lied to his mom and went to Somalia, then lied about losing his passport to his wife and parents, ultimately ended up joining al-Shabab. He became a leader, did a covered face interview, and finally an uncovered video. From Alabama born to the battlefield of Somalia. With each new step, he went just a little bit further down the slippery slope of radicalization.
Three categories of group radicalization are group polarization, group competition, and group isolation. With group polarization, discussions with like-minded individuals tend to move the whole group further in the direction initially favored. An experimental model for group radicalization that happens through discussion, referred to as “risky shift,” “group extremity shift,” or “group polarization.” What this means is that when strangers are brought together to discuss issues of risk-taking or political opinion consistently show two kinds of change: increased agreement about the opinion at issue, and a shift in the average opinion of group members. The shift is toward increased extremism on whichever side of the opinion is favored by most individuals before the discussion. If most individuals favor risk before the discussion, the shift is toward increased risk-taking. If most individuals oppose something else before the discussion, then the shift is toward increased opposition to that something else. Discussions amongst individuals with the same values tend to produce a shift toward more extreme opinions. This is important because a decision has to be made with terroristic prisoners. Either put just a few in each of many prisons or to put them all in one. With group polarization, putting them all in one place would cause a shift for the group to be more committed, more extreme, and more radical than when they entered prison.
Groups become radicalized with competition from other groups. They define themselves in comparison with each other. Group conflict is a powerful source of radicalization. A group that is facing threat moves toward the unity of thought, feeling, and action that prepares its members to fight the threat. The external threat produces cohesion. After the September 11th attacks, the effects of the external threat became national cohesion (patriotism).
The power of group dynamics is multiplied when the group members are cut off from other groups. This is known as group isolation. The longer and more detached the group is from the familiar, the more power a group will have over its members. Isolation and constant outside threat make group dynamics more potent in the underground, than in the radical group that preceded it. The joining of cause and comrades in a high-cohesion group is the goal of military training in every nation. Military training in every country takes young people away from familiar places and faces and then strips them of their individuality with new haircuts and new uniforms. Old connections must be broken, and new group loyalty must be built.