Contemporary Issues

Perhaps no case better demonstrates the misguidance of the Bush Administration's myopic view of Islamic fundamentalism than the recent indictment of American cleric, Shaykh Ali Al-Timimi.

Although unknown to many Americans, Shaykh Ali Al-Timimi has, for over ten years, been one of the most influential and important figures in Islam in the West. His lectures and writings are a feature of countless Islamic web sites, and he has toured throughout the world exhorting Muslim communities to goodness and uprightness. At no stage, was any suggestion ever made that Shaykh Ali Al-Timimi was promoting terrorism much less involved with terrorists, and indeed his message has always been characterised by an aggressive criticism of both extremes of Muslim thought: the extreme laxity of some and the extreme harshness of others.

One year before September 11, Shaykh Ali Al-Timimi had made the remark to me that the greatest tribulation (fitnah) that the Muslim world faced moving forward came from the Jihadi groups whose fundamental ignorance of Islamic jurisprudence coupled with blinding emotionalism posed a threat to both Muslims and non-Muslims if not properly checked. It was a sentiment that manifested itself in many of his lectures where he frequently opposed any suggestion of violence against civilians, the overthrow of governments or terrorism and extremism in any of its many manifestations. It was also an assessment whose veracity was proven with the attack on the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001.

Despite his well-known opposition to such things, Shaykh Ali Al-Timimi has now been indicted on terrorism-related charges. The basis is that because some people, identified by US authorities as his students, were found to have breached the Neutrality Act by lending support to the Kashmiri struggle for independence, Shaykh Ali Al-Timimi is somehow complicit. Only now, over one year since these youths were arrested, has Al-Timimi been himself charged which raises serious questions as to both the evidence against him and the sincerity of the government's view that Al-Timimi genuinely has links to terrorism.

In fact, if everything that Al-Timimi has said or done throughout his career as a leading Muslim scholar is to be believed, then he neither poses any threat nor is he a supporter of terrorism. On the contrary, the evidence clearly shows that Al-Timimi is perhaps one of the greatest friends that the United States could find in its effort to eradicate the sort of religious extremism that begets terrorism.

In the aftermath of September 11, Shaykh Al-Timimi recognised the grave threat posed to both Muslim and non-Muslim worlds by the event and the reaction on both sides of the civilizational divide. He realised that there was a need in the Muslim world for a more nuanced and informed understanding of what is taking place in the United States and how Americans truly see Islam and the Muslim world. To this end, he and I worked on a series of extensive and detailed reports that examined in detail the relationship between East and West and the need for peaceful coexistence to be found between both civilizations. The report was distributed throughout the religious leadership of Saudi Arabia and was used as the basis for forming the current and dominant view that we must all work towards a more balanced view of each other; that peace between our two civilizations is preferable to war. Of course, there is no doubt that Ali Al-Timimi is a fundamentalist Muslim who, like America's fundamentalist Christians, objected to many aspects of our increasingly secular society. He didn't see violence as the means by which change could be effected on his community, but rather he saw the need to work cooperatively with all sections of society - particularly America's Christian community - to build a better and more just society. For this reason, in December, 2003, Shaykh Ali authored a letter, sent in the name of a committee of Muslim scholars and intellectuals, to every major Christian institution in the United States. The letter expressed solidarity with the Christian community in their efforts to reform many aspects of their society, particularly the social problems faced in the United States and elsewhere. Clearly, this is hardly the approach of a terrorist or an extremist; but rather this is the approach of a man who cares deeply about his society and wishes to enact change within the context of American democracy. Shaykh Al-Timimi has been, for many zealous youth, a significant force in guiding them away from violence and extremism.

I, like most of those who know him, can personally cite countless examples where he has openly confronted individuals advocating extremism or political violence. That he should now be indicted based on the actions of people who may have been, like many hundreds of other people around the world, people who turned to Shaykh Al-Timimi for advice is outrageous and demonstrates not only the failure of US authorities to look at anything that Shaykh Al-Timimi has written or spoken about over the last ten years, but more alarmingly it demonstrates a willingness to pursue the very people who have been fighting the intellectual war against extremism and terrorism since long before September 11. The equation is simple: without moderating yet credible voices such as Al-Timimi, more Muslims will remain ignorant and out of this ignorance will be born more extremists and, ultimately, more people whose ignorance leads them to violence against the United States and her people. The attempt to imprison Shaykh Al-Timimi is a modern day enactment of Aesop's fable of the Eagle and the Arrow: by pursuing scholars such as Al-Timimi, America's most natural allies in its war against terrorism, the United States is feathering the plumes of its enemies' arrows; and like the eagle noted in the fable, is paradoxically giving her enemies - the extremists - the means of her own destruction.

 From (website no longer available)

Be Mindful O Mankind!

Learn, learn, and once you have learnt, act.
'Abdullah ibn Mas'ud (d. 32H), may Allah be pleased with him