The Political Perversion Of Religion in Africa

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The chaos in certain African countries is giving a voice to the most barbaric sects of the Islamic community. In East Africa, the terrorist group al-Shabaab is causing terror in the region. In Somalia, folks are living in constant fear and despair. In Kenya, the group continues to conduct waves of deadly attacks across the nation. Recently, it killed 28 bus passengers and let’s not forgets the mall attack in 2013 and the coast attack in 2011.

The continuous butchering of innocent people and attacks on churches, public spaces and educational institutions by al-Shabaab is deplorable. In West and North Africa, the psychopathic members of Boko Haram recently became a worldwide obsession with their abduction of innocent young girls. It is among the most vicious terrorists organizations in the world. According to the Nigeria Security Tracker at the Council on Foreign Relations, the group killed more than 4000 people in 2014.

The reality is that the current rise of extremist groups in Africa is deeply rooted in the power struggle that has always existed in African nations since the waves of independence. History keeps on reoccurring. But this time, senseless violence is enacted on behalf of ‘enemies of Islam’ and not elitists’ or imperialistic interests. These groups are using the Quran or Islam to promote and justify their dumbfounded political agenda.

As stated by Reza Aslan, “people do not derive their values from scripture, they bring their values to their religion.”  As such, the framing of extremism in the name of Islam or any other religion for that matter is wrong and unjustifiable. Forcing one’s value or belief on someone is not an Islamic thing to do. Additionally, the use of violence and coercion is a political choice, not a religious one. To quote from Jurgen Habermas, “today’s Islamic fundamentalism is also a cover for political motifs. We should not overlook the political motifs we encounter in forms of religious fanaticism.”

Economic and Social Rights Deprivation

To quote from a recent article that I wrote, the 1960’s wave of independence has only been a transfer of power from one ruler to another. The new faces are now African leaders serving the interests of imperial nations. It is a system that functions as “ a pedestal for imperialist exploitation and oppression.” Foreign Corporations supported by their imperialist government enjoy tremendous economic benefit while the masses live in impoverished conditions. The presence of puppet governments legalizes and normalizes the plundering of countries’ natural resources.

No wonder why the continent is at the bottom of almost every inter-nation statistics. Legalized plundering leads to the exponential exploitation of African resources and people. Unemployment rises and poverty remains endemic. The hypocrisy of westerners is beyond the point. I won’t spend my time castigating them because I chose not to make excuses of the incapability of most African governments to fulfill their duties, but one cannot fail to realize that the current condition of poverty and impunity is at the root of many of the violence enacted in the continent.

Professor Jesse Mugambi, from the University of Nairobi is right when he states that “extremists groups arise whenever and wherever there are serious discontents which complainants consider unaddressed or ignored. Religion is sometimes exploited as a tool to attract attention even when the main complaint is not religious.” For too long, African leaders and elites have failed to carry out their mission. As seen with the case of the Boko Haram, morally bankrupt politicians have always used unconventional strategy to fulfill their perverted political ambitions. The politicians have often hired thugs to intimate rival or use violent groups to make a name for them.

 In Liberia or Rwanda, opportunistic people were able to exploit the condition of the land (tension between minority and majority groups or ethnocentrism) to cause chaos, ethnic cleansing and civil war. The current rise of Islamic extremism in the continent also needs to be seen as a reactionary movement. It is a direct result of years of economic and social rights deprivation. However, calling it a reactionary movement is not a justification or approval of the atrocities committed by these groups. The use of violence and killing of innocent of people need to be denounced and condemned at any costs. We simply need to realize these groups are opportunistic assemblies taking advantage of the chaos and condition present in their country, but framing it in the name of Islam.

A Matter of Interpretation and Conceptualization

If the Quran states that “permission to fight is given only to those who have been oppressed . . . who have been driven from their homes for saying, ‘God is our Lord’ ” (22:39), why are so many extremists fighting in the name of Islam? Unfortunately, my super natural powers do not give me the ability to read their thoughts. But, I can definitely tell them that hate, war, coercion and fear is not the way forward. The power of love, respect, appreciation, tolerance, collectivism, humanism and fraternity express in so many Islamic communities in certain African or Indonesian neighborhood is a reminder of how Islam expanded from Medina to every place in the world.

 I am one who believes that religion is a matter of interpretation and conceptualization. It is between a man and his heart. However, as the only source and basis of the Islamic religion, the Quran clearly states “there can be no compulsion in religion” (2:256).

It continues along those lines by stating that “The truth is from your Lord,” and “believe it if you like, or do not” (18:29). It also rhetorical asks the notion that “Can you compel people to believe against their will?” (10:100). Unlike the extremists, I interpret these different citations as an illustration of the already stated fact that forcing one’s belief on someone else is not an Islamic thing to do. No one has the right to deprive anyone of their God-given rights to choose to believe in God or not. Abducting innocent girls to indoctrinate them dumbfounded and corrupted beliefs is against the Islamic tradition.

Moreover, the extremists’ killings of Christians, women or innocent people in the name of Islam are simply enslaved by their own passions and psychopathic tendencies. “To you your religion; to me mine” (109:6) and “whoever has disbelieved – let not his disbelief grieve you. To us is their return, and we will tell them of what they did. Indeed, Allah is knowing of that within the breasts” (31-23) advises the Quran to believers.

A reminder of each person is responsible for his choices. However, as already stated by Reza Aslan, ‘it will take many more to cleanse Islam of its new false idols – bigotry and fanaticism – worshipped by those who have replaced Muhammad’s (saws) original vision of tolerance and unity with their own ideals of hatred and discord. But the cleansing is inevitable, and the tide of reform cannot be stopped. The Islamic Reformation is already here. We are all living it.’

Finally, the current economic condition has deprived many Africans of hope. Religion and religious institutions are rising in the continent. Consequently, many are gradually accepting the normalization of a political and economic system that is depriving them of their dignity while fantasizing about the ‘after life’.

In the midst of all this, one cannot forget that “religion is an amazing phenomenon that plays contradictory roles in people’s lives. It can destroy or revitalize, put to sleep or awaken, enslave or emancipate, teach docility or teach revolts’ as famously stated Al- Shariati. Undoubtedly, the political corruption of believers and the framing of ideological motifs in the name of religion will only further regress the continent and reinforce the current divide.

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Ahmadou Balde

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