It is time that religion is seen as a spiritual force of faith, love and compassion rather than a tool of dominance that has created chaos around the world, says Ronald Benjamin.
Since the bombing of a cafe in Bangladesh that killed 22 people, mostly foreigners, there were quite a number of Malaysian media reports on IS activities and its recruiting tools, such as social media and the influence of IS ideology in the universities.
There were also analyses by Malaysian intellectuals who rightly blame hegemonic powers like the United States and Britain for their invasion of countries like Iraq and Libya that gave rise to terrorist groups like IS. There were also reports on Muslim preacher Zakir Naik and his alleged influence on those who were responsible for the Dhaka café attack.
The fundamental question that is clearly missing in these discourses is the implication to society when a particular religion is framed as a dominant ideology in pursuit of power, and anyone who questions its thinking and contents is regarded as an enemy to be eliminated, clearly echoed by a prominent religious leader in Malaysia.
Why has the Islamic religion been turned into an ideology and a political entity, and what are its implications to Muslims themselves who think differently? What is the impact on multi-ethnic societies in the national and globalised world? It is vital to acknowledge that many peace-loving Muslims are concerned about their religion being hijacked as an ideological tool to be used to kill as IS is doing in parts of Asia.
Preachers like Zakir Naik with his usual propaganda and half truths against the teaching of other religions and belief systems have reinforced ideological Islam which tends to portray Islam as the only true religion.
While secular ideologies like liberalism and communism tend to focus on certain oppressive realities of human living in a social economic and political sphere, extreme Islamic ideologues, who are also rooted in these oppressive realities, use the name of God in its political framework that is exclusive to its culture and law in pursuit of political power.
It believes that religion alone has the answer to all its problems. It uses the oppression of Western imperialism as a pretext to reach out to alienated youths.
Since the divine name is used in their propaganda, there are strong superior psycho- emotional feelings among its followers, that anyone who does not obey should be dominated or eliminated.
Zakir Naik and the ulama aligned to his type of thinking empower their followers to embrace the exclusivity of Islam and therefore Islam has to be dominant at all costs. Other societies that do not share their belief in Islam can live in peace and harmony as long they do not oppose its dominant ideology, which is regarded as God’s law.
This type of thinking is one of the contributory factors of terror, because it creates a dominant and superiority consciousness that is deeply embedded in the soul of believers.
It is obvious that the mainstream Malaysian media analysis of Isis is not comprehensive. When followers of a religion perceive their religion as a dominant ideological tool in pursuit of power, it will ultimately give rise to the question of whether it has the ability to address the complexity of human living.
When religion takes an exclusive ideological and political outlook rather than focusing on its spiritual essence, the result is dominance, violence, war and terror.
The Muslim world is not only suffering due to the hegemonic designs of the West but also due to an ideology that destroys its progress. The so-called Islamophobia among certain segments of non-Muslims in Malaysia and the West is a direct political response to political and ideological Islam bent on dominating society.
It is time that religion is seen as a spiritual force of faith, love and compassion rather than a tool of dominance that has created chaos around the world.