It befits our brethren, may Allah Ta’ala give them strength, to not:
· Hate a single field of knowledge among all knowledge,
· Shun a particular book among books,
· Bear prejudice towards a certain faith from among the faiths [of the world].
Indeed, our philosophy and our faith engulf all faiths and encompass all knowledge.
Imam Abdullah al-Mahdi (SA) d. 322/934 Mahdiyya, Tunisia
Boko Haram are the latest militant group coalescing under an Islamic banner, to puncture the consciousness of the Western world. Whilst their insurgency has cost 10,000 lives since 2002, it is their night time raid on a boarding school to kidnap 230 schoolgirls in April 2014 - and thus ‘save them from the sin of Western education’ - that has led to global infamy.
In a world already well-drilled on Jihadi violence, this was a new low. The story captured – confirmed - just about every suspicion re. the true face of Islam: violent, misogynistic, anti-Western, anti-education.
Whilst the reaction from the usual roll call of protagonists/antagonists/apologists was but a set-piece affair, some valid points persist, and demand addressing:
- For many a Western liberal, approaching a mixed environ somewhere between cultural relativism, to a full-on embracing of multiculturalism, Boko Haram shatter the ‘live-and-let-live’ maxim. Historically, they’d have derided the Far-Right’s frothing re. Islam, and now here are Muslims themselves, hand-delivering the same message on a plate.
- For others, Boko Haram come at the end of a long roll-call of infamy: Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Al-Shabab, ISIS, FGM, forced marriage, child marriage, ‘honour’ killings,… It is, surely, reasonable to ask, “At what point do the dots join up, to paint the whole picture”?
So, is Western education (of girls) a sin? Firstly, at a personal level, it bears no reflection to my own experience. My Father, who paid handsomely to have my sister privately educated, left me to fend for myself in the state education system. Thanks, Dad… But the question remains – is caring for a daughter’s education, unusual in Muslim families?
Undoubtedly, certain strands of Islam consider it anathema. The TTP have threatened girls’ schools in parts of Pakistan, and it is they who shot Malala Yousufzai, after stopping her bus on its way to school. Perhaps the frothing of the Far-Right may not have been so hallucinatory, after all…
But let’s refocus on Boko Haram. Is their conclusion re. Western education and the education of girls – when approached from an Islamic framework – correct? What would they think of my Father, and his obsession with his daughter’s education? They would surely see him as someone who, as a son of Empire, had been beguiled by ‘foreign ideas’. And to some extent, that is true. He admired – coveted – much about the British: their business prowess, as well as various norms and codes of conduct. And, of course, their education. Indeed, for a long time his axis revolved around that of his British masters.
But is that a bad thing? It’s impossible to answer objectively, but from the days of Empire there have been undercurrents shaping the wider world, convincing North and South to fall in line, to move in one direction; to paraphrase the film Avatar, to want ‘light beer and blue jeans’:
(After embarking on his mission with purpose, the hero of the piece, Jake Sully, eventually 'goes native', and in a Video Log he explains his change of heart with the following words...):
"...They're not going to give up their home. They're not going to make a deal. For what? A light beer and blue jeans? There's nothing that we have that they want. Everything they sent me out here to do is a waste of time. They're never going to leave Hometree..."
...And so as 'light beer and blue jeans' steadily colonise the world, it could be argued that indigenous cultures have concomitantly been reduced; stripped down to but a theatrical veneer, a façade atop a Pax Americana base. And that with the demise of Communism and Socialism, Islam stands alone as the sole detractor. And moreover, that the global Islamic resurgence in all its forms – good, bad and vomit-inducing – is but an expression of that resistance...
But back to Boko Haram, and their violent rejection of all things Western. Is everything ‘non-Islamic’, by definition a threat? Is Boko Haram’s concern that Western education is but a Trojan horse, leading inevitably to their own culture/values/religion being swept away, valid? Side-stepping the issue of whether Boko Haram’s religion is worth preserving at all, their general concern has some resonance. The French, for example, loathe that the Lingua Franca is actually now English, and that the nuances that make the French ‘French’, are slowly being flattened by an Anglo-American juggernaut. But the French haven’t bombed Tesco HQ. Is Islam’s only way to vent its instinct for self-preservation, violence? Must the whole world be reduced to a binary: either submit to light beer and blue jeans, or wage war?
According to Imam al-Mahdi (SA), there is another way. Firstly, on that which defines him, a true believer will preserve his inner beliefs, and the external manifestations of the same. Regardless of where he lives, or in what age, whether everyone around him believes or no-one does; whether he is left alone to practise in peace or mocked and hunted down, it matters not – he won’t compromise on that which expresses who he is. But from his/her firm base, (s)he will actively reach out, looking for opportunities to learn, to take something good from his fellow man.
From this perspective, the seeking out of education in all its forms, and from any source - Muslim or non-Muslim - is both legitimate and worthy. All knowledge - maths, English, French, Yoga,... - is to be sought out and absorbed. It is all simply learning, from which one can benefit. And thus my Father was right - Islamically justified - in seeking to learn from the British...
Indeed, as per this POV on Islam, there is no such thing as ‘Western education’. Rather it is all just education; and thus maths, French and Yoga simply become different ways to delve into God’s glory. (Hence ‘…our philosophy and our faith engulf all faiths and encompass all knowledge’).
Well… I hope that addresses some of the questions that Boko Haram’s existence legitimately raise.