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November 15, 2018

History Can Help Us Defeat Extremism

Member of the Kenya Defence Forces attend prayers to pay their respects to the Kenyan soldiers serving in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), who were killed in El Adde during an attack, at a memorial mass at the Moi Barracks in Eldoret, January 27, 2016. Photo/REUTERS
Member of the Kenya Defence Forces attend prayers to pay their respects to the Kenyan soldiers serving in the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), who were killed in El Adde during an attack, at a memorial mass at the Moi Barracks in Eldoret, January 27, 2016. Photo/REUTERS

I wrote this article in Addis Ababa attending a regional workshop - Strengthening Regional Capacities to Prevent and Counter Violent Extremism in the Greater Horn of Africa.

The conference is organised by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development under its Security Sector Programme. We are all aware that in two months, Kenyans will mark the first anniversary of the April 2, 2015, terror attack on Garissa University College that claimed the lives of 149 people, mostly students.

But the anniversary is likely to be overshadowed by the January 15 deadly attack on the Kenya Defence Forces camp in El Adde, Somalia. The lives of soldiers who lost their lives is yet to be disclosed.

In a situation where a society is faced with one deadly attack after another, there is a tendency for the people to give up hope and leave their lives to fate.

In fact, since the El Adde attack, a good number of Kenyans I have interacted with seem to be persuaded the country has lost the war on terror and violent extremism.

But it is when people are about to give up hope that positive messages of triumph over evil need to be told to restore confidence. For example, the isolated but significant incident in the last month of 2015, in which Muslim passengers on a Mandera-bound bus threw a human shield around their Christian counterparts when they were attacked by gunmen who espouse extremist religious ideology, should be re-told as a way to reiterate our stand against hatred, revenge and violence – particularly the violence perpetrated in the name of religion.

Indeed, the threat posed by violent extremism and terrorism is huge and perverse. However, it is encouraging to know there are people and institutions committed to ensuring this threat is addressed in the most humane and diplomatic manner possible.

In January 2016, an important conference took place in Marrakesh, Morocco, where hundreds of Muslim scholars and intellectuals from 120 countries, along with representatives of Islamic and international organisations, as well as leaders from diverse religious groups and nationalities, met to address violent extremism and religious intolerance blamed for modern day global terrorism.

The conference acknowledged conditions in various parts of the Muslim world have deteriorated dangerously due to the use of violence and armed struggle as a tool for settling conflict and imposing one's point of view. Participants further conceded that the use of such religion-inspired violence and armed struggle have weakened the authority of legitimate governments and enabled criminal groups to issue edicts attributed to Islam, but which, in fact, alarmingly distort the fundamental principles and goals of Islam.

To this end, the conference called upon Muslims across the world to look back in history and identify incidents that promote peaceful co-existence among people of diverse cultures and faiths. Consequently, the conference identified and affirmed the principles enshrined in the Charter of Medina as one of the most comprehensive and effective tools that Muslims can adopt to find solutions to the challenges they face in the modern world.

It was, therefore, appropriate that the Marrakesh conference was held in January, which is the 1400th anniversary of the Charter of Medina. The charter , also known as the Constitution of Medina, is arguably the first written constitutional document in the modern world to guarantee the religious liberty of all, regardless of faith.

The Constitution of Medina was drafted by Prophet Muhammad and constituted a formal agreement between the Holy Prophet and all of the significant tribes and families of Medina, including Muslims, Jews, Christians, and traditionalists. This constitution formed the basis of the first Islamic State. The document was drawn up with the explicit concern of bringing to an end the bitter inter-tribal fighting between the clans of the Aws and Khazraj within Medina. To this effect, it instituted a number of rights and responsibilities for the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and traditionalist communities of Medina bringing them within the fold of one community.

According to the conference, the objectives of the Charter of Medina provide a suitable framework for national constitutions in countries with Muslim majorities, and the United Nations Charter and related documents, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are in harmony with the Charter of Medina, including consideration for public order.

To this end, it was affirmed that the Charter of Medina, which many in both the Western and Muslim world seem to have forgotten about, provides a framework for cooperation and harmonious co-existence among people of diverse cultures and faiths. Such cooperation, the Charter says, must go beyond mutual tolerance and respect, to providing full protection for the rights and liberties to all religious groups in a civilized manner that eschews coercion, bias, and arrogance.

In view of the foregoing, I wish to associate myself with the resolutions of the Marrakesh conference on the importance of the Charter of Medina in addressing the security challenges posed by violent extremism and terrorism. I, particularly call upon Kenyans, especially the Muslims, to occasionally look back in history and pick out the positive lessons that can assist us solve challenges of diversity, just as the Charter of Medina provides solutions to some of the challenges posed by violent extremism and religious intolerance.

The writer is the Deputy Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims.

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