Group not Islamists, but bandits

THE recent kidnapping of more than 200 girls in northern Nigeria has raised the ire of many people and governments.

There seems to be a perception that Boko Haram and other extremist groups derive their ideology from Islam. This is far from the truth.

Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) made the following statements (hadith) about knowledge: "seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave", "knowledge is incumbent on both male and female" and "seek knowledge from here (Arabia) unto China". In addition, the first verse revealed to prophet Mohammed by Gabriel was: "Read, read in the name of thy Lord who created...".

This sharia is profoundly pro-knowledge.

If the prophet had to live today, he would have said: "Seek knowledge from here unto the USA". Therefore Boko Haram, which means "western education is illegal", is an anachronism.

In fact, knowledge has developed over the past 10000 years from both eastern and western sources. Muslims added to this corpus of knowledge during their Golden Age of Islam (750-1250 CE).

This Islamic age of learning also gave a kick-start to the European Renaissance in the 14th century. Without this sharia, it is doubtful that Muslim scientists, mathematicians, engineers and architects would have made so many discoveries in the fields of mathematics, chemistry, physics, medicine and architecture.

In addition, before the commencement of the prophet's mission, women in Arab tribal societies were regarded as mere property of men, as virtual slaves, were not allowed to divorce their husbands, were not allowed to own property under their own names, or inherit from their fathers, or run their own businesses, etc. (Islam, however, only allowed women to inherit 50% of what men could inherit – this should be seen in the context of men being the providers of women).

The institutions of state and family were non-existent in the sixth century and the strongest social grouping was the tribe. Men and women co-habited with multiple partners.

The prophet proceeded to diminish the status of the tribe by creating a strong state which encompassed the whole Arabian peninsula and sanctified the family by outlawing extra-marital affairs.

The elevation of women's rights from a slave to a person with a separate legal personality, the sanctification of the family, the creation of a benevolent state, the replacement of magic, superstition, witchcraft and astrology with learning, study, experimentation and research, and the replacement of polytheism with a strict monotheism were revolutionary ideals for that time and place. The prophet and his successors fought many wars against those who opposed his revolutionary praxis about women, family, tribe, state, knowledge and God.

Boko Haram and other fellow extremist groups are rather more in tune with pre-Islamic pagan teachings than with Islam per se and should not be classified by the media as Islamists, but rather as criminals and bandits.

N Omar, East London