About the speaker
Dr. Tawfik Hamid, an expert in cognitive psychology, is an Islamic thinker and reformer, and one time Islamic extremist from Egypt. He was a member of a radical Islamic organization Jamaa Islameia JI (of Egypt) with Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahri, who later became the leader of Al-Qaeda. After being radicalized in the JI (approximately thirty-five years ago), he had an awakening of his human conscience, recognized the threat of Radical Islam, and started to teach modern peaceful interpretations of classical Islamic core texts. Dr. Hamid is the author of Inside Jihad: How Radical Islam Works; Why It Should Terrify Us: How To Defeat It.
He previously spoke at The Westminster Institute on:
The Psychology and Ideology of Islamic Extremism (September 6, 2013)
So let me just start by some basic foundations for this whole topic. This in my view the critical question that has been raised by many people, including professor Bernard Lewis. I remember in lunch with him here in Washington. He asked me this question which was a title of one of his books. What went wrong? What happened? Because if any one of you either witnessed himself or studied the Middle East earlier, let us say sixty years ago or seventy years ago, you’ll find Muslims, Christians, Jews, living together in harmony. You’ll see churches. You never hear that someone went to burn a church or destroy a synagogue. This was virtually nonexistent. So what happened? How did these changes like- How did the Middle East change and then the whole world?
From an eyewitness on the events that happened, I can tell you what happened can be summarized in simple three steps, nothing more. Maybe there were some aggravating factors, but there were essentially three steps. Step one is when Saudi Arabia became very wealthy with oil and we started in the Middle East and the surrounding countries to adopt the very literal, intolerant ideology that simply does not accept the existence of the other. You will not see a church in Saudi Arabia, for example. You will not see music and art. Women are very suppressed. You will see literal interpretation of the religion with stoning. All such things
We started to say to one another when Saudi Arabia became very wealthy in the late ’70s, which is the time of the beginning of the Islamic revival, we started to say, “God blessed them with all this money and oil because they implement this form of Islam,” and we started to think our Islam, which was relatively tolerant – it was not perfect but it was relatively tolerant – we thought it is the wrong Islam and they have the correct one, so we started to follow them.
Women started to put the hijab- my wife Ma’a used to wear the hijab. She was the first one in her high school to wear it, in her family, and it was a phenomena, growing everywhere. We called it the Islamic revival, and this was the first step, and some scholars call it ‘Petrol Islam’ because it was related to oil.
The second step was when we adopted this ideology, we did not stop there, and I’m talking here about my own country, Egypt. We – I’m not speaking about every Egyptian, but I’m talking about the radical groups and the radical leaders – changed the level of jihad. You know jihad of course. It’s basically in Sharia books that are told by the Wahhabists. It’s a form of war either to protect the Muslim world or to spread the religion after offering people three options: Islam or jizya, humiliating tax, or you will be killed. That was the evil deal. That was throughout history.
And through this deal, Islam spread in North Africa, in different parts of the world. And we adopted this principle, but the real disaster was that we changed the level of jihad from a nation responsibility or national to a personal responsibility.
So, me as a young Muslim before the Islamic revival that- and before this change, I was supposed to wait for the Muslim nation to create an army and declare war on the Americans or the Europeans like the Muslim nation was against- or empire or Caliphate was against the Roman Empire, for example. It was traditional warfare, a nation against- I was not supposed to attack you individually, so what happened when we changed the level of jihad to a personal obligation, which was based on a specific understanding of verses from the Quran and the Hadith like the one that says, “Fight for the cause of Allah. You are only responsible for yourself.”
So, we took this verse and other Hadiths and we said look, we will no longer wait for the Muslim nation or Ummah to declare war on the others. We will do it individually. Now, in this new reinterpretation after changing the level of jihad, we started to adopt the group attacks and then individual attacks, what we see today of lone or homegrown terrorism. All of these cases of the concept of jihad but taking it at the personal level.
And I have to admit, we in Egypt, the Egyptian radical groups, were the ones behind the change of the ideology. But, this does not mean that jihad was originally peaceful and then it became violent. No. It was violent and it became barbaric. That is the change that happened, so we need to understand the shift was not from a peaceful concept to a violent one, just from a violent one when I declare war on you as a nation to force you in my religion and offer you three options, Islam, jizya, or be killed, that’s not a peaceful concept.
And this is what ISIS is doing today. They are not creating the concept. The concept is created by religious scholars, sadly, but the ISIS are the ones who are applying it. That’s the only difference.
The third step after we changed the level of jihad and now individuals can attack churches, attack other people, as we see today, the whole phenomena spread globally through your wonderful immigration policies. And today with the internet and the spread of ideology, the phenomenons that were local and in this certain part of the world has spread globally to reach every part now.
And this is where we are today. Three steps happened in the last few decades can explain to you what we see today, why we see these people are doing such things. It is the same ideology but things became personal and then the internet and the immigration allowed the spread of everything to the whole world. This is the first part. The second part I would like to address is the psychodynamics of this phenomenon.
How can someone like this lady in California, for example, or some young guy change from a peaceful person to become that evil? How can a human being change? I lived this change, so I can talk from reality and thank god I did not continue. I didn’t do any terror acts or killing or any of this stuff, but I stopped before this and I changed completely. Again, this was thirty years ago and more.
But the concept – I can tell you what happens exactly in the human mind. First of all, if you come to me now and tell me, Tawfik, go and kill some human being standing here… not you. So, the first thing that you need to do is to make me hate this individual. This is the first thing that you need to do. Otherwise, why should I go kill him? Why? What’s the reason? I have to hate him first.
So, the hatred, the concept of hatred, the promotion of hatred to Jews, Christians, Americans, Europeans, everyone else, everyone different, even reformers, the Bahá’í, everyone that is not on their agenda we have to hate it or we have to hate them. So, the concept of hatred is the beginning. That’s why when we say that love can be the antidote of the phenomena, I can say yes. I can say yes if we went to the deep root of it, but let us go to a more sophisticated level.
I hated that individual. Then I moved one step toward killing the person. What will happen is my human conscience will start to tell me, “Tawfik, this guy didn’t do any bad thing to you. He didn’t harm you. Why should you kill him?” Then my human conscience can work. Then you need to teach me how to suppress my human conscience and this is exactly what religious scholars used to do is to teach us how to practically suppress our human conscience.
Naturally, when you read some of the very violent things about Prophet Muhammad in the biography of Muhammad, for example, sira, or the marriage of a young girl of nine years old, naturally, your conscience will reject such things. But do you know what used to happen in our minds? The distortion has reached the level you have to suppress your conscience and not only say by tongue that this is great or good, you have to feel that it is good and great.