Yes, according to many analysts, both Muslim and non-Muslim, the religion has been hijacked by Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, and more broadly by violent Islamists:
- Hamza Yusuf, an American Muslim leader: "Islam has been hijacked by a discourse of anger and a rhetoric of rage."
- Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysian politician: "Who Hijacked Islam? Repressive Muslim regimes are partly to blame for bin Laden's rise."
- Reuven Firestone, professor of Medieval Judaism and Islam: "God has been hijacked by terrorists. Islam is not the problem. Terrorism is the problem, and terrorists have hijacked both Islam and God."
In a new book, Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence (Prometheus), Héctor Avalos explains on pp. 283-84 why this concept is dead wrong:
Most modern philosophers have rightly cautioned against committing acts of "essentialism." The essentialist fallacy … claims that entities have unchanging characteristics that identify them as what they are. … However, it is precisely essentialism that is at the root of characterizations of Osama bin Laden as "hijacking" or "perverting" Islam. Such notions of "perversion," of course, are meaningless unless one has already decided what constitutes the "true" or "essential" Islam.
There is no "true" or "essential" Islam; the religion has evolved over fourteen centuries and continues to do so. It could even go the way of bin Laden.
Comment: It is striking how both those who seek to distance Islam from terrorism and those who say that Islam is at base terroristic agree on the ahistorical nature of this religion. It is easy and tempting, but wrong to pick a moment in time (the time of the Prophet; or 2005) and see it as the historic essence of Islam. (July 6, 2005)
July 19, 2005 update: A reader points out another reason why Islam cannot be hijacked, because this term points to a false analogy:
Only a system with central control can be hijacked. One can hijack a car by seizing control of the steering wheel or an airplane by taking control of the cockpit. It is even possible to hijack a state by taking control of the organs of state power. But there is no central control mechanism in Islam, so hijacking Islam is impossible.
The danger of the hijack analogy is that it misleads us to think that, if only we can neutralize the hijackers, such as Bin Laden, al-Qaida or some other terrorist grouping, we could solve the problem of Islamic extremism and terrorism. To base policy on this false assumption would be disastrous.
Dec. 30, 2005 update: Abdurrahman Wahid, the former president of Indonesia and a leading moderate Muslim, published an eloquent piece in the Wall Street Journal today, "Right Islam vs. Wrong Islam," in which he argues against what he calls the "extreme and perverse ideology" of Wahhabism/Salafism and offers a counterstrategy for moderates. I agree with Wahid's politics (and especially with his saying, basically, that radical Islam is the problem and moderate Islam the solution) but I disagree with his static notion that there is such a thing as a correct version of Islam that the Wahhabis misunderstand; he does not use the word hijack, but the notion lies at the heart of the article. Enabling and exacerbating the current threat of Islamist extremism, he writes,
is a global crisis of misunderstanding. All too many Muslims fail to grasp Islam, which teaches one to be lenient towards others and to understand their value systems, knowing that these are tolerated by Islam as a religion. … Religious fanatics—either purposely or out of ignorance—pervert Islam into a dogma of intolerance, hatred and bloodshed. … Failure to understand the true nature of Islam permits the continued radicalization of Muslims world-wide, while blinding the rest of humanity to a solution which hides in plain sight.