Books and Documents

The War Within Islam

Dr. Zakir Naik: New Target of Mullah Ire
Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com

Qasmi’s major grouse against Dr. Zakir Naik is what he regards as the latter’s temerity of interpreting the Quran on his own. The Quran describes itself as a book for the whole of humankind. It has been translated into numerous languages, and, therefore, is easily accessible to and understandable by ‘ordinary’ folk. One does not need to be a trained religious scholar, spending a dozen-odd or even more years in a madrasa, in order to understand it. In fact, the Quran stridently condemns priests and religious intermediaries, whose claims to authority rest on their supposed expertise in understanding the scriptures, and who routinely misuse this ‘expertise’ to mislead the gullible. Yet, the mullahs insist that they alone are qualified to interpret the Quran. This in itself is hardly surprising: after all, it is on this claim that their authority and the special position that they demand for themselves in Muslim society rest. Naturally, therefore, they are wary of non-mullahs interpreting the Quran on their own, not hesitating to denounce those who do so, and who interpret it in ways distinct from theirs, as heretics and even apostates.

To shore up his claim that the mullahs alone have the right to interpret the Quran, Qasmi insists that one needs expertise in ‘seventeen kinds of religious sciences’ (which he curiously leaves unnamed) in order to be qualified to interpret the scripture. Presumably, these ‘religious sciences’ are taught only in the madrasas, and, therefore, only the mullahs have knowledge of them all. Since Naik lacks knowledge of these ‘sciences’, he suggests, he has no right to interpret the Quran on his own in any manner that departs from the interpretation of the mullahs. -- Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com

Photo: Islam-supremacist Televangelist from Ahl-e-Hadees sect  Dr. Zakir Naik


THE DEBATE on the “contentious” statement made by the Darul Uloom Deoband’s newly appointed rector, Maulana Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi, it seems, is dying down after his offer to step down. However, the manner in which this episode has been interpreted and analysed, especially by the media and political elite, raises a few fundamental questions about our awareness of the complex religious identities of Muslim communities and their practices of secularism. Let me begin with the actual incident. In a news report based on an interview, Vastanvi was quoted as saying that all communities “are prospering in Gujarat” and there was “no discrimination against the minorities in the state as far as development was concerned”. Although Vastanvi did not give a clean chit to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi in this interview on the 2002 pogrom, he stressed that it was now time to move on. -- Hilal Ahmed

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan on the Blasphemy Controversy
Translated by Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com

In the wake of the dastardly killing of Salman Taseer, governor of Pakistan’s Punjab province, the controversy over the anti-blasphemy law in Pakistan continues to rage. Is this law really ‘Islamic’, as many ‘Islamic’ organizations and their leaders insist? Does Islam indeed lay down death for blasphemers? In 1997, the New Delhi-based noted Indian Islamic scholar, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, published a book on the subject of blasphemy, being a compilation of a number of articles he had penned in the wake of the Satanic Verses controversy.  The book, in Urdu, was titled Shatm-e Rasul ka Masla, Quran wa Hadith aur Fiqh wa Tarikh ki Roshni Mein (The Question of Blasphemy Against the Prophet in the Light of the Quran, Hadith, Fiqh and History). The book raises numerous issues that are pertinent to ongoing debates about the anti-blasphemy law in Pakistan today. Below are some excerpts translated from the book by Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com.


Muslim clerics distort Quranic verses to suit their purpose



Deep-rooted and rigid deeni-duniyavi dualism in the Mullah mindset needs to be corrected

Ill-founded conspiracy theories that the mullahs and likeminded folks spin are often simply a convenient ruse to deny the culpability of some Muslims or mullahs in the problems that they are forced to face, as well as a convenient way to clamp down on legitimate critique and internal dissent. Often, they indicate a stubborn refusal to recognize that Muslims or the mullahs, are in large measure, to blame for many of their own problems, and that many of these are actually self-created. They also do nothing whatsoever to promote much-needed introspection. Often—certainly in the ongoing agitation over Vastanvi’s appointment—conspiracy theories that describe problems as having been created by menacing conspiratorial non-Muslim ‘others’ are invented and most aggressively propagated by those who are themselves to blame for creating these controversies. ...

If there is one lesson to be learnt from the ongoing sordid controversy centred on Vatsanvi, it is that there is an urgent need for a fundamental reform in the mullah mind-set, so that would-be mullahs can articulate socially-engaged, progressive and relevant understandings of their faith and provide sensible guidance about the duniya in order to truly serve the people they claim to lead. And, if that happens, we might be spared the ignorance that Vastanvi propagates when he spouts meaningless clichés praising Modi’s model of ‘development’, blissfully unaware of the harsh realities about this model’s many victims. We might also be spared the bizarre conspiracy theories that his fellow mullah critics are now so aggressively circulating and the wild intolerance that they are vigorously displaying in a bid to unseat him. -- Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com

The problem, it would seem, stems from Vastanvi’s desire to take Muslims out of the ghettos of economic and social backwardness without compromising their religious identity. As Vice-Chancellor, he has been stressing the importance of blending religious instruction with more meaningful study of ‘secular’ disciplines such as the sciences, medicine and management. Given the symbolic importance of Deoband to Muslims in the whole sub-continent, the curriculum shift in Darul Uloom is calculated to send a powerful reformist message to the whole community.

This may be welcome to most of India but the educational and economic empowerment of Muslims and their ability to compete on equal terms in the marketplace poses a potential threat to those who play broker between the Muslim masses and the political elite. As long as Muslims are nervous, defensive, educationally backward and hark back wistfully to a lost court culture in Awadh and the Deccan, they need the services of those who can leverage their significant electoral clout for advantage. The last thing these political middlemen need is an atmosphere of calm bereft of both loony Islamists and loony Hindus, where people can go about their primary mission in life: Self-improvement.

By questioning a fundamental tenet of this contrived tension, Vastanvi has been guilty of the gravest ‘secular’ offence. He has argued that Muslims are normal Indians, driven by the same urges and aspirations of everyone else. He has, in fact, actually challenged Islamophobia in a nuanced fashion. But he has also threatened the rozi-roti of the merchants of fear. If their assault on him is successful, it may bolster many of the worst stereotypes of the Muslim community. -- Swapan Dasgupta

The brutal murder of the Pakistani leader Salman Taseer for daring to question his country’s draconian blasphemy law which lays down death for insulting the Prophet Mohammad has ignited furious debate as to whether or not Islam prescribes this extreme punishment for such an act. Predictably, as on many other issues, there seems to be no unanimity among Muslims themselves on this question. While Islamist and mullah ideologues insist that Islam demands death for traducers of the Prophet, liberal Muslim scholars, relying on the same texts as their opponents, stoutly deny that this is so. --Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com

Deoband’s Internecine War Takes a New Turn
Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com

The fate of Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi, the newly-elected vice-chancellor (muhtamim) of India’s largest madrasa, the Dar ul-Uloom at Deoband, hangs in the balance as a storm of protest gathers momentum against a controversial remark that he made some days ago. Vastanvi may not have provided an unqualified ‘clean-chit, as his detractors allege, to Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi in an interview given to the Times of India, but by appearing to overlook the various forms of discrimination that Muslims in Gujarat continue to labour under and by even going so far to naively claim that Muslims were prospering unhindered under Modi’s rule, Vastanvi committed a major goof-up. Although he subsequently issued an apology, his remarks set off a loud chorus of protest in his own Deobandi circles.

Vastanvi’s remarks about Modi are now being added to by a host of other allegations levelled by his opponents among his fellow Deobandi mullahs, including rivals for the post of vice-chancellor of the Deoband madrasa, to further galvanise the movement for his dismissal from his new post. One such allegation, which an influential section of the Urdu press has quickly lapped up and is now highlighting with much exaggeration, sensation and alarm, is that Vastanvi is ‘guilty’ of the sin of ‘distributing idols’. Since idolatry is a heinous sin in Islam, this charge very directly questions Vastanvi’s credentials as a sincere Muslim to make him out to be simply unfit for the job as the head of the world’s most influential madrasa. This allegation has even prompted Vastanvi’s critics to approach important Islamic organizations in India affiliated to the Deobandi school of thought for a fatwa on the matter. The fatwas they  received, condemning the act of ‘distributing idols’ (without mentioning Vastanvi’s name), have been widely publicised in some sections of the Urdu press and is being added to Vastanvi’s remarks about Modi to further press the demand for his immediate resignation. -- Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com

Photo: Ghulam Mohammad Vastanvi, the newly-elected vice-chancellor (muhtamim) of India’s largest madrasa, the Dar ul-Uloom at Deoband.

Unabated Karachi killings
Editorial in Daily Mail News, Islamabad

THE current wave of target killings, which has been continuing since Thursday last, has so far claimed 30 precious lives. Despite deployment of heavy contingents of Rangers and police and search operation in sensitive areas, the killing continues unabated. With the growing incidents of killings, the political leaders have once again demanded of the government to hand over the city to army for curbing the menace. Unfortunately, it has been reported that the law enforcing agencies, including the police and the Rangers, remained silent spectators to firing by people, who not only targeted people on public transport but also when they walked the street.It is because of this that claims are being made that the government is involved and is sponsoring these killings as part of a grand design to obtain political benefits. The head honcho of the Sindh Interior ministry, who is supposed to be responsible for the security of the lives and properties of the citizens, Sindh Home Minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza, has already laid the blame squarely at the doorstep of his party’s partner in the Sindh coalition, the MQM, for being behind the target killings. ---Editorial in Daily Mail News, Islamabad

In the Islamic scriptures, the Quran and the Hadith, there is no such injunction to deliver physical punishment to one who commits blasphemy. This law was only made during the Abbasid period and is an expression of the imperatives of that period. At that time, the Muslims had established their empire and were in political supremacy. Due to their sense of pride at having accomplished this, they made such a law. But it was a clear innovation. And according to the Hadith, every innovation in the religion of Islam must needs be rejected. ...

Moreover, meting out punishment is the prerogative of an established court and not of any individual or non-governmental organisation. According to Islam, if anyone commits a crime, his case will be referred to a court established by law and, after completing the required judicial proceedings, the judge will give his verdict. And then it is only for the authorised police to implement the court order, not any civilian. The whole scheme of Islam is based on the process of peaceful dialogue. In a verse of the Quran, God Almighty gives this injunction to the Prophet: "So, [O Prophet] remind them: your task is only to remind, you are not over them a warden." (88:21-22)

This is the standard Islamic response to problems, and the case of blasphemy is certainly no exception. Muslims must, therefore, exhort people in a friendly manner. They must try to change their hearts and minds. It must be borne in mind that the Quran is not a criminal code; it is a book of persuasion. So Muslims must deal with such cases by reasoning and not by meting out punishment. -- Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

Janab Maulana Ilyas Qadri Saheb,

We are unable to restrain ourselves from writing to you with regard to the recent killing of Mr. Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab (Pakistan), because it is learnt that the man allegedly responsible for this killing is a cadre of your organization Dawate-islami (jamat).

 We would like to request you to ponder if this is in conformity with the teachings of Islam and the path which prophet has shown us. We reproduce below some verses of the na’t, describing prophet’s personality, which we have heard on your channel several times

Salaam us par ke jis ney khoon key pyason ko qabain deen

Salaam us par ke jis ney gaaliyaan sun kar duaien deen

Salaam us par ke asrare mohabbat jis ney sikhlaeen

Salaam us par ke jis ney  zakhm khaa kar phool barsaey

Salaam us par ke jo majruh huaa bazaar-e tayef mein …

 The person responsible for the killing seems to be the anti-thesis of the above-mentioned aspects of the greatest personality ever born on this earth.

I am pained that those claiming to be Muslim are responsible for, and have rejoiced, the heinous murder, whereas the true followers of Islam ought to condemn this brutal killing. We demand that you apologize to the family members of late Salman Taseer on behalf of your organization. In order not to tarnish the image of Islam, Prophet and Sufis, we request you to renounce the politics of murder and mayhem in their name.-- Signatories to the open letter


Mass hypocrisy is often an expression of deep-rooted societal contradictions rather than being an intrinsic or absolute condition. Situating these contradictions in their structural and historical context is vital to finding the way out of this unending morass

Many in the aftermath of the January 4 tragedy have struggled to understand the mindset of a section of supporters of Salmaan Taseer’s murderer, Mumtaz Qadri. The reaction of the religious right was, of course, all too easy to explain away for many; those who make religion an instrument of political gain will necessarily use this event to stoke religious fervor and gain the political space/popularity they so desire. But what of the reaction of our educated middle class? What of the reaction of those students, lawyers, engineers, doctors, and the rest of the internet/armchair mujahideen who have shocked many observers by condoning and celebrating this tragedy? Those whose interests, mannerisms and habits wreak of globalised modernity, in all its capitalist glory, yet whose opinions seem more reflective of some despotic medieval rage? Those who consume ‘decadent’ American and Indian popular culture (the provocateur extraordinaire Lady Gaga and besmirched ‘munni’ often coming up as favorites), imbibe ‘immoral’ intoxicants, pursue ‘illicit’ sexual dalliances and concomitantly celebrate the ‘aashiq-e-rasool’, Mumtaz Qadri, without skipping a beat?

At one level, it is easy to dismiss these middle class cadres as hypocrites of the worst grade imaginable, and one would not be amiss in stating so. But, in terms of explanatory depth, this denunciation is of little value. Mass hypocrisy is often an expression of deep-rooted societal contradictions rather than being an intrinsic or absolute condition. Situating these contradictions in their structural and historical context is vital to finding the way out of this unending morass--- Ammar Rashid

Writing in The Telegraph, London, Delhi- based novelist Aatish Taseer, assassinated Pakistan Punjab governor Salman Taseer’s eldest son, mourns his death —and the nihilism of acountry that could not tolerate a patriot who was humanitarian to the core

I have recently flown home from America. In airport after international airport, the world’s papers carried front page images of my father’s assassin.

A 26-year-old boy, with a beard, a forehead calloused from prayer, and the serene expression of a man assured of some higher reward. Last Tuesday, this boy, hardly older than my youngest brother whose 25th birthday it was that day, shot to death my father, the governor of Punjab, in a market in Islamabad.

My father had always taken pleasure in eluding his security, sometimes appearing without any at all in open-air restaurants with his family, but in this last instance it would not have mattered, for the boy who killed him was a member of his security detail.

It appears now that the plan to kill my father had been in his assassin’s mind, even revealed to a few confidants, for many days before he carried the act to its fruition. And it is a great source of pain to me, among other things, that my father, always brazen and confident, had spent those last few hours in the company of men who kept a plan to kill him in their breasts.

The last time I met or spoke to my father was — it seems hard to believe now — the night three years ago that Benazir Bhutto was killed. We had been estranged for most of my life, and just before he died we were estranged for a second time. I was the son of my Indian mother, with whom my father had a year-long relationship in 1980. In my childhood and adolescence, when he was fighting General Zia’s dictatorship alongside Bhutto, and was in and out of jail, I had not known him--- Aatish Taseer

Photo: Supporters chant slogans in favour of Mumtaz Qadri, alleged killer of Punjab governor Salman Taseer

The Islam That Hard-Liners Hate
Huma Imtiaz and Charlotte Buchen

KASUR, Pakistan — In Pakistan’s heartland, holy men with bells tied to their feet close their eyes and sway to the music. Nearby, rose petals are tossed on tombstones. Free food is distributed to devotees.

This peaceful tableau is part of Sufism, Pakistan’s most popular brand of Islam, which attracts millions of worshipers at about a dozen major festivals throughout the year. Each day, thousands visit shrines dedicated to Sufi saints.

But the rituals came under heavy attack in 2010, as minority hard-line militants took responsibility for five shrine attacks that killed 64 people — a marked increased compared with 2005 to 2009, when nine attacks killed 81 people.

Attacks in previous years occurred in the middle of the night or when worshipers were not present, apparently in an effort to avoid causalities. But in 2010, terrorists carried out suicide bombings when thousands of worshipers were present, and in the nation’s largest cities, like Karachi and Lahore.

The increase in attacks, and a direct effort to kill those who practice a more mystical brand of Islam, has torn the fabric of mainstream worship in Pakistan. But as worshipers continue to visit the Sufi shrines and many Sufi festivals continue in the face of threats, it also evidences the perseverance of Pakistan’s more moderate brand of Islam---Huma Imtiaz and Chalotte Buchen

Cheering crowds have gathered in recent days to support the assassin who riddled the governor of Punjab with 26 bullets and to praise his attack — carried out in the name of the Prophet Muhammad — as an act of heroism. To the surprise of many, chief among them have been Pakistan’s young lawyers, once seen as a force for democracy.

Their energetic campaign on behalf of the killer has caught the government flat-footed and dismayed friends and supporters of the slain politician, Salman Taseer, an outspoken proponent of liberalism who had challenged the nation’s strict blasphemy laws. It has also confused many in the broader public and observers abroad, who expected to see a firm state prosecution of the assassin.

Instead, before his court appearances, the lawyers showered rose petals over the confessed killer, Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri, a member of an elite police group who had been assigned to guard the governor, but who instead turned his gun on him. They have now enthusiastically taken up his defense.

It may seem a stark turnabout for a group that just a few years ago looked like the vanguard of a democracy movement. They waged months of protests in 2007 and 2008 to challenge Pakistan’s military dictator after he unlawfully removed the chief justice.

But the lawyers’ stance is perhaps just the most glaring expression of what has become a deep generational divide tearing at the fabric of Pakistani society, and of the broad influence of religious conservatism — and even militancy — that now exists among the educated middle class-- Carlotta Gall

Photo: Young Lawyers rallied for Taseer killer Malik Mumtaz Hussain Qadri in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

Surprisingly, Naik is now having to contend with strident opposition from a wholly unexpected quarter: from a host of Muslim clerics, who might otherwise have been thought of as potential supporters of his hardliner, exclusivist and supremacist version of Islam. Although he does not often talk about it, Naik’s brand of Islam is akin to Ahl-e Hadith-type Salafism, which is almost identical with Saudi Wahhabism.  This is hardly surprising, given that Arab Wahhabis are rumoured to be among the many powerful backers of what must certainly be his multi-million dollar media empire. Given the fierce sectarian divisions that abound among Muslims, with each sect claiming to represent the sole authentic version of Islam, it is understandable that loud denunciations of Naik are now beginning to be articulated by mullahs associated with rival ‘Islamic’ sects.

 Several months ago, Naik stirred a major storm by praising Yazid, the tyrannical Sunni Caliph who murdered Husain, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. ‘May God’s mercy be on him’ (radiallah tala anho), Naik added after taking Yazid’s name at a public rally, a move that won him brickbats from mullahs of the Shia and Barelvi sects, who deeply revere Husain and, in contrast to many Wahhabis, regard Yazid as a blood-thirsty monster.

 The Deobandis, who are the most organised and influential of the South Asian mullahs, have not been behind in denouncing Naik. The Dar ul-Ifta, the fatwa-spewing office of the world’s largest traditional madrasa and nerve-centre of the Deobandi movement, the Dar ul-Ulum at Deoband, has, in recent years, issued a number of fatwas denouncing Naik and advising Muslims to stay away from him and his ‘Islamic’ channel.

It is certainly not Naik’s heated polemical attacks against other religions and their adherents or the Muslim supremacism that Naik preaches that the Deobandis are up against. After all, they, too, share Naik’s firm belief in the supremacy of (their own version of) Islam, and the falsity of other religions, which they regard as sure roads to hell. What the Deobandis are particularly troubled by, as the fatwas of the Dar ul-Ulum very clearly bring out, is the fact that Naik is not a fellow Deobandi, that he belongs to the rival Ahl-e Hadith sect, and that, therefore, his version of Islam is, so they insist, dangerous and deviant simply because it does not correspond to the Deobandi version, which they firmly believe alone represents ‘Islamic authenticity’. Further, simply because Naik dresses differently from the Deobandi mullahs, and does certain other seemingly trivial actions that the Deobandis, in their ‘wisdom’, regard as wholly ‘un-Islamic’, they insist that Muslims must avoid him. The Deobandis’ growing opposition to Naik is also related to the grave challenge that they now see in him to their authority as increasing numbers of Muslims, particularly among the educated youth, turn to the media savvy and seemingly more ‘modern’ televangelist and his TV channel for ‘Islamic’ knowledge, turning their backs on the mullahs, whom they increasingly see as old-fashioned and hopelessly out-of-date. -- Shakil Khan, NewAgeIslam.com

Many writers have previously thought of Pakistan's Barelvi community as a kind of moderate antidote to radical groups operating in the country; Barelvi leaders have until now opposed many of the operational tactics of terrorist organizations more commonly associated with the country's Deobandi and Salafi groups, such as suicide bombings and attacks against state institutions. … But the Barelvi community's favourable stance toward the country's notorious blasphemy laws and its decision to support Governor Taseer's murderer demonstrate the fluidity of belief and group ideologies in Pakistan, rather than a strict dichotomy between Barelvis and others. This increasingly unclear line between hardliners and so-called moderates is all the more interesting when compared to developments taking place among Pakistan's more literalist Deobandi clerics, including a fascinating debate that recently took place within its religious circles about the war in Afghanistan. … But religious scholars like Ammar Nasir will not be able to reclaim Islam from radical groups as long as their views are not projected by media organizations across the world. The fact that this debate was not even covered by mainstream news outlets, even in Pakistan, reflects where that country stands in its struggle against religious militancy, and how far it has yet to go. -- Wajahat Ali

An amazingly durable holy pact that has lasted over 250 years — between Prince Muhammad ibn Saud, a clan chief who ruled over a patch of the Arabian peninsula, and Muhammad ibn Abd al Wahhab, a religious fugitive — which forcibly imposed the latter’s arid, ultra-orthodox, intolerant version of Islam on Muslims and non-Muslims alike, is finally showing signs of coming apart. Saudi Arabia‘s all-powerful religious police (mutawallees, muttawa or Hey’a in Arabic), empowered by the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, are now hated and despised as never before. In May 2010, in an unprecedented outburst, a married woman shot at several officers in a patrol car after she was caught in an “illegal seclusion” with another man in the province of Ha’il. Only a few days earlier, the Saudi daily newspaper, Okaz, reported that a religious cop was taken to hospital with bruises after being punched by a woman in her 20s in the city of Al Mubarrazz. The young lady reportedly got violent with the officer after he asked her and the man she was with at a public park to verify their relationship. -- Javed Anand

But it is not just Zardari and his American patrons that are the target of the Maulana’s ire. As the Maulana sees it, all non-Muslims and non-Ahl-e Hadith Muslims, encapsulated in the evocative term ‘kufr’ or ‘infidelity’, are supposedly mortal enemies of Islam and its adherents, and hence must be firmly fought. ‘Infidelity’ and those who uphold it are, so the Maulana seems to argue, engaged in a relentless war against Islam (which is to say, the Ahl-e Hadith version of it). This is a war that can have no resolution until ‘infidelity’ is completely wiped off or till ‘infidels’ (that is to say, everyone except the votaries of Ahl-e Hadith-style Islam) are firmly subdued. Thus, the Maulana triumphantly declares, ‘The Wahhabi will press down kufr and hold aloft the flag of Unity of Allah.’ In the Maulana’s understanding, jihad is thus regarded as virtually synonymous with ‘press[ing] down’ ‘infidelity’, a ceaseless war against non-Muslims in general as well as, one supposes, Muslims of other sects, who are regarded by the Ahl-e Hadith as virtual infidels.

Maulana Muhammad Hanif, who preaches at the Jamia Masjid Loharan Wali in Attock, belongs to the Barelvi sect. The Barelvis follow a range of popular Sufi customs and beliefs which the Wahhabi Ahl-e Hadith and other Sunni groups, such as the Deobandis, regard as wholly ‘un-Islamic’ and as akin to polytheism. Accordingly, they regard the Barelvis as virtual apostates. The Barelvis answer them back in the same coin, branding them as unambiguously outside the Muslim pale. Radical Ahl-e Hadith and Deobandi activists have been responsible for blowing up Sufi shrines in Pakistan and killing large numbers of Barelvis, including their leaders. Not surprisingly, then, Maulana Hanif interprets jihad principally to galvanise his fellow Barelvis against the Wahhabis and the Deobandis, who, in the Pakistani context, appear as much greater and immediate threats to (the Barelvi version of) Islam than non-Muslims. -- Yoginder Sikand, NewAgeIslam.com

The ultraconservative Deoband movement allied with clerics from the Barelvi sect, often claimed to represent a tolerant, anti-Islamist tendency in south Asian Islam. In December, the alliance was able to bring tens of thousands of people on to city streets in defence of the blasphemy laws.

Fearing the clerics' wrath, Pakistan's government panicked. Babar Awan, the justice minister, announced that he would not countenance amendments to the laws. Days before his death, Mr Taseer complained that the government was "not willing to face religious fanaticism head on".

It isn't hard to understand why. Pakistan's political system, regularly disrupted by military rule, long failed to address the need for development, or to improve the chronic inequality that besets the country. Instead, says the Pakistani scholar Ayesha Siddiqa, the politicians sought the clerics' support, in an effort to legitimise their position.

In 1956, Pakistan's first constitution decreed that the country would be an "Islamic Republic", in which no laws could contravene religious practice. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto – the former prime minister, Benazir Bhutto's father and, ironically, Mr Taseer's mentor – went further, declaring Islam the state religion and setting up a council to bring secular law in line with sharia. In 1974, he made it illegal for Ahmadis, an Islamic movement founded in the 19th century, to describe themselves as Muslims.

Over the years, the process continued. -- Praveen Swami

The enemy in this context is not the saffron-clad Hindu battalions on mechanical elephants fit ted with nuclear warheads. The enemy is very much from amongst us. Most of them are Pakistanis who were given a free passage to breed the kind of vicious, shortfused hatred some of our Generals, intelligence agencies and politicians thought would help them gain Kashmir and `strategic depth' in Afghanistan -and if certain nutjobs in the electronic media are to be believed, maybe raise the Pakistani flag in New Delhi.

Telling the soldiers the whole truth is better. This means re-orientation with a view to ready them to fight the extremists responsible for killing hundreds of innocent citizens and many soldiers too. They have been slaughtered by a terrible breed of Pakistanis who are not dropping from the sky or rolling in from across the border, but emerging from our very own mountains and cities. -- Nadeem F Paracha

Those trying to reinvent the strategic depth thesis by claiming that Pakistan has ‘legitimate’ interests in Afghanistan should also try to define these interests. ... And the second more serious issue is the perception that a Pakistani civilian government lacks the support of the country’s establishment and something like Kargil may take place once a process starts. The Pakistan Army may of course have its own reasons. It is widely perceived that our army per chance or choice is India-centric. Many think that once there is genuine peace between the two nations, the army may lose the justification for its existence. Frankly, this perception is deeply flawed. The importance of a standing army in any nation’s defence cannot be overstated. The army will stay put because thanks to the war on terror it has acquired an internal counterinsurgency-related dimension too. The only change may come in defence spending for a bit. Once the country gets breathing space through these means and the economy manages to stand on its feet, the defence budget may also not be such a big burden. India, please note, has grown so beyond us. Rather than wasting more time in trying to control its policy choices, we need to harness its market potential for the greater good. --Farrukh Khan Pitafi

Barack Obama will need to make 2011 his Pakistan year. The war in Afghanistan is now the longest in American history. War weariness is growing in every one of the 49 allies and partners engaged with America, casualties are rising in the battlefields on both sides of the Durand line separating Afghanistan and Pakistan, and al-Qaida continues to laud suicide bombers stalking shopping malls in Stockholm and the rest of the world. President Obama's focus in 2011 needs to be on Pakistan, the epicenter of the struggle against global jihad, and the country whose future is most completely linked with it.

In its December policy review, the White House was appropriately modest in describing the progress of Obama's strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We are far from being on the edge of anything anyone would describe as success in South Asia. Yet at the same time, we are no longer close to the precipice of defeat and strategic disaster as we were when the president inherited the war in January 2009. -- Bruce Riedel


The new proclamation from Mardin was loud and clear: terrorists are destroying their own faith and disparaging the honour of Islam and Muslims globally through their actions and wrongly in the name of Islam. But it is indeed quite interesting, as well as alarming, to see that the terrorists issued a detailed response to the new declaration, calling the scholars who were present at the conference “the scholars of desertion”. According to the official response by al Qaeda, such scholars constitute a “contemporary surrender movement”, hence working to promote the interests of the West at a time when the Muslim world is involved in the “fiercest crusade in the history of Islam”.

Perhaps what the al Qaeda leadership does not realise is that Muslims today do not need to conquer territories but, rather, more importantly, conquer hearts, minds and perceptions. And also that the freedom that needs to be won today should not be seen only in terms of the liberation of Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq and Afghanistan, among other territories, but also liberation from our own ignorance, injustice, corruption, self-destructive behaviour and decadence.

In the current state of affairs, where our moderate majority is silent and new threats like al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) are rising, perhaps no one will pay attention to Ibn Taymiyyah in the light of the new Mardin Declaration and the old, infamous, declaration will rule. Perhaps it can be stated that the most critical issue the Muslim world faces today is its sense of direction for the future. Is, as Muslims today, our intellectual epicentre (or destination) the old Mardin or the new one? The choice we make today may well decide what ‘Islam’ means for our next generations and the rest of the world for times to come. -- Naqib Hamid

I’ve found the reaction to Pakistan’s current blasphemy laws surprising. Not because I think the whole Aasia Bibi (and more recently Naushad Valiyani) issue has been blown out of proportion but because of how long it has taken Pakistan to acknowledge the malicious nature of the blasphemy laws. I feel that our nation’s reaction is luke warm – one that has flourished just so most of us can sleep at night feeling good about ourselves as genuine ‘online philanthropists’. These blasphemy laws have existed in Pakistan as long as I can remember. They are a product of what General Ziaul Haq and then our champion of democracy, Mr Nawaz Sharif brought about and legalized. Where were Pakistanis when this was happening? It’s all well and good when a person uses Facebook or Twitter as a tool to spread their opinion across the globe but how many of us have actually gone out and tried to aid Aasia Bibi or any minority member for that matter? -- Nicholas Sharaf

Photo: Aasia Bibi: another victim of the malicious nature of Pakistan's blasphemy laws


The recent spate of misogynist fatwas from the Darul Uloom Deoband proves that some Muslim seminaries are still stuck in the medieval era and have no plans to reform themselves despite the victimising role they play in the lives of the Muslims almost on a daily basis.While one of the fatwas legitimised triple talaq expressed in jest during an internet chat, the other validated its pronouncement over the cellular phone even when the wife was unable to hear it due to connectivity problems. The theological justification given by the Deoband muftis was that a marriage stands dissolved once the word “talaq” is uttered thrice by the husband irrespective of his state of mind at the time of saying the word. -- A Faizur Rahman

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