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How Best the World’s Sufi Scholars Can Strengthen Muslim Community’s Response against Religious Extremism: Action Points!




By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam


12 March 2016

Recently, India’s major publications including The Times of India, The Indian Express, Hindustan Times, The Financial Times, Mail Today reported in their national coverage that a World Sufi Forum is going to be held in Delhi on 17-20 March. It is reported to gather the leading Sufi visionaries and intellectuals from around the world to discuss the issues of violent extremism. ‘This is an effort to find ways to work out an effective counter-narrative’, said Syed Mohd Ashraf Kichchawchchwi, founder-president, All-India Ulama and Mashaikh Board, an Indian Sunni-Sufi apex body which is organising the World Sufi Forum. Speaking to TOI, he explained: “The event provides a platform to explore new alternatives in response to the ever-evolving socio-politico-economic nature of modern society by exploring the relevance of Sufi teachings, tradition and culture”.

This Indian Sufi counter-extremism event slated in the ongoing month that I would explore and examine in this write up, is going to be the first occasion of its kind in the country, as the leading Sufi dignitaries of the world will come on one roof in India, for the first time. However, the event has been preconceived in the national media both in fair and unfair manner. It has been largely constructed as a ‘welcome move’ to spread essential Islamic messages of peace, as The Indian Express puts it, though a handful of media outlets portrayed it as ‘a Sufi conference backed by the PM with political touch’. But a considerable number of news reports and commentaries discussed it as a community development in response to extremism. In an article titled “India can be an honest broker in West Asia” dated 8th Mar, 2016, Shishir Gupta writes in Hindustan Times:

“The event, which is being organised by the All India Ulama and Mashaikh Board, will showcase India’s Islamic heritage that rejects violence and supports inclusivity”...... Sufism could be a strong counter to the IS troopers as it never pursues political power or tries to change social structures. Instead, Sufism stands for multiplicity, tolerance, acceptance and love”.

There was a long-felt need for an overhaul in the Indian Muslim society to sustain peace, pluralism, inclusiveness, moderation, reason and rationality. Let us hope this Sufi movement led by Sufi scholars as well as the spiritual luminaries ushers in a new era of peace, pluralism and composite culture in the country and abroad. If this Sufi event aspires to tackle the continued violent extremism by the Islamist cults candidly exposing their brazen violation of human rights, this is also welcome. We do need such community response against violent extremism, not only in Indian Muslim community but across the Muslim world.

Of course, it would be heartening to see over 200 Sufi visionaries from 20 countries gather at World Sufi Forum and have the courage of conviction to speak out the truth. At the same time, however, they will have to point out the untruth as well. There is no point in merely repeating the usual hollow claims that don’t stand up to scrutiny. Whosoever howls in pain at the brutalities that IS jihadists are perpetrating will never limit his response to repeating a single usual sentence: “Islam means peace”. Sufis have to move forward and open up to prove that: ‘Islam does mean peace’, ‘Jihadism is not Islam’, ‘indeed, there was a glorious era of Islamic Caliphs’ but ‘modern caliphate/khilafat has no relevance or Islamic legality today’ and many more things in clear, unequivocal and unambiguous words. The question is: will the Sufi luminaries be courageous enough to expose the ‘untrue Islamic values’, while stressing the universal values and essentially peaceful messages of Islam?

One hopes the classical Islamic scholars at this Sufi forum rebut the twisted extremist ideas of takfir (declaring others infidel), jihadism (violent misuse of Jihad), khilafat (governing by Sharia), al wala wa al bara (loyalty to Muslims and disavowal towards others), dar-ul harb (religious classification of non-Muslim countries) etc. point by point, clause by clause. They have already rebutted books that have been written with a view to indoctrinating the radical Wahhabi ideology among Indian Muslim masses such as Ibn Taimiya’s Minhaj al-Sunnah, Ibn Abdul Wahhab’s Kitab al-Tawheed, Majmuatul Fatawa al-Aamma and Muallafaat al-Shaikh al-Imaam Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhaab, and the Wahhabi literature written by Indian Ulama like Maulana Ismail Dehlawi’s  Taqweatul Imaan, Maulana Rashiduddin Gangohi’s Fatawa Rashidia, Maulana Qasim Nanautwi’s Tahdeer un Na’as and Serat e Mustaqueem.  

But one wonders if the Sufi scholars at the WSF are prepared to take this opportunity to engage in a candid refutation of the modern extremist literature that has created a complete theology of radicalism, exclusivism, violent extremism and puritanical fundamentalism. We hope that they are cognizant of the corpus of Islamist literature being written, on a daily basis, by the jihadist ideologues grossly misinterpreting the texts of Quran and Hadith to theologically justify the wanton killing of innocent and non-combatant Muslims and non-Muslims.

Shorn of essential and inherent peaceful messages of spiritual Islam, the jihadist literature is full of obnoxious texts and messages that can lure any Muslim youngster with an unaware and impressionable mind. So, we expect from the Sufism-inspired Islamic exegetes and hadith commentators to dispel the doubts being created by the Jihadist journals freely distributed in almost all Muslim countries. There are many print and online magazines whose extremist ideas must be challenged and rebutted, as the first and foremost task in tackling the onslaught of radicalization. Daesh’s online magazine “Dabiq”, Al-Qaida’s English language online magazine “Inspire”, Taliban’s Urdu magazine “Nawa-e-Afghan Jihad”, monthly extremist Islamist magazine Al-Shariat”, "Azaan", , “Hateen”, “Murabetoon”, “Al-Qalam”, “Zarb-e-Momin”, “Al-Hilal”, “Sada-e-Mujahid”, “Jaish-e-Muhammad” and “Rah-e-Wafa and the increasing list of jihadist mouthpieces must not go unchallenged in the World Sufi Forum, if countering extremism is one of its prime concerns. Undeniably, countless Muslim youths have been inspired by the extremist interpretations of Islam both on national and international level.

Classical Islamic scholars and Qur’an exegetes at the multilingual anti-extremism Islamic Website New Age Islam have refuted many such extremist articles and books penned by the Wahhabi ideologues—for instance— Maulana Yousuf Binori’s piece entitled ‘The Place of Martyrdom in Islam’ which seeks to justify the Talibani view of istishad (martyrdom in Islam). The writer of this article shows how the jihadists seek to justify the horrendous acts of the terror outfits by cherry-picking the Qur’anic verses and misplacing the Prophetic sayings.

Indeed, Muslims the world over are living in trying times. Through the extremist literature and sermons (khutbahs), the modern ideologues of radical Islamism are all set to establish a self-imposed ‘Islamic khilafah’ where those declared as mubtadein (innovators), sufiyah quburiyah (Sufi grave-worshippers), mushrikeen (infidels), murtaddeen (apostates) mutashakkikin (doubtful Muslims) will be executed with their throats slit. Given this, the most important thing to do at the World Sufi Forum is to refute and rebut possibly all extremist texts and references that the radicals use to indoctrinate the Muslim youth.  

Sufism-inspired Islamic jurists need to root out the hazardous fatwas and decrees that badly impact the global Muslim society. According to Dr. Syed Aleem Ashraf Jaisi, a Sufi Islamic scholar who will be presenting his paper at the World Sufi Forum’s seminar, there is a dire need to refute the "Mardin" fatwa upon which the entire edifice of the Salaifiyah Jihadiyah (militant Salafi jihadism) is built.

Going by the Islamic history, the 14th century radical Islamic jurist Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiya was born in a town named ‘Mardin’ which is situated on the border between Syria and Turkey. This town was attacked and overthrown by the Mongols when Ibn Taymiya was in his early age. Later, when Ibn Taymiyyah assumed the position of the al-Faqih al-Islami (Islamic jurist), he decreed a fatwa to wage a ‘holy war’ against the common and non-combatant civilians of Mardin.

It is interesting to note that Ibn Taymiyyah exerted every possible effort to take Islam and Muslims to what he viewed was the ‘only true’ and ‘puritanical path’ and in the process, went at the loggerheads with all the mainstream Islamic scholars and Sufi mystics of his time. Worryingly, the ISIS jihadists quote this un-Islamic and obsolete fatwa even in this day and age, as a legal religious precedent to wantonly kill all those whom they declare apostates and infidels in their own Sharia-controlled zones. Much damage was done by another fatwa issued by Ibn Taymiyyah which permitted those engaged in the “jihad ma’al kuffar” (fight against the infidels) to kill other Muslims who might come as roadblocks in the way of targeting the infidels.

Inspired by such fanatic fatwas, jihadist militants launched a war against Sufi shrines, the cultural heritage and ancient Islamic monuments including non-Muslim places of worship across the Muslim world. Sufi Shaikhs, especially those with a scholarly background, will have to brainstorm the intellectual ways to root out the radical interpretations of political Islamism. Merely denouncing the damage it has done to the global peace is not enough.

Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, is a Delhi-based Independent Columnist, Classical Islamic Scholar, English-Arabic-Urdu writer and translator and Doctoral Research Scholar, Centre for Culture, Media & Governance (JMI University).




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