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Islamic Ideology ( 27 Dec 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Hollow Islamist Rhetoric

By Yoginder Sikand,

Some months ago, while holidaying in Jammu, I happened to visit a Muslim bookshop where I chanced upon a book titled Ashob-i Dahr (roughly translated as 'Calamity of the Times'), authored by Qari Saifuddin, a leading spokesman of the Jamaat-e-Islami of Jammu and Kashmir and one of its founder-members.

The book is a collection of Saifuddin’s Islamically-inspired Persian poetry. Since I cannot understand Persian I cannot comment on the quality of his poetic creations. Fortunately, the book carries a lengthy preface by the author in Urdu, which I can read. The preface neatly summarises the Islamist vision of the Jamaat, and probably also reflects the contents of the poems as well.

Islamism is premised on the notion of a sharp distinction and an inherent and undying antagonism between Islam and other religions. Islam and other faiths are, then, put in a permanent adversarial relationship, there being no possibility of any compromise between them. Consequently, Islam comes to be seen as perpetually surrounded by a host of enemies, who are branded as ‘enemies of Islam’ and, by definition, as ‘enemies of God’ as well. Most of the problems of the Muslims are then traced to an alleged grand conspiracy against Islam by its manifold ‘enemies’. Accordingly, Saifuddin begins the preface of his book by appearing to suggest that the ills of all the Muslims, including of Jammu and Kashmir, are a result of a plot by non-Muslims to destroy Islam, a conspiracy that allegedly has its roots in the distant past and that is global in nature. For instance, he claims that the head of what he calls ‘the intelligence department of the Crusaders’, a certain German he names ‘Hermann’, addressed the victorious twelfth century Muslim commander Sultan Salahuddin Ayyubi, who finally drove the Crusaders out of Muslim lands, thus:

Respected Sultan! This war that we are fighting is actually one between the Church and the Kaaba, and this shall carry on even after we die. We will not fight on the battlefield. We will not besiege any forts, but we shall lay siege to the religious commitment and faith of the Muslims. The allure of our daughters, our wealth and our culture, which you call immoral, shall cause a gaping hole in the wall of Islam, and then Muslims will start hating their own culture and loving the ways of Europe.

This alleged meeting between the probably fictitious ‘Hermann’ and Salahuddin Ayyubi is used by Saifuddin to symbolise what he sees as the eternal war between Islam and ‘non-Islam’. The travails of the Muslims, Saifuddin goes on to elaborate, stem from this alleged anti-Islamic plot, which has resulted in Muslims refusing to abide by the injunctions of the Quran and accepting the Prophet Muhammad as the perfect model to emulate. Muslims must realise, he says, that prosperity in this world and in the life after next cannot be had unless they firmly follow the Islamic shariah in all aspects of their lives, from the seemingly most personal to the collective. The shariah is presented as a complete system, a comprehensive body of rulings. It is also seen as completely distinct from all other systems of law and belief, which are, accordingly, dismissed by Qari as batil or ‘false’ and even as shaitani nizam or ‘Satanic systems’. The possibility that Islam might share certain ethical perspectives or legal injunctions in common with other, non-Islamic, religions or belief systems is completely ruled out or else conveniently ignored. 

Saifuddin considers it an urgent imperative for every Muslim to faithfully abide by the shariah in his personal life and to struggle to impose it as the norm for society as a whole to be governed by. This, he suggests, is also the key to what he regards as the ideal social order, one which is based on global Muslim political supremacy. He appeals to his readers thus:

Stand up and remove laziness from your hearts and rekindle the light of life. Reawaken your spirit and bring it to act and then you will see that the necks of your enemies will be in chains. Stand up and capture the world, which is today based on falsehood and deceit. Then, establish a just world which will be free from the dark stain of deceit. Build such a world that shines with the light of the Prophet, a world whose beauty lies in obedience to the path of the Prophet, a world which is coloured in the dye of the Quran and is fragrant with the perfume of the Prophet.

Every Muslim, Saifuddin writes, must be fired by an irrepressible zeal to establish this utopian dispensation. He explains his own condition thus:

A voice from the unseen has awakened a hidden pain in my heart, which has now burst forth like a fire-temple (atish kadah). This furious fire in my heart is so intense that before it the flame that burns in the heart of the fire-worshipping mendicant pales into insignificance.

Following the standard Islamist line, Saifuddin appears to believe that Muslims are destined to rule over others, and not to be ruled by others. This follows from the general Islamist insistence that ‘Islam has come to rule, not to be ruled over’. That is why for Saifuddin, and for most other Islamists, the fact of Muslims living as minorities in non-Muslim countries under 'un-Islamic' rule (as is the case with the Kashmiri Muslims under Indian rule) is simply intolerable. Islam and political power, in this understanding of Islam, come to be seen as inseparable. Muslims, in this version of Islam, are seen as charged with the responsibility of consistently struggling to establish ‘Islamic rule’. In this regard, Saifuddin urges his readers to take a cue from the path of Khomeini, lauding his achievements in ‘liberating his people from oppression’ and hailing the revolution that Khomeini ushered in as ‘being free from strife’. He also exhorts his readers to take a cue from the Afghan mujahidin who fought the Soviets, and claims that in doing so they were motivated simply by their love for, and zealous dedication to, Islam. ‘They taught the Russians the meaning of life,’ he writes, ‘and that the beauty of life lies in service to the Creator’. ‘They called the irreligious Russians to the path of the true faith,’ he claims, and ‘cleansed the Russians' hearts of the dirt of war’.

All these, Saifuddin opines, are valuable lessons for Muslims to remember and profit from. He sees Muslims as ‘enslaved’ by others in many other parts of the world, and urges them to take to the path of Khomeini and the Afghans to liberate themselves. Presumably, his message is primarily directed at the Kashmiri Muslims in order to enthuse them to rise up against Indian rule. At times, he appears to glorify violent revolution for its own sake, and is wholly uncritical of movements that claim to be heralding an 'Islamic' dispensation and which have resulted in murder and mayhem on an unimaginable scale, as in Iran and in Afghanistan after the Soviet expulsion.

Like most other Islamist ideologues, Saifuddin speaks in only vague terms of the ‘Islamic alternative’ that he offers, miserably failing to spell out its practical details. He appears to believe that the mechanical imposition of the shariah is the solution to all of Kashmir's ills. If the Kashmiris follow Islam in their lives and struggle to set up an ‘Islamic state’ and ‘Islamic system’, all their manifold problems will somehow cease, presumably with divine help, he suggests, appealing to the Kashmiri Muslims thus:

Strengthen your bond with God so that He might be happy with you. Make the path of the Prophet your guide and travelling companion, and acquire the love of the Prophet as your wealth. When your inner self is enlightened by the spark of the faith, the accursed Satan will flee. Protect the true faith and God will protect you. Appeal with Muslims to unite to gain success, because the Prophet said that Satan runs away from the community (jamaat). If Muslims were to become one, they will emerge as a very powerful force. God alone grants victory, which can only be achieved by obeying Him. So, make the Prophet your model.

I do not, for a moment, deny the importance or value of religious faith. I can appreciate Saifuddin’s impassioned appeal for firm trust in God, this being a central tenet of almost all religions. What is worrisome, however, is how in Islamist discourse Islam comes to be seen as a complete system in itself and as seemingly premised on an undying opposition to all other belief systems and ideologies in their entirety, thus ruling out any room for dialogue, sharing and cooperation. This is clearly reflected in Saifuddin’s preface to his book, as in almost all the literature I have read by other Islamist ideologues.

This predicament is, of course, not unique to Islamists. The same logic underlines the claims of all extremist and exclusivist ideologues, Christian, Jewish Hindu or other. It leaves absolutely no space for conversation across narrowly inscribed boundaries, and no room for working together for a better world for all.

disturbing is a complete blindness to empirical reality, as evidenced, for instance, in Saifuddin’s wholly uncritical adulation of the Khomeini regime and the Afghan mujahidin who fought the Soviets and later fell out among themselves and began slaughtering each other in the thousands.

This is also clear from his complete lack of concern for non-Muslims in Kashmir, who do not merit any mention at all in his book, and who, presumably, would be condemned to second-class status or worse in the state that Qari dreams of establishing, in line with the recommendations of Syed Abul Ala Maududi, founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami. This logically follows from Saifuddin’s basic premise of an undying hostility inherent in the relations between Islam and other religions, between pious Muslims and upholders of ‘falsehood’. Again, I must admit, doctrinaire Islamists like Saifuddin are hardly unique in this regard, a dogged obsession with rhetoric and blindness to plain and simple reality uniting them with fellow ‘fundamentalist’ exclusivists in other communities as well.

As religion gets transformed into ideology, Islam comes to be reduced to a set of powerful and emotive slogans—‘Islam provides full social justice'; 'Islam solves all problems and guarantees peace', 'East or West, Islam is the best', Islamist sloganeers proclaim. Saifuddin, like others of his ilk, is careful to limit himself simply to the level of hollow generalities and hot, but empty, rhetoric. He says nothing at all about all the complicated real-world issues of how the ideal polity that he hankers after would be governed, his claims that Islam provides an ideal blueprint for a model society notwithstanding. Presumably, he knows little about such mundane matters. Little knowledge, it is rightly said, can be a very dangerous thing indeed.