By Maj Gen Afsir Karim
05 Feb, 2014
A few decades ago, a few Muslims followed this brand of Islam in South Asia, but after the advent of al-Qaeda, Wahhabism spread and Militant Islamist groups spread the theology of Wahhabism, which justified severe punishments, such as beheading and stoning to death of people who did not strictly follow the Shariah. The Wahhabis operating in South Asia advocate ban on music, a prominent attribute of the subcontinent’s Sufi Islam. They want all Muslims to observe prayer rituals introduced by them.
Saudi Arabia pumps millions of petrodollars into the madrasas and mosques of the subcontinent to propagate the Wahhabi theology; this helps the Taliban in Afghanistan and the separatist movement of Kashmir financially directly and indirectly. The growing conflict between the Shia and Sunni sects across the world is a direct result of the increasing influence of Wahhabism.1
The signatures of fundamentalist Islam are clearly visible in many parts of Bangladesh, despite the crackdown on fundamentalist groups by the Awami League government. Violence has been increasing against women and the secular sections of the society in the name of religion. Several bomb attacks have taken many innocent lives, revealing plans to create violence and disorder in the society.
The JEI, the main Islamic political party in Bangladesh, aims to convert Bangladesh into an Islamic state. It is not only against democracy but also against all modern thought and culture, and it advocates violence against those who oppose radical Islamic laws. The JEI operates with the help of a vast network of madrasas in Bangladesh, which provide it recruits from backward and poor segments of the population.
The Jama’at ul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB), another major Islamist group that shares the ideology of the JEI, is largely responsible for spreading violence and the fundamentalist ideology in Bangladesh. The JMB is reported to have strong influence amongst the teachers and students of some 25,000 madrasas. The militants and activists from this group, along with the JEI, have been cooperating with al-Qaeda in the past.
The Islami Chhatra Shibir (ICS), the student wing of the Jamaat-e- Islami Bangladesh, is one of the largest Islamist student organisations in South Asia. It is a highly active extremist group that maintains a close liaison with fundamentalist groups operating in several Islamic countries; it is an active member of the International Islamic Federation of Student Organisation (IIFSO) and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY).
The Hifazat e Islam of Bangladesh, which is a strong advocate of Wahhabi Islam, is led by the Deoband-trained Ahmad Shafi, who is also the chairman of the Bangladesh Qaumi Madrasa Education Board, an apex body that oversees the functioning of madrasas across the country. Hifazat, a strong supporter of the Wahhabi movement, could create problems for the secular groups. Hifazat’s 13-point agenda demands imposition of strict Sharia laws in the country and punishment for all the leaders of the Shahbagh movement who have been calling for a more secular society. Other demands include death for blasphemy against Islam and the execution of Internet bloggers and others who insult Prophet Muhammad. Hifazat calls for women’s development programs to be cancelled, and it is demanding laws against, what it deems to be, “shameless behaviour and dresses” and mixing of men and women in public. Hifazat also wants rules against erecting statues in public places. The Hifazat e Islam has a strong support base in the country’s 25,000 madrasas.
The Harkat ul Jihad e al Islami (HuJI) declares, “We would all be Taliban, and Bangladesh would be Afghanistan,”—another example of growth of fundamentalism in Bangladesh. Conservative groups, such as the Ahle-Hadith, the Allahr Dal, the Hizb-ut-Tahrir and the Hizb-ul-Mujahidin, continue to promote rigid religious belief systems based on the Wahhabi interpretation of Islamic laws. Religious fundamentalism is being sponsored by powerful Islamic institutions both within and outside the country but there is considerable opposition against them from secular and moderate groups.2
In local mosques all over Punjab, seminary students are being invited by the local clerics to enter into real Islam by embracing Wahhabism. They are taught that anyone outside the Wahhabi sect is a heretic and will burn in hell. For many decades now, generations of students with this mindset have been emerging from madrasas whose curriculum is designed to encourage intolerance and violence. The Wahhabi culture has generated internecine conflicts and terrorism in Pakistan, helped by various radical organisations and fundamentalist groups in Pakistan.
The emir of JEI, Maulana Munawwar Hassan, once openly declared that Pakistani soldiers should not be considered martyrs because they are supporting the infidel forces. This evoked a sharp response and a demand for the ban of the JEI by the army but caused no ripples in the civil society, because Maulana Munawwar Hassan was reflecting a common sentiment prevailing in Pakistan.
Discussions on Pakistani television channels indicate that a large number of educated Pakistani citizens and intellectuals support the Taliban and al-Qaeda and some even justify their acts of terror. Maulana Sami ul Haq, the rector of the government-supported seminary Dar ul Uloom Jamia Haqqania; the Jaish-e-Muhammad’s weekly Akhbar ul Qalam; and the popular weekly Zarb-e-Momin, of a religious welfare organisation Al- Rasheed Trust, agree that the supporters of the U.S. and NATO troops are Kafirs (infidel) and Mulhid (heretic) and that their killing by Jihadi groups of Pakistan is justified.
By terming the terrorist attacks as a natural “reaction,” most politicians, media commentators and religious leaders justify terrorist attacks in Pakistan rather than condemning them. Glaring examples of prominent citizens who are encouraging this mindset are former military leaders like General Mirza Aslam Beg and General Hameed Gul, who are popular because of their fiery speeches.
All Pakistani terrorist organisations, be it the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Jaish-e-Mohammad, the Sipah-e-Sahaba, the Lashkar-e-Jhangwi, the Harkat ul Jihad al-Islami or the Harkat ul Mujahideen, engaged in terrorism enjoy open support of thousands of people and tacit support of military and political leaders and Ulema. The Muslim League, the ruling party of Nawaz Sharif, supports the religious seminaries Jamia Haqqania Akora Khatak, Jamia Rashidia Karachi and Jamia Usman-o-Ali Bahawalpur, which have been working with al-Qaeda and the Taliban and supporting Punjab terror outfits. The Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf, which is considered a liberal party, also has members who were involved in sectarian wars and terrorist incidents in the past.
Osama Bin Laden is hero-worshipped; many books have been published paying rich tribute to him for carrying on the jihadist movement and services he rendered to Pakistan. Hamid Kamaluddin, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed’s brother and the administrator of the organisation Idara-e-Iqaz, published a book titled Shaheed-e-Millat (martyr of Islamic community), which carried around a hundred articles presenting Bin Laden as the greatest hero of the Muslim world.
Millions of students in religious institutions and seminaries spread across the country, from Karachi to Khyber, are being taught that Osama Bin Laden was a martyr of Islam who preferred living in caves for the glory of Islam. The same kind of high status is being accorded to Mullah Omar because he has severely mauled the infidels. Many heroic tales are being attributed to Pakistani Taliban and other sectarian groups who in fact have been devastating Pakistan.
There is widespread propaganda by religious groups that Hindu infidels are enemies of Islam and must be punished and attacked. All Hindus, Christians and Jews are perceived as enemies of Islam, and most Pakistanis today accept the ideology of waging a holy war against infidels. The Taliban emir, Mullah Fazl ur Rahman, once declared that even a dog killed by American troops should be considered a martyr.
Some leaders and political parties in Pakistan who want the nation to get out of this narrow mindset have been totally sidelined. In fact, liberal political groups have to pay large amounts to various radical groups to survive. In these environments, it is not possible to curb the growth of Wahhabism in Pakistan and the danger it poses to the countries of south Asia.3
The Wahhabi organisations in India have created a network in the country to spread their brand of Islam among the Muslims. They have developed sophisticated methods of indoctrination and recruitment of the youth. They are operating at grass roots in madrasas and local mosques to spread their message to the youth directly.
According a report, an “Imam” belonging to the Ahle-Hadith sect, addressing a congregation after Friday prayers at a local mosque, proclaimed: “What is the purpose of a Muslim’s life? Is it . . . to sing and dance like the Mushriks? No, my dear brothers this is not what we have been created for. Our duty is to guide people towards the ‘Siratal Mustakeem’ (straight path). Muslims are in a sad state of affairs because we are following the devil; just as these Mushriks - Hindus- take out processions with songs and high-pitched musical bands, we are also doing the same thing in Muharram and on our Prophet’s birthday.” This sermon was obviously a Wahhabi message passed on to mosques in small towns.
Al-Qaeda and ideologues of other radical groups based in Pakistan have been regularly urging several Muslims religious organisations in India, mainly via the Internet, to join the global jihad and take up arms against the Indian state. Such attempts, over the years, have grown in their intensity and sophistication, enabling Jihadi organisations in India to enlist a sizeable number of Muslim youth.
The polarisation of the social environment in the aftermath of the demolition of Babri Masjid, in 1992, weakened the long-standing traditions of Sufi Islam in India, but the Muslim community still instinctively shuns the rigid code of conduct and practices advocated by the Wahhabis. However, radical ideologues of a few revivalist schools are approaching youths in colleges and schools to join the Wahhabi sect. Apprehensions of the Muslim community after the communal riots in Mumbai and Gujarat led many into the Wahhabi fold.
Wahhabi front organisations are advocating child marriage, demanding stopping of girls’ education and influencing Muslim families to follow Sharia laws as advocated by them. These groups, while trying to impose a strict Sharia code of conduct in Muslim households, are also trying to change cultural norms. For example, they are pressurising Muslims to use “Allah,” as opposed to the traditional “Khuda,” used by Indian Muslims in common parlance, since “Allah” is an Arabic word while “Khuda” is a Persian word for God. The regressive activities of Tablighi Jamaat and Ahle-Hadith in several parts of India and the attacks on Dargahs and Sufi shrines in Kashmir are a part of the Wahhabi campaign against Sufi Islam.
In 2001, Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) had declared that the time had come for Indian Muslims to launch an armed jihad to establish an Islamic caliphate. Posters issued by SIMI following the demolition of the Babri Masjid had declared, “Ya Ilahi, Bhej de Mahmood Koi (Oh Allah, send us a Mahmud),” – an ill-advised reference to the conqueror Mahmud of Ghazni.
The impact of hard-line religious organisations, such as Tablighi Jamaat, Ahle-Hadith, the Gujarat Muslim Revenge Force, the Muslim Defence Force and the Islamic Defence Force, on Indian Muslims has been minimal so far, but the danger of increase of their influence cannot be ruled out. The eminent anthropologist Irfan Ahmad noted in one of his papers on SIMI: “The formation of such illegal groups by a segment of Muslim population also points towards an affinity between the geography of riots and cartography of Islamist radicalism. Over 15% or 20% of SIMI’s members came from Maharashtra, Gujarat and U.P., States where the masculine, virulent Hindutva has far more impact, and which have a history of the worse riots in the past two decades.” It is absolutely necessary for the government to intervene positively to address the problems of communalism in these areas.4
Notes and References
1. Wikipedia. Wahhabi movement. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Wahhabi_movement>.
2. Ananya Das. Contemporary Issues in Conflict and Security ICM427.
3. Mujahid Hussain. “Islam, Terrorism and Jihad.” 18 November 2013. NewAgeIslam.Com.
4. Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta. “Wahhabi Impact.” Frontline, 29 November 2013. <http://www.frontline.in/cover-story/wahhabi-impact/ article5338336.ece?homepage=true4>, http://www.newageislam.com/radicalislamism- and-jihad/ajoy-ashirwad-mahaprashasta/wahhabi-impact/d/24413>.