By Iftikhar Hussain Jazib
April 17, 2015
Al Qaeda’s assassinated chief, Osama bin Laden, and its current amir (head), Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, were not known as religious personalities before the Afghan jihad. Both had received their formal education at secular institutions. Bin Laden had studied economics, business administration and civil engineering while Dr Zawahiri had studied medicine to become an eye surgeon. This lack of religious education coupled with the schizophrenic impact of the Afghan jihad was responsible for the radical interpretation of jihad and the subsequent creation of al Qaeda. Unfortunately, careless media coverage of terrorist attacks perpetrated by al Qaeda, wrongly created a religious perception of bin Laden and Dr Zawahiri for many aggrieved Muslims. Thus, al Qaeda became a big challenge for Muslim states/societies and various extremist groups joined it.
When al Qaeda hijacked planes and brought down the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, the international media was simultaneously showing celebrations over this attack in Palestine. The grievances of Palestinians are a cause of pain for Muslims globally; many groups and leaders have exploited the Palestine cause for their own political interests. Former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein created hype over the same conflict and attacked Kuwait in 1990. All Arab states and their rulers turned against Saddam over this aggression but, interestingly, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was carried away by Saddam’s rhetoric. Arafat’s posture alienated him in the Arab world and many troubles were created for the Palestinians. In this situation, bin Laden offered the services of his fighters to the Saudi king against Saddam Hussein and expressed strong opposition to the deployment of US forces in Saudi Arabia. However, the Kingdom did not accept his offer and US forces were deployed to defend Saudi Arabia despite his opposition.
Against this backdrop, bin Laden, who was trying to stay relevant after the end of the Afghan war, geared up to win the hearts of the Arab masses. He launched a severe propaganda against the Arab monarchs and western civilisation. First he based his campaign in Sudan and then he moved to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan where many former Arab fighters and extremist groups joined him but no renowned Muslim scholar became his follower. When al Qaeda’s ideology materialised in the form of the 9/11 attacks, grand muftis, imams and Ulema became vocal against al Qaeda, bin Laden and Dr Zawahiri. Many Fatwas were issued against terrorism and suicide bombing but al Qaeda rejected them adamantly. Its leadership did not pay heed to such learned scholars who devoted their lives to the learning and teaching of Islam and al Qaeda continued with its war hysteria and narrow minded interpretations of jihad.
As has already been mentioned, bin Laden and Zawahiri received a secular education. Their role and achievements in jihad did not qualify them as Islamic scholars. Therefore, their insistence on their own Jihadi edicts was wrong. It is pertinent to mention the golden example set by Khalid bin Walid, who was a great warrior and general of the first Muslim army. He was known as the sword of Allah and was dismissed from service by Caliph Omer in the midst of a war. He obeyed his ruler and accepted this decision without protest. Terrorist leaders are always quoting Khalid bin Walid in their sermons but, unfortunately, they have learned nothing from him. The Afghan jihad was waged under Muslim states. After the end of the jihad the rebellions against these states were religiously wrong but bin Laden misguided and exploited Arab fighters for his terrorist activities.
Wrongly conceived and organised by bin Laden and Zawahiri, al Qaeda proved disastrous for Muslim countries. The Muslim countries of North Africa and the Middle East are currently in chaos and al Qaeda’s deadly strategy is solely responsible for the woes of their masses. This organisation not only provoked the wrath of western countries against Muslim states by perpetrating the attacks of 9/11 but also incited sectarian violence and political rebellions within them. As a result, Mauritania, Somalia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq and Syria are in political and social ruins. This state of affairs only marginalised Muslim countries in international politics further and Muslims have become weaker in terms of military power and capability. This group brought only evil to Islam and Muslims and, unfortunately, some Muslim scholars have become victims of its apparent deception. Such sympathisers must open their eyes and realise that Zawahiri and his associates are not religious personalities and that al Qaeda, its franchises and affiliates are not an option to address the grievances of Muslims.
To further clarify this point and strengthen the argument on the non-religious nature of terrorist movements, some facts are presented about the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which is an al Qaeda affiliate in Pakistan. The term Talib, plural Taliban, meaning student, was coined to indicate the incomplete education of these terrorists. Therefore, the TTP hardly had such persons in its ranks that had even completed the Dars-e-Nizami, the basic religious course taught at Deoband Madrasas (seminaries). Its intellectual hollowness can be simply gauged from the fact that the TTP founder, Baitullah Mehsud, and his successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, did not use a religious title at all. TTP Chief Mullah Fazlullah is a matriculate and he was working as a lift operator in Swat before becoming a militant. He is using the title of mullah wrongly as he never finished his Madrasa education. Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JA) chief Omer Khorasani is also a matriculate and previously worked as a blacksmith. He has not used a religious title so far, which speaks about his lack of Islamic education itself. Mangal Bagh, the commander of the Lashkar-e-Islam, received no Islamic education and he worked as a bus conductor formerly.
This lack of religious education and corruption makes the TTP a syndicate of criminals, robbers and drug peddlers. It is involved in crimes like robbery, kidnapping for ransom, smuggling of weapons/ammunition and other commodities, narcotics trafficking, extortions from the business community, financial frauds and murder. The group does not spare even Madrasas as it is collecting extortion from them, rendering them cash strapped. All of these activities are plain crimes but, ironically, TTP leaders justify themselves in the name of jihad and Islam.
The TTP is not alone in this corruption and criminality. Al Qaeda’s other splinters, affiliates and offshoots are also involved in crimes. Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Boko Haram in Nigeria show the same criminal character. In the light of these facts and arguments, we must realise that al Qaeda, IS and TTP leaders are not religious personalities and scholars of Islam, and that their edicts about terrorism and suicide bombings are religiously wrong. Every Muslim should reject them without any hesitation and should only follow mainstream Ulema and Islamic scholars, who oppose terrorist movements and project the real teachings of Islam.
Iftikhar Hussain Jazib is a freelance columnist