By Sameer Arshad
April 14, 2016
Carnages in Brussels and Lahore last month again highlighted indiscriminate barbarity of transnational terrorism. The west woke up to the scourge after 9/11 and responded by indiscriminately bombing Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan. Tens of thousands have been killed in this disproportionate use of force. But terrorism continues to pose serious threat globally as counter-terror measures remain deeply flawed. The flaws start with the manner in which the terror terminology has been devised. For instance, terrorists are now mostly called Jihadis. As has been illustrated repeatedly the term comes from Arabic word jihad which means struggle. The bigger jihad is the struggle against evil within while the smaller one involves struggle in self-defence. The word jihad appears in the Quran 41 times while dissuasion from fighting, referred to as Qital or Harb, is cited 70 times.
Clearly, the terrorist atrocities in Brussels and Lahore were anything but struggle. They were acts of pure terrorism involving the killing of innocent people. Calling terrorists Jihadis as such is silly as it, strictly speaking, tends to dignify mass murderers as some sort of ‘strugglers’. If there is an insistence on using Arabic terms, then the term for indiscriminate killings should be Fasad and those who carry-out acts of terrorism should be known as Fasadis. This is in the spirit of famous Quranic verse that calls the killing of an innocent akin to slaying the entire humanity. By calling terrorists Jihadis, we are playing into their hands. This endorses their ways of legitimising themselves by twisting doctrines, which over a billion people adhere to and see in a totally different light. It lazily lumps together overwhelmingly peace-loving adherents with terrorists, mostly driven by political motives, and complicates the united fight against terrorism that is as much of Muslims as that of others.
Moreover, Shia Muslims regard jihad as one of the seven pillars of Islamic faith. The Shias, of course, do not use the term in the sense in which jihad has come to be regarded in the western parlance. That the so-called Islamic State (IS) terrorists are on the run and losing territories is a result of this idea of jihad. Tens of thousands of Iraqis – across sectarian lines — have signed up for voluntary resistance against the IS since Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called for jihad in self-defence against the IS in June 2014. Sistani was forced to call for the lesser jihad after Iraqi army abandoned Mosul as IS overran large parts of Iraq and posed a grave threat to the world.
The Economist reported IS “is thought to have lost about a quarter of its territory’’ in the past 14 months following the liberation of Syria’s Palmyra on March 27th. The liberation has closed IS’s supply route to its stronghold of Raqqa in Iraq, where volunteers have played a key role in reclaiming territories like Ramadi in December from the group. The volunteers inspired by Sistani’s jihad call are now assisting Iraqi army in liberating Mosul that is likely to fall soon as IS has lost control over Mosul-Raqqa route. The loss of territories is crucial as it has choked IS’s finances and made it harder for it to export oil. It is estimated the number of IS terrorists has gone down by around 20%. The group’s command and control too has been crippled with the killing of its number two late last month.
The successes against the so-called Jihadis could not have been achieved without Sistani’s call for jihad. The call had great symbolic value as it was made from his headquarters inside one of Islam’s holiest shrines – fourth Caliph Ali’s golden-domed mausoleum in Iraq’s Najaf. Ali was the Prophet’s son-in-law and is central to Shia devotion. Shias consider him the Prophet’s only rightful heir while most Sunni Sufi orders trace their lineage to him. Kharijites (defectors) assassinated Ali, who was believed to have inherited the prophet’s saintly powers, in AD 661 for crushing their rebellion against Islam. Shia clergy has likened IS to the Kharijites and killers of Ali’s son, Husain, and 72 members of the prophet’s family in AD 680 Karbala battle against a tyrannical ruler. This has stirred over one Lakh volunteers into action against the terror group.
A donation box for monetary support for popular anti-IS voluntary forces at one of Islam's holiest shrines -- mausoleum of Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Imam Husain, in Iraq's Karbala
Donation boxes with ‘please help the popular voluntary forces against ISIS’ written on them overflow with cash and line shrines of Ali, Husain and the other members of the Prophet’s family in Najaf and Karbala. Largely Shia pilgrims from across the world have been generous with their contributions for the fight against IS on Sistani’s call. The Shia spirit of resistance and martyrdom has played a key role in rallying this support. From television channels to lampposts and walls, the martyrdom of fallen heroes is celebrated everywhere. Virtually every wall and lamppost along the highway from southern Iraq’s Najaf to capital Baghdad, 177km away, has pictures and eulogies to fallen fighters. Giant screens have been put up in public squares to keep the spirit of anti-IS resistance (jihad) alive.
Across the border in Saudi Arabia, even ultra-puritanical grand mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al ash-Sheikh has denounced IS terrorists as neo-Kharijites. This cross-sectarian echoing is rare and has to be nurtured to rid the world of the menace of IS, a death cult that has no justification to exist at all. To begin with, let us call IS terrorists and those of their ilk what they are: Fasadi or Kharajites. This would isolate them and make the struggle against them more inclusive. Using their atrocities to corner and demonise Muslims, who are overwhelming victims of Fasadi terror, may help narrow political causes but not the sacred mission of defeating IS.