By Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam
Many Muslims, who still hate to be called Wahhabi, have nevertheless developed Salafi attitudes. You will find many Muslims in Pakistan and now also in India walking down the street in Arab dresses, for instance. Beards and hijabs have become common not only in the East but even in the West. Women, whose grandmothers never wore a veil, burqa or a hijab, are donning this symbol of slavery everywhere. Some moderate, liberal Muslims are themselves so affected by Salafi propaganda coming from all sorts of media that in their own minds they have started considering themselves hypocrites. Some are leaving Islam and calling themselves ex-Muslim. These responses are no help.
Mainstream, moderate, liberal Muslims must study their own religion. They will find so much humanity, rationalism and spiritualism in Islam that their doubts will vanish; the spell cast on them by the all-pervasive militant Wahhabi propaganda will cease to have an impact. And then they should stand up and be counted. Whatever little resources they have must be expended to stem this tide. Islam has always defeated this group in the end. It will do so again. But we will have to do something about it. Ideology can only be fought with an ideology, with a better ideology, not with arms and weapons. We have to work at promoting our own ideology, our own understanding of Islam. As a British Prime Minister once said: “It’s not enough to be nice.” -- Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam, addressing a conference at The United Nations in Geneva on 14 March 2012, organised and sponsored by INTERNATIONAL HUMANIST AND ETHICAL UNION, NATIONAL SECULAR SOCIETY and NEW AGE ISLAM FOUNDATION.
Some other speakers in the conference were:
Raheel Raza, Canada Muslim activist who spoke on “The rise of Sharia Courts in the West”,
Keith Wood, United Kingdom Executive Director, National Secular Society on “Church influence, canon law and civil law in Europe”, and
Leo Igwe, Nigeria International Representative, IHEU, on “Religion, witch hunts, homophobia and Human Rights in Africa”.
The Chair and Moderator was Roy W. Brown, former president and now Main Representative, IHEU, UN Geneva.
Full Text of the Speech by Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam
ISLAMIC RADICALISM has been defined in a variety of ways: as a synonym for extremism, militancy, terrorism or the ideologies of Wahhabism, Salafism, Deobandism, Qutubism, or Maudoodism and so on. But I would define Islamic radicalism as a totalitarian Islamic-supremacy movement that believes it has a monopoly over Heaven, truth and justice. This movement is leading towards the alienation of Muslims from the mainstream world community - even from their own multicultural, multi-religious societies in non-Muslim majority countries.
Militancy and terrorism are outgrowths of such attitudes and may not be specifically directed towards the goal of establishing an Islamic State. It may just be calling, in an ostensibly peaceful manner, for establishing so-called “Shariah-controlled zones” in the middle of secular societies.
But radicalism is turning violent in many places because violence is implicit in the very idea of having a monopoly on truth. But violence, specially sustained episodes of violence depend on a variety of factors including infrastructural support, the attitude of the state etc. So to my mind a worldview that has not yet led to violence need not be considered any less radical. If nothing else, supremacist attitudes that may provoke others to violence have themselves to be considered as inherently violent.
Looked at from this perspective, Islamic radicalism is going mainstream worldwide, and no less so, in the East. The Af-Pak region in South Asia is known to be the crucible of violence and terror perpetrated by Islamic radicals. But Southeast Asia too is not far behind. After all, the second most violent attack on civil society, after 9/11, took place in Bali, Indonesia, on a nightclub, in which 202 people, mostly Australians, were killed. Both South and Southeast Asia have witnessed a string of terrorist attacks in last decades, targeting sectarian and religious minorities. They have made successful and deadly suicide attacks at shrines of Sufi saints which are revered by the majority of the population. But in Pakistan Islamist terrorists have also been fighting the state that actually produced and nourished them, and some of its organs continue to nurture them even today. At one point Pakistani Islamist radicals captured the valley of Swat, virtually at a stone’s throw from the capital, Islamabad. They have attacked the military Headquarters of Pakistan Army at Rawalpindi and as sensitive a target as Mehran airbase. Many experts believe that for Pakistani radicals capturing Islamabad and its nuclear facilities cannot be dismissed as a fantasy.
A host of religious and sectarian militias in Pakistan, some even run by Islamist political parties, are a serious danger not only to Pakistan and neighbouring India, but also to the world at large. They are all allied at one level or another with the global Jihadis and Al-Qaeda.
To me the most disturbing feature of what is happening in the East is the radicalization of Muslim societies. It’s not the madrasa-educated alone who are being radicalized. Muslims who have come out of normal, government or private institutions are being equally radicalized under social pressure. The investment of tens of billions of petrodollars in promoting a dry and desiccated version of Islam, devoid of its rationality, humanity and spiritualism, has created an atmosphere that is affecting many impressionable minds. When the Governor of Pakistani Punjab, Salman Taseer was killed by his own bodyguard last year, it was difficult to find a Mullah ready to lead his funeral prayers. When the killer was taken to court hundreds of lawyers threw rose petals at him, calling him their hero. The judge who sentenced him to death had to go into exile.
All that the martyred leader of Punjab had done was to appeal for Presidential clemency for a hapless Christian lady who could not have possibly insulted the Prophet (peace be upon him). No one asked how a Christian could be accused of blasphemy and tried under apostasy laws when she doesn’t believe in Islam or the prophethood of Mohammad.
Following Salman Taseer’s assassination, the only Christian in the federal cabinet of Pakistan, Shahbaz Bhatti was also murdered. He too had expressed sympathy for and pleaded the case of Aasia Bibi, the convicted Christian lady. Aasia Bibi’s case brought to light the fact that it’s not only Christians and Hindus who are persecuted for their beliefs but also Muslim minorities such as the Shiites, Ahmadis and Ismailis, who are routinely harassed, discriminated against and killed. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has just published a report that states, inter-alia, that at least 20 to 25 girls are abducted and converted to Islam against their will every single month in Pakistan.
Pakistan is a state created in 1947 on the radical idea that Muslims could not co-exist with other religious communities. Then, aided by United States, it deliberately created the group of Jihadis to fight the then Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Tens of thousands of madrasas were created and millions of students were brainwashed with violent jihadi ideology. These madrasas have continued to be funded and run, catering to poor students from not only Pakistan but also several Southeast Asian countries. And there are Islamist political parties in Pakistan that have their own militias that recruit these madrasa-trained students.
With this historical background one can understand the radicalization of Pakistani society. But what explains similar attitudes in Indian Muslim society? If one goes by India’s Muslim Press, the reaction to Salman Taseer murder was just the same as in Pakistan. For a little perspective, I must state that in the Indian sub-continent, there are two major Islamic schools of thought, represented by Bareilwis and Deobandis. Deobandis are Wahhabis and all the Pakistani madrasas that taught armed Jihad were run on the Deobandi curriculum. Bareilwis constitute the overwhelming majority of the South Asian Muslims. They believe in seeking intercession from Sufi saints, as do Hindus, Sikhs and other communities in India. They go to these shrines together and this naturally creates a sense of sharing in a semi-religious atmosphere and helps national integration. Salafis, Wahhabis and other radicals do not like Muslims to interact with other communities, much less on a religious kind of platform.
As has already happened in Pakistan, Deobandi, Wahhabi, Salafi imams are now being forced upon Indian Bareilwi mosques. This is sometimes leading to violence as well. Wahhabis have become so aggressive that they beat up people and stone their houses for daring to say prayers in a village mosque without having a beard. This happened in a Saharanpur district mosque during Ramadan three years ago. The clean-shaven Muslim’s seven-year old daughter got hurt in the severe stone pelting and died.
Frightened with incidents like this and aware of what was happening in Pakistan, the heads of the 80 most important Sufi shrines of India got together a few months ago and organized a massive rally of Muslims in a town in Western Uttar Pradesh. Then for the first time in a public meeting in India they spoke about “growing Wahhabi extremism,” actually using the phrase. Over a hundred thousand Muslims gathered in Moradabad and heard warnings of growing Wahhabi extremism from scores of clerics from India’s largest shrines. This should have been major news in the Muslim press, but not one newspaper reported the event. Three newspapers did report the gathering and speeches but completely censored any mention of Wahhabi extremism.
Wahhabism having developed this kind of influence in a multi-religious society like India should ring alarm bells. More recently, a few Jamaat-e-Islami goons were able to stop even the virtual participation of Salman Rushdie through a video link in the Jaipur literary festival.
Another recent event that should ring loud alarm bells is the removal of an elected government in the 100 per cent Muslim country, the Maldives. Former President Mohammad Nasheed is a familiar figure in the UN Human Rights Council. He has fought for human rights all his life and is once again back on the streets doing the same. Apparently, though he won an election and came to power with the help of allies in a coalition government, a radicalized section the armed forces, police and bureaucracy did not quite accept his secular politics. The most curious is the manner of his going. The Islamic Republic of Pakistan gave Maldives a gift during the recent SAARC summit conference which contained a portrait of how Pakistan became Islamic through its Buddhist past. Salafis objected to this, calling accepting this gift akin to idol worship. One person vandalized this gift, but like the Salman Taseer’s killer in Pakistan, got support from all across the political spectrum including some parties that were part of the government coalition.
Clearly Radical Islam is on the rise and going mainstream as much in South and Southeast Asia East as in the Middle East or elsewhere. This is an alarming situation, and the biggest danger comes from the fact that the proverbial silent majority is too silent. Even where it is beginning to stir, moderate Islam is finding that it does not have adequate resources to counter this rising tide.
The recent effort of the Sufi shrines in India is a case in point. Even when they stirred themselves to action, they could not make an impact and are once again lying low. By and large governments seem unwilling to intervene, seeing it as an internal war within Islam. It indeed is a war within Islam; it is Muslims who are the main target of Salafi radicals; and it is they who will have to gather the courage to fight.
Throughout Islamic history, such violent radicals have disturbed the peace. They have been decimated many times and have risen again only to be defeated again. Islam’s humane spiritualism and its stress on rationality have always proved superior to their ideological aridity.
But this time the radicals, the Wahhabis are in a far stronger position than before. They have got so far because a certain wealthy Arab state which claims to be the guardian of our holy places and which is protected by the only superpower in the world is behind this radicalism. Saudi Arabia considers Wahhabi Salafi radicalism its state ideology. You cannot even enter the country with a copy of the Holy Quran that is not published by them. For Saudi Arabia, spreading radicalism is an imperialist project. Along with their desiccated version of Islam, they also insist on exporting Arab culture, language, dress and architecture.
The Saudis have demolished nearly 300 monuments connected with Islamic history. Just a few remain. History conflicts with their ideology. It places Prophet Mohammad and his story in the matrix of time and gives it a context. If read in context many of the militant verses of the Holy Quran would appear to be relevant only for the time and situation they were revealed in; they cannot be applied universally. This will hamper what has to be a permanent war on infidels. Given a historical context only peaceable verses of the Quran, mostly revealed in Mecca, will remain relevant for all time. Wars will have to be stopped. Arab imperialism will not be able to make headway. The Army of suicide bombers recruited in Pakistan and elsewhere will have to be retrained for other jobs. In order to reach Heaven, Muslims will have to engage permanently in what the Prophet called Greater Jihad, struggling against our nafs, fighting one’s own evil impulses.
Owing to its enormous oil wealth, Saudi Arabia’s imperialist project has the support of nearly all governments in the world including those – like the United States – that have been its victims. Sixteen of the nineteen 9/11 suicide bombers were Saudi nationals, schooled in its extremist ideology. Its biggest ally Pakistan’s Army can do no wrong. It was even allowed to host Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Pakistan remains America’s major non-NATO ally. On the side of mainstream Islam, (or what I hope is still mainstream Islam) there is no one. All governments, in Muslim-majority or non-Muslim majority countries deal with Saudi Arabia, either to buy their oil or/and sell them weapons.
Hundreds of plane-loads of semi-literate preachers fly from Jeddah to the far corners of the world almost every day converting Muslims to Salafism. Many Muslims, who still hate to be called Wahhabi, have nevertheless developed Salafi attitudes. You will find many Muslims in Pakistan and now also in India walking down the street in Arab dresses, for instance. Beards and hijabs have become common not only in the East but even in the West. Women, whose grandmothers never wore a veil, burqa or a hijab, are donning this symbol of slavery everywhere. Some moderate, liberal Muslims are themselves so affected by Salafi propaganda coming from all sorts of media that in their own minds they have started considering themselves hypocrites. Some are leaving Islam and calling themselves ex-Muslim. These responses are no help.
Mainstream, moderate, liberal Muslims must study their own religion. They will find so much humanity, rationalism and spiritualism in Islam that their doubts will vanish; the spell cast on them by the all-pervasive militant Wahhabi propaganda will cease to have an impact. And then they should stand up and be counted. Whatever little resources they have must be expended to stem this tide. Islam has always defeated this group in the end. It will do so again. But we will have to do something about it. Ideology can only be fought with an ideology, with a better ideology, not with arms and weapons. We have to work at promoting our own ideology, our own understanding of Islam. As a British Prime Minister once said: “It’s not enough to be nice.”