Can Moderate Muslims Who Cherish Democracy, Peace, And Pluralism Have A Say In World Affairs, Or Will Only A Tiny Fraction Of Muslims, The Terrorists, Speak For Us?
Oral Statement at United Nations Human Rights Council,
General Debate on Agenda item 4: Subjects of particular concern for the UN Human Rights Council
On behalf of World Environment and Resource Council
By Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam
17 September 2014
We, the silent majority of moderate Muslims are disoriented. Can those Muslims who cherish democracy, peace, and pluralism still have a say in world affairs? Only a tiny fraction of one and a half billion Muslims see in the Quran and Hadees a permission to kill innocents from other sects and communities. But Islam or Islamism is being equated with terrorism because the vast majority of Muslims are still passive and silent.
Thirteen years after 9/11, the Islamist terrorist threat has become more diverse, more complex, and more dangerous. It seems that while the world has focused on fighting the terrorists militarily, it has not faced the challenge of the ideological narrative that Jihadism offers. It is this Islamist extremist narrative that has gained momentum now, animating not only groups like al-Qaeda, Taliban, Boko Haram, al Nusra, ISIS, etc but also independent actors who may prove even more dangerous.
Since the chief terrorist of the world declared himself a Khalifa and his group an Islamic State, Muslims have been bewildered. OIC and Jamia Azhar have condemned it, but many religious organisations and even governments are showing ambivalence. Meanwhile thousands of Arab, European and American Muslims have joined this Jihadist group. This has made Islamism virtually a synonym for terrorism now. Moderate Muslims must know that this has to change.
What are we, the Muslim moderates, doing wrong? Why are our youth joining the radicals?
What has happened is that Jihadists have worked out a radical narrative of Islam, a complete theology of violence, xenophobia, hate and Islam-supremacism based on common Muslim beliefs which they are using to brainwash Muslim youth, while we moderates have no coherent narrative or theology of peace, pluralism, co-existence and gender justice to counter that.
So what is the way forward? In my view, this situation calls for a clear refutation of the Jihadist ideology and working out a coherent narrative and a consistent theology of Islamic moderation, peace and gender justice. If not now, when?
Clearly moderate Muslim governments as well as Muslim peoples must show more courage of their convictions and commitment in refuting the radical ideology of terrorists.
Looking for a way forward, first we have to study why Jihadis are succeeding in attracting our youth. Why is their extremist Islamist narrative so appealing that Muslims around the world are falling in their trap? Well-educated, professional Muslim youth from Europe and America are leaving their comfortable lives to become suicide bombers. Even Muslim girls are running away from private schools and European, American, not to speak of Arab homes to become Jihadi brides.
Jihadism is an offshoot of Wahhabi-Salafi ideology, which is the state religion of Saudi Arabia. Muslim radicalisation started growing since the Arabs were able to quadruple their oil prices in March 1974. The funding for the export of this hard-line Islamic sectarian ideology has grown exponentially since the rise in oil prices and is said to have been in the range of tens of billions of petrodollars for years now.
This ideology was further refined and propagated massively to create Jihadis during the Cold War. But while the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan, the Salafi-Wahhabi ideology that had spawned Jihadism continued to be exported and Jihadis left free to practice their trade. As the US had no more interest in the Af-Pak region, the Pakistani State and its military intelligence, the ISI, used it to export terrorism to India and strengthen their stronghold in Afghanistan. Most surprisingly, the export of this ideology did not stop even after 9/11, in which 16 out of 19 terrorists were Saudi nationals, and, of course, all were products of the same Islamist ideology. To this day, this scenario has not changed.
Moderate Muslims have been trying to disassociate Islam with terrorism for decades now. Millions of words have been written showing that Islam is a peaceful religion. The multilingual Islamic website I started for this purpose, NewAgeIslam.com, has itself been doing a lot of work in this direction. We have been refuting Jihadis' ideological justifications of terrorism point by point. For our efforts, we have even got ourselves banned in Pakistan.
But nothing is working. Jihadis and Islamophobes have joined hands to turn the idea of Islam as a religion of peace into a veritable joke.
One would think that Muslims would look within and think why this is so. Why so few are prepared to buy the idea that Islam means peace. Why our denials and rebuttals and refutations are not believed? But instead of introspecting and finding answers, Muslims are happily blaming it all on the "enemies of Islam." This is a convenient excuse. It shifts both the blame and the responsibility. But what we, the moderate Muslims, should be able to see is that even shifting the blame on the "enemies of Islam" is not helping.
Everyone can see that it is Muslims who are killing Muslims. No "enemies of Islam" are involved. Thousands of non-Wahhabi Muslims are being killed in different parts of the world. Religious minorities are under attack. An army of Muslim suicide bombers is available wherever somebody needs them, even though suicide is strictly prohibited in Islam. Under normal circumstances, persuading someone to commit suicide should be the most difficult task in the world. But for Muslim terror ideologues, it is proving the easiest. Those who recruit suicide bombers in Lahore and Karachi, for instance, have to cope with long queues of applicants. Sometimes even happily married couples turn up and ask to be sent to Heaven quickly, jumping the queue if possible. For many Muslims, in any case, "life begins in the grave," as the refrain of a song taught to madrasa students goes. No wonder, Muslims are being associated more and more with terrorism, extremism, xenophobia, intolerance, gender injustice and other evils.
In some form the extremist ideology has always been a part of Islam. Starting from the time of the Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) himself a group that was later called Khawarij (rebels, those who went out of the fold of Islam) has been active throughout Islamic history. At times they have grown in power but mostly moderate Muslims have been able to confront and defeat them.
Neo-Khawarij of today have, however, gained enormous influence and prestige in the Muslim world. The Kharjiite ideology got a big boost with the enormous scholarly work of Ibn-e-Taimiyya in the 13th-14th century. Carried out in the backdrop of the Mongol invasion and the destruction of Baghdad in the 13th century, Taimiya's Arab nationalist work promoted xenophobia and intolerance by misinterpreting and misrepresenting Islamic scriptures. Eighteenth century scholar of Najd Mohammad Ibn-e-Abdul Wahhab adopted and refined Ibn-e-Taimiya's extremist Arab nationalist thoughts that demanded complete intolerance of any other interpretation of Islam. But Wahhab's theology could not start its dance of destruction until he cut a deal in 1744 with Muhammad ibn Saud, head of the Al Saud tribal family, to acquire military strength. The first targets, of course, were the peaceful, simple, Arabs of Najd who had a mystical bent of mind and then the more sophisticated, cosmopolitan people of Hejaz. After much bloodshed and almost complete destruction of Islam's precious heritage buildings, tombs of the companions of the Prophet and Sufi shrines, the Wahhab-Saud alliance eventually captured the whole of what Sauds later called Saudi Arabia. The Sauds, along with descendants of Wahhab, forced ulema and then common Muslims to convert to Wahhabism on pain of death. They are now making a determined and spectacularly successful effort to colonise and radicalise the Muslim mind throughout the world.
On the other hand, moderate, spiritually-inclined Muslims have not worked out a coherent theology of peace. They have to fall back on the teachings of Sufi saints. The Sufis had spread Islam in South and South East Asia. Their methodology was simple. They presented Islam as a spiritual path to salvation rather than a politics of domination. They presented Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) as an embodiment of compassion, mercy and blessing for humanity. They focussed on Qur'anic verses and purported sayings of the Prophet which gave the message of peace, human equality, pluralism, co-existence, gender justice, equality of all prophets and their holy books before God. They simply ignored inconvenient questions and references to militant verses in the Quran and intolerant and violent narrations in Hadees.
When Sufis were spreading the message of Islam, there was no need to discuss these verses and ahadees either. But the situation has changed since. Brainwashed in the intolerant political ideology of Ibn-e-Taimiya, Abdul Wahhab, and later Maulana Maududi and Syed Qutb, etc, Jihadis are employing these violent, exclusivist verses and ahadees as weapons of war. They have worked out answers to all questions that may arise in the minds of potential recruits in their war for world domination. With the free availability of Islamist, Jihadist literature on the internet, it has become possible even for lone wolfs to radicalize themselves.
As reported by ex-Jihadists, whom God saved at the last moment, hateful, supremacist, exclusivist, supremacist fatwas like the following from Jihadi thinkers are on the lips of everyone in the Jihadist group:
“Even if the Muslims abstain from Shirk (polytheism) and are Muwahhid (firm believers in oneness of God), their Faith cannot be perfect unless they have enmity and hatred in their action and speech against non-Muslims.
------ Shaikh Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab, Majmua Al-RasaelWal-Masael Al-Najdiah 4/291
“Islam wishes to destroy all states and governments anywhere on the face of the earth which are opposed to the ideology and programme of Islam, regardless of the country or the nation which rules it. The purpose of Islam is to set up a state on the basis of its own ideology and programme, regardless of which nation assumes the role of the standard-bearer of Islam or the rule of which nation is undermined in the process of the establishment of an ideological Islamic State.
"Islam requires the earth — not just a portion, but the whole planet.... because the entire mankind should benefit from the ideology and welfare programme [of Islam] ... Towards this end, Islam wishes to press into service all forces which can bring about a revolution and a composite term for the use of all these forces is ‘Jihad'. .... The objective of the Islamic ‘jihad’ is to eliminate the rule of an un-Islamic system and establish in its stead an Islamic system of state rule.”
----- Abul A'la Maududi in Jihad fil Islam
Clearly, if moderate Muslims want to reverse the process, they will have to carefully study the sources of radical, Jihadi strength.
In my view, Salafism-Wahhabism's enormous success lies in mainstream Muslims' unquestioning belief in the Quran as an uncreated book, with all its verses including the contextual having universal validity, Hadees being authentic sayings of the prophet, and the indisputable divinity of Sharia.
Why is the ancient controversy of Quran being created or uncreated relevant for us today? If Quran is created, that is, if it is a compilation of verses that came from time to time to guide the prophet as the need arose, the context of the verses become important. In this situation only those verses that do not require a context assume universal significance. This is as it should be. This is the commonsensical position.
If , however, the Quran is uncreated, as all the madrasas apparently teach, just a copy of the eternal book lying safe in "Lauh-e-Mahfooz" (the divine vaults in Heaven), from eternity, then each and every verse assumes universal significance and has to be followed without reference to the context and without any question being asked about their suitability today.
That is why all our madrasas which teach that Quran is un-created and divine by itself are potentially creating radical literalists who will see no reason why they should apply their mind. Hypothetically speaking, If Quran says somewhere,“kill the kafir," they may go out and kill those who they regard as Kafir. No reference to context is needed. Every word is thought of as of eternal significance. Quran is thought of as just a copy of the book safe in Lauh-e-Mahfooz in Heaven. But if it is a created work of God, then Muslims will have to study the context and think if a particular exhortation applies to them today.
Imagine the impact of the following verse on a literalist Salafi-Wahhabi radical. Incidentally this is one of the verses used for terrorist indoctrination in which Allah commands:
“Fight against those who believe not in Allah, nor in the Last Day, nor forbid that which has been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger Muhammad, and those who acknowledge not the religion of truth (i.e. Islam) among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians, etc.), until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” --- (Holy Qur’an Chapter 9, Verse)
This verse and several like it can only be understood in a historical context and merely remind us today of the almost insurmountable difficulties the Prophet (pbuh) had to face in establishing Islam. It can no longer be said to be applicable to Muslims today. We are no longer fighting battles of Badr and Uhad and the Trench of the seventh century AD.
But if Quran is an uncreated book, divine by itself, with all its verses, separately, individually, of eternal value as commands of God, without any need for referring it to context, you can imagine how such verses taken as a command of God would be practiced today -- the same way, of course, as these are being practiced by a handful of terrorists who are unfortunately growing in numbers.
There can be no doubt that Quran indeed is a created book. We know that its creation progressed with the march of events in the infancy of Islam. It was not revealed overnight or in a few continuous sittings, as it would have been if it were just a copy of the one in Lauh-e-Mahfooz. How else would we find a progression of ideas in Quran? Qur’anic verses were revealed over a period of 23 years of Mohammad saw's prophethood. The Prophet was first given in Mecca a set of directions about the universal values of religion and then guided throughout his remaining life, as and when the situation demanded. The tragedy is that even Sufi-oriented scholars today, products of the madrasa system, use the same age-old arguments, as do Wahhabi scholars, in order to try to prove what is essentially a Salafi-Wahhabi thesis that Quran is uncreated, divine like God, eternal, and so all its verses, including the contextual and militant, are universal in nature.
Another source of Salafi-Wahhabi-Jihadi influence is the Muslims' blind faith in ahadees as the authentic sayings of Prophet Mohammad. Jihadi literature quotes ahadees profusely to prove that killings of civilians is justified, that Prophet himself had condoned and justified what is known today as collateral damage. The very idea that purported quotes from the Prophet written down and collected up to three hundred years after the demise of the prophet can have any sanctity would be laughable to any thinking individual. But Muslims put these ahadees on a pedestal next or equal to, if not even superior to the Quran. A Wahhabi sect most patronised by Saudi Arabia even calls itself Ahl-e-Hadees (people of Hadees). Moderate Muslims are doing nothing much to counter this blind faith.
The Muslim attitude to what are called Sharia laws is similar. While all the caliphs used rudimentary Shariah laws based on the Quran, its codification has gone on throughout Islamic history. In its present form, it came into being in Abbasid era, over a century after the demise of the prophet. Like all laws, what are called Sharia laws have not been static. Their interpretations and applications have kept changing from society to society and from one era to the next. Different Muslim communities around the world practice what is thought of as Sharia differently. And yet Muslim scholars give it divine status. Though everyone knows that over decades several scholars toiled to codify Sharia laws, even moderate Muslim ulema will not say clearly that what is conventionally called Sharia is largely man-made, not divine.
Herein lies the strength of Salafism-Wahhabism and its violent offshoot Jihadism. If all Muslims believe in the uncreatedness of Quran, universality of every verse, impeccable sanctity of Hadees and unquestionable divinity of Sharia, then what is there to distinguish one from the other. Who is a moderate and who is an extremist.
As Saudi Arabia`s Assistant Minister of the Interior Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef told US Special Advisor Holbrooke's on May 16, 2009, al Qaeda hijacked Islam. He said; “Terrorists stole the most valuable things we have…They took our faith and our children and used them to attack us”.(1) Telling him about the extent of Islamist penetration in the Kingdom, he said that in 2003 the Saudis discovered Islamist radicals in “90 percent” of the mosques. Then on May 24, 2009, Ambassador Holbrooke was given a counter-terrorism briefing by the Saudi Ministry of the Interior about the ancient Islamic roots of Salafi ideology: “The counterterrorism briefing began with history and geography: Briefer Captain Bandar Al-Subaie said the Takfiri ideology behind extremist groups dated back to the earliest days of Islam, and had figured in the killings of two early Caliphs. Its tenets were reflected in the beliefs of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and had spread from there to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and then to the Arabian Peninsula where it had been taken up by modern day terrorists including Al-Qaeda.” (2) Of course, Saudi Ministry did not tell him that the Kingdom itself has been the main exporter of Salafi-Wahhabi ideology for over a century, and more particularly, in the last three decades, and has not stopped even after 9/11.
As I said before, we, the Muslim moderates, will need to develop a coherent narrative and a consistent theology of moderation in Islam. How can we counter the theology of violence, xenophobia, hate, intolerance, Islam-supremacism, and gender injustice, except with the help of a theology of peace, pluralism, co-existence and gender justice? If not now, when?
The conclusion is: although the majority of Muslims are still looking for words to speak out their position, their heart deeply rejects the Jihadist killings. However difficult the task is to cast these feelings in a coherent ideology of peace and brotherhood of mankind, there is no time left for delay, excuses, hypocrisy or compromises. We are confronted with a new fascism; we must find our voice, end the silence.