By Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam
18 March, 2014
United Nations Human Rights Council
Twenty-fifth Regular Session ((3 - 28 March 2014)
Agenda item 4: Subjects of particular concern for the UN Human Rights Council
Full Text of the Oral Statement by Sultan Shahin, Editor, New Age Islam
South and Central Asian nations are deeply worried about the shape of things to come after the NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan and the return of Islamist terrorists from the Syrian theatre of Jihad back to North America, Europe and rest of the world. The upsurge of Taliban Jihadism in Afghanistan-Pakistan may also mean more terror in India and Bangladesh.
As experience has shown, Mr. President, the war on terror cannot be fought merely with military means. This war has an ideological dimension as much as military. The exclusivist, political, totalitarian, Jihadi narrative of Islam has to be contested and the mainstream narrative of Islam as an inclusive, spiritual path for salvation promoted vigorously. Among the Western governments, only Britain has shown an awareness of the ideological nature of this war and a resolve to help Muslims fight it ideologically. But the response of British Muslims has been disappointing.
Muslims across the world continue to be in denial. Not the slightest sign of introspection.
British Muslims find the Report from the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism problematic. The subsequent actions too have caused consternation. But there is no indication that Muslims themselves plan to do something to fight this menace. We Muslims must understand and accept that this is primarily a war within Islam and it is for us to fight it.
Already, the Taliban have started flexing muscles. In Pakistan last month they forced the government to open talks. While demanding the implementation of Shariah they cut the throats of 23 captured soldiers of Pakistan Army. As Pakistan Information Minister pointed out, 90,000 Pak troops were taken prisoner in the 1971 war against India but not one of them lost their heads. He also wondered what sort of Shariah law Pakistan Taliban want imposed that allows cutting the throats of soldiers of their own country.
Clearly the international community must actively seek to address the menace of Jihadism and its phony interpretation of Islam.
Let us now reflect on some of the issues mentioned above in some detail. First, I find it gratifying that at least one government in the West has discovered that this war cannot be fought just with bullets and bombs. The recent report by British Prime Minister’s Task Force on Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism finds it “also necessary to define the ideology of Islamist extremism” and goes on to say in paragraph 1.4:
“This is a distinct ideology which should not be confused with traditional religious practice. It is an ideology which is based on a distorted interpretation of Islam, which betrays Islam’s peaceful principles, and draws on the teachings of the likes of Sayyid Qutb. Islamist extremists deem Western intervention in Muslim-majority countries as a ‘war on Islam’, creating a narrative of ‘them’ and ‘us’. They seek to impose a global Islamic state governed by their interpretation of Shari’ah as state law, rejecting liberal values such as democracy, the rule of law and equality. Their ideology also includes the uncompromising belief that people cannot be Muslim and British, and insists that those who do not agree with them are not true Muslims.”
I hope they also come to the realisation that the fathers of modern extremism, Sayyid Qutub of Egypt and Maulana Abul Ala Maudoodi of the Indian sub-continent, are products of and heavily influenced by an ideology that the British Empire had played an important role in imposing upon the Muslim community. It supported this radical Wahhabi ideology in its infancy and provided it with the wherewithal to cause the destruction it has, even betraying its formal alliance with the mystically inclined and peaceful Hashemite Khilafat of Sheriff of Mecca in the process. Then again the West, this time led by the US, supported and encouraged this ideology, indeed spent a lot of money in promoting it during the last years of cold war.
One would have thought that it would be difficult for Jihadists to survive in post 9/11 world. Instead, the post 9/11 world seems to have created more swamps for Jihadists to wreak havoc and plan and plot further devastation in different parts of the world. Having reflected upon past mistakes, the West better realise that the first thing to do in tackling Jihadism is for it to immediately stop supporting and protecting the fountainhead of radical Islamist ideology in Saudi Arabia or at the very least to curb the massive export of the Saudi version of radical Islam to far corners of the world. After all, 16 of the 19 terrorists involved in 9/11 were Saudis, nurtured through the Saudi school curriculum and the rest too schooled in Saudi version of Islam.
The UK Report considers challenging and tackling extremism a shared effort. It goes on in paragraph 1.5:
“We welcome the spontaneous and unequivocal condemnation from Muslim community organisations and other faith groups in response to the Woolwich attack. The government, as much as organisations and communities in the UK, must take responsibility. We have been too reticent about challenging extreme Islamist ideologies in the past, in part because of a misplaced concern that attacking Islamist extremism equates to an attack on Islam itself. This reticence, and the failure to confront extremists, has led to an environment conducive to radicalisation in some mosques and Islamic centres, universities and prisons. Many institutions do not have the capacity to play their full part in challenging extremists, even when they want to. The government has a role in leading this challenge, ensuring that communities where extremists operate, and the organisations working against extremists, have the capability to confront it themselves.”
Talking about countering extremist narratives and ideology, the Report says:
“Extremist propaganda is too widely available, particularly online, and has a direct impact on radicalising individuals. The poisonous messages of extremists must not be allowed to drown out the voices of the moderate majority.”
After this making this unexceptionable generalisation it goes into specifics and says in paragraph 3.1:
“The Task Force has agreed to:
1. build the capabilities of communities and civil society organisations so that they can campaign against the large volume of extremist material, including online,
2. work with internet companies to restrict access to terrorist material online which is hosted overseas but illegal under UK law,
3. work with the internet industry to help them in their continuing efforts to improve the process for public reporting of extremist content online.
One would have thought that the British Muslims would welcome the government`s determination to help them confront the defamers of Islam who present Islam as a religion of intolerance and xenophobia. That they will take this opportunity to refute the Jihadi ideologies and present a moderate mainstream narrative of traditional Islam that has co-existed with other communities for centuries. While extremism and extremist interpretations of Islam have almost always been a part of Muslim history, the majority has pursued a moderate path and always defeated extremism in every era regardless of the form and nomenclature it may have taken.
But present-day Muslim tendency to stay largely silent on the issue, make no particular effort to confront extremism, and stay content with blaming extremism and Jihadism entirely on West's foreign policy failures merely reflects our victimhood mentality and betrays a wilful ignorance of Islamic history and ground realities. We must accept that a violent streak has always existed in Islamic history and it is for us to deal with it. Have we been able to understand even till today why Hazrat Ali ibn Abi Talib, the son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad and the fourth rightly-guided caliph, and Hazrat Aisha, the revered wife of Prophet Muhammad (saw) fought the Battle of Jamal (Camel) on November 7, 656 AD, leading to the killing of at least 5, 000 Muslims. This was followed by the Battle of Siffin (A.D. 657) between Hazrat Ali and and Mu’waiya ibn Abi Sufyan which finally resulted in Banu Umayyad creating a brutal dictatorship in the name of a dynastic Khilafat. But not long after Battle of Siffin was the Battle of Nahrawan in AD 658 between Hazrat Ali and his former followers who had now become the Kharijites, near Nahrawan, twelve miles from Baghdad. More than a hundred thousand Muslims died in these wars at a time when and in a region where population was sparse. It would appear that Islam has been fighting a war within forever. But at the same time our tendency to stay in denial is phenomenal.
We Muslims can criticise Western policies and request the international community not to pursue politics in a way that leads to creating more swamps for Muslim extremists and terrorists to take refuge in and create more trouble for world peace. But we have no control over these policies. So we must focus on things that we can ourselves do. The state of Muslim world today is such that wherever an interested, motivated group needs terrorists and even suicide bombers, an army becomes available. Soldiers of this army believe they are going to heaven by killing other innocent Muslims (mostly), even if in the process they commit the most heinous crime of committing suicide.
Persuading someone to commit suicide in order to kill his fellow worshippers in a mosque, fellow religionists in a Sufi shrine, or fellow citizens in a public place, should perhaps be the most difficult job in the world. How come it is the easiest when it comes to us Muslims? And why are we as a community not even concerned? How come we are mostly passive spectators?
I would like to request the world Muslim community represented here, through you, that we must urgently start looking within. Rather than being satisfied with blaming others for a virtual civil war within Islam in different parts of the world, let us introspect and see where we are going wrong and what we can do to correct ourselves.
In my view, Mr. President, our focus most urgently should be on what precepts of Islam we are teaching our children in schools and religious seminaries called madrasas. For it is the products of these madrasas that go on to becoming fatwa-givers on issues of concern, prayers-leaders in our mosques, etc. and thus acquire considerable influence, particularly over the not so well-educated among Muslims.
Many Muslims are not even aware of what is being taught in our schools and madrasas. I hope awareness on this score will open their eyes and also explain why we are where we are today. This will hopefully inspire some introspection. We must know that our children are being fed xenophobic literature in the name of Islam that makes it mandatory to hate and treat as enemy in word and action Muslims who do not believe in Ibn-e-Taimiya and Abdul Wahhab`s interpretation of Islam and, of course, all non-Muslims including the ahl-kitab. Would some of the Muslims who have been brainwashed into hatred and enmity for the proverbial “Other” at early stages of their life, not turn out to be easy prey to those who are looking to build a terrorist army? Is this any surprise then, we may start wondering, having studied these text books in even more detail than I can provide here, that an army of suicide bombers becomes available from the Muslim community whenever and wherever required.
As books provided by Saudi Arabia are most widely available around the Muslim world, I would like to quote here some paragraphs from a study of Saudi school text books by Eleanor Abdella Doumato in a book edited by her titled “Teaching Islam.” I would consider this book as essential reading for anyone interested in the phenomenon of spreading Jihadism.
Professor Abdella Doumato comments: “At every grade level the books assert that there is one Islam, that all Muslims are united in one Umma (community of believers), that Saudi Arabia holds a special and sacred place in the Muslim world, and that its royal family fulfils the necessary requirements of legitimate Muslim rulers. Schoolbooks condition students to respect authority, to confuse opinion with fact, and to see ethical questions in black and white, as if Islam were a single, stagnant body of knowledge with obvious and immutable answers to all life's questions. At the same time, the kingdom, like the rest of the Muslim world, is ethnically diverse and divided by sectarian orientations. Although an estimated 10 per cent of its population is Shiite, Saudi Arabia is also home to Sunni Muslims whose religious practices, such as Sufi mysticism, shrine visitation, and veneration of saints, are condemned as polytheism in the schoolbooks…. Although the texts claim authenticity in ancient roots, they espouse an Islam that is a modern amalgamation of home-grown Wahhabism, the Salafism of the Muslim Brotherhood, and a pan-Islamic agenda that inhabits the texts along with the Saudis' own state-building agenda.”
Professor Abdella Doumato has reached her conclusions by reviewing ‘the books of Fiqh (jurisprudence), Hadith (authoritative anecdotes from the life of the Prophet), and Tawhid (Islamic monotheism) for grades nine through twelve, which were used in the school years 2001/2002 and 2003/2004, and the Tawhid texts for elementary grades three, five, and six and intermediate grades seven, eight, and nine, used in the 2003/2004 school year. In addition, the 2003/2004 texts for courses that incorporate religion into the subject matter have been reviewed: Civics for grades four through Six and eight through twelve and The Life of the Prophet and the History of the Islamic State for the tenth grade. The high school religion textbooks include versions produced by both the Ministry of Education and the General Presidency for Girls.'
After proclaiming that there is only one Islam for all and there is no room for other interpretations, the schoolbooks lead to the message that philosophy and logic lead to schism, and are therefore especially to be avoided. Professor Abdella Doumato quotes the following paragraph from the text of (10b: 14):
[W]hen some people built their creed . . . from metaphysical speculation [Iilmal Al-Kilam] and systematic logic [Quwaa 'Ad Al-Mantiq) inherited from Greek and Roman philosophy, they produced deviations and divisions in the creed, and there resulted arguments and divisions in the community and cleavages in building Islamic society.
"Deviation from the correct creed," indeed, spells "disaster [Mahlikah] and perdition [dayaa'1" (10b: 15).5
Abdella Doumato comments:
“The message is that intellectual debate and individual reasoning must be sacrificed on the altar of communal harmony and political unity. The lesson is literally a textbook illustration of what Khaled Abou El Fadl describes as the anti-intellectualism of contemporary Saudi Islam's "supremacist, puritanical orientation," which retreats to the "secure haven of the text," where it can safely dissociate itself from critical historical inquiry (El Fadl 2003). The name he gives to this supremacist, puritanical orientation is "Salafabism," a combination of the words "Salafi" and "Wahhabism," the home-grown Najdi version of Islam that the schoolbook employs to locate the one Islam in Saudi Arabia and legitimize its present rulers.
“One chapter, in the tenth-grade Tawhid textbook (the unrevised edition), titled the "Call [Da’wah] of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab," describes the progenitor of Najdi Islam as the historical rectifier of deviations in the peninsula, drawing a parallel between al-Shaikh, as he is known in Saudi Arabia, and the Prophet Muhammad. The lesson explains that Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (hereafter MIAW) came as a mercy from God to renew the religion of this Umma, his call for renewal fitting an established pattern: the Prophet Muhammad was sent by God to renew for mankind the creed that had been altered by deviations and innovations over time. Although Muhammad is the final prophet, God produces from time to time individuals from the Ulema to renew the struggle against innovation, to rectify the creed and protect the Sharia from change, and to "bring the light of God to people of blindness" (10b: 19). Such a person appeared in the twelfth century of the Hijra (the eighteenth century of the Common Era); he was al-Shaikh al-Islam, al-Imam the Renewer (Al-Mujaddid) Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, and he appeared in Arabia when it was steeped in ignorance and practicing greater and lesser kinds of polytheistic practices (shirk).”
But what did Mohammad ibn-e-Abdul Wahhab teach and what is being taught to our children today across the Islamic world and indeed, even in the West? One of the most important lessons in these text books is expressed through the concept of Al-Walaa' Wa Al-Bara (which essentially means showing loyalty towards Wahhabi Muslims and bearing enmity towards everybody else).
Let me again quote from this chapter of Teaching Islam; “The hostility toward the outsider expressed through Al-Walaa' Wa Al-Bara has a history, and the recipients of Wahhabi enmity shift over time. For example, David Commins (2002) shows that the duty to bear enmity was used to rally resentment against the Ottoman Turks in the 1880s. In contemporary Saudi Tawhid schoolbooks, the objects of enmity range from Jews, non-Wahhabi Muslims to Western civilization in general. In the 'eight grade Tawhid text, for example, the concept is presented as showing love and friendship to right-thinking Muslims and enmity toward (or breaking off relations with) those who disagree with correct faith. The tenth-grade (Tawhid textbook uses its chapter on "showing loyalty and bearing enmity to name the outsiders, delineating the thoughts and actions that separate the believers from their enemies. …
“The textbook used in 2002 explains that anyone who practices non-conformist thought or action among Muslims should not only be corrected but also despised. Non-Muslims are not to be befriended or tolerated; nor can they be simply ignored. They are to be hated. "It is a law of Tawhid that one should show loyalty to the Unitarian (Muwahhid, Wahhabi) Muslim and bear enmity toward his polytheist (Sufi, Non-Muslim) enemies," says the text.
Only God is your Wali and His Apostle and those who believe, those who keep up prayers and pay the poor-rate while they bow. And whoever takes God and His Apostle and those who believe for a guardian, then surely they are the party of God and shall triumph. (Quran 5:55-56)
You shall not find a people who believe in God and the last day befriending those who act in opposition to God and his Messenger, even though they were their own fathers, or their sons, or their brothers, or their kinsfolk. (Quran 58:22).
“Additional proof texts (evidence from Quranic verse or Hadith to prove a point) refer to specific events during the Mecca wars but are presented without historical context to show that disassociation between Muslims and non-Muslims is a universal and eternal condition set forth by God (10b: 109-110).10 "The place of Al-Walaa` Wa Al-Baraa` has great standing in Islam," the lesson says, "as the Prophet said: 'The strongest bond of belief is loving what God loves and hating what God hates,' and with these two one gains the loyalty [Wilaayya] of God" (10b: 110). The lesson elevates enmity for the sake of God above the pillars of Islam: "[T]he Prophet said: 'Whoever loves for the sake of God and hates for the sake of God and shows loyalty for the sake of God and enmity for the sake of God, he will achieve the loyalty of God by that, and unless he does so, no worshipper will ever find the taste of faith even if he is excessive in prayer or fasting — (10b: 110).
“Who are the polytheist enemies against whom the monotheist Muslim must bear enmity? To MIAW (Abdul Wahhab), polytheist enemies were other Muslims, especially the Ottoman Turks, Shi`a, Sufis, and anyone who wore amulets or practiced magic. The school text specifies new ways to become an enemy, explaining why Muslims must be alert to show hostility toward the offender. Student should recognize hypocrisy (al-Mudaahana) when they see it. If a person socializes with moral deviants but thinks himself immune to their 'deviancy, he's being hypocritical, and by not breaking off relations with them and showing them hatred he is showing disloyalty to God (10b: 111). The poof text is the story of Abraham, who broke off from those who did, not believe in the one God but instead worshipped idols."11
“In the Fiqh and Hadith texts, imitating the Kuffar (unbelievers) is presented as morally corrupting. Women who dress like foreigners, for example, invite temptation and corruption, so the fabric of Muslim women's dress must be thick enough not to show any skin and wide enough to conceal the contours of the body, and the face must be covered to protect her personality. Imitating the Kuffar is an insult to God because Muslims are supposed to love what God loves and hate what God hates. If a Muslim joins in holiday celebrations with the Kuffar or shares with them their joys and sorrows, he is showing them loyalty (10b: 118). To say Id Mubarak happy holiday) to the Kuffar is as bad as worshipping the cross; it's a worse sin against God than offering a toast with liquor; it's worse than suicide and) worse than having forbidden sex (Artikab Al-Farj Al-Haram); and many people do it without realizing what they have done (10b: 118).
“Imitating the Kuffar by using the calendrical designation "A.D." instead of the Hijra year is another problem, because A.D. evokes the date of Jesus' birth and shows an affinity with unbelievers. At Christmas time, Muslims are not to dress like the Kuffar or exchange gifts or attend a feast or display ornaments. The holidays of the Kuffar should be like any other day for Muslim. As Ibn Taimiyya said, "Agreeing with the Ahl al-kitab (People of the Book) on things that are not in our religion and that are not the customs of our ancestors is corruption. By avoiding these things, you cease supporting them." Some even say, the lesson warns, that if you perform a ritual slaughter on their day, it's as if you slaughtered a pig.
“The textbooks evoke the past as a warning for the present. A section of the chapter called "Judgment About Making Use of the Kuffar in Employment and Fighting and Things Like That" quotes Ibn Taimiyya as saying, "Knowledgeable people know that the protected people among the Jews and Christians (ahl dhimma min Yahood wa Nasara) wrote to people of their own religion giving secret information about the Muslims" (10b: 119). The principle is to not to cooperate with or trust the Kuffar:
"O you who believe! Do not take for intimate friends those other than your own people; they do not fall short of inflicting loss upon you; they love what distresses you; vehement hatred has already appeared from out of their mouths, and what their breasts conceal is greater still" (Quran 3:118).
“One should not employ an unbeliever if there is a Muslim who can do the job, and if they're not needed, one should never hire them because the Kuffar can never be trusted (10b: 121). Nor should a Muslim accept employment from an unbeliever, for a Muslim should never be in a position of subservience to the Kuffar, who would surely show him disrespect. Nor should he be put in a position requiring him to deny his religion.
“A Muslim should not live permanently among Kuffar because his faith will be compromised and that is why God required Muslims to migrate from a land of unbelief (Bilad al-Kufr) to a land of belief (Bilad Al-Islam). As for those who would rather work for the Kuffar and live among them, this is - the same as showing loyalty to them and agreeing with them. This is apostasy from Islam. And whether one were there out of greed or for comfort, even were he to hate their religion and protect his own, it is not allowed. Beware of the worst punishment. (10b: 121)
“The chapter warns against music, laughter, and singing, the proscription of which, under the Al Sa`ud-led nineteenth-century commentators to liken the Wahhabis to Calvinists. Proscriptions on joyous behaviours, according to the text, are meant to encourage Muslims to invest all their being in thoughts of God and not expend energy in frivolous activities. However, the significance of such proscriptions shifts to contemporary concerns about the new enemy, the cultural invasion from the West. The "worst kind of imitating the Kuffar" is becoming so preoccupied with the unimportant things the Kuffar have promoted in their own societies that Muslims neglect to remember God and to do good works, for God says: "Oh you who believe! Let not your wealth, or your children, diverts you from the remembrance of God" (Quran 63:9; 10b: 124). The lesson explains that the Kuffar assign value to unimportant things because, absent religious faith, their lives are empty.
“What are these unimportant things? First, there are the performing arts, such as singing and playing instruments, dancing, and theatre and cinema, which are visited-by people who are lost from the truth. Then, there are the fine arts (Al-Funun Al-Jamila), such as painting, drawing, and sculpture. (Despite the prohibition on art, some schools in the kingdom do offer art classes.) Then there are sports, which are sometimes more important to youth than remembering God and obeying him; sports cause youth to miss prayers and ignore school and household obligations. Whether such behaviours are permitted or not, the Muslim nation today should save its energy for dealing with challenges from its enemies: "Muslims have no time to waste on insignificant activities" (10b: 124-125).
“Forbidding celebrations of birthdays, especially the birthday of the Prophet, and prohibitions against fine and performing arts are all part of the modern fabric and the historical legacy of Wahhabi culture.”It’s hostility to any human practice that would excite the imagination or bolster creativity," says (Dr. Khaled Abou) El Fadl (2003), is "perhaps the most stultifying, and even deadly, characteristic of Wahhabism." Anything that suggests a step toward creativity," he says, "constitutes a step toward Kufr [infidelity]."