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Radical Islamism and Jihad ( 18 Nov 2019, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Indian Muslim Clergy to Counter ISIS Propaganda: But they should go beyond rhetoric to a genuine counter-narrative that refutes Jihadism based on traditional Islamic theology


By Sultan Shahin, Founder-Editor, New Age Islam

19 November 2019

India has started creating an internet-based "non-official channel of religious leaders" to stop Muslim youths from falling into the trap of ISIS''s literature of jihad, a report on has revealed, quoting government sources. It quotes a senior IPS officer posted with Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) saying "this (ISIS online propaganda) needs to be countered in a similar way," and that merely arresting Muslim youths is not going to solve the imminent threat. “The Muslim clergy will be trained to create YouTube channels, podcast, accounts on social media and websites to counter ISIS narrative,” says this report. 

This is a laudable initiative and needs to be welcomed. But it calls for some serious reflection too. Techniques for making propaganda videos can be taught to the ulema. But, will it be effective without a resolution of the more fundamental issue of content?  What, for instance, is going to be the narrative or the counter-narrative of the ulema? 

The outlook India report gives a clue: “the clergy has been directed to highlight the atrocities carried on women and children by ISIS chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.” But do we need the clergy to engage in this kind of campaign. This can be done more effectively by normal channels of communication. Any print journalist or TV commentator can do this. Our media has indeed been doing this effectively for years.

The reason we need the clergy is to counter the Jihadist theology, not to condemn ISIS atrocities, abductions, sex slavery, attacks on Muslims and non-Muslims, etc. Any sensible person can condemn these atrocities and with equal effect. 

The clergy is required to counter the exclusivist Jihadi theology of violence and supremacism which is primarily based on the traditional Islamic theology of consensus of all schools of thought. This has to be done through a counter-narrative based on a new inclusivist theology of peace and pluralism. But to do that the clergy will have to work towards evolving a new theology that is different from the traditional theology taught in madrasas. It is this age-old theology that is used by Jihadis to propagate their message. 

It cannot be stressed enough that the reason Jihadis have been able to capture the imagination of thousands of our youth the world over is that they are not saying anything new. They are simply showing a way to practice what the ulema (religious scholars) have been preaching. The Jihadi narrative is the traditional Islamic theological narrative of Islam domination over all other religious beliefs, and eradication of what it considers the biggest crimes humanity can commit, particularly shirk, polytheism or idol worship, and kufr, rejection of the prophethood of Hazrat Mohammad (pbuh). All the most eminent scholars of Islam from Imam Ghazali (11th-12th century) to Imam Ibn-e-Taimiya (13th-14th century), Mujaddid Alf-e-Saani Sheikh Sirhindi (16th-17th century), Shah Waliullah Muhaddis Dehlavi (18th century) have shown a vision of political Islam that was finally given a more definite form in the 20th century by Maulana Syed Abul A’la Maududi, Hassan al-Banna, and Syed Qutb. The Jihadi ideologues of the 21st century may be stressing some parts of this traditional narrative more vigorously and downplaying some other aspects. But they are not saying anything that is entirely new or radically different.

Jihadi literature has not dropped from the sky all of a sudden. This is not the creation of Osama bin Laden or so-called “Khalifa” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Their narrative of world domination, fighting those who do not accept the message of Islam is basically what is taught in all our madrasas. The definition of Jihad as fighting those who do not accept the oneness of God and prophethood of Mohammad (pbuh) is found in books of every school of Sunni fiqh (jurisprudence), be it Hanafi, Malaki, Shafei or Hanbali. Indeed, even Shia theology does not differ much with Sunnis in matters of political Islam. They too want world domination for Islam and desire to subdue all non-Muslims.

This situation can be better understood with looking at how even an indefatigable warrior of peace and pluralism like Maulana Wahiduddin Khan had to accept the power of political Islam, while also pointing to mistakes made by Maulana Abul A’la Maududi. He says: "Efforts on the part of prophets over a period of thousands of years had proved that any struggle which was confined to intellectual or missionary field was not sufficient to extricate man from the grip of this superstition (shirk, kufr). (So) it was God’s decree that he (Prophet Mohammad) be a da’i (missionary propagating correct beliefs) as well as a ma’hi (eradicator of false beliefs). He was entrusted by God with the mission of not only proclaiming to the world that superstitious beliefs (shirk and kufr) were based on falsehood, but also of resorting to military action, if the need arose, to eliminate that system for all time".

 [From Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s book “Islam – Creator of the Modern World,” re-printed in 2003]. If this is the case, even according to those who are strongly opposed to Jihadism, then why should Jihadis not claim that they are merely carrying out the unfinished mission of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) by seeking to eliminate false beliefs like shirk and kufr from the world.

Murderous attacks on Sufi shrines, temples and churches, for instance, come under the category of eliminating Shirk and kufr from the whole world. In Salafi-Wahhabi theology, which most present-day Jihadis subscribe to, Sufi shrines are also supposed to be promoting shirk.

There are some differences in emphasis not only in the Jihadi theology and the classical theology but even within the Jihadist groups themselves. For instance, ISIS puts great deal of emphasis on the end-time millenarianism based on prophesies of the Prophet found in Hadith. The youth find it very appealing. On the other hand, Al-Qaeda did not make a big deal out of it, although at least two members of its shoora (leadership advisory council) are also said to have believed in the Millenarian Apocalypticism based on Islamic Eschatology. 

Among classical theologians as well none would dispute the validity of the Ahadith (plural of Hadith, so-called sayings of the Prophet (pbuh) quoted by the Jihadists to prove their point that many of the end-time prophesies of the Prophet have already come true, so it may only be a matter of a few years or decades when the world would reach its end with the appearance of Yajooj--Majooj (Gog-Magog), Imam Mahdi, Masih Dajjal (Anti-Christ for Christians) and Prophet Jesus Christ (pbuh) himself to be followed by Armageddon and Qeyamat, the Day of Judgement.

I haven’t found a single section of ulema questioning the authenticity of these Ahadith, as propounded in various books of Hadith, though they give differing interpretations of some of the statements and terminology used in these Ahadith.

Significantly, the propaganda in Pakistani religious circles about the duty of fighting a Ghazwa-e-Hind (a religious crusade against India that will bring great spiritual rewards) is also linked to this Hadith-based millenarianism.  Ghazwa-e-Hind is an offshoot of this eschatology-based millenarianism. It is said to be one of the signs of end of times on earth. Popular and revered Pakistani scholars have repeatedly written and spoken on the subject to drill it in the consciousness of religious-minded Pakistanis that they have to engage in Ghazwa e Hind to conquer India and eliminate shirk from that land to earn the highest possible Divine rewards.

The Ahadith on which the concept of Ghazwa e Hind and other millenarian prophesies are based are highly controversial. But the ulema almost unanimously call Hadith a form of wahi (revelation), as venerable as the holy Qurʾān itself, even though Ahadith were recorded in writing up to three centuries after the demise of the Prophet with long chains of narrations. These chains simply could not be authenticated after centuries, despite the best efforts of 9th century Muhaddithin (collectors of Hadith, traditionists) like Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim, Ibn Majah, Tirmizi, al Nasai, Abu Da’ud, etc. The Muhaddithin have categorised Ahadith into various degrees of authenticity following rules they had devised to verify them. From the most authentic aī to asan, aʻīf, Mawūʻ, Maqlūb are some of these categories. The foremost Muhaddith Imam Bukhari (810 to 870 CE) is said to have collected over 300,000 Ahadith out of the 6,00,000 in circulation, and included only 2,602 traditions in his Sahih (Book of authentic Ahadith).

A few facts will further illustrate the real status of the institution of Hadith. A total of 600,000 Ahadith were in existence, out of which 408,324 Ahadith are known to have been fabricated by 620 forgers, whose names and identity are known. (Al-Ghadeer, Al-Amini, Vol. 5, Page 245.) Some of these forgers are: ibn Jundub, Abu Bukhtari, Ibn Basheer, Abdullah Al-Ansaari, Al-Sindi.  One of them, Ibn Au'jaa, confessed before he was hanged (for his heresy) that he alone had forged 4,000 Hadiths. (Mish'kaat Al-Masabeeh, Translation by Fazlul Karim, Vol. 1, Page 17-20).

And yet ulema do not express any doubt about the authenticity of the Ahadith that present an apocalyptic millenarian thesis, so attractive to our youth that they flocked to Baghdadi’s brutal war machine in thousands from all over the world including India. They only try to interpret these Ahadith according to their preferences.

The predictions ascribed to the Prophet are such that many of them can be claimed to have come true in any age.  According to Hadith narrations, the Prophet himself was said to be afraid of the fitna (mischief) of Masih Dajjal (Anti-Christ, for Christians) and used to seek protection against it from God in every prayer. He used to visit any home where a deformed child with one damaged eye was born, (Dajjal is said to be one-eyed), to check for himself if this child displayed any signs that he could turn into the fearsome Dajjal.

So, the wait for a Muslim version of the apocalyptic end of the world has been going on for 1400 plus years. In this scenario Baghdadi emerged with a seemingly valid argument that the end is at hand as wars in different parts of the Middle East and Central Asia are going on as predicted for end of time by the Prophet (pbuh) and Masih Dajjal and Imam Mahdi are going to emerge soon. Many Muslims with deep faith in Ahadith, nurtured by the ulema, were bound to get attracted, as happened recently.

Similarly, every madrasa in the world teaches that Qurʾān is uncreated, like God. The implication is that the universality of any of the verses of Quran cannot be questioned, all of them have to be followed till eternity and every instruction remains applicable to Muslims for ever. Now, with this understanding, how can one question the motives of Jihadis when they quote militant, war-time verses of Qurʾān from Surah Tawbah, Surah Anfal and several others to justify their actions.

In every war, like the ones that were imposed on the Prophet (pbuh), orders are given to kill the adversary. But these orders become inapplicable once the war is over. But not if the order is written down in a book that is considered uncreated like God Himself. Then there is no question of which instruction is universal and which is no longer inapplicable. I asked Maulana Tahirul Qadri, who has written a much-quoted 600-page book of fatwa against terrorism, if war-time verses of Qurʾān instructing Muslims to kill the Mushrikeen (polytheists, idol-worshippers) still apply to Muslims and he said yes, all verses are applicable and for ever.

The Qurʾān contains many verses teaching pluralism, co-existence, peace and perseverance in times of adversity, even when Muslims are facing persecution as they did in early years of Islam in Makka. These verses are quoted by ulema in their rhetorical refutation of Jihadi theology. But books of classical theology taught in madrasas as well as Jihadi literature maintain that these early verses of peace have been abrogated by the sword verses in Surah Tawba asking Muslims to kill the polytheists and subdue the Jews and Christians. The argument is that Surah Tawba came almost at the end of the Prophet’s career and should thus be considered the final instruction of God, abrogating all previous instructions on how to deal with infidels.

Their argument is that instructions to fight given later have replaced the instructions for patience in the face of persecution that were given earlier when Muslims were in a weak position, unable to fight. Jihadi ideologues and most of our clerics agree as far as the Doctrine of Abrogation is concerned.

Clerics with such an understanding of Islamic tenets cannot question the Jihadists with any degree of authority. No wonder our youth call these clerics hypocrites. Our youth are educated, honest and sincere. Not all of them, of course, join hands with Jihadis but many of them see through the hypocrisy of ulema condemning someone who is practising at great cost to his own life and career what the clerics are themselves preaching. No wonder some of them go to the other side, partly as a reaction to this hypocrisy, and mainly to practice what they have been taught, online or offline.

Rationalist theologians called the Mutazalla were allowed to function and propagate their thesis of Quran being a creation of God freely till mid-ninth century of the Christian Era or second century Hijri. But since then traditional clergy has ruled and followed a policy of blind taqlid (unquestioning conformism) of the teachings of classical theologians, instead of God-mandated Ijtihad (creative rethinking of religious postulates to adapt to changing circumstances). The doors of Ijtihad have been closed for almost a millennium.

The most disastrous result of this supremacy of the clergy was seen in the import of printing press remaining banned in the Ottoman empire for close to four centuries. Ulema said the printing press was the invention of the Devil, as it was developed in Europe. This led to an intellectual backwardness in Muslims that arguably continues to this day. Things have still not changed much. The most influential chain of madrasas in South Asia, Deoband, has only recently and very grudgingly allowed the use of internet, that too only for purposes of Islamic Dawah, invitation to others to accept Islam.

Clearly, the clergy have been part of the problem that Muslims have been facing for centuries now.  Even the Jihadi militancy is a by-product of the theology of violence and supremacy that they have been teaching in madrasas. Can they now suddenly become part of the solution? They certainly can, if they decide to do so. However, it cannot be done without adequate soul searching and a systematic rethinking of their theological positions in the light of present-day realities. To counter Jihadism, they will need to study Jihadi literature and see which parts of their own theology is being used by the Jihadis to create mayhem in the world and what adjustments they can make in their own positions to counter that.

The maqāid al-sharīʿa (goals or objectives of sharia) is an Islamic legal doctrine,  which along with another related classical doctrine, malaa (welfare or public interest) can provide a great deal of flexibility in dealing with issues in accordance with demands of modern times. Admittedly, these adjustments will have to be revolutionary in nature and not easy to make at short notice. So far, no work has been done in this direction, as governments asking them to counter Jihadism have cheerfully accepted their empty and hypocritical rhetoric, without noticing that these are having no impact.

On the basis of my decades-long study of Jihadi literature and its roots in the classical theology taught in our madrasas, at least the following points should constitute part of the counter-narrative of the ulema to have any impact. They should elaborate the points I am making here and present them convincingly, and in theological terminology, if they genuinely want to influence our youth and help prevent further radicalisation.


1.                       Jihad fi sabilillah (Jihad in the path of God) is essentially an internal, spiritual struggle against one’s own evil thoughts and base desires, to fulfil one’s duty towards God (Huqooqul Allah). This is a constant struggle that Muslims have to face, so that their mind does not get diverted from remembrance of God. This may be a difficult proposition for ulema as every school of thought defines Jihad fi sabilillah as propagating the message of Islam and fighting those who do not accept it. But this will have to be done, if a counternarrative is to have any meaning.

2.                       Qital (fighting) in the way of God is also a form of Jihad fi sabilillah but it is a lesser form of Jihad. Jihad fi sabilillah has no connection to a holy war. In Islam there is no concept of holy war. Jihad fi sabilillah may sometimes be fought against religious persecution and oppression on conditions of physical capability and under the command of the ruler of a duly established Islamic State. This, however, had to be fought under very strict conditions like an Islamic State either fighting in defence or declaring war in advance, renouncing all treaties with the enemy state, no harm being done to non-combatants under any circumstances, etc. Individuals and groups simply cannot engage in warfare of any kind under any circumstances and call it Jihad fi sabilillah. 

3.                       Qurʾān’s contextual war-time verses from Surah Tawbah (also known as Barā’ah), Surah Anfal, Surah al-Maidah, Surah al-Baqrah, Sura al-Hajj, etc cannot be used to wage a permanent war against mushrikeen (polytheists, idol-worshippers) and ahl-e-kitab (People of the Book).

Qurʾān is a collection of verses, created by God, that were revealed to Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) initially in Mecca, as instructions into the universal faith that has been coming to humanity since the advent of Prophet Adam (AS) on earth, through a series of prophets of equal status (Qurʾān 2:136) sent to all nations, bearing the same message, in the languages of those times and places. So, these initial verses that teach us peace and harmony, good neighbourliness, patience, tolerance and pluralism are the foundational and constitutive verses of Qurʾān. They constitute the fundamental message of Islam.

However, Qurʾān also contains many contextual verses that were revealed as instructions from time to time for the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions to deal with exigencies that arose as both the Mushrikeen (pagans) of Makkah and Ahl-e-Kitab (Jews and Christians) living in Madina mostly refused to accept the message of God coming to them through the Prophet. The Makkan pagans decided to assassinate the Prophet when he was living among them. They continued to pursue him and his few followers even when they migrated to Madina. These verses of war that followed are of great historical importance and tell us the near-insurmountable difficulties the Prophet had to face to establish our religion. But despite their importance they are no longer applicable to us as instructions of war, over 1400 years after the wars were fought and won. We are not engaged in any war now. Jihadi ideologues who misuse these verses of war for political purposes and even classical scholars who call them applicable to us today in the 21st century are doing great disservice to Islam.  Muslims should not fall in their trap.

4                     The Doctrine of Abrogation, as defined by radical ideologues today, is a false doctrine. God cannot give instructions only to abrogate them later, except that some commands like war-time instructions may have only been meant to have temporary application. There is no question of Makkan verses exhorting peace, pluralism, co-existence with other religious communities and patience in times of adversity having been abrogated by later Madinan verses of war. But this is what several books of tafsir (exegesis) of Qurʾān tell us explicitly. This is what our madrasas teach their students. 

                   Late-classical exegetes of Quran (Muta’akhkhirin) like Eighteenth century scholar Shah Waliullah Dehlavi had reduced the number of abrogated verses to just five from the five hundred mentioned in early exegetical works. Yet many present-day interpreters of Quran continue to follow the early-classical exegetes (Muta’qaddimin) and just copy what they had said in a very different time and place. Early books of tafsir (exegesis) of Qurʾān, for instance, claimed that one sword verse (Qurʾān 9: 5) alone abrogated 124 peaceful verses of Qurʾān revealed in the early Makkan period.  A 20th century scholar like Ghulam Ahmad Pervez who called the Doctrine of Abrogation a false doctrine is reviled by our ulema as “aqal-prast,” meaning rationalist, as if being rational is a crime in Islam. 

This should stop now and we should declare that inclusivist Makkan verses of peace and pluralism have not been abrogated by later Madinan verses exhorting war and exclusion against Mushrikeen and Ahl-e-kitab. The later verses of war were only meant for the times when those wars were fought by the Prophet and his companions in the early seventh century. Surah Tawbah, for instance, was revealed on the eve of the Prophet’s expedition to Tabuk in 630 CE (AH 9). It should have been accepted as inapplicable in future once the war was over.

5.                       The millenarian end-of-the-world theory presented by ISIS and other radical ideologues are based on Ahadith of doubtful validity and carry no credibility. Muslims should not take them seriously.

Militant ideologues quote several Ahadith to justify their actions. The massive propaganda launched by Pakistani religious scholars about the so-called Ghazwatul Hind (religious crusades against India) is also a part of this millenarian thesis. It must be emphasised that Hadith (so-called sayings of the Prophet) cannot be confused with wahi (revelations from God). Ahadith were not written down immediately as the Prophet (pbuh) spoke. The revelations that constitute Quran were immediately written down as well as memorised by several people. Hadith has come down to us through a long chain of narrations. Hundreds of thousands of Ahadith are known to have been forged for a variety of reasons. So Ahadith calling for war against infidels in general or those related to prophesied end-time wars cannot be used today to start new wars like Ghazwa e Hind. 

6.                        Takfirism (the practice of calling other Muslims kafir) is unacceptable in Islam. God does not prescribe any punishment for blasphemy and apostasy. Nor does He authorise any human, a ruler or a scholar, to punish any one.  So even if there is foolproof evidence of someone having committed any of these crimes, the punishment has to be left to God. Thus, all judgements of takfeer on the basis of presumed blasphemy or apostasy or shortcomings of faith (aqeeda) and practice should be considered void.  

The historical example of Ridda (Apostasy) Wars are cited in this context to justify punishments for Apostasy. The first Caliph to succeed the Prophet (pbuh) Hazrat Abu Bakr (RA) did fight ridda (apostasy) wars immediately after assuming office. But that was a very different time and place. We do not know exactly what compelled him to do so. Also, none of us today is comparable to Hazrat Abu Bakr in our understanding of Islam. He was the first person to embrace Islam and had been the closest companion of the Prophet throughout the 23 years of his Prophethood. We cannot cite the historical example of ridda wars as justification for punishment of death being meted out to anyone supposedly guilty of irtidād (apostasy) today.

History is not a good guide in matters of faith. History can be interpreted in many ways. It is often based on manufactured stories suitable to the rulers of the day. We should go by the fact that Qurʾān and Hadith do not prescribe any punishment, nor do they empower any of us to punish others for these supposed sins. This is between a Muslim and God. Let us stay away from taking over divine functions. Let us ban all Takfiri punishments and Ridda wars on the basis of Qurʾān and Hadith.

7.                       For long periods in Islamic history, Muslim kings who called themselves caliphs continued to expand their territories pursuing imperialist wars. The clergy in those times interpreted Muslim scriptures in a way that suited those times. These wars were called Jihad fi sabilillah to expand the frontiers of Islam. We are now living in a world of modern nation-states; our international relations are guided by the charter of United Nations which has been signed by virtually the whole world including all Muslim majority states.  It is simply not possible today for any state to conquer new territories and establish its rule there as was the norm until the first decades of the twentieth century. So, misguided ideas like Muslims having a religious duty to perform Jihad at least once a year should be abandoned, even if this was mandated by an eminent early scholar of the stature of Imam Abu Hamid Mohammad al-Ghazali (1058 - 1111 CE). It is doubtful that such interpretations had any scriptural legitimacy even when they were propounded. It is simply impractical in this day and age and God does not ask us to perform impossible tasks (Quran 2: 286). Violent, xenophobic passages dealing with such medieval interpretations should be weeded out from madrasa text books.

8.                       There is no scriptural sanction for the call of a global Khilafat for Muslims either in Qurʾān or Hadith. Modern pluralistic states are very much in tune with the first Islamic State evolved by Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) under the constitution provided by Meesaq-e-Madina. Muslims do not need a global Khilafat, though Muslim-majority nations can cooperate more fully in the spirit of brotherhood sanctioned by Qurʾān and even form a commonwealth of Muslim states on the pattern of European Union and other regional groupings. The Khilafat movement waged in India to protect the Khilafat-e-Osmania (Ottoman Caliphate) exactly a century ago raised passions that have still not subsided fully. It is imperative that the scriptural illegitimacy of that movement is studied afresh and called out for the folly it was.

9.                       Modern Democracy is a fulfilment of the Qurʾānic exhortation of amrahum shoora bainahum. So, Muslims should try and strengthen democratic institutions in the countries where they live either as a majority community or as a religious minority. It may be true that democratic transfer of power took place in Islamic history only for the first 30 years after the demise of the Prophet. Since then by and large the Qurʾānic dictum of amrahum shoora bainahum (Islamic system is based on consultation among Muslims - Ash shura 42: 38) has been relegated to the background. Coupled with the Quran’s message of complete human equality (al-Hujurat 49:13), amrahum shoora bainahum provided the perfect doctrine of modern democracy. But both these Quranic rules were ignored throughout Islamic history.  Our history is largely a story of despotic rulers wearing cloaks of piety and most ulema supporting their authoritarianism and imperialism with their misguided fatwas violating universal directives of Quran. As a result, even today, few Muslim countries can claim to be even a well-functioning democracy. Jihadi ideologues propagate that democracy is the rule of Taghut (false deity or demon, but now used mostly for an enemy of Islam or an agent of Western imperialism). This is completely false and contrary to Islamic teachings. It needs to be rejected and countered strongly by our ulema. Democracy is in the best traditions of Islamic governance. Our first four caliphs, the khulafa-e-rashidoon (rightly guided caliphs) were democratically appointed with a consensus of opinions of all Muslims behind them. The radical doctrines calling on Muslims to struggle for establishing Hukumat-e-Ilahiya (Sovereignty of God) and Iqamat-e-Deen (Islamic Revolution) must be repudiated fully. Democracy is the path chosen for us by God and it was practised by our pious predecessors (al-salaf al-āli) till the time they could. It was not by their choice that the system of democracy of the first three decades of Islamic history was overtaken by brutal dictators who established a monarchical style hereditary Khilafat. The fourth of the Khulafa-e-Rashideen (The Rightly Guided Successors of the Prophet) Hazrat Ali (RA) fought against this misappropriation of authority by Hazrat Muawiya and Imam Hussain sacrificed his life fighting the Khilafat turning into hereditary monarchy instead of Khalifas being chosen by popular will.

10.                    Islam is not a totalitarian political doctrine of world domination. While Islam does guide us fleetingly in running various affairs of our life, it is primarily a spiritual path to salvation, one of the many, sent by God to humanity in different ages through different prophets (Qurʾān 5:48), all of equal status (Qurʾān 2:136, 21:25, 21:92). God has asked us to compete with one another in performing good deeds [Qurʾān 2:148, 23:61] and that is what we should be focussed on. As Qurʾān came to confirm and validate all previous faiths, we can only respect and accept all other religions as paths to the same divinity. Islam is the most pluralistic of religions and Muslims should be the most pluralistic of people.

11.                    All religious groups will be judged on the Day of Judgement on the basis of their own Sharia. So, to say that Muslims alone will go to Heaven is absurd. Qurʾān has specifically prohibited such thoughts, citing the example of previous religious groups like Jews who considered themselves “chosen people.” Indeed, Qurʾān mocked the Jews for claiming that Heaven was exclusively for them (2:94). God will judge all religious groups according to the laws that have been given to them (Qurʾān 5:48). There are no chosen people who alone will go to Heaven. Muslims have no reason to treat any other religious group with contempt.

12.                    The Doctrine of al-Wala wal-Bara (loyalty and disavowal, loving and hating, only for the sake of God) is propagated by radical elements and taught in our madrasas, particularly in Saudi Arabia. This is misconceived as well as impractical in the present highly complex and intricately interwoven global society. It is simply not possible today to maintain relations only with Muslims and cutting off relations with all non-Muslims. The madrasa text books that teach this kind of exclusivity should be amended, as this keeps our children from leading an integrated life in society. This Doctrine may mean a certain affinity among Muslims towards other Muslims, a sense of brotherhood that the Qurʾān also promotes (Qurʾān 49.10), but it certainly does not mean disavowal of relations with other religious communities. Qurʾān honours all human beings and accords them equal dignity and respect (Qurʾān 17:70).

13.                    One more pernicious consequence of the Doctrine of al-Wala wal-Bara is that, coupled with the doctrine of takfir, it is leading to Muslims cutting off relations even with Muslims of sects other than their own. Many Muslim ulema use the doctrine of takfir to denounce other Muslim sects as infidel and thus encourage others to go out and kill them. Attacks on Shias, Ahmadis and Sufis have become quite frequent. Indeed, it was the Sunni-Shia rift in the Middle East that greatly helped the rise of the so-called Islamic State. Ulema must come out strongly against both these doctrines and denounce them as un-Islamic in the way they are being practiced.

14.                    The Doctrine Al-amr bil-maʿrūf wan-nahy ʿanil-munkar (Enjoining what is right and Forbidding what is wrong) is a beautiful Islamic doctrine but it cannot be implemented by the use of force. It is necessary to understand as well-known Islamic scholar Javed Ahmad Ghamidi has explained that the term Maʿrūf only denotes what is universally accepted by all as correct and munkar means what is universally accepted by all as wrong. This doctrine does not involve forcing people to accept Islam and preventing them from doing kufr (denying prophethood of Hazrat Mohammad (pbuh) or shirk (associating other deities with God or polytheism). Those who use this doctrine to employ force in matters of religion are wrong and should be opposed. Ulema must revise their understanding of terms like Maruf and Munkar and speak against the use of force to implement this doctrine.

15.                     La Ikraha fid Deen, Qurʾān (2:256), meaning “No compulsion in religion” is an absolute and universal Qurʾānic doctrine and cannot be violated under any circumstances. Several other verses of Qurʾān like 10:99 and 18:29 support the same view. Verse 18:29 is most emphatic in presenting this same view: "Waquli alhaqqu min rabbikum, faman shaa falyumin waman shaa falyakfur.”  (The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills - let him believe; and whoever wills - let him reject). Ulema must stop ignoring these universal teachings of Quran, as they do now, and instead start propagating them if they really want to create a counter-narrative to Jihadism.

16.                    All religious groups should be considered Ahl-e-kitab (People of the Book) with whom Muslims are supposed to have the most intimate relations including marital relations. For, according to Quran, God has sent to all nations messengers with revelations, which become books when collected.  Some of these prophets are mentioned and many are not. According to a Hadith there were 124,000 of such prophets who came to all corners of the world bringing God’s message in the languages of their time and place. Let us see what God actually says in Quran in this regard:

“For every community or a nation, there is a Messenger (Qur'ân 10:47);”

 “We have sent Messengers before you (O Muhammad); of some of them We have related to you their story and of some We have not related to you their story (Qur'ân 40:78).

“say, ‘We believe in God and what He has revealed to us and to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, and their descendants, and what was revealed to Moses, Jesus, and the Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction among them and to God we have submitted ourselves.""(Al Baqarah: 2:  136)

“All the messengers We sent before you [Muhammad] were men to whom We made revelations,” (Quran 12:109)

“We make no distinction between any of God’s Messengers."(Al-Baqarah-2: 285)

Traditional Islamic theology by and large ignores these verses of Quran. Ulema must take these revelations of God into account while evolving a new truly Islamic theology of peace and pluralism which will also be consistent with the requirements of our time and help us fight growing extremism.

17.                    Ulema need to emphasise Islam’s vision of a society that gives perfect religious freedom to all. Indeed, the first time Muslims were allowed to defend themselves with arms, they were told that this was necessary to protect religious freedom of all religious communities. “If God did not check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of God is commemorated in abundant measure.” (Qurʾān 22: 40). Clearly Muslims were being asked to fight for religious freedom per se, not for religious freedom for Muslims alone. So, it is imperative that Muslims speak out wherever religious minorities face persecution, particularly if this happens in Muslim-majority countries. Clearly Islam recognised that religious freedom and human rights are indivisible. It is the job of ulema to propagate this vision, in words and in deeds. It is imperative that Muslims in India, particularly ulema, stand up for Hindu and Christian minorities in countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh.

18.                    Suicide is banned in Islam. (Qurʾān: 4:29) It is haram (prohibited) under any circumstances. It is considered such a great sin that Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) refused to participate in the funeral prayers of one of his companions, a Ghazi, who had committed suicide, unable to bear the pain of injuries he had sustained fighting a battle as part of the Prophet’s army.

Suicide simply cannot be used by Muslims as a tactic of war. The argument that Muslims who are helpless, facing persecution, and do not have any other weapon, can use their own bodies as weapons of war for the so-called martyrdom operations is completely false. It does not hold water in the face of very clear directives in Qurʾān and Hadith. Ulema must clarify this and propagate the actual position of Islam on this issue. It is shameful for us in India that even the Taliban who have gone through Islamic education in Pakistan's Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadeesi madrasas, which use the same textbooks as our own madrasas in India, consider suicide as a legitimate tactic of war. Obviously ulema have not explained to their students well enough how utterly prohibited in the highest degree is suicide in Islam as well as killing of innocents. 

I hope that before the ulema start making videos and podcasts on YouTube channels, they will deliberate on what they are going to say. They must understand that mere grand rhetoric gets us nowhere. Platitudes like “Islam is a religion of Peace,” have lost all meaning. Such clichés have indeed become a butt of jokes, in the face of a very different reality that is part of our daily experience. Muslims blowing themselves up to kill fellow Muslims inside mosques, during prayers, is not a rare occurrence. This happens because people are convinced of their takfiri ideology.  Takfirism empowers them to feel they can punish those with death whom they consider to have become infidels despite being Muslim in their professed faith and practice. And, of course, killing kafirs (infidels) and mushriks (idolaters) is considered Jihad that is even taught in madrasa textbooks.

One can say with certainty that no madrasa teacher in India stresses these teachings to his students. But one can be equally certain that the mere presence of such definitions of Jihad and Qital and other doctrines referred to above creates a radicalised mindset in at least some students.

 It is these same ideas with a different emphasis that are peddled online these days by the likes of ISIS and al-Qaeda, not to speak of hordes of Pakistani Jihadi organisations. So, a Muslim youth doesn’t have to go to a madrasa to be infected by extremist ideas in our classical theology. 

Many professionals with good careers are joining Jihadi movements around the world. Even some Indian professionals got lured by the ISIS ideology. It is imperative therefore that the clerics who take up the task of creating a counter-narrative focus on refuting the theological basis of the arguments used to brainwash our youth.



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