By Sultan Shahin, Founding Editor, New Age Islam
3 February 2016
Sultan Shahin speaking at International Counter-Terrorism Conference at Jaipur
The ease and swiftness with which the so-called Islamic State and the self-declared khilafat of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has attracted over 30,000 Muslims from 100 countries around the globe in just one year has surprised many. But this should not have come as a surprise to us in India. Muslim love for the idea of global Khilafat is well-known. From Indian subcontinent alone, less than a hundred years ago, at least 18,000 Muslims had left their homes, even government jobs and marched off to fight for the last Ottoman Khilafat. This was madness, pure and simple. Most ruined their lives and some died. But they are considered ghazis and martyrs. Important clerics including Maulana Abul Kalam Azad issued fatwas calling for Jihad or Hijrat (emigration) from British India, which was considered Darul Harb (Land of conflict, ruled by infidels), as a religious duty.
So, for a large section of Muslims the lure of a Khilafat that would rule the world, eliminate all other religions, particularly all forms of idolatry, establish the truth of Islam, is nothing new. When Baghdadi announced his khilafat, it was welcomed in many Muslim newspapers in India. An influential cleric from Nadwatul Ulama, went so far as to post a letter to the so-called Khalifa on his Facebook page, addressing him as Ameerul Momineen, spiritual leader of all Muslims. He faced no protest, not even from Nadwa or Darul uloom Deoband.
With the so-called Islamic State proudly broadcasting its monstrous brutalities and inhuman practices like sex slavery, the community is embarrassed and support is now muted. But this can only be described as hypocrisy. India’s most popular Islamic preacher and Ahl-e-Hadithi televangelist Zakir Naik has been saying for years, that “Allah has made halal for Muslims sex with slaves and women captured in war.” Muslim religious leaders have never protested. But when ISIS takes these fatwas and Wahhabi/Salafi teachings to their logical conclusion, actually kidnaps and makes Yazidi, Christian and Shia women sex slaves, the community is embarrassed and some clerics start saying Islam has nothing to do with terrorism.
Sultan Shahin speaking at International Counter-Terrorism Conference at Jaipur
Of course, Islam has nothing to do with terrorism. It is a spiritual path to salvation, not a political ideology for dominating the world. Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) was a mystic who was eventually appointed a messenger of God. There are innumerable verses in the Quran that call for peace at all costs, even going to the extent of saying that murder of one innocent person amounts to genocide of humanity and protection given to one innocent amounts to saving humanity (Quran 5:32). The same is also true of narrations of Prophet’s supposed sayings, Ahadith, (pl. of Hadith). Prophet’s own conduct (Seerat) shows that he accepted peace even at the cost of justice and fairness for Muslims in the famous treaty of Hudaibiya. To avoid bloodshed in the Battle of the Trench (Ghazwah al-Khandaq, 627 CE), he secured the city of Medina behind a ditch he dug along with his companions around Medina. He declared a general Amnesty for all Meccans after conquering it without bloodshed (629 CE), when Meccans were apprehending a general massacre as was the prevailing custom of those times. So not only does Quran specifically forbid all violence against innocents and repeatedly warns against aggression, but the Prophet himself avoided violence as much as possible in the most trying times of Islam’s infancy.
It is true that madrasas and mosques do not overtly preach violence and terrorism. But it is also true that text books in madrasas do preach supremacism, xenophobia, exclusivism and intolerance. Thus they do the groundwork for militant ideologies by instilling in their students a binary thinking of Muslim/Kafir as opposites who cannot co-exist. As a result, some Muslims self-segregate and alienate themselves from the mainstream. A global Muslim missionary organisation Tablighi Jamaat, for instance, which has up to 150 million adherents in over 200 countries now, focuses entirely on segregating Muslims from the mainstream, asking them to maintain a separate identity, and prohibiting them from following any customs they may have in common with the non-Muslim majority. This Wahhabi/Salafi organisation was recently banned from university campuses in Pakistani Punjab but faces no such restriction in India.
Indeed, a Muslim is bombarded from all sides with sermons calling for Jihad; a Jihad, which is shorn of all its spiritual content and used simply as a synonym for qital, warfare. Even historical fiction written by 20th century Urdu novelist Nasim Hejazi, for instance, can be taken as a call for Jihad, far more effective than any overt Jihadi literature. In most popular Urdu fairy tales, Dāstān-e-Amīr Hamzah, for instance, the central character is fighting with demons who do not believe in oneness of God and are thus kafir. The devotional poetry a Muslim listens to at Sufi shrines contain lines like the following: Aaj bhi darte hain kafir Haidari Talwar se,” meaning, even today the kafirs are afraid of the sword of Hazrat Ali, the fourth caliph. Even the first biographies of the Prophet written by Arabs called them “Maghazi Rasulullah,” meaning battle accounts of the Prophet. The first Muslims, the Arabs, could not celebrate his devotion to peace, moderation, Huqooqul Ibad (human rights) and mystical approach to religion. They could only hail him as a hero presenting him as a great warrior which he was not. He barely lifted a sword once or twice, 14 years after prophethood, at the age of 54, purely in defence. The prayer a Muslim has been hearing week after week in every Friday sermon for 1400 years is for victory over kuffar (infidels), establishment of the true religion of Islam, dominance over the whole world, elimination of idolatry from the planet, and so on, all generating supremacism, exclusivism, xenophobia and intolerance.
The idea of a permanent confrontation with the kafir, thus, runs through our veins. In verses often quoted by militant ideologues, God assures Muslims in two places in Quran (8:12 and 3: 151) that “He will cast terror into the hearts of the Kuffars (Unbelievers).” This is a contextual verse, like some others, similarly militant and intolerant, revealed during the course of the existential wars waged by the Muslims in early Islam. Any rational Muslim would say today that these contextual war verses do not apply to us anymore. But you will not find even those moderate scholars seeking to refute terrorist ideologies saying that. In fact, the refutations go on to actually justify the core theology of terror and violence.
A hundred thousand copies of an Arabic book titled “Refuting ISIS” has recently been distributed in Syria and Iraq. It is also available online in English. The author Shaykh Muhammad Al-Yaqoubi is, of course, sincere in his refutation. But he too quotes from the same set of end-time prophesies, seeking to prove that Baghdadi and his clique are idiots and should be fought, thus giving credibility to these same series of millenarian prophesies. So what he actually ends up doing amounts to strengthening ISIS’ propaganda of the allegedly coming apocalypse. Unlike al-Qaeda, which did not talk so much about apocalypse, ISIS vision is largely apocalyptic. They base the justification for their war as being the prophesied end-times war. They sacrificed many men capturing a militarily insignificant town called Dabiq (which is also the name of their mouthpiece) because the end-times prophecies refer to a war in this town.
Apocalyptic prophesies are one of the chief tools used by ISIS to attract Muslim youth to be part of an end-time war. If the world is going to end in a few years’ time, with Islam conquering the world, as is prophesied, decimating all infidels, why not be on the winning side. This is an argument that appeals to many. So someone seeking to refute ISIS should not be strengthening their chief propaganda tool. But this cleric or any other cannot help but strengthen ISIS. All clerics believe in the same core theology as do the terrorists. These predictions come from Ahadith (purported sayings of the prophet, pl. of Hadith) and ulema (scholars) from all school of thought consider them akin to revelation. These end-time prophesies can only by questioned fruitfully by questioning the credibility of narrations that were collected up to 300 years after the demise of the Prophet and attributed to him, not by calling them akin to revelation.
Some of these prophesies also come from speculative readings of two allegorical verses in the Quran 4:159; 43:61. Muslims have been asked not to speculate about their meaning and leave them alone. But, of course, Muslims do, and the result is prophesied scenarios of apocalyptic wars.
Similarly, in its core theology even the 14,000-word fatwa issued recently (August 2015) by 120 scholars from around the world, agrees with the militant ideologies. Their “Open Letter to Al-Baghdadi” also calls Hadith akin to revelation, knowing full well that all justifications of killings of innocent civilians come from a hadith attributing to the Prophet permission for killing of innocents in an attack at Taif by the use of catapult (manjaniq): (Sahih Muslim 19:4321 & Sahih Bukhari 4: 52:256). This hadith is also used by al-Qaeda to justify use of weapons of mass destruction.
In point 16. Hudud (Punishment), the moderate fatwa establishes a general rule: "Hudud punishments (death for apostasy, etc.) are fixed in the Qur’an and Hadith and are unquestionably obligatory in Islamic Law." Having accepted the basic premise of the Baghdadi tribe it goes on to criticise its implementation in the so-called Islamic State. But once moderate ulema have accepted the basic premise of Hudud (Punishments) based on some verses of Quran and seventh century Bedouin tribal Arab mores being "unquestionably obligatory in Islamic Law," what difference does actually remain between moderation and extremism?
In point 20 of the fatwa, the moderate ulema seem to be justifying the destruction of idols and Sufi shrines, by talking of the supposed Islamic obligation to destroy and remove all manifestations of shirk (idolatry), only opposing the destruction of graves of the prophets and their companion.
In point 22 of the Open Letter, titled, The Caliphate, the moderate ulema again concur with the basic proposition of the Baghdadi clique: "There is agreement (ittifaq) among scholars that a caliphate is an obligation upon the Ummah. The Ummah has lacked a caliphate since 1924 CE."
This moderate fatwa even expresses belief in the theory of abrogation, whereby terror ideologues debunk peaceful Meccan verses that came at the beginning of Islam. Thus, like Sheikh Yaqoobi’s “Refuting ISIS” this fatwa too strengthens the terrorist ideology, while criticising its practice.
This is not surprising. The commonly accepted theology of most Muslims agrees with the following features of the Jihadist theology:
1. It regards God as an implacable, anthropomorphic figure permanently at war with those who do not believe in His uniqueness, as against the Sufi or Vedantic concept of God as universal consciousness or universal intelligence radiating His grace from every atom in the universe;
2. Quran as an uncreated aspect of God, a copy of the eternal Book lying in the Heavenly vault. Hence all its verses, in their literal meaning, have to be treated as an eternal guidance to Muslims without any reference to context;
3. Ahadith or so-called sayings of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) as akin to revelation, even though they were collected two to three hundred years after the demise of the Prophet. This is what allows ISIS to justify civilian killings and sex with female war prisoners. It also helps ISIS draw an apocalyptic, end-time war scenario and attract Muslim youth to participate in what they are told is a final war to make Islam victorious in the world;
4. Sharia laws as divine, even though they were first codified 120 years after God announced the completion of the religion in one of the last verses in Quran;
5. Jihad in the sense of Qital (warfare) as the sixth pillar of Islam;
6. Some early verses of Quran have been abrogated and replaced by better and more appropriate later verses. This consensual doctrine of abrogation is used by radical ideologues to claim all 124 foundational, Meccan verses of peace, pluralism, co-existence with other religious communities, compassion, kindness to neighbours, etc., have been abrogated and replaced by later Medinan verses of war, xenophobia and intolerance;
7. Hijra (migration to Darul Islam – abode of Islam- from Darul Harab (Land of disbelief and conflict) as a religious duty and an act of devotion;
8. a caliphate is an obligation upon the Ummah (global Muslim community).
Twentieth century scholars like Syed Qutb (1906–1966) of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Abul A’la Maududi (1903–1979), of India and later Pakistan, who founded Jamaat-e-Islami, are considered the two fathers of modern Islamist terrorism or Jihadism. More contemporary ideologues who have contributed enormously to the Jihadist discourse are Abdullah Yusuf Azzam (1941-89) and Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi (Born: 1959), etc.
Many Muslim scholars would distance themselves from these militant scholars today. But the reason Jihadism is so influential and attractive to so many is that the Jihadist theology is based on the popular theology propounded by major classical Arab theologians like Ibn-e-Taimiya (1263-1328), and Mohammad Ibn-e Abdul Wahhab (1703-1792) or for that matter major Indian theologians like Mujaddid Alf-e-Saani Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindī ((1564 –1624) and Shah Waliullah Dehlavi (1703–1762).
For hundreds of years now, major Muslim theologians have been engaged in creating a coherent and comprehensive theology of supremacism, intolerance and violence in order to expand the Islamic reach. They have conclusively made the lower form of Jihad, i.e., warfare, compulsory for Muslims in place of the highest form of Jihad which calls for struggle against one’s own lower self. Luminaries of Islam have established a theology which basically declares that Islam must conquer the world and it is the religious duty of all Muslims to strive towards that goal and contribute to it in whatever way they can.
All these theologians present in essence a supremacist, exclusivist, xenophobic and intolerant view of Islam and wield enormous influence on our clergy today.
It is not possible to accept classical theologians and reject their modern militant offshoots just as it is not possible to reject Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and accept Zakir Naik simply because the latter is not actually having sex with sex slaves as Baghdadi is. Our radicalised youngsters can very well see the hypocrisy of those who on the one hand revere Taimiya, Wahhab, Sirhindi and Waliullah and on the other hand claim to oppose Qutb, Maududi, Azzam and Maqdisi and their followers like Osma bin Laden and Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi. No surprise that some of our educated, 21st century, internet generation youth choose to rather be honest terrorists than dishonest hypocrites like their parents, community leaders, politicians, madrasa teachers, mosque imams, intellectuals, etc. who keep saying Islam is a religion of peace while also professing belief in the core theology of Jihadism, equating it with Islam.
One of the key instructions of God was moderation in matters of religion (Quran: 4:171 and 5:80). This was repeated often by the Prophet “Beware of extremism in religion, for it destroyed those before you.” [Sahih al-Jami’ (nos. 1851 & 3248), M.N. al-Albani, no. 2680, and & al-Sahihah of M.N. al-Albani, no. 1283.]
But extremism has been endemic in Islam, present almost from the beginning of Islamic history. Muslims fought among themselves and quite vehemently even before the collection of Hadith which they now consider divine, and codification of Sharia which they consider their religious duty to impose on the world.
Muslims have still not found an antidote to militant verses in the Quran. Considering all verses of Quran as providing eternal guidance undermines the universality of essential, foundational, constitutive, verses that were revealed largely in the initial years of Islam in Mecca. We received very good advice from Pope Francis recently (September 2015) which is consistent with several verses in the Quran. Describing the holy Quran has as a “prophetic book of peace,” Pope Francis asked Muslims to seek “an adequate interpretation.” The Quran also asks Muslims repeatedly to reflect upon the verses and find their best meaning, as in Chapter 39: verse 55; 39: 18; 39: 55; 38: 29; 2: 121; 47: 24, etc.
Calling Hadith and Sharia divinely inspired and fundamental elements of Islamic faith is irrational. Saying that it is a Muslim’s primary religious duty to help establish God’s sovereignty on earth and impose “divine” Sharia Laws on the globe is only a way to intensify extremism which goes against the basic tenets of Islam. The idea of Jihad against kuffar and hijrat (emigration) to the so-called Islamic State as a religious duty is preposterous at a time when millions of Arab Muslims are marching almost barefoot to Europe, the so-called Darul Harb, seeking refuge, a refuge that is denied to them by the so-called Darul Islam in the Arab world.
Muslims will just have to abandon the generally accepted current theology that leads to violence and supremacism. We will need to revisit all our literature, even popular fiction and romance, and explain to our youth that we are now living in a multicultural, multi-religious world where a binary thinking of Muslim/Kafir as opposites and permanent war with them or self-segregation is just not viable. Even Saudi Arabia, which teaches in its schools the worst forms of intolerance, xenophobia, supremacism and exclusivism, has to deal with all religious communities.
ISIS may be militarily defeated tomorrow and even go out of existence. But this will not solve the problem of Muslim radicalisation. If our madrasas and educational institutions continue to prepare the ground for self-segregation and militancy, expounding the current theology, mixed with narratives of victimhood and marginalisation, Islam will continue to be hobbled, Muslims will continue to struggle to fit in the way of life in contemporary world.
Moderate, progressive Muslims must urgently evolve and propagate an alternative theology of peace and pluralism, human rights and gender justice, consistent in all respects with the teachings of Islam, and suitable for contemporary and future societies, while refuting the current theology of violence and supremacism.
Unfortunately, as we have seen above, the task is not so easy. Radicalisation has not just happened overnight. Jihadi theology has evolved over hundreds of years. Major theologians who have studied Islam independently have brought to us a political version of Islam, stripping the religion of all its spirituality.
While it is primarily the duty of Muslims to fight this ideological war within slam, this is no longer just a Muslim concern. The world too must confront Muslim scholars with the supremacism and extremism present in their theology and ask them to rethink. Progressive Muslims should join the rest of the world to defeat extremism in current, generally accepted Islamic theology. Islam has all the required resources to evolve a theology of peace and pluralism suited for the present age if only we read our scriptures differently and correctly, in accordance with repeated Quranic advice to find the best meaning of verses.
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