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The Ideological Terrorism and Violent Extremism in Islam: A Historical Reading - Part 1

By Prof. Maulana Syed Aleem Ashraf Jaisi

Translated from Urdu by New Age Islam Edit Desk

08 December 2016

Throughout the history of Islam, there have been two shades of ideological terrorism: one is geographical and another is intellectual. The geographical terrorism started in the region of Najd [the central geographical stretch of Saudi Arabia], whereas the ideology of the Khārijites [sceders from Islam, the earliest Islamic sect which tried to turn Islam into a religio-political caliphate system] represents intellectual terrorism.

In the Islamic history, terrorism has been a part of the land of earthquakes and affliction, Najd. Its rugged lands neither had any industry nor any established businesses. Its extreme climatic conditions and dry weather had become a part of the nature, temperament and disposition of the people living in it. Since ancient times, the people of this region had made looting and killing as their means of earning. It had become the predominant and leading industry and the chief means of earning income. Multiple times in the history, many social movements have used this situation of the people of Najd for their own benefit.

The earliest Khawarij and later Wahhabi movements went to the extreme extent in doing so. Another factor which caused the people of Najd to be so bloodthirsty in their ideology was their history of hatred with the inhabitants of the Hejaz (a region in the west of present-day Saudi Arabia).

The age-old hostility between the tribes of Mudhar and Rabi’a existed even before the advent of Islamic teachings of Prophet Muhammed pbuh. The Quraish tribe—an integral part of the Mudhar clan— had an enviable religious, political and economic supremacy over all the other Arab clans, an aspect which further added fuel to the fire towards the enmity between Rabi’a and Mudhar. The clans of Rabi’a were scattered in the deserts of Najd and were named as the Arabs of Najd. These Arabs of Najd would involve themselves in the adversities of life. Their living style was such that in order to lead their life, they had to be extraordinarily hard and, therefore, they constantly engaged in fighting for a livelihood due to the very limited resources available to them.

These circumstances had made them very courageous. Note that the famous Muslim historian, Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406) has mentioned primitivism and barbarism as sources of courage and bravery. After the advent of Islam, the status of Quraish reached its apex and on the other hand, the hatred of Arabs of Najd towards Quraish also started touching its final limits. The Arabs of Najd saw the Prophethood of Rasulullah pbuh as a strategy of Quraish to gain glory and power. Therefore, we can see through the history that there is a long list of false claimants of Prophet hood in the Rabi’a clans or the Arabs of Najd. In the final stages of the Prophetic era, the Arabs of Najd, willingly or unwillingly, accepted Islam but Islam did not enter into their hearts. Disbelief and hypocrisy, which Quran indicated towards, remained in many of them. Even after the acceptance of Islam, aggression & transgression, hostility and violence remained in the nature of the Arabs of Najd, however there was a change in the resources. The activities which they earlier used to perform without any ruling, after accepting Islam, they started furnishing religious justification for the same activities. Therefore they supported (and continue to support) all those religious movements which paves the way for bloodshed to the maximum, like the Khariji, Batini& the Wahhabi movements in the past and contemporarily Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra Front & ISIS; which provided flawed religious permissibility to their cruelty, barbarity and terrorist activities. The same point was mentioned by Ibn Khaldun in his book Muqaddimah:


(Translation: “These Arabs move very swiftly towards destruction. They wait for such a religious movement which gives them permission for bloodshed, devastate and physical molestation)

The greatness of Ibn Khaldoon and his knowledge cannot be questioned. It is clear from the facts based on historical analysis. This condition of the Najdi Arabs is so true and realistic that a brief study related to this region would prove the above point. Transgression, disobedience, persecution and killing have been rampant there and are still a part of the temperament of the Najdi Arabs. There has been a continuous chain of terroristic activities which started in the form of Najdi impulse of apostasy, soon after the demise of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

The centre of Najd was the inhabiting region of Banu Hanifa tribe. Musaylmah, the false prophet, and Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab (d. 1792) belonged to the same region. The Arabs of Najd were also involved in the assassination of the third Caliph of Muslims: Hazrat Usman (may Allah be pleased with him) and even the Khawarij movement, which started during the Caliphate of Hazrat Ali (r.a) originated from the very same region of Najd.

Eventually, two aspects of the Najdi terrorism became compatible with each other: first is the actual or physical form of terrorism which involves killing and infrastructural destruction and the second is the ideological terrorism.

There is no other terrorist movement in the Islamic history as bloody as the Najdi ideological movement, barring the Salafi Jihadi Movements which combine the ideologies and institutions quite similar in their theoretical designs.

The ideological axis of terrorism in the Islamic history came into limelight in the form of Khawarij. A group of extremists separated itself from the army of Hazrat Ali (r.a) in the Battle of Siffeen during the arbitration. They later came to be known as Khawarij (meaning: sceders from Islam). Their motto was: "Only Allah's rule"— a phrase which every extremist and terrorist organization today uses as their maxim. The bloodshed caused by the Khawarij has been the most nefarious throughout the history of Islam.

Muhammad Abu Husain Melta writes in his book Al-Tanbiyyah War-Rad: “When people used to assemble in the markets, the Khawarijs would intrude by chanting the motto "there is no rule except that of Allah's" and would violently bully people without any distinction (translated from the original text in Arabic).

Issuing such religious decrees was just an excuse. Actually, these extremists did not want the cessation of bloodshed, murder, genocide and loot of others' property. Accordingly, they objected as to why haven't the war prisoners been ordered to be slaughtered (by the Islamic Shariah)? Why haven't they been enslaved? Why haven't their properties been ordered to be looted? Ideally, in their view, the entire group of people who support Hazrat Muawiyah (Allah be pleased with him) were Non-Muslims, therefore, they wanted the supporters of Hazrat Muawiah to be treated as disbelievers and when having found not being treated as such, they declared Hazrat Ali and his group to be disbelievers. Thus, we see that in the name of Islam, all the extremist groups have one thing in common: to declare all their opponents as infidels or disbelievers. Making such declarations today, the present-day extremists try to justify that the infidels’ property can be looted, they can be dishonoured and that they can also be killed. Similar were the beliefs of Khawarij and so are those of the ISIS.

(This article was first published and circulated in Urdu on the occasion of the World Sufi Forum recently held in March, 2016 in New Delhi).