By Tufail Ahmad
18th September 2013
In years since 9/11, commentators have rightly criticised Al-Qaeda for its murderous ideology, and they argue that jihadists derive their arguments from Sayyid Qutb, an Islamist theoretician and author executed by Egypt in 1966. Last May, The New York Review of Books carried a piece on Qutb under a title declaring him “The Father of Violent Islamism.” However, a review of articles and videos published by Al-Qaeda and the Taliban doesn’t indicate that the jihadists are quoting Sayyid Qutb; instead they develop arguments based on the Quranic verses, Hadiths or sayings of Prophet Muhammad, and incidents from early Islam.
Jihadist videos routinely begin with the following verse: “fight them until there is no Fitna and (until) the religion, all of it, is for Allah (alone).” Quranic verses have been interpreted by scholars differently, but according to the jihadists, this verse urges Muslims to fight until all Fitna — “corrupt” un-Islamic practices like polytheism — are eliminated and only Allah’s religion exists on earth. In March, the Taliban released a video of militant commander Khalid Haqqani who quoted a verse to justify execution of Pakistani soldiers: “It is not (even) for a prophet to have captives (of war) until he inflicts a massacre (upon Allah’s enemies).” The jihadists have declared the Pakistani military apostate, or eligible to be terminated.
Scholars argue that Islam is a moderate religion and guarantees protection to non-Muslims by citing this verse: “Let there be no compulsion in religion.” The jihadists agree that non-Muslims cannot be forcibly converted to Islam according to this verse. However, last month, a Taliban magazine argued that since the earth belongs to Allah, only a Sharia rule must prevail, Sharia being the Islamic legal way. It reasoned that non-Muslims must live under Sharia rule and pay Jizya (tax on non-Muslims) so that their security will be protected. It effectively means this: Islam doesn’t conceive a system in which non-Muslims can be part of the government. The magazine also urged “offensive jihad” to eliminate non-Islamic systems.
To explain this verse further, Pakistani Taliban commander Abu Azam was asked why jihadists do not “live and let live”. Azam responded that the verse about “no compulsion in religion” is meant only for non-Muslims and Islam indeed sanctions force for implementing Sharia. He quoted Prophet Muhammad as saying that Muslims should beat their children when they are 10 years old to offer their prayers. Here, one must know that many Hadiths are considered weak and unreliable.
Islamic scholars have evolved a moderate interpretation of Islam by transcending the classification of Dar-ul-Harb (the land of war) versus Dar-ul-Islam (the land of Islam), the latter denoting Muslim countries and the former referring to non-Muslim countries. They have, notably, evolved the concept of Dar-ul-Aman, the land of peace, to describe countries like India where Muslims co-exist with non-Muslims. However, the Taliban magazine overturned this interpretation by developing a new concept of “a modern Muslim country” — arguing that borders of nation-states are invalid in Islam and if a Muslim country doesn’t have Sharia rule, it is indeed Dar-ul-Harb against which jihad is justified.
Supporting co-existence with non-Muslims, moderate scholars cite a popular verse: “To you your religion, to me mines.” However, Ustad Ahmad Farooq, the chief of Al-Qaeda’s preaching and media department for Pakistan, said recently that this verse was told to the non-Muslims of Mecca who had offered Prophet Muhammad an opportunity to live with them. According to Farooq’s interpretation, the verse was not meant for co-existence, but to isolate Muslims from Mushrekeen, or polytheists. After Punjab’s liberal governor Salman Taseer was shot dead by his guard, Farooq advocated a strong blasphemy law, arguing that the prophet has three rights on Muslims: To believe in him to be the prophet as ordered by the Koran, to love him, and to aid him. Arguing that the prophet didn’t hesitate about killing anyone who disrespected him, Farooq noted that on the Victory of Mecca, Prophet Muhammad granted an amnesty, except for 10 men and women, who he ordered to be killed for blaspheming him.
Moderates trace suicide bombings to Sri Lanka’s LTTE. However, Maulana Asim Umar, an Al-Qaeda militant, recently favoured suicide bombings by citing early Islamic incidents: “(Prophet Muhammad’s) female companions offered sacrifices for this religion, sacrificed their husbands for this religion, dressed their children in their finest attire and sent them to the battlefield of jihad.” After the Boston Bombings in April, a Taliban magazine cited early Islamic practices to justify “martyrdom missions” in which fighters knew in advance of their certain death, notably the prophet’s companion Hisham Ibn Amir who plunged into enemy ranks. Citing the verse “And amongst mankind is he who sells himself, seeking the pleasure of Allah” to justify such acts, it advanced a new understanding of martyrdom missions as the “very purpose of life itself as created by Allah, which is to eliminate all non-Islamic systems”.
In Pakistan, moderates often blame General Zia-ul Haq for Islamising Pakistani society, but much before him secular leaders like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto sowed the seeds of jihad by making Pakistan studies a compulsory subject in schools or terming Ahmadi Muslims non-Muslims. Globally, Sayyid Qutb is considered the father of jihadism, but there are grandfathers, too.
Professor Ashfaq Ahmad of Assam University, who was awarded the president of India’s Maharishi Badrayan Vyas Samman for contributions to Arabic this year, says that Islamic scholars interpret Arabic texts in a way that suits their ideological leanings, but this doesn’t mean that jihadists’ interpretations are necessarily right. Ahmad says: “Jihadists form one per cent of the Koran’s interpreters while 99 per cent scholars are moderate who are not coming out as strongly as they should.” There has been some debate as to whether or not Koran’s invalid verses should be edited out. The 18th century Islamic scholar Shah Waliullah argued that many former verses cannot be practised as they were cancelled by verses revealed afterwards, but as a sense of pragmatism prevailed, he said these verses be retained in the Koran.
Tufail Ahmad is director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC.