By Wajahat Habibullah
Jul 21, 2016
There has been much debate in the last decade the world over on the nature of the religion of Islam. This has come to a head in India with the recent carnage at the Holey Artisan Bakery, Dhaka and the arrest of five Hyderabad youths, by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on 29 June for allegedly planning terror attacks on behalf of the Islamic State (IS), supposedly deeply radicalised with evidence said to have been found of the group’s connection with IS.
There have been quotations from the Quran spouted out of context to prove that it is a faith that encourages violence and hence a danger both to modern civilisation and to the exercise of democracy. And this is complicated by the many interpretations given to the Quran, the scripture for every Muslim, whatever their sect, by clerics of different sects of Islam. Note the frequent reference to Dr Zakir Naik by the Indian media in the shadow of the terrorist outrage in Dhaka.
At the outset it is important to understand that unlike Judaism and Christianity, its direct predecessors in the evolution of religion in West Asia, with which it shares most of its principal exponents termed Prophets, Islam has no Church, no Papacy, no head cleric. India’s Dar ul Uloom of Deoband in North Western UP was established only in the late nineteenth century. Its ‘Fatwas’ no doubt carry weight because they are based on erudite scholarship but are only opinions, by no means binding on Muslims as religious decrees. The Quran is indeed the ultimate authority on the religion. And central to this faith is belief in God-La illaha Illallah (there is no God but God).
But what exactly is God to the Muslim? The opening lines of the opening Chapter of the Qur’an ‘Surat al Fatihah’, regarded as the essence of the Quran declare:
“Praise be to God, Master of all creation, the Compassionate, the Merciful, the Ruler of the Day of Judgment”
God is therefore universal and just, and the embodiment of compassion. I might emphasise that every action initiated by a Muslim is expected to begin with the prayer “Bismillah ir Rehman nir Raheem” (In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful), as indeed is every chapter of the Qur’an. And this Surat al Fatihah’ is expected to be repeated several times in each of the five time prayers enjoined upon a Muslim. Besides, the ritual of prayer concludes with the turn of the head first right and then left, with the recitation “As salaam Alaikum wa Rahmatullah”, thus symbolically wishing upon one’s surroundings peace and the benefit of Allah’s compassion. This is also the wording of a Muslim’s greetings.
The concept of Allah in Islam is then ultimate compassion. Although Buddhism, as explained by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, believes in no God, the fountainhead of the faith is comprised in the Four Noble Truths, which begin with Dukkha or suffering, its cessation and the Ashtangika (eightfold) Marg or path to liberation, Dukkha being a concept springing from the Sanskrit concept of Karuna. This constituted the dharma chakra pravartana sutra, the first sermon of the Buddha after he attained nirvana or enlightenment. The Surat al Fatihah referred to, prays for guidance to the Right Path (sirat ul mustqeem). And the Qur’an, in the opening verses of its second Chapter, describes to the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) what the Qur’an means:
But does his faith make a Muslim vulnerable to the call of extremism? Let us take the example of Hyderabad where the suborned Muslim youth hail from. On 3.3.2011, the National Commission of Minorities received a representation from Maj SG M Quadri (Retd) President, Help Hyderabad, an NGO working for the welfare of Muslims in Hyderabad. In this letter Maj Quadri dwelt on the concern, even alarm, spreading in the Muslim community not only in Andhra Pradesh but across the country at what he called being marked with a “terrorist stigma”.
This was with reference to the case concerning the Mecca Masjid blast in which the 7th add. Metropolitan Secession Judge Radha Krishna acquitted nine Muslim youths out of 22 accused who were arrested in this and other cases of bomb blast. In his judgment of Crime No. 198/2007 of Gopalapuram Police Station, all under IPC, booked on 15 June, 2007, in which the complainant was inspector of Police Task Force (Central Zone) Ramachandran, later arrested by Anti Corruption Bureau (ACB) in a disproportionate assistance case. Curiously, none of the cases brought against these young men were for the bomb blasts at Mecca Masjid, nor was that incident even mentioned in the charge sheet. The arrested Muslim youth had been shown as members of HUJI of Bangladesh.
Subsequently, on a visit to Hyderabad, on my request the accused in the so-called Mecca Masjid Blast case who had been subsequently acquitted, met me. Of these, one had owned a Computer Centre but had, according to him, been blacklisted on grounds of having been a student of Karate. Another had participated in a demonstration protesting encroachment on a Quabristan and had been arrested, as had another also in a demonstration. All of them lived within two kilometres of the Mecca Masjid; but had never been arrested for any criminal offence.
But all of them were tortured to force admissions and sign documents confirming their guilt. Clearly, the names of these young men must have been part of the police record in the local Thana. But in this connection, they invited our attention to a report by advocate LR Ravichander who had been appointed by the AP State Minorities Commission AP as Commissioner to investigate complaints of illegal detention & torture of Muslim youth by the Police at “safe/farm” houses on Hyderabad’s outskirts.
Shri LR Ravichander submitted his interim report on September 2007, wherein he mentioned all the atrocities in detail. His following remark sums up the tragedy, “this is not only the case of twenty or twenty two youths only, but a matter of a healthy Democracy. If you have tears, this is the only occasion when you can shed them!” This report clearly accuses the police of mala fide.
Before me the young men reiterated allegations of gross abuse and torture by the police authorities to force them to sign confessions, the contents of which they did not recall. They identified the following police officials, who had been their alleged persecutors:
Hyderabad then has a history of cases against young Muslims established to have been fabricated. It is also clear that those responsible for this have not been held to account and instead some have enjoyed promotion. Besides, the State had made no effort to compensate these wrongly accused and forced to undergo hardship even not having committed any crimes, not made any serious attempt to rehabilitate them. The recent arrests then need to be approached with the necessary caution.
But does that mean that young Muslims are not to be suspect in terrorist activities? That would fly in the face of irrefutable facts from several parts of the world that the canker of extremism has affected large sections of the Muslim community particularly the young and the educated. Arguing that this is not in keeping with my own view of Islam is of little consequence because the view of Islam by the likes of Al Baghdadi has found acceptance in large parts of that group of Muslims, particularly of the West who are not heir to the rich legacy of convergence that has marked the religious history of South and Southeast Asia.
The catalyst towards this conflict might be different, as India itself demonstrates: Kerala, with its large 27 percentage of Muslims who are educated and wealthy have not proved fertile ground for terrorism, yet Kashmir with its Muslim majority has. But in the latter case this recourse is taken by those misguided into thinking that this is best for their unhappy people, while another section of the same community with identical credentials has taken recourse to seeking inclusion, through competitive examination, to find remedy. In Assam the conflict is ethnic, not religious. The remedy then has to be found by the Muslims themselves, in addressing the issues affecting their youth. Here India enjoys a unique advantage. Heir to a history of convergence of a thousand years we have lessons to share with the world