By Gautam Mukherjee
18 April 2013
The rise of fundamentalist Islam through the Wahhabi movement of Saudi Arabia has led to the hardening of positions among various Muslim groups in the country. The trend is reflected in the country’s politics.
Listening to a retired Secretary of the Government of India from Kashmir, an elegant, dignified and polished man, I was reminded of a glorious tradition that has been elbowed aside by its inferiors. This gentleman, a denizen of one of the top Muslim families from the Valley, was reminiscing about his earlier days as a Lecturer in the University of Kashmir at Srinagar.
He said something that resonates with most upper-class Muslim Indians, who tend to be dyed-in-the-wool secular: “I miss the Pundits. They were my guides. All the learning and intelligence of the Kashmiris came from them. Without them, Kashmir has lost its class and sophistication”.
Such top-class Muslims demonstrate their lack of orthodoxy in ways large and small. They marry whomsoever they want. And just because they fall in love. They worry not at all about religion. They marry Hindu, Sikh, Christian or even Jewish. They don’t feel limited by caste, creed, race, money, class.
The Kashmiri gentleman I was talking to reminded me of the Sufi tradition of Islam, much beloved of all the Indian people. And once, not so long ago, the people of the entire sub-continent, including those in presently benighted Pakistan.
I thought of our Pirs and Babas, and their graves, where lakhs from all over the country come to pay their respects. And of the miraculous Ajmer Sharif that has withstood and weathered the scorn of any bigot summoned mystically to its presence. Of legends about Jesus in Kashmir and how he learned to turn the other cheek there.
But what about this aggressive face of radical Islam that seems to have taken over the citadel?
We have probably Saudi Arabia and its misplaced zeal for the propagation of the austere strain of Wahhabism to blame for our plight. The money that the guardians of the Holy Ka’ba have spent on promoting Wahhabism is estimated at over $87 billion over the last 20 years alone. It is this Sunni puritanism and intolerance that has leached the peace out of Islam.
We have Wahhabism to blame for usually tolerant Sunni Islam’s largely stern face of late. It has brainwashed illiterate hordes to its austere tenets. It is Wahhabism and its mutation that is instrumental in our collective loss of innocence.
Saudi Arabia funds mosques and Islamic charities all over the world, pays publishing and television to promote Wahhabism; and it is reported to be stepping it up further of late. The country wants to retain its slipping hold and influence over its own creature.
It is Saudi money that has sowed the seeds of Al Qaeda, all its affiliates and sympathisers — and the Taliban too. But a key result of such unintended spawn was the round condemnation of the House of Ibn Saud for its close ties with the United States.
For its own “corruption”, its “decadence”, its “greed”, its “apostasy”. Of course, any Frankenstein creation tends to snowball in unexpected ways. The radical Islamist movements of the world are now fuelled by drug and extortion money too.
It was perhaps inevitable, because of the internationalisation of the jihad. A diverse Islamic brotherhood came together in Afghanistan to expel first the Soviets and now the Americans. This counted Indonesians, Pakistanis, radical Kashmiris, and Chechens etc. in their ranks. These people have overlaid austere Wahhabi ideas with the bloodthirstiness of revolutionary fervour. They bear no allegiance to anybody.
But all of this is in the end a sectarian Sunni phenomenon. And on the other side of the divide is Iran, and Southern Iraq around the holy shrine of Karbala, where most of the Shias of the world come from. The irony is in that before the Sunni radicals, or indeed the Sunni powers, target Hindu and Christian infidels; they worry first about their fellow Shias.
It is Shia Iran that is working hard to go nuclear, and you can be sure Sunni Saudi Arabia, Sunni Pakistan and Sunni Afghanistan, Sunni most of Arabia and Asia, are a great deal more perturbed about this than even a covertly nuclear Israel.
While such fractures and contradictions trouble the Islamists, we in India have our own betrayal of the Muslim population to worry about and need to do something urgently to make amends.