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Muslim Ulema urgently need to introspect


By Sultan Shahin


Tuesday, April 8, 2008



Indian Muslims stand against terrorism, but do the ulema have the vision to save them from the ever-expanding web of radical Islamism By Sultan Shahin


Deoband: Nudged by persistent and growing identification of Islam and Muslims with terrorism at the national as well as global levels since September 9, 2001, Indian Muslim clerics of all hues finally came together to pronounce an unequivocal fatwa against terrorism of all kinds. In an event organised by Dau-ul-Uloom, Deoband, 6,000, heads of madrassas from across the country along with the heads of organisations sponsoring their institutions, joined hands despite their sectarian differences to say with one voice that terrorism of all kinds was against the peaceful principles of Islam and to exhort Muslims to stay away from such dastardly activities as in Islam even the killing of just one innocent person amounted to the killing entire humanity. The sleepy town of Deoband, 140 kms east of Delhi, famous around the world primarily for hosting this premier Muslim religious educational institution, the Darul Uloom, came alive on February 25, with tens of thousands of Muslims, clerics and ordinary souls, streaming in from all over the country, to support the historic anti-terrorism declaration that the Muslim religious community was about to make in a rare display of unity across the otherwise widening sectarian divide. The Deobandis, Bareilwis, Wahhabis, Ahl-e-Hadees, in short the Sunnis of all hues were all there. The Shias had already participated in another get-together organised by Jamia-ul-ulema for the same purpose in Delhi over a year ago at a smaller level. What exactly they said is important and needs to be quoted at some length before one tries to judge its significance. The Declaration announced: “This All India Anti-Terrorism Conference attended by the representatives of all Muslim schools of thought organised by Rabta Madaris Islamiah Arabia (Islamic Madrasas Association), Darul Uloom Deoband, condemns all kinds of violence and terrorism in the strongest possible terms.” As a prelude to this declaration, the convention stated: “Islam is the religion of mercy for all humanity. It is the fountainhead of eternal peace, tranquillity, security. Islam has given so much importance to human beings that it regards the killing of a single person the killing of entire humanity, without differentiation based on creed and caste. Its teaching of peace encompasses all humanity. Islam has taught its followers to treat all mankind with equality, mercy, tolerance, justice. Islam sternly condemns all kinds of oppression, violence and terrorism. It has regarded oppression, mischief, rioting and murdering among severest sins and crimes.” More significant than this and indicative of the mood and inspiration of the conference was this exhortation: “Moreover, this All India anti-Terrorism Conference attended by the representatives of all schools of thought appeal to all Muslims to continue, as they always did in the past, their loyalty towards the dear motherland and love and respect towards humanity. It appeals to them to fully understand the present alarming situation, the gravity and intensity of the time, and feel the pulse of the present world so that they might not be employed as tools of evils by anti-Islamic or anti-national forces. It appeals to them to live with dignity and pride being faithful to the country, to keep full trust in their leadership…” Stressing the same point, Maulana Marghoobur Rahman said in his presidential address: “Love of one's land is a part of our faith, and so, we, the members of the madrasahs, disapprove of any attack on our motherland and we will work against any terrorism in the country.” Admirable sentiments indeed! And need of the hour. Statements and exhortations like this have been made in the past, and even by the same people who were present on the dais in the convention. But never before had they come together as representatives and heads of their organisations to say the same things jointly and repeatedly in their speeches that continued throughout the day in front of a gathering of several hundred thousand Muslims who hold them in high esteem. That this would have an impact on the thinking of the entire community goes without saying. Regardless of the ulema’s varying and indeterminate levels of scholarship, the vast Muslim masses, many of them illiterate and uneducated, do look up to them for guidance in matters of religious interpretations. That Islam is opposed to killings of innocents is no news to any Muslim, howsoever ignorant, but that he could get involved in terrorist events even by default, just because he was not careful or alert enough, is something he does need to be told and who better to tell him this than the ulema he trusts in matters of faith. Based on intelligence reports, National Security Adviser M K Narayanan has pointed out several times that hundreds of terrorist sleeper cells lie dormant in various parts of the country, presumably deeply buried as ordinary people living in Muslim localities. These or some of these could be activated at any time of their choice by forces inimical to India’s national integrity and jealous of and hostile to our secular practices. It would require a truly alert Muslim community, more than any other section of the country to thwart their ambitions. Listening to speeches after speeches in the day-long conference, I could not fathom if the ulema fully appreciate the danger Indian Muslims face from the cult of global Jihad that goes in the name of Islam, in fact calls itself true Islam or real Islam and considers those who are not with it as expendable. It cannot be easy for a Muslim to go to a mosque and blow himself up along with scores of other innocent religious-minded and practicing Muslims who had gathered in a mosque for prayers. If this is happening with sickening regularity in the land that was a part of our own country not too long ago, it would be foolish for us to consider ourselves immune from the fast-spreading contagion. Such events were unimaginable even in Pakistan until the 1980s. In fact it is only in the last decade or so that it has become routine. I recall visiting Islamabad in early 19990s and listening to people there talking about the killing of an Imam of a small local mosque with shock and disbelief. I visited the offices of Sipah-e-Sahaba in Karachi and spent an evening in an atmosphere of pleasant bonhomie with likeable people, without even gathering a hint that soon they were going to become known as remorseless killers. Clearly it doesn’t take long for things to change when vested interests start misusing ideology to turn genial people into monsters. Whether or not the ulema at Deoband and other Indian seminaries realise this, Jihadism is an ideology in its own right. It has nothing to do with Islam, as the ulema pointed out, quoting chapter and verse from the Holy Quran and Sayings of the Prophet (peace be upon him). But it approaches Muslims in the garb of true Islam. It misinterprets the verses of Holy Quran and concocts Hadees (Saying of the Prophet) to prove its point and entice the unwary. A fabricated Hadees may appear ridiculous to the knowledgeable but present that to a gullible, trusting Muslim who loves the Prophet more than his life and it may affect him differently. One Kashmiri Jihadi organisation, for instance, quotes a so-called Hadees, according to which the Prophet called the Jihad against India as more worthwhile (afzal) than any other Jihad. Now anyone who knows anything about Islam, the Prophet, the demands of the times he lived in, or who has read the most highly regarded Bukhari or Muslim compilations of Hadees, in which the Prophet is said to have mentioned India only once in an entirely different context, would immediately dismiss this as ridiculous, but apparently there are some who are not doing so. There is evidence that some of our youth are beginning to get radicalised under the onslaught of this global Jihadist cult. Let us hope that the ulema are aware of this and their exhortation would have a salutary effect. There clearly is need for more such conferences in different parts of the country. But the ulema will do well to confine themselves to the subject of terrorism and its dangers to the Muslim community and to the need for alerting the Muslim populace to enable them to face the Jihadi onslaught which clearly is going on at a subterranean level. Grievance-mongering, government-bashing, even Sangh-whacking, a favourite pastime of many of our leaders and even ulema, can wait for another occasion. Saving Muslims from radical Islamism Major political parties and the media have done well to welcome and applaud Daul Uloom Deoband’s latest effort to protect Muslims from radical Islam’s endeavour to wean them away from their traditional moderate stance. Though individual scholars from Deoband as well as other groups that were present there have been saying much the same thing in almost the same words for quite some time, this is the first time that institutions and organisations like Darul Uloom Deoband, Jamiat-ul-Ulema, Jamaat-e-Islami, Ajmer Sharif, Ahl-e-Hadees, etc. have come together to denounce terrorism in very clear terms and call it against the postulates of Islam. Without detracting from the wisdom and significance of the ulema’s (Islamic scholars’) latest endeavour, however, I would like to make a few quick points. While the media, particularly print, and the mainstream political parties have done well to highlight the main message, the ulema themselves did not maintain their focus on the historic and ground-breaking work they were doing. Any one who attended the conference can be excused for thinking that this was no more than a run of the mill conference that Muslims periodically hold to air their grievances against the government of the day and demand fair and equitable treatment. Several ulema managed to fire themselves up with their rhetoric against the discrimination Muslims face from intelligence agencies and security services – hardly a suitable tenor for a session that was billed as a seminar and an occasion for introspection and brainstorming. As a result, at least some of the message got lost and others got distorted. For instance, very few newspapers have reported that the seminaries have now decided to maintain their finances in good order and transparency. They will now be able to tell how much money they are getting, from where and how this is being spent. As private organisations they are not obliged to do so. But they have decided to respond to frequent allegations of financial irregularity and funding from abroad. The ulema get plenty of other opportunities to rail against the government and communal forces of Hindutva. But for several ulema, denouncing terrorism as unislamic was just a necessary chore. They revelled in the opportunity to denounce and challenge those who trouble Muslims and hurt their religious sentiments. Introspection completely missing! Introspection was completely missing. While the ulema complained bitterly, for instance, about Talibanism being ascribed to Deobandi teachings and stressed that it was not so, no thought was given to the question as to why was Talibanism considered Deobandi or what could Deoband do in terms of changing its curriculum to distinguish itself from the Pakistani Deobandi schools. To give a concrete example, the Taliban or Al-Qaeda version of Islam is clearly distorting the theory and practice of Jihad in Islam. Jihad has a much wider significance in Islam, but in the sense of Qital (fighting) that too in defence, it was permitted to Muslims 14 years after the advent of Islam and God explained and gave reasons for this landmark permission in Surah 22 verse 39 in these words: “If God did not check one set of people by means of another there would surely have been pulled down temples, churches, synagogues and mosques in which the name of God is commemorated in abundant measure. God will certainly aid those who aid His (cause)…” In his exegesis, A Yusuf Ali, one of the best known and revered translators and interpreters of the Holy Quran says: This was the first occasion on which fighting in self-defence-was permitted. (22.39) 2817. To allow a righteous people to fight against a ferocious and mischief-loving people was fully justified. But the justification was far greater here, when the little Muslim community was not only fighting for its own existence against the Makkan Quraish, but for the very existence of the Faith in the One True God. … It affected not the faith of one peculiar people. The principle involved was that of all worship, Jewish or Christian as well as Muslim, and of all foundations built for pious uses. (22.40)” It is thus the religious duty of the Muslims to fight to protect the Faith and worship houses of all religions. But while we Indian Muslims are mourning the demolition of one mosque 15 years ago, do we shed any tears, even make a single statement bemoaning the routine destruction of temples in Pakistan and Bangladesh. And this while India is the only major non-Muslim majority country where not only there is no discrimination in our right to build and run tens of thousands of mosques and madrassas but also the Muslims are allowed to run their personal life in accordance with their understanding of their religious laws. Does the fact concern us that Saudi Arabia does not allow the tens of thousands of Christians and Hindus living there the human right to worship in their own churches and temples, even though the Quran asks us to fight on their behalf for that particular right? Have we ever done our religious duty to protest these injustices? No, in fact the one Muslim lady, Taslima Nasreen, who protested in Bangladesh and highlighted the plight of Hindus, has become a hate figure for us. She should have been our hero. She is doing what the religious leaders should have been doing. Instead we love to persecute her. Our political and religious leaders try to beat her physically and we either applaud or keep quiet. How can we complain against our intelligence agencies discriminating against us, as the ulema in Deoband did so vociferously, if we support the massive discrimination routinely practiced against Hindus and Christians and Jews in Muslim lands? In the eyes of Islam stopping people from praying in the worship places of their choice is the worst possible crime. How come when we are in a minority we want all the human and religious rights, but the moment we are a majority of even 51 percent in some country, we declare the country to be Islamic where other religions have little right. What in Allah’s name is Islamic about this attitude? There are many such questions on which the ulema would do well to deliberate and come up with answers that distinguish them from the Taliban and al-Qaida. If they don’t, nothing can stop the world from associating Deoband and other religious seminaries from the terrorist organisations that are spreading murder, mayhem and chaos in the world. Ulema need to rethink some fundamental questions Obviously, Ulema need to rethink some fundamental questions guiding Muslim-Hindu relationship. But the question is: Do they have the necessary vision to save Muslims from complete marginalisation? i don't mind repeating myself in saying that Deoband has certainly made a noble effort to discredit Taliban and al-Qaeda theories and practices that link Islam with terrorist acts. That even Jamaat-e-Islami was a party to the Deoband Declaration agasint Terrorism is particularly heartening. Alongside Syed Qutub of Egypt, the J-e-I founder-ideologue Abul Ala Maudoodi is considered one of the two gurus of present-day Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. Similarly significant is the presence and approval of Ahl-e-Hadees and other Salafi sects. Barailvi schools that represent the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the sub-continent are in any case more inclusive and broadminded. So the supporting message of the Sajjada Nasheen of Ajmer Sharif was no surprise at all. It was a great sight, watching the ulema (Islamic scholars) of different sects sitting together on the same dais and not denouncing each other as Kafir. However, this is not enough and by itself it will not provide the Muslims with much relief. The ulema in India have to rethink some very fundamental religious issues that govern Muslims relationship with the majority Hindu community. Take for instance the question of whether Muslims should treat Hindus as Ahl-e-Kitab (People of the Book, i.e. followers of one of the 1,24,000 prophets who came prior to Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon him) or Kafir (deniers of the existence of God). The first Arab Muslim general to deal with Indian Hindus was Mohammad bin Qasim, who is something of a revered figure for many Muslims. When he conquered Sindh the question of Muslim-Hindu relationship arose for the first time. A committee of ulema then decided that Hindus should be treated as Ahle-e-Kitab, as they largely believe in the oneness of God, treat their idols as a way to reaching God rather than gods by themselves and their scriptures have unmistakable passages which are almost identical to the teachings of the Quran. Obviously Hindu avatars have to be treated as God’s messengers who brought the message of God just as other Islamic prophets have, though it could not have been preserved fully due to the antiquity of their period and the lack of facilities in those ancient times. Muslims are asked to have close social relations with all Ahl-e-Kitab. But that did not happen in the case of Hindus despite the religious verdict. Probably an Arab sense of racial superiority – completely unIslamic by all accounts – came in the way. (By the way it is this Arab racism and its confrontation with Persian sense of superiority over Arab Bedouins that is also responsible for the bitter Shia-Sunni divide.) So they developed a system in which while they would make friends with, sit together and dine with Hindus, they would not allow inter-marriages, although Islam allows Muslims to have marital relationship with communities that come under the category of Ahl-e-Kitab, with the life-partners maintaining their separate religious identity, belief and practice. So the ulema have basically devised for Hindus a new category of semi-Ahl-e-Kitab – something that has no sanction in the Quran or Hadees. In this they would allow Muslims to maintain close social relations with Hindus but not allow them to go for marital relationship. Like the class of ulema itself which has no sanction in Islam, this category of semi-Ahl-e-Kitab is an innovation that has done much damage to the Muslims. The excuse is that Hindus engage in idolatry despite their scriptures calling for non-duality ( 

Advaita) or unity of God. But if that is such a major or even relevant issue, how and why do they treat Christians as full Ahl-e-Kitab, though Christians treat Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) as the son of God, which amounts to ascribing physical attributes to God, and actually worship idols of Jesus and Mother Mary. Not that one has any problem with treating Christians as full Ahl-e-Kitab. As a matter of fact almost all the people in the world are indeed Ahl-e-Kitab. The Holy Quran tell us that many prophets have been sent before Prophet Mohammad to all corners of the world and no prophet was sent without revelations (which are later collected as in the case of Quran as a Book). Arabia was probably the only part of the world where there were people who could be called Kafir as they had not yet been blessed with a Prophet till then and that is why the last Prophet was sent there. So in a religious sense the Muslims should stop calling any community Kafir and start using the word Kafir as Urdu poets do to describe their beloveds. There are many similar fundamental questions that the ulema need to resolve if they want to lead the community to a peaceful and prosperous life in the country and the world. The holding of this anti-terrorism convention and the presence of such a diverse group shows that the Muslim religious leadership has indeed got the message that the Muslims are quite worried at the drift of events that are alienating them from other communities in India as elsewhere. Deep and sincere introspection and broadmindedness is called for. One of the most important and urgent requirement would be to extricate Islam from Arab follies, prejudices and racial supremacism. We Indian Muslims must realise that we are the inheritors of a glorious 5,000-year old civilisation. There is no reason why we should go by the interpretation of Arab Bedouins and desert tribes who had no history of any intellectual or artistic pursuit beyond writing some romantic poetry. I am not trying to replace Arab racial supremacism with an Indian one. We have no problem accepting the message of God coming to us through any voice box. Prophet Mohammad was an exemplary person the like of which the world has never seen. He was a spiritual master who rose to the position of a Prophet and at the same time a consummate statesman who remains unmatched in history. This is acknowledged by many objective observers of world history from all communities. So we accept the Muslim holy book without any reservation or prejudice. But why should we also accept as Islamic the way Arabs ran their politics after massacring the entire family of the Prophet is beyond my comprehension. How can we allow ourselves to be guided by the interpretations of a people who accepted Yazid, the killer of the Prophet’s family as a Khalifa and allowed him to found dynastic politics in Islam whose USP is equality of all souls and no superiority of one person over another on any ground except that of piety. Barring some exceptionally gifted individuals Arabs continue to be mired in pre-Islamic Jahiliya (age of ignorance) despite 1400 years of interaction with Islam. This is not at all to belittle any community or race. But we Muslims tend to forget our glorious heritage. If we need to develop our understanding of core Islamic values like, say, unity of God, where do we go? Of course, to our ancient Islamic scriptures and writings that we Muslims tend to dismiss simply as Hindu religious literature. The Quran does not elaborate and explain many essential points presumably for the simple reason that it has all been done before and those books are available. If you want to use your intellect, as per the repeated advice of the Quran, to understand wahdaniat, oneness of God, for instance, there would be no better pace to go than what are now known merely as Hindu scriptures, though they are as much our scriptures as theirs. Our history did not begin with Mohammad bin Qasim as the world history did not begin with the advent of Prophet Mohammad, though many Muslims tend to behave as if that were the case. We were a very advanced people much before that. We have been blessed with many prophets before Prophet Mohammad and Islam asks us to give them the same respect as we accord to our beloved Prophet. While Deoband 2008 gives us hope, one cannot but wonder if the ulema indeed have the necessary vision to lead the community at such a sensitive juncture. We will have to engage in some tough debates and take some hard decisions, if we are to save our community from total marginalization in the country and the world, at least partly caused by the Ulema's own ill-conceived decisions flouting the spirit of Islam.

Posted by SultanShahin at 4:33 AM

Labels: Deoband, Funfamentalism, Indian Muslims, Introspection, Islam, Jihad, Terrorism, Ulema


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