Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Muslim Ulema urgently need to introspect

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 marginalisation in the country and the world, at least partly caused by the ulema’s own ill-conceived decisions flouting the spirit of Islam.

Please also see:



The following is the text of the Deoband Declaration at All India Anti-Terrorism Conference organized by Rabta Madaris Islamiah (Islamic Madrasas Association):

Darul Uloom Deoband, on 17 Safar 1429 H = 25 February 2008 Monday

Chaired by: Hazrat Maulana Marghoobur Rahman Sahib,

Mohtamim Darul Uloom Deoband

& President of Islamic Madrasas Association, Darul Uloom Deoband

Islam is the religion of mercy for all humanity. It is the fountainhead of eternal peace, tranquility, security. Islam has given so much importance to human beings that it regards the killing of a single person the of killing the 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.

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. The Conference expresses its deep concern and agony on the present global and national alarming conditions in which most of the nations are adopting such an attitude against their citizens especially Muslims to appease the tyrant and colonial master of the West, which cannot be justified in any way. It is a matter of greater concern that the internal and external policies of our country are getting heavily influenced by these forces. Their aggression, barbarism and state-sponsored terrorism not only in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan but also in Bosnia and various South American countries have surpassed all the records known to human history. Contrary to it, our great nation has always been known for impartiality and its moral and spiritual values. Now the situation has worsened so far that every Indian Muslim especially those associated with madrasas, who are innocent with good record of characters, are always gripped by the fear that they might be trapped by the administrative machinery anytime. And, today countless number of innocent Muslims are spending their lives behind the bars and are forced to bear many intolerable tortures. And, those spreading terror, attacking police stations, killing the police in broad daylight and showing illegal arms are roaming about freely with no effective and preventive steps being taken by the government to check their acts of terrorism and violence. This partial attitude has put a big question mark on the secular character of the government posing great threats to the country. Therefore, this All India Anti-Terrorism Conference strongly condemns this attitude and expresses its deep concern on this partiality of government officials and declares its continuous joint struggles for domination of law, justice and secular system.

This conference strongly demands the Indian Government to curb those maligning the madrasas and Muslims. The administrative machinery should be demanded to conduct impartial investigations in activities disturbing public peace in the country and to punish only those found guilty. It also demands to free the accused if he is found innocent and punish severely those officials who accused him of crimes of terrorism. No person of any particular community should be suspected without solid reasons. In short, the government agencies must fulfill their duty justly without any prejudice and bias so that real peace and security may prevail in the country.

This All India Anti-Terrorism Conference appeals to all intellectuals, writers and media persons to independently and honestly analyze the national and international affairs and avoid to biased and partial attitudes.

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 peals to them to live with dignity and pride being faithful to the country, to keep full trust on their leadership, render full support to Islamic madarsas which are valuable assets of the Muslim Ummah, spend their lives in the country following Islamic Shariah and teachings with full confidence. They should always remember that most important things are Islam and practicing it, and, hence, their prime focus should be on enriching their lives with good deeds and noble manners as, in fact, worldly situations deteriorate because of non-practice of Islamic teachings.

Need for holding state-wise conferences against terrorism.

This meeting of working committee of All India madarsas association feels necessary to hold state-wise conferences as it held this grand conference in view of the existing situations. The present situation of the country demands the joint and constant efforts being made to denounce terrorism, biased and discriminatory attitudes of the government against the Muslim community. It needs such conferences to be held in the major places of all the states. This meeting appeals to Darul Uloom Deoband to act as a leader in this direction.

Issued by: Central office, Islamic Madrasas Association

Monday, March 31, 2008

JIHAD: A Battle for peace and Justice

I wrote the following article on Jihad sometime in 1999. It appeared in several newspapers then. I found the following on

JIHAD: A Battle for peace and Justice

By Sultan Shahin

" O ye who believe ! Bow down, prostrate yourself and adore your Lord; and do good; that ye may be successful. And strive in the way of Allah as ye ought to strive (with sincerity and discipline). He has chosen you and has imposed no hardship on you in religion; it is the Religion of your father Abraham. It is He Who has named you Muslim, both before and in this ( Book ) that the messenger may be a witness for you, and ye be witness for you and ye be witness for mankind! So establish Salat (prayer), give Zakat and hold fast to Allah! He is your protector, the best to protect you, and the best to help!" (22:77-78)

This is exactly how the Qur'an tells Muslim to "strive in the way of Allah". The Arabic language has a few words for war but the words used by the Quran are "Jihad fi sabil-illah- Jihad in the way of Allah! It is not war. It's not even Holy War. Literally, the word Jihad means 'striving or exerting one's utmost' in furthering a cause and Jihad fi Sabilllah means striving in the name of God. The striving might, in certain circumstances reach the stage of war and Islam makes no hypocritical apology about going to war. But instead of the general Arabic term for war, Harb the Quran advisedly uses the word Qital . Qital is not just 'slaying', it is also being 'slain'(9:111 and 3: 195). Jihad fi Sabil-illah is totally different from a non-Jihadist war in which one could, from a safe distance shower the whole populations with bombs and missiles and take pride in the glory of one's victory.

As an Islamic scholar of repute points out, Qital is neither bravado nor vanity; it is like surgery in medicine; like lancing a boil or amputating limbs so that a body is saved before the poison has reached vital organs. Jihad includes Qital but it is not confined to Qital. It is part of the larger Jihad which a Muslim should be waging all the time to seek the pleasures of God and to uphold His word. Qital is predicated upon conditions and circumstances and it is therefore, necessarily ephemeral. Jihad is ceaseless, it never stops, Jihad extends to each and every kind of Islamic endeavour: big and small; Physical or material; moral and intellectual.

The Quran speaks striving in His cause (5:35 and 29:6) and of those who strive and fight in the name of Allah with their goods and their persons (4:95). The ink of a scholar's pen is more sacred than the blood of martyr, said the fourth right-guided caliph, Syedna Ali (Radhi-Allah anhu). And that is why the Islamic metaphors- jihad by pen, Jihad by tongue Jihad by Wealth and of course, Jihad by sword.

Nothing of this, however, excludes or substitutes Qital, or Jihad bil-sayf, (Jihad by sword) whenever it may be legitimately called for. However, the sword in Qital is like a surgeon's scalpel and not the killer's knife. Since Jihad is fundamentally an act of obedience to God, it is absolutely important that those who may be called upon to raise their sword, in the way of God, are also equipped with moral discipline of Islam so that when they go into battle, they go as a friendly surgeon with a view only to removing the cancer of evil and help the body regain its full moral and physical health.

Qital can be done only in the way of Allah and in no other cause or in pursuit of personal glory. Therefore, a Mujahid is fighting his battle as much against one's own desires and 'self' (nafs) as against the cruel passions of a tyrant.

Someone asked the Prophet (peace be upon him) what is Qital in the way of Allah? A person may be looking for booty; another may wish to seek fame as a great warrior, a third one may want to fight because of personal enmity or nationalist fervour. But which of them, he asked, is fighting in the way of Allah? None of them, replied the Prophet (pbuh) except one who had no motive in fighting except to uphold the Word of God (Narrated by Abu Musa Ash'ari in Sahih Bukhari and Tirmidhi). On another occasion, the Prophet (pbuh), is reported to have said that if person went to battle to obtain (even such a trivial object like) a piece of string to tie his camel, he forfeits the reward. God [promises a place in the House of the Hereafter Paradise, only to those who seek not to set up their own lordship over earth, no do intend to spread mischief and corruption: and in the end, he says success is for the righteous (28:).

Therefore, those who believe in Islam fight only in the cause of Allah. The Islamic world view is informed by two key values Maroof and Munkar, good and right, wrong and evil. The word Ma'roof means which is good and noble in universal and not in any particular or exclusive way. There are no separate standards of good for liberals and conservatives, populists and elitists, leftists and rights, socialists and capitalists, Jews and Nazis, or Muslims and non-Muslims.

What is good for the Muslims is good for non-Muslims too. Likewise, what is repugnant in Islam is repugnant for (almost) everyone else. Muslims are therefore, required both to enjoin Maroof and do way with Munkar. And the believers are those who if God establishes them in the land, establish regular Prayer (Salat) and give regular charity (Zakat), enjoin right and forbid wrong. (The Quran 22:41).

Enjoining right and forbidding wrong is a natural corollary of bowing one's head (Salat) before God and showing gratitude to him (Zakat) by sharing one's prosperity with those who may be in need. Yet, however, enthusiastic as one may be to enjoin and share the universal Ma'roof and to curb and control the universal Munkar, Islam draws a clear line between invitation and compulsion, between choice and coercion, Islam's theory of social change, of inviting people to goodness (da'wah), is premised on the goodness within the inborn goodness of human nature; it totally rejects any manipulation, subversion, or subjugation of the human conscience. And, therefore, while Muslims are asked to invite people to the path of their Lord prudently, politely, and with good arguments (16:125) the freedom to choose is theirs.

Belief flows from conviction and if it is somehow to be imposed, then it can only lead to dissimulation and not conviction. Any culture based on truth and sincerity can have no place for lying and hypocrisy. More fundamentally, however, the right to choose between right and wrong - is given by God himself which is not to be violated by anyone, least by those who believe in God. The very principle of human responsibility and human answer ability in Islam is premised on the freedom of choice. Take that freedom away, and you take out responsibility. Take responsibility away, and you take out answer ability, and send everything adrift into an empty space or of zero moral gravity.

God cannot have any doubt about truth and error, right and wrong. But while Islam is exactly about inviting people to truth and right, and the Qu'ran declares that truth stands out clear from error, it also reinforces the statement with the directive that let there be no compulsion in the matter of Religion. (2:256).

Two things are, therefore clearly excluded from purview of Qital: forcing people to convert to Islam and to conquer land per se.

Surely, not all the wars that Muslim rulers have fought over a period of more than a thousand years were necessarily Qital in the way of Allah. However, it is also a fact of history that whatever the nature of the wars, Muslim conquests were always conquests of hearts, and not just land. Winning land was incidental to winning the people-totally unlike the colonial conquests.

In colonial conquests, when not physically exterminated, the indigenous population was enslaved and subjugated and their lands looted and vandalised. Muslim conquests have quite a different quality. A few or more may have been wanting in the Islamic qualities of Jihad, but instead of subjugation, they brought about a general liberation of the 'conquered' people. Indeed, one of the main objectives of Qital is to deliver the weak and the oppressed, who cry out for God to raise for them someone who would rescue them from their oppressors. (4:75).

After Muslims conquered Syria and Palestine, Christians occupied high posts, built new churches and the Nestorian church was revived. It was the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Bishop Sophronius himself who asked the second right guided Caliph, Syedna 'Umar, Radhi-Allah anhu, top come all the way, from Madina-al Munawwarrah to receive the key of the holy city. Sophronius was surprised to find that Caliph walking on foot while his 'slave' was riding the one single 'official' camel which they had been taking turns to share. The Patriarch was more surprised when the Caliph declined his invitation to say his prayers inside the Church of Resurrection, because he explained, the precedent could be misconstrued by some Muslims as giving them the right to hold their prayers inside a church.

Similarly, when the Muslim Army reached the valley of the Jordan and (the Muslim commander) Abu 'Ubaydah pitched his camp at Fihl, the Christian inhabitants of the country wrote to the Arabs saying " O Muslims, we prefer you to the Byzantine, though they are of our own faith, because you keep better faith with us and are more merciful to us and refrain from doing us injustice and your rule over us is better than theirs, for they have robbed us of our goods and our homes. " The people of Emessa closed their gates against the army of Heraclius and told the Muslims that they preferred their government and justice to the injustice and oppression of the Greeks.

When Muslims conquered Egypt, the Copts welcomed them as deliverers from Byzantine rule. Sir Thomas Arnold's (1864-1930) Preaching of Islam (1896, Revised 1913, and 1930 with an introduction by R. A. Nicholson) from which the above quotes are taken, documents how the same history went on replicating itself in Asia, Africa and in South-eastern Europe even though the with passage of time there was a decline in the standard of Muslim governance and fighting wars.

In almost every part of the world, a large number of people embraced Islam over a period of 15 centuries, and they took their own time to make their own choice. This is why those who had accepted Islam after the conquests rarely went back to their pre-Islamic beliefs. Not even after Muslims had lost political power. Beginning with the 18th century Muslim lands were massively colonised, but Muslim minds could not be de-Islamised. It is obvious their acceptance of Islam had not been function of Muslim political power. It was a function of choice and conviction and those who felt otherwise were also able to exercise their choice and stayed outside the fold of Islam.

The fundamental objective of Jihad is to establish peace and justice, not to make war for its own sake. Islam places absolute value on justice, and it has zero tolerance for what it calls Fitna and Fasad (mischief or rioting).

It is obvious enough that if they are victims of aggression, Muslims are within their rights to defend their faith, their freedom, their territory and their identity. But Muslims are also required to fight and shed their blood in order to defend the life, possessions and honour of Ahlal-Dhimma (dhimmis) that is those non-Muslims who live under the protection of their authority. The prophet, (pbuh) put it categorically when he said if a person(Muslim) killed a non-Muslim under Islamic protection, he shall never taste the fragrance of Paradise although this fragrance can reach as far as the distance which one would take 40 years to travel. ( Ibn-Majah).

'They( the dhimmis) had accepted to come under our protection only in order that their blood and their wealth acquired the same inviolability as ours' explained the fourth right guided Caliph Syedna 'Ali, Radhi-Allah anhu', and Syedna 'Umar, Radhi Allah anhu declared 'I hereby will that you fully honour the protection promised by God and his Prophet(pbuh), [to the dhimmis] in that you fulfil the covenant made with the dhimmis, that you make Qital in order to protect them and that they should not be asked to pay more (jizya) than they can bear. '

There are no precise English equivalents for the terms Fitna and Fasad, but Fitna is broadly translated as transgression and oppression. Fasad is cruelty, coercion, and anything which subverts the social order, from the family to society. Between them, the two terms cover injustice, atrocity, and depravity; persecution mischief and sedition, including all unjust killings.

Therefore, as far as Islam is concerned, genocide is not about numbers. And God decreed to the Children of Israel that whosoever killed one single human for other than stopping mischief in the earth (Fasad), it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whosoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he saved the life of all humankind. (5:32).

Muslims, were therefore, first given permission to fight against those who made war against them (22:39) because they had been wronged. Next step they were told it was their duty to fight against Fitnah until there was no more tumult or oppression and justice prevailed. But they were also warned not to commit any transgression and to cease fighting if they cease their hostility because God does not like transgression. (2:193)

The entire purpose of Jihad and Qital is, necessarily, to get rid of Fitnah and uphold justice; for Islam considers Fitnah to be far worse than even killing (2:191 and 217) because, the Qu'ran says if the Fitnah is not crushed, the land will be filled with tumult and mischief, oppression and sedition (8:73).

Jihad is, therefore, a continuous and comprehensive striving in the way of God and wherein come occasions when it is necessary to go beyond words to use one's hands in order to end the state of atrocity and sedition; subject, however, to the rule that this is done only in order to restore justice and out of rancour or enmity. Muslims are strictly commanded to be upright in bearing, witness for God and not let the enmity of any people deviate them from justice. (5:8).

Islam not only defines the objectives of Qital in clear ethical terms -to terminate sedition and uphold justice -but it also lays down distinct ethical rules to forbid dirty and indiscriminate war. From the very outset, Islam drew a clear line between two different types of belligerents: combatant and non-combatant. The combatants were those who actually took part in the war; namely, the young and able-bodied men. The non-combatants were those who normally did not take part in fighting; namely old men; women and children; sick, injured and disabled; travellers, blind and insane; and nuns, monks and clergy etc.

Though this principle of trying to differentiate between combatants and non-combatants occurred to Europe in the 17th century, it was observed more in breach than in practice. And the indiscriminate targeting of non-combatant civilians has since come to be justified as 'collateral' damage.

Jihad on the other hand, is holistic obligation. But the modern idea of 'total war'in which a warring party gives itself the right to inflict total death and total damage upon its enemy is concept that is alien to the ethics of Jihad.

The Prophet(pbuh) admonished the famous Muslim commander, Khalid bin Waleed, when saw the body of a woman lying on the battle field and reminded that they must never kill and old person, a child or a woman and they should be kind and compassionate towards people because God liked those are gracious and magnanimous. Similarly, when Muslim entered Makkah al-Makarramah, they were told not to attack any soldier, if he happened to be wounded; or to chase him, if he was trying to escape with his life; and were ordered to give him protection (aman) if shut himself inside the house.

Islam has not given rights even to combatants in actions against it. The enemy soldiers are not to be thrown into or inflicted death by burning. They are not to be killed cruelly, subjected to slow and tortuous death, or put to death after tying their hands and feet; and the dead are not to be mutilated. Homes are not to be entered into or their women beaten up. Muslim soldiers are not allowed to loot or touch any civilian or non-combatant property. They cannot slaughter their sheep and cattle for their food, nor take the milk from the cattle, except with the permission of their owners. Neither are the trees to be felled , nor the corps burnt or destroyed. All this is Fasad, according to the Qu'ran (2:205). Those who flout these rules are not to be regarded as battling in the way of God, in Jihad.

The Prophet (pbuh) always told Muslims to treat the prisoners of war (POW's) kindly and generously. In the event, some of the companions fed and clothed the prisoners better than themselves.

Islam does not allow Muslims to wage Qital without any warning and ultimatum or launch a night attack when people may be asleep. Whenever the Prophet (pbuh) arrived at a place during night, he would not launch the attack until there was light.

If the Muslim land is invaded, Qital becomes obligatory upon the people of that land. But if it appears they are not in a position to repel or defeat aggression, it is the duty of the entire Islamic Ummah to go to their help. However, for Qital to be universally obligatory, the decision has to come from the demure or , in its absence, de facto

Islamic authority: If the Islamic authority issued a general call, it would be incumbent upon all Muslims to take part in the Jihad.

However, the degree of obligation would depend upon a community's closeness or distance from the theatre of action. The nearest should join first, and others according to the nearness from the front. But as those who live at a distance, Qital is a collective duty(fardhe Kifayah) and if some people from the community took part in the Jihad, it would be as if they had done so on behalf of others in the community.

There may be other situations of Fitnah or Fasad in which the Islamic authority may have to declare Qital. Howsoever, only a legitimate and acceptable Islamic authority takes the decision to sanction or give the call for Qital- that is to declare war in the common language- normally the state does.

In the absence of such authority Qital may be declared by non-official Islamic leadership" for example, by respected and knowledgeable 'Ulema whose religious and political judgement would be acclaimed and followed by the Islamic Ummah. However, those taking upon themselves this strategic responsibility to sanction Qital are required not only to do their determination on clear Islamic grounds, including the strategic feasibility of their decision. They have also to satisfy themselves that Qital was a realistic and feasible proposition in the given objective situation and the Muslims had the minimum tools, to wage a realistic Qital. But if the situation called for Qital and Muslims happened not to be prepared, the authority or leadership would defer its decision and arrange for the necessary preparations before making any formal declaration.

It is the responsibility of the Islamic leadership or authority not to lead Muslims, whether wittingly or unwittingly into a situation for which they may not be ready, mentally and militarily and which may turn out to be suicidal. A battle fought according to plans and strategy not because of anger or provocation. The objective of Jihad is to establish order and not to contribute to any disorder; and that is why the conditionally, that the decision to sanction Qital should be taken by a legitimate and acceptable authority and not by individuals, howsoever pious and enthusiastic they might me.

Even if otherwise necessary, it is simply not practicable for individuals to decide on such a strategic question which would involve the population. A decision which did not enjoy the consent and consensus of the broad Ummah (jumhoor) can have little chance of success. It could, on the other hand lead only to sporadic violence and produce anarchy (Fasad) instead of order and defeat the very purpose of Jihad. Such individual action would also give the enemy an easy excuse to inflict more death and defeat upon the Muslims and hurt their future ability to prepare and wage war.

But, if there did not exist any de jure Muslim authority which was willing do to its duty in the way of Jihad, it is for the people, Ulema, and Islamic societies to educate, demand and mobilise public opinion in favour of Qital. This might possibly result in the existing authority getting convinced of its duty or yielding to the movement for Jihad.

What is not possible, however, is for the individuals or groups of individuals to declare Qital without the knowledge, consent and consensus of the jumhoor i. e. Ummah. However, unlike the past, when the world could be divided into Muslim lands(Darul Islam) and non-Muslim lands, and the non Muslim lands sub-divided further into lands with whom Muslim were at war(Darul Harb) and lands with whom they had a peace treaty, there are now large Muslim citizen communities in several non-Muslim countries. What would be position of these Muslims in the event of a general call for Qital pitting them against the countries of their citizenship? This hypothetical situation is probably new, but the Islamic law is quite clear.

These communities have an obligation to stand by their citizenship contract; should they want to get out of it, they would have to quit the contract and get out of the jurisdiction. Islam requires Muslims to inform and notify the other party if they want to quit any agreement.

So, if there is Jihad, it is open and announced. Jihad cannot be covert or clandestine and it has no place for sabotage and subversion from within. Jihad is a clean and moral battle in the pursuit of clean and moral objectives; if not, it is not Jihad.

23 December 1999

Also see:

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I found the following article I had written several years ago on a website Islam for today. Though some of the statements are now outdated, it may still bear reading and would probably prove useful for some readers. It is also available at I am posting it here just as it is on that site except that I have corrected the misspelling of my byline:

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Religion of the Jahiliya - Jihadism is Kufr, not Islam
A completely new religion seems to be catching the imagination of many people in Pakistan. Its followers don't, of course, consider it a new religion. Indeed this religion insists that it is Islam, in fact it calls itself true Islam or real Islam. But it can at best be described as Jihadism as its central belief system is based on a wilful misinterpretation of the Islamic concept of Jihad.

By Sultan Shahin

The Pakistan Army is determined to change the very character of Islam, turning it into the pre-Islamic religion of the Jahiliya [Arabia in the Dark Ages]. The army had indeed given ample evidence of its anti-Islamic character by reminding us recently of the Battle of Uhud where a woman of Jahiliya, Hinda, had mutilated the dead body of Prophet Mohammad's uncle, Hazrat Hamza The Prophet had not only forgiven her but had made it a point to forbid the practice in every Muslim gathering thereafter for fear that the Muslims, too, might do something similar in retaliation.

Slowly but surely what appears to be a completely new religion seems to be catching the imagination of many people in Pakistan. Its followers don't, of course, consider it a new religion. Indeed this religion insists that it is Islam, in fact it calls itself true Islam or real Islam. But it can at best be described as Jihadism as its central belief system is based on a wilful misinterpretation of the Islamic concept of Jihad. It can also be called Talibanism, as the Taliban of Afghanistan, who studied in Pakistani madrassas run by the Jamiat-ul-Ulema, are its most avid practitioners.

By and large, the western- educated liberal Pakistani intelligentsia, as I found out during a recent visit, hates this religion and is frightened of it. But as one by one all institutions of governance are succumbing to its growing power and its capacity for evil, they are getting scared to death. Some of them are simply planning to migrate to some non-Muslim majority country. No one is really fighting this malignant force, though some journalists and human rights activists still have the courage at least to express their horror and outrage at grave personal risk.

It is Islamicists, however, who should have been fighting this malignant growth. Some of them indeed are. (One prominent name is that of Maulana Haider Farooq Maudoodi, the son of Jamaat-e-Islami founder Maulana Abul Ala Maudoodi). But they don't have the resources to counter the powerful Jihadist rhetoric backed by vast resources. Muslim masses are by and large ignorant and poor. It is not difficult to either sway them emotionally using Jihadist rhetoric based on Islamic terminology or even to buy them with promises of goodies on earth and in Heaven. What is Jihadism

The basic belief of Jihadism is that all non-Jihadists are kafir and deserve to be killed. As a result, they have so far killed about half a million Muslims in Afghanistan and at least 30,000 Muslims in the Kashmir valley. They have been killing non-Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir recently. But their present target is the Muslims of India. Beginning from the Bombay blasts in I993, they have made several attempts to provoke massive anti-Muslim violence in the country.

Indeed a prominent ex-militant Kashmiri leader told me just after Zuhr prayers in the Shah Faisal mosque in Islamabad that the first person to attack the Babri masjid on Dec. 6, I992, was a Jihadist from POK who had joined the VHP some time ago and was part of Shiv Sena-VHP rally along with several of his co-religionists. My informant was also a Jihadist once, but perhaps not completely devoid of the milk of human kindness and thus not a true Jihadist. He retained affections for his wife and kids stranded in the valley and his Hindu and Muslim classmates in Delhi where he had studied up to graduation. He was clearly not happy with the visions of an impending holocaust in India and tried to warn me.

Another warning came to me more recently from a Jihadist on a brief visit to England. I met him outside London's Finsbury Park mosque after the Friday prayers. Exultant after the Pakistani Jihadists had downed two Indian planes in Kargil, he was more direct: "You Muslims (Indian) are cowards. Rivers of blood will flow in India soon and you will have just two choices: either become a true Muslim (i.e. Jihadist) or perish." Revealing future Jihadist plans, he said: "You are completely devoid of leadership. We will provide you leadership under which you will become true Muslims (i.e. Jihadists)."

It is not some anonymous Jihadists alone who have been giving me these warnings, though they were more forthright than the so-called responsible leaders of this group. Prof. Khursheed Ahmad, vice-president of the Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan, for instance, told me in Islamabad recently that Indian Muslims have been shirking their duty on Kashmir and they will have to answer before God on the Day of judgement as to why they did not support the "Jihad" in Kashmir. Hurriyat Chairman and Kashmiri Jamaat-e-Islami chief Syed Ali Shah Geelani has, of course, been taunting Indian Muslims regularly for their supposed cowardice on Kashmir.

I believe Providence would like me to convey these warnings to the nation. Muslims in particular must beware: they should take care not to allow any one to provoke them into any indiscretion, particularly at a time when the country is involved in a bloody fight with the enemy. It must be clearly understood that in the present case, the enemy is not only the enemy of our country but also the enemy of our religion.

The recent bomb blast at New Jalpaiguri railway station may mark the beginning of some sinister Jihadist plan. West Bengal Home Minister Budhadeb Bhattacharjea has held the Jamaat-e-Islami and not the ULFA responsible for the outrage. There are reports that the ULFA may itself be working for the Pakistani military intelligence organisation ISI. Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani, too, has warned of the possibility of a widespread terror campaign. These warnings must be taken seriously.

Prophet Mohammed is our role model, not Mast Gul
Muslims must remember that they have to consult the Holy Quran for guidance in their day- to-day affairs. The model they are supposed to follow is that of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him) and not destroyers of mosques like Mast Gul. Islam did not allow its followers to pick up a weapon even in their defence for the first thirteen years even though they were facing the worst possible persecution in Mecca. They were "permitted" to defend themselves for the first time in Madina when they were facing aggression from Meccans. Had they not defended themselves even then they would have been surely wiped out from the face of the earth, thus sounding the death-knell for the religion of Islam as well. But only a few years later, when the Prophet had become powerful enough to wage a war with Meccans, he chose peace even on terms that were considered humiliating by most of his followers. He signed a peace agreement known as the Treaty of Hudaibiya. And then when he entered Mecca victorious, a year later, facing no resistance, he chose to grant a general amnesty for all, even for those who had mutilated the dead bodies of his close relatives like his maternal uncle Hazrat Harnza.

Mutilation of dead bodies is a mediaeval pre-Islamic practice, a practice Islam came to fight against. Those who perpetrate such acts in this day and age cannot claim to be Muslims. They must give some new name to their Faith. In any case Muslims cannot accept them as their co-religionists.

God , Compassion or Wrath?
The revelation of Divinity in Islam is specifically described as compassion: God is Rahmanir Rahim - the very acme of kindness and compassion. Then who is a Kafir, unworthy of God's compassion - the kafir who attracts Khuda ka Ghazab, the wrath of God? How do the chosen believers derive the right to visit God~s wrath on the Kafirs, their fellow beings? In a plural society such as ours how can such tenets be upheld?

[These questions were raised by Ms. Jalbala Vaidya and Mr. Gopal Sharma in a debate on various aspects of Islam organised by them at The Akshara Theatre following the premiere of their film The Sufi Way in early I999. A galaxy of scholars from various disciplines participated in the debate. The following are excerpts from the paper presented by the author].

Although God has ninety nine names, depicting all his varied attributes, He is known in the Holy Quran mostly as Rahman and Rahim.

Some Quranic statistics would probably help at this point. The word Merciful, Most merciful, Most gracious (Rahmanir Rahim) has been used 124 times in the Quran. The word 'Mercy' has been used I73 times. Contrast this with the usage of the word 'Wrath' (anger) and 'Wrathful' (Angry). The word Wrath or anger appears thrice in the entire Quran - (Sura Al-Fatiha 1.07, Al,Baqra 2.90, and AI Imran 3.11) Then the word wrathful or angry occurs four times in the entire Quran - Al-Mada, Al-Fath, Al,Mujadila and Al-Murntahina. I don't think one needs to add anything at this point. It is clear as day that God is conceived in Islam as the personification of compassion, though, of course, in the course of His work, helping the spiritual growth of humanity, He may need to present Himself as wrathful. Any parent or teacher who has tried to help his or her children or students would testify to the occasional need for doing this. But that doesn't make God as an embodiment of wrath, an entity to be feared, as some Islamic theologians, particularly the ones who are promoting this new religion of Jihadism are prone to do.

What is Kufr?
In his monumental work The Religion of Islam, Maulana Mohammad Ali discusses this and related subjects at great length. I will be using his research a great deal in this presentation without being able to invoke his authority all the time. According to him, Kufr is defined by most commentators of the Holy Quran as 'denial of the truth'. Basically the word means to cover, to conceal.

Primarily the term Kufr was used to describe the pre-Islamic Meccans' denial of the truth about the oneness of God and prophethood of the Messenger of God. Kufr is also used for concealment or withholding of the means of subsistence, which God has created for the good of all mankind and which He wants to be freely available to all. According to this definition, hoarders of goods for the sake of business or hoarders of wealth would be considered kafir. People occupying high offices but who love their Swiss bank accounts, despite their call for Islamisation would be considered kafir.

Who is a Kafir?
The Prophet used the word kafir in a variety of ways. Ingratitude, for instance, is equated with Kufr. Similarly excessive eating or gluttony is considered by the Prophet one of the attributes of a kafir. This would place nearly all ulema, maulvis and so-called maulanas on the list of Kuffar (the plural of Kafir). In Egypt, as Prof Ausaf Ali pointed out yesterday, even farmers are called Kafir, as they conceal the seeds in the earth and cover up the ground.

The Prophet once said that any one who wrongly calls others kafir is himself a kafir. The accusation of Kufr reverts to the accuser if the accused is innocent. This would again place nearly all ulema belonging to different sects who routinely keep calling each other kafir in the list of Kuffar themselves.

A Muslim killing another Muslim becomes a kafir. All the so-called 'mujahedeen' in Afghanistan or Kashmir are thus placed in the list of kuffar. In a strict sense even neglect of prayer, according to some narrators of Hadees is placed in the definition of Kufr and places the Muslim outside the religion of Islam. Someone who conforms to the obligations of prayer yet neglects it out of laziness or the pretence of being too busy (without a valid legal excuse) would attract the provisions of Kufr. According to some scholars like Malik and Shafe'i, such a person is an evil-doer and should indeed be killed, though according to Imam Abu Hanifa, who is the most widely followed scholar among Sunnis, he is not a kafir and should merely be given some minor punishment and confined until he repents and starts praying.

If the "Islamic" state of Pakistan were to follow Malik and Shafe'i, it would probably need to use its nuclear arsenal to kill 99 per cent of its citizens, having shifted the truly Muslim one percent elsewhere first and even if it were to follow Imam Abu Hanifa, it would need to convert the whole of Pakistan into a jail, though there would not be enough people left to act as jailers and not enough money to feed the multitude of prisoners.

In common parlance a Kafir is understood as a non-believer. It is not clear, though, if a Kafir is somebody who doesn't believe in God or oneness of God or both in God and the Prophethood of Hazrat Mohammad. Christians and Jews who do not believe in the Prophethood of Mohammad are, however, not treated as Kuffar, despite even a smattering "idolatry" involved in some of their practices. Many non- Muslims, who may be believers in God, in one sense or the other, take umbrage at being called a Kafir by some ignorant Muslims. This does amount to an insult to their belief systems.

Kafir Vs Munafiq
But this sense of grievance, though correct, also emanates from an inadequate understanding of the word Kafir and its implications on their part. Few people are aware that the lowest depths of Hell are reserved in Islam, not for the Kafir, but for those people who may be today claiming to be Muslims. For God in the Quran condemns and consigns to the lowest depths of Hell, not the Kafir, but the munafeqeen (the hypocrites) who profess to believe in what they do not accept at heart: the Kafir on the other hand has at least the forthrightness to proclaim his beliefs. So the greatest insult is not in being called a Kafir, but in being called a Munafiq, a term that can only be applied to someone claiming to be a Muslim.

As most Muslims today are merely hereditary Muslims and have not really converted to Islam out of any acquired understanding of the Deen-e-Islam, the Islamic way of life, have not submitted to the will of God in the true sense, many of them are liable to be called Munafeqeen in the strict sense of the word. Rational Religion

The greatest irony in the history of Islam is that though Islam claims to be a rational religion, it would be difficult to find a prominent thinking Muslim with the courage of his convictions who has not attracted the fatwa of Kufr. One of the most well-known examples is that of Sir Syed. Many ulema arrogate to themselves the right to judge others in a purely subjective fashion.

And this is despite the clearly and repeatedly expressed view of the Prophet that Muslims should not call any one either a kafir or a Munafiq. In fact the Prophet himself refused to judge people as Munafiq. Even those people who were known to be from among the Munafeqeen were treated by the Prophet as Momineen. When the notorious chief of the Munafeqeen in Madina, Abdullah ibn Ubayy died, the Holy Prophet offered funeral prayers on his grave and treated him as a Muslim. In fact his maxim was: "whoever calls the people of la ilaha illa-Allah kafir, is himself nearer to Kufr."

One fact that will perhaps interest you most is that those Muslims who call Hindus Kafir maybe committing Kufr themselves. In Islam, to believe in some prophets and reject others is condemned as Kufr: "Those who disbelieve in God and His apostles, and those who desire to make a distinction between God and His apostles, and those who say, We believe in some and disbelieve in others, and desire to take a course between this and that, these it is that are truly unbelievers" (4; 150, 151).

Equal respect for all prophets
A belief in all the prophets of the world is thus an essential principle of the religion of Islam, and though the faith of Islam is summed in two brief sentences, there is no God but God, and Muhammad is His apostle, yet the man who confesses belief in the prophethood of Muhammad, in so doing accepts all the prophets of the world, whether their names are mentioned in the Holy Quran or not. Islam claims a universality to which no other religion can aspire, and lays the foundation of a brotherhood as vast as humanity itself.

"And we did not send before thee any but men to whom We sent revelation ...... (2I:7).

According to the Holy Quran, there is not one nation in the world in which a prophet has not been raised up: "There is not a people but a warner has gone among them" (35:24). And again : "Every nation has had an apostle" (I0:47). We are further told that there have been prophets besides those mentioned in the Holy Quran: "And We sent apostles We have mentioned to thee before, and apostles We have not mentioned to thee' (4:I64).

It is, in fact stated in a hadith that there have been 124,000 prophets, while the Holy Quran contains only about twenty-five names, among them being several non-Biblical prophets, Hud and Salih raised up in Arabia, Luqman in Ethiopia, a contemporary of Moses (generally known as Khidzr) in Sudan, and Dhu-PQarnain (Darius I, who was also a king) in Persia; all of which is quite in accordance with the theory of universality of prophethood, as enunciated above. And as the Holy Book has plainly said that prophets have appeared in all nations and that it has not named all of them, which in fact was unnecessary, a Muslim may accept the great luminaries who are accepted by other religions as having brought light to them, as the prophets of those nations.

The Quran, however, not only establishes a theory that prophets have appeared in all nations; it goes further and renders it necessary that a Muslim should believe in all those prophets, In the very beginning we are told that a Muslim must "believe in that which has been revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and the tribes, and in that which was given to Moses and Jesus, and in that which was given to the prophets from their Lord, we do not make distinction between any of Thee ' (2:I36), where the word prophets clearly refers to the prophets of other nations.

And again the Holy Quran speaks of Muslims as believing in all the prophets of God and not in the Holy Prophet Muhammad alone: "Righteousness is this that one should believe in God and the last day and the angels and the books 'and the prophets" (2:I77); "The Apostle believes in what has been revealed to him from His Lord, and so do the believers; they all believe in God and His angels and his books and His apostles; we make no distinction between any of his apostles" 2:285).

Like any other living Faith, controversies abound in Islam. One of the most controversial issues is the relationship of a Muslim with people belonging to other religions. Since in India Muslims have always lived next to a very large non-Muslim community, this issue has created even deeper controversies. While there are Muslims who would insist on treating Hindus as Kafirs, there are others who would insist that they should actually be treated as Ahl-e-Kitab, people bearing revealed books, a people who have a special place in Islamic theology and practice.

Hindus as Ahl'e-Kitab?
Disregarding the advice of some ulema of his time, the first Arab to conquer parts of India, Sindh and Multan, had made a good beginning, giving the Hindus the same status as Ahl-e,Kitab, people with whom Muslims are allowed to have good social relations including marital relations. Since then, the Hindu-Muslim interaction has taken place constantly in a variety of ways. This is not the place to go into history, but we are all aware of the differences of approach between say an Akbar and an Aurangzeb.

The question of the place of Hindus in Islamic theology has, however, persisted. There are Muslims who have no reservations whatsoever in considering Hindus as Ahl-e-Kitab. In fact if the holy books like Bhagwat Geeta found in India are not divine in origin, perhaps there are no divine books in the world.

To me the question whether Sri Krishna, for instance, is an Avtar of God or a messenger of God is merely an issue of semantics. It is even possible that Hazrat Vyas is a prophet who is using allegorical stories to drive home the message of God. The important thing is that the message is certainly Divine. The Hindu Holy books are indeed our Adigranth. It is only reasonable to think that they must have undergone any number of changes, accretions, deductions, fabrications, etc. during the millennia that they have been guiding the spiritual growth of Indians. A Muslim, therefore, cannot treat these holy books with the same amount of authenticity as he attaches to the Quran. The Quran is unique among all the holy books in the world in the sense that it is the only book to have survived exactly as it came. The Hindus therefore must be treated by the Muslims as Ahl-e-Kitab.

This thought has been best expressed by Maulana Muhammad Ali in his monumental work The Religion of Islam. While discussing the issue of marital relations between Muslims and non-Muslims, he says: "As the Holy Quran states that revelation was granted to all nations of the world (35: 24), and that it was only with the Arab idolaters that marriage relations were prohibited, and that it was lawful for a Muslim to marry a woman belonging to any other nation of the world that followed a revealed religion. The Christians, the Jews, the Parsis, the Buddhists and the Hindus all fall within this category; and it would be seen that, though the Christian doctrine of calling Jesus Christ a God or son of God is denounced as shirk, still the Christians are treated as followers of a revealed religion and not as mushrikeen, and matrimonial relations with them are allowed. The case of all those people who have originally been given a revealed religion, though at present they may be guilty of 'shirk', would be treated in like manner, and Parsi and Hindu women may be taken in marriage, as also may those who follow the religion of Confucius or of Buddha or of Tao.

Another significant question that has been raised here is: How do the chosen believers derive the right to visit God's wrath on the Kafirs, their fellow beings? In a plural society such as ours, how can such tenets be upheld? These questions are arising today largely in the context of the killings of innocent Muslims and Hindus going on in Afghanistan and Kashmir in the name of jihad. While raising this question, Ms. Jalbala Vaidya specifically mentioned what she termed the 'sordid caricature of the Taliban' and deplored the power games going on in the name of Islam.

What is jihad?
But before we come to the phenomenon of Taliban and the related power games, we must try to understand the true meaning of the word Jihad that is being so misused today. According to Maulana Mohammad Ali, Jihad, in Islamic terminology, means to strive to one's utmost for what to one is the noblest object on earth. There can be nothing nobler for a Muslim than the earning of God's pleasure through making a complete submission to His Will. For those false deities that may lay claim to his spiritual allegiance as well as against all those whims and desires that may try to lure him away from the fold of goodness and piety.

A very great misconception prevails with regard to the duty of jihad in Islam, and that is that the word jihad is supposed to be synonymous with war; and even the greatest research scholars of Europe have not taken the pains to consult any dictionary of the Arabic language or to refer to the Holy Quran, to find out the true meaning of the word.

The word jihad is derived from 'jahd' or 'juhd' meaning ability, exertion or power, and 'mujahida' mean the exerting of one's power in repelling the enemy (R). The same authority then goes on to say: "jihad is of three kinds; viz.., the carrying on of a struggle: (I) against a visible enemy, (2) against the devil, and (3) against self (nafs)." According to another authority, jihad means fighting with unbelievers, and that is an intensive form (mubalagha) and exerting one's self to the extent of one's ability and power whether it is by word (qaul) or deed (fi'l). A third authority gives the following significance: "jihad from jahada, properly signifies the using or exerting of one's utmost power, efforts, endeavours or ability, in contending with an object of disapprobation; and this is of three kinds, namely, a visible enemy, the devil, and one's self; all of which are included in the term as used in the Holy Quran.

Jihad is therefore far from being synonymous with war, while the popular meaning of "war undertaken for the propagation of Islam," which is supposed by European writers to be the real significance of jihad, is unknown equally to the Arabic language and the teachings of the Holy Quran.

Equally, or even more important is the consideration of the sense in which the word is used in the Holy Quran. It is an admitted fact that permission to fight was given to the Muslims when they had moved to Madina. But the injunction relating to Mujahideen contained in the earlier as well as in the later Mecca revelations. Thus the 'Ankabut' , the 29th chapter of the Holy Quran, is one of a group which was undoubtedly revealed in the fifth and sixth years of the Call of the Prophet, yet there the word jihad is freely used in the sense of exerting one's power and ability, without implying any war. In one place, it is said, "And those who strive hard for Us, We will certainly guide them in our ways, and God is surely with the doers of good" (29:69).

The Arabic word jahadu is derived from jihad or muj ahida, and the addition of fina (for Us) shows, if anything further is needed to show it, that the jihad, in this case is the spiritual striving to attain nearness to God, and the result of this jihad is stated to be God's guiding those striving in His ways. The word is used precisely in the same sense twice in a previous verse in the same chapter:

'And whoever strives hard (jahadu), he strives (yujahidu) only for his own soul," that is, for his own benefit, "for God is self-sufficient, above need of the worlds" (29:6).

In the same chapter the word is used in the sense of a contention carried on in words: 'And we have enjoined on man goodness to his parents, and if they contend (jahada) with thee that thou shouldst associate others with Me, of which thou hast no knowledge, do not obey them" (29:8).

A struggle for national existence was forced on the Muslims when they reached Madina, and they had to take up the sword in self-defence. This struggle went also, and rightly, under the name of jihad; but even in the Madina suras the word is used in the wider sense of a struggle carried on by words or deeds of any kind.

Jihadism is anti-Islam
he Jihadists are killing people and oppressing humanity under the garb of preaching Islam and enforcing Islamic Sharia for which they really have no authority. If they were to look at the conduct of Prophet Mohammad in this regard, they would have got a completely different picture. According to Maulana Mohammad Ali (The Religion of Islam), when the Prophet grew worried that people did not pay attention to his words and did not try to understand them, he was admonished in this way:

"If God Willed, all who are on the earth would have believed (in Him). Would thou (Muhammad) compel men until they are believers?" (10:99)

Prophet Muhammad often came across people who were completely unresponsive to his words, while others were stirred, who believed and were prepared to listen. In dealing with the former, he occasionally grew impatient and felt frustrated. The Quran counsels him to be patient, forgiving and tolerant. It warns him against the temptation to impose his views on them:

"You will kill yourself with grief , if they believe not in this message" (18:6).

No compulsion in religion
Prophet Mohammed
is assured that if he has placed the true view, in simple terms, before the people, he has fulfilled his mission. More than this is not expected of him. It is not his duty to see that the view is accepted by the people. His duty is only to tell them which is the right path and which the wrong one and to acquaint them with the consequences of following the one or the other. They are free to choose for themselves: God does not want to force people to accept His guidance. He has endowed man with the powers of understanding, judgement and free choice.

So if Mohammed did not have the power to compel people to accept Islam, even after he had acquired temporal power over most of Arabia, who are the Taliban or any other people to try to do so? Obviously they have no business behaving the way they are doing and need to be condemned by all, particularly Muslims, because they are giving such a bad name to Islam, apart from oppressing humanity in the name of a religion that came to the world as a blessing of God. Let us try and keep Islam as a blessing and not allow it to be turned into a tool for oppression.

Jihadism, Taliban and Pakistan
One of the worst manifestations of Jihadism are the Taliban of Afghanistan. The evil, manifest in the ideology of Jihadism took a concrete shape in the form of Taliban. The world got the first indication of the shape of things to come and the dangers inherent in allowing this obscurantist ideology to take root when it woke up on the very first day of the Taliban take-over of Kabul (26-27 September 1996) to see the battered body of former communist President Dr. Najibullah in the UN compound.

One of the reasons why any Pakistan government has to tread cautiously while dealing with the Taliban and other Jihadists in the country is that the Taliban have firmed up their relationship with several powerful sections of the Pakistani society. Though a creation of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e -Pakistan, for instance, they have succeeded in mending fences even with the rival Jihadist organisation, the Jamaat-e-Islami of Pakistan. It may be recalled that the Jamaat had called them tools of imperialist powers like the United States and the United Kingdom, when they had first appeared on the scene. But now it has no hesitation in endorsing the Taliban brand of politics, indeed the Taliban version of Islam itself.

The biggest danger of the Talibanisation of Pakistan, however, comes from the fact that the social and doctrinal roots of the Pakistani army jawans are virtually the same as those of the Taliban. Pakistan army officers may have trained the Taliban and may control them even now to a certain extent in terms of finance, but they are bound to fear them too. For there is a great difference in the secular orientation and the progressive social roots of a majority of the officer class and the obscurantist and mediaeval orientation of the Taliban, even if their objectives coincide at certain points.

But while most of the Pakistan army officers are bound to remain somewhat wary of the Taliban, even while exploiting their ideology for their own nefarious ends, at lower levels in the army there is greater acceptance of Jihadism practised by the Taliban. This is a cause for great worry in the Pakistan army's officers and they are bound to view the possibility of a coming together of the Taliban of Afghanistan, local Jihadis and Pakistan Army jawans and lower level officers with great trepidation.

Who are the Taliban?
This makes it imperative that we pose the question: Who are the Taliban? Describing the social and doctrinal roots of the Taliban, William Maley provides the best answer to this question in his recent book Fundamentalism reborn: Afghanistan and the Taliban. As he points out, the Taliban did not emerge from nowhere, although the precise milieu which nurtured them has not been widely studied. The figure of the Talib is a relatively familiar one in the Northwest Frontier: as long ago as 1898, Winston Churchill penned some cutting remarks about 'a host of wandering talib-ul-ilms, who correspond with the theological students in Turkey and live free at the expense of the people.'

In Afghanistan, the establishment in the twentieth century of state-supported venues for religious education such as the Faculty of Islamic Law at Kabul University, and state madrassas (Islamic colleges), did not mean the end of private madrassas 'in which the talib, proceeded at his own individual speed with one subject at a time'. The advent of war in Afghanistan in the 1980s saw talibs taking to the battlefield; they were witnessed in 1984 by Olivier Roy in Uruzgan, Kabul and Kandahar.

These students emerged not from madrassas in Afghanistan, but from those run by the Jamiat-e-Ulema-i-Islam, a Pakistani political party headed by Maulana Fazlur Rahman, which offered a conservative religious education to boys from Afghan refugee camps, especially orphans or sons of very poor families. The religious training of these students was heavily influenced by the Deobandi school, which originated in the Dar ul-Ulum Deoband, an institution established in the Indian town of Deoband in I867. William Maley seeks to explain the inexplicable Taliban behaviour in this way:

"The Deobandi school preached a form of conservative orthodoxy, and madrassas under its influence provided the bulk of the Afghan ulema. In this orthodoxy, evil and apostasy could be defined at least in part in terms of departure from ritual - that is, 'action wrapped in a web of symbolism' and it is for this reason that the Taliban emphasise the enforcement of modes of behaviour which to the outside observer seem peripheral to solving Afghanistan's major problems. It is scarcely surprising that the most cohesive organisation in the Taliban's otherwise inchoate structure is the much-feared religious police force (Amr bil-Maroof wa Nahi An il-Munkir, the department responsible for the Promotion of Virtue and Suppression of Vice)."

The Taliban can, however, be better described as Jihadists, as jihad constitutes the central focus around which they are oppressing humanity and destroying Islam as we have known and practised this religion throughout the last centuries. India may he at the receiving end of Jihadism and Talibanism in Kashmir, but it is Pakistan that could be the very first country to fall to this new ideology once it has taken firmer roots in Afghanistan. It seems to me that the ruling elite in Pakistan including the Army officers already realise this, but are at a loss to formulate a clear-cut strategy to deal with this threat to their own power. They have merely decided to deal with the Taliban of Afghanistan as well as their local counterparts with great care. In the meantime they go on merrily providing succour to the ideology of Jihadism perhaps in the hope that as long as Jihadism is busy elsewhere, they are safe. But no one and no situation can save Frankensteins from their monsters for ever. Pakistan army officers would do well to read the story of the central character of one of Goethe's celebrated poems Der Zauberlehrling [The apprentice magician] who fell victim to the forces he had merrily liberated but then could not control.

This article dates from August 1999.

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