By Tufail Ahmad for New Age Islam
(Excerpts from this Book Release speech is posted exclusively on NewAgeIslam.com)
Following are excerpts from a speech delivered by Tufail Ahmad, Director of South Asia Studies Project at the Washington D.C.-based Middle East Media Research Institute, at an event at the School of International Studies (SIS), Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
The event was jointly organised by the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) on April 4, 2016 to discuss Mr. Ahmad's book, "Jihadist Threat To India – The Case For Islamic Reformation By An Indian Muslim."
Other speakers on the panel included: Ms. Naila Inayat, the Lahore-based Special Correspondent of USA TODAY, Mr. Sushant Sareen, Senior Fellow at the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF, New Delhi) and Dr. Saumyajit Ray, professor of international relations at the SIS of JNU who chaired the event. Noted commentator Tarek Fateh came to attend the event and also spoke.
The Movement of Ideas Across Times
I am happy to be back in JNU, our great nationalist university. In the early 1990s, I studied here for a Master's degree in Social Systems. I am thankful to the JNU Students Union and JNUSU-SIS for hosting me here this afternoon. My personal thanks are to JNUSU Joint Secretary Shri Saurabh K. Sharma and Shri Vijay Kumar, the SIS Councillor; as well as to the ABVP for organising this book discussion. My thanks also go to Dr. Saumyajit Ray for chairing this event; Ms. Naila Inayat, the Special Correspondent of USA TODAY who also writes for major newspapers including the New York Times from her base in Lahore; and Shri Sushant Sareen, the most astute mind India today has on developments in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thank you for joining.
My book, "Jihadist Threat To India – The Case For Islamic Reformation By An Indian Muslim", is a collection of my research papers and articles that address the ideological aspect of jihadism and argue that democracy is the best antidote to jihadism and Islamism. This book has resulted from years of my work at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) over the past decade. I am absolutely sure that we can fight and defeat Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS), but I am here this after to speak about the far bigger threat than the terrorist groups, a certain movement of ideas that strikes at the roots of pluralism, individual liberty, women's rights and free speech.
My mind has been focused on ideological questions: especially, the ideology of jihadism – or its soft version called Islamism which survives in the social and legal mainstream of free societies such as India. India is already a Shariah-compliant state in the matters of marriage, divorce, re-marriage, inheritance, court witnesses, Waqf, gender relations, etc. I ponder over how ideas coalesce into ideologies and rule over people's minds. For example, it takes a single Islamic cleric to shut up an entire village of Muslims. So, at issue is not the vast majority of Muslims, but the single cleric and his set of ideas, or his ideology that is consequential on a mass scale. Some argue that a fatwa is merely an Islamic opinion but for the vast majority of devout Muslims, it is more effective than a court order; it impacts their lives; and as a promise to God, it is consequential in their daily lives.
I think over how ideas travels across time. For example, a movement of ideas began from Mecca in the 7th century as a consequence of which there are no Jews in Saudi Arabia, their original home; there are no Zoroastrians in Iran, originally their country; there are no Hindus in Multan, their home not far ago; there are no Hindus in Afghanistan; there are no Sikhs in Lahore, originally a Sikh metropolis. This movement of ideas has continued after the Partition: there are no Hindu Pandits in Kashmir valley. And in many parts of India such as in West Bengal and Kerala, and in Maharashtra and western Uttar Pradesh, some areas are described as "mini Pakistan" – an expression proudly used by Muslims. Non-Muslims are being persecuted and eliminated from Bangladesh and Pakistan.
Or, to grasp the movement of ideas, take another example: burqa was black in the 7th century; it won decisively in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution; it remains black in the 21st century. Clothes are not clothes; clothes are ideas. The American-made blue jeans empower our daughters, but the black burqa impedes the women's progress and strikes at the women's ability to dream to fly. Even when burqa is not black, notably in the case of Bohra Muslims (a sect of Shi'ite Muslims in India), it serves the same ideological purpose: which is to enforce the role of Islam in our lives.
Movements of ideas are important: For example, the past centuries have witnessed different movement of ideas known as: the British colonialism, the American colonization at the level of ideas, and the Islamic colonization which continues. The difference is this: the British and American movements of ideas were dialogical and two-way processes; they gave us roads, bridges, telegraph, internet, gender equality, rule of law and democracy. Democracy emerged from the U.S. from 1776 onwards and today empowers India's women and Dalits in millions. On the contrary, the Islamic colonization is a one-way street. For example, the phrase "Love Jihad" in India may not be accurate but it accurately reveals our social phenomenon: predominantly, it is non-Muslim girls and boys who convert to marry a Muslim, not the other way around. I am not opposed to inter-religious marriages; I always urge the youths of India to marry across religions, but do not convert in order to do so. If it is true love, let it be pure love. Why to convert?
To give you another example, in the context of Bharat Mata Ki Jai (Hail the Mother India) debate, a Muslim youth wrote on Twitter recently: Islam teaches me my love for India. But even in this argument by this Indian Muslim: it is not his love for India that wins, it is Islam that wins. He attributes his own love for India to Islam. The power of Islam to consume the individual is excessive. After the suicide attack on Christian children in Lahore on Easter on March 27, a senior Indian Muslim editor Shahid Siddiqui wrote on Twitter: it is an attack on Islam. Even when it is clearly a jihadist attack on Christian children, Islam is shielded, Islam wins. There is a popular phrase among Muslims of India including Pakistan: Islam zinda hota hai her Karbala ke baad (Islam revives after every martyrdom).
To take another set of examples from India's legal sphere: our judges frequently refer to the Quran as the benchmark, not the Indian Constitution. Last November, Justice J.B. Pardiwala of Gujarat High Court told Muslims not to misinterpret the Koran to have four wives. His job is to cite the Indian Constitution, not the Quran. In March, last month, Justice B. Kamal Pasha of Kerala High Court asked: Why can't Muslim wives have four husbands. I am extremely sorry to note that the job of the judges is to cite the Constitution, not the Koran.
India Practises Shariah Law on Blasphemy
Senior police officers in India serve politicians, not the people or the Indian Constitution. India does not have blasphemy laws but it already practises a degree of the Shariah rule on blasphemy. It is the cowardice of Indian police in Uttar Pradesh that Hindu man Kamlesh Tiwari has been arrested under the National Security Act (NSA) for blasphemy, while the Islamic clerics of Bijnor led by Maulana Anwarul Haq Sadiq are free to taunt the rule of law by openly announcing 51 lakh rupees for beheading Kamlesh Tiwari. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which does not represent Indian Muslims, says the Quran is supreme, not the Indian Constitution. Any such anti-Constitution group must be declared illegal and its leaders arrested.
I invite to you also to think over the manners of punishments: in 1675 Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb hanged Guru Teg Bahadur, the Shield of India, in the public square of Delhi, much like Saudi Arabia executes people in town centres, or Iran hangs people in public squares; these hangings are no different from the public executions carried out by the Islamic State (ISIS). Much before the ISIS was born or Al-Qaeda's jihadi brothers attacked the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, it was Iranian Leader Ayatollah Khomeini who sent killers to kill Salman Rushdie – exactly for the same reason of blasphemy. And exactly for the same theological reason, India's Barelvi clerics do not differ from the Charlie Hebdo attackers, or from Ayatollah Khomeini. For similar theological reasons, the streets of Lahore in the 1920s and 1930s looked like the streets of Paris today.
How does a World Sufism Conference become an antidote to jihadism? Does the Prime Minister of India Shri Narendra Modi believe that the Sufis will endorse a fatwa saying: we agree, a) that Muslim daughters will inherit parental property equally with brothers, b) that we reject unilateral Triple Talaq, c) that Muslim women can be the head of the state, d) that non-Muslim minorities can live as equal citizens in an Islamic country without paying jizya, e) that a non-Muslim can be the head of a Muslim country? To my understanding, none of the Sufis will agree to gender justice, pluralism and religious equality, which is granted by democracy in India. I fail to understand why the Indian prime minister will attend a Sufi conference which does not stand for gender equality.
The book under discussion – "Jihadist Threat to India: The Case for Islamic Reformation by an Indian Muslim" – takes the reader into grasping an understanding of the movement of ideas across times, the ideology of jihadism. But I must also ask a concrete question: How many terrorists are a threat? 10, 20, 50, 100, 1000 – in a country of 1.25 billion, what should be the figure that should worry us? In 712 CE, Muhammad bin Qasim, accompanied by a band of fighters, arrived in Sindh, thereby beginning a movement of ideas as a result of which large portions of Indian civilization were wiped out in subsequent centuries. On 26/11, a band of ten Pakistani terrorists attacked Mumbai, India's most creative city, adversely affecting India-Pakistan relations for long term. On 9/11, it took just 19 hijackers plus their supporters to change the course of foreign policies of dozens of countries for long term. As a result, we are witnessing the emergence of Islamized colonies in European capitals. Britain will be the first to fall in coming decades.
The security threat does not originate from the number of jihadist terrorists; it originates from the nature of the jihadist terrorism. Often a question is raised about terminologies: Should we call it Islamic terrorism, Islamist, jihadist, or Islam, political Islam, or radical Islam, or simply terror? In Sri Lanka, LTTE was not fighting for Hindu caliphate, so it was not called a Hindu terrorist group. In Ireland, Catholics and Protestants were not fighting for imposing Christian caliphate, so they were not called Christian terrorists; in India, Naxalites are not called Hindu terrorists because they are not fighting for Hindu Rashtra (nation). Conversely, a small group of Indians, limited to a single nucleus, were described by Indian media as Hindu or Saffron terrorists because they stood for Hindu Rashtra in a religious sense.
In the case of Muslims, only those fighters are known as Islamic militants, Islamists, or jihadists who fight for establishing Shariah-based Islamic rule. Or, these groups are called Islamists because they describe themselves as Islamists or jihadist. For example, in Pakistan, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Jaish-e-Muhammad and Jamaatud Dawa are known as jihadist because they fight for establishing the Shariah rule. On the contrary in Pakistan itself, the Baloch fighters are Muslims but are not called Islamic terrorists because they are not fighting for Shariah rule. While terminologies like Political Islam and Radical Islam may be useful to some government leaders, to a Muslim mind these terminologies are not distinguishable from Islam itself, and mean absolutely nothing.
Five Liberal Arguments on Radical Islam
Let's take up five liberal arguments regarding jihad being forwarded by liberal, leftist and some Islamic groups, and we will look into how jihadist and Islamist groups are nullifying them.
Argument No. 1: Islam promotes pluralism and co-existence
To this argument, the jihadist organizations are explaining that when the non-Muslims of Mecca invited Prophet Muhammad to share power, the prophet told them: ‘To you your religion, and to me mine’ (Chapter 109, Verse 6). This Koranic verse does not promote pluralism; it promotes anti-pluralism.
Argument No. 2: Suicide attacks are not permitted in Islam
To this argument, in December 2013, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) argued that Prophet Muhammad declared jihad in Madina and demolished mosques of themunafiqeen (hypocrites). In 2013, Mauritian radical cleric Sheikh Abu Mundhir Al-Shinqiti argued that the Quran protects Synagogues and Churches, but only of the pre-Islamic era. He concluded that Christianity and Judaism lost validity with the birth of Islam and now it is valid to attack their religious places.
Argument No. 3: Islam is a peaceful religion
If you look at the war of succession after Prophet Muhammad's death, except for the first caliph Abu Bakr, the later three caliphs were murdered; and twelve imams of Shia sects were also murdered, or were poisoned after the Battle of Karbala because the Karbala was bloody. Prophet Muhammad himself took part in 27 wars. An argument is given that Prophet Muhammad declared amnesty for everyone after the Victory of Mecca. However, Al-Qaeda militant Ustad Farooq, who has been killed since, argued in a video that after the Victory of Mecca, there was no general amnesty and the prophet was informed that there were ten people, including women, who had committed blasphemy against him. The prophet ordered that they be killed and were indeed killed.
Argument No. 4: Jihad means personal striving
To this argument, jihadi groups are citing numerous verses from the Koran on fighting the infidels and preparing to fight. A popular verse cited in jihadi videos is this: ‘Fight them until no corruption (kufr) exists and all religion (worship) is for Allah’ (Chapter 8, Verse 39). Jihadists agree that no Christian, Jews, or other non-Muslims can be forced to accept Islam. But all of them agree that Muslims first do Dawah (invite non-Muslims to accept Islam) and wage war when non-Muslims do not accept Dawah or accept Dhimmi status.
Argument No. 5: Islam protects minorities; Quran advocates peace
To this argument, jihadi groups agree that Islam protects minorities and the Quran advocates peace. But they also argue that to enjoy the protection of Islam, non-Muslim minorities must live under the Islamic rule and pay jizya as Dhimmis, or second class non-citizens. Whether jihadists, Barelvis or Deobandis, all Islamic leaders agree that a woman cannot be the head of the state of an Islamic country, and a non-Muslim cannot be the head of the state either. It is the primary jihadi argument due to which Pakistan does not allow its non-Muslim citizens to become the head of the state.
The Fashion of Issuing Fatwas Against Jihad
Nowadays, it is fashionable to issue fatwas against the ISIS, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other jihadist organisations. Last September, English newspapers carried a report saying: 1,050 Indian Islamic scholars have issued a 15-volume fatwa against the ISIS. While news about the fatwa was mentioned in English press worldwide, there was no mention of it in Urdu newspapers in India, except a few. Last December, in the town of Bareilly, nearly 70,000 clerics who cannot pass a Matriculation examination came together and passed a fatwa against terrorist organisations.
The vital point about fatwas is that none of these clerics is willing to issue a fatwa against the basic theological principles based on which the ISIS, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda thrive. I am sure that I am a little more qualified than the 70,000 Barelvi clerics who assembled in Bareilly to issue a fatwa against jihadis. So, if I were to issue my own six-point fatwa, I would urge Islamic clerics to endorse me on the following six points:
i) We consider all Shias as Muslims. This point is especially important because Barelvi scholars in India consider Shias as infidels.
ii) We consider all Ahmadis as Muslims.
iii) Prophet Muhammad was a historical personality and therefore it is right for non-Muslim and Muslim journalists and academics to evaluate his teachings critically.
iv) The Shariah law on apostasy is not relevant for modern times and Muslims who want to leave Islam will not be killed.
v) A Muslim woman will be allowed as per Islamic Shariah's theological principles to become the head of a state.
vi) All non-Muslim citizens of a Muslims country can become the head of the state. This is a vital point because many Islamic countries such as Pakistan, the Maldives and others do not permit their own non-Muslim citizens to become the head of state.
The Case for Islamic Reformation
[During Question & Answer Session:] It appears that the Quran is not going to change into the next few centuries. The Hadiths (the traditions of Prophet Muhammad) are not going to change. So, is there something concrete the Indian state can do to introduce change among Indian Muslims? I think there are some concrete steps the Indian state can undertake:
a) The Indian state must stop funding madrassas. Madrassas are not educational institutions. The very purpose of madrassas is to foster religious orthodoxies, not to educate children. Madrassas are movements of religious ideas. Madrassas are organised counter-liberty movements and are incompatible with the 21st century's ideas of individual rights, free speech and gender equality. The secular Indian state's funding of madrassas is unconstitutional.
b) Under the Right to Education Act, all children who are 6-to-14 years of age must be in proper schools, not in madrassas. A proper school means this: Students must achieve the same educational outcomes in mathematics and other material sciences which students in mainstream schools achieve. Unfortunately, the Indian state has abdicated its role of educating our children. It has not only abdicated its responsibility, it has allowed its role to be substituted by madrassas.
c) Madrassas capture the Muslim child's mind during the critical 6-14 years of age, an age when children are required to be protected by the Right to Education Act. For this age group, madrassas should be allowed to teach the Quran and Hadiths outside the school hours of the day, or after 14 years of age. By funding madrassas, the Indian state is funding Islam and its orthodoxies.
d) India should set up a website on which all religious organisations must upload a quarterly report on their sources of income and details about their leaders. Mosques, madrassas, khanqahs (monasteries) and dargahs (Sufi shrines) must register as NGOs and submit a report in view of Saudi and non-Saudi funding. They must obtain a PAN (permanent account number) card to ensure compliance.
e) Since radicalization collides against civilization's motifs, India must introduce three textbooks from Grade 1 through 12: One on Indian classics and classical Indian thinkers; a second primer on the Indian Constitution's ideals; and a third primer containing good points from all religions. Education is a state subject but it is doable. Teaching history and the story of our civilization counters radicalization.
Some leftist-liberal Indian leaders defend madrassas in the name of religious freedom. But among all the fundamental rights, Article 25 of the Indian Constitution on the Right to Religion is the most inferior right, the weakest right. Article 25 carries two sub-clauses that make it an inferior right: 25 (1): [the Right to Religion is] "Subject to public order, morality and health…"; 25 (2) "Nothing in this Article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law…"
I am not saying that the Right to Religion does not exist. But, the Right to Religion is superseded by all other fundamental rights. Let me explain this: I have a fundamental right to eat, I have a fundamental right to drink and I have a fundamental right to breathe. But my fundamental right to breathe overrides my fundamental rights to eat and drink. The Supreme Court of India must grasp that the Right to Religion cannot be a fundamental right before 18 years. If you can't have sex before 18 years, if you can't vote before 18 years of age, you cannot have a fundamental right to religion before 18 years of age. For Islamic Reformation to begin in India, it must begin in the age group 6-14 years.
Tufail Ahmad is Director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC. He is the author of "Jihadist Threat to India – The Case for Islamic Reformation by an Indian Muslim."