By Sultan Shahin, Founding Editor, New Age Islam
10 July 2016
What used to be Happy Eid has come this year blood-spattered. Over a thousand people have been butchered mercilessly across the world on orders of ISIS in this ‘blessed’ month of Ramazan. The massacres continued in Iraq and Bangladesh even on the day of Eid. But the Ramazan wave of terror has also signalled a major change in ISSIS strategy. With three attacks on Saudi Arabian cities, ISIS is going the Taliban way, turning against its very own creator. And the attack on the Prophet’s mosque in Medina, the second holiest shrine for Muslims, has taken the ideological war within Islam to a different level altogether.
From Orlando, Istanbul, Baghdad, Dhaka, Java, Indonesia, Muslim-majority southern Pattani province in Thailand, to now Medina, Jeddah and Qateef in Saudi Arabia, there has been killing and destruction everywhere. This is not to forget the planned attack in India foiled by our security forces just in time. The world has not had time to process the grief, to come to terms with any of the dastardly attacks, the truck bomb in Baghdad alone killing 215 people and injuring another 200 in just one attack. The terrorists in Dhaka came from some of the richest families, were educated at the best institutions in the country and abroad. They desecrated the holy Quran by asking their hostages to recite its passages to be let out of the Café safe, otherwise get killed. At least two of them were directly inspired by Indian Islamist preacher Dr Zakir Naik. There has been no time to try and make sense of any of the distinguishing features of these barbarian attacks, all coming from one source, the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). This wave of Islamist terror has submerged large parts of the world in grief.
All this has happened in the holy month of Ramazan, indeed, most of them in the last ten days which are considered holiest of the holy month. Muslims have traditionally announced ceasefire in this holy month if they were engaged in a war before. Muslims believe any good deed done in this period is doubly rewarded. Apparently the terrorists consider their acts “good deeds” that will take them to heaven, with the Prophet himself and a horde of houris waiting to welcome them. All this seems to have been inspired by a statement by the spokesman of so-called Islamic State Abu Muhammad al-Adnani called on its followers to specifically launch attacks on the United States and Europe during the Islamic holy month of Ramazan. The message said, "Ramazan, the month of conquest and jihad. Get prepared, be ready ... to make it a month of calamity everywhere for the non-believers ... especially for the fighters and supporters of the caliphate in Europe and America".
One is numbed not just by the brutality, even the apparent senselessness of it all. What is ISIS trying to achieve through these seemingly nihilistic acts? All that it is bringing in its wake is a bad name to Islam, the religion gradually becoming synonymous with terrorism. This religion claimed to have come as a blessing to mankind. Starting in Arabia, it spread like wildfire in the first hundred years of its existence, from Africa to Spain to India, Indonesia and even China, spanning three continents. Could the ISIS be trying to win the hearts and minds of Muslims through this savage bloodletting? Is the attack on the Prophet’s mosque in Medina the way to gain global Muslim leadership? This mosque was originally built by the Prophet himself as the first mosque in the world.
The self-proclaimed Khalifa Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had even called for the destruction of Kaaba stone a couple of years ago. The ISIS leader had said it is a Muslim’s “religious duty” to destroy the monument of “idolatrous worship”, which is the central shrine object of Islam. The Black Stone, or al-Ḥajar al-Aswad, is the eastern cornerstone of the Kaaba, the ancient stone building, located in the centre of the Grand Mosque in Mecca. Could the attack on the second holiest shrine in Islam be a precursor to the destruction of the holiest shrine in the Grand Mosque in Mecca?
Incidentally, this is not a new demand by Salafi-Wahhabi hardliners and not just by Al-Baghdadi. Earlier a Kuwaiti Wahhabi preacher Ibrahim Al Kandari had also called for the destruction of the stone that is believed to be of meteoric origin. “The Black Stone should be destroyed to put an end to this ancient pagan ritual and idolatrous worship of images,” he had said. Naturally, following the attack in Medina Muslim religious leaders worldwide are apprehensive that the Islamic State could attack the holy site of Mecca too. It has already destroyed the archaeological sites of Hatra, Nimrud and Khorsabad, among others, just as the Taliban, from the same Salafi-Wahhabi stream of thought, products of Deobandi madrasas of Pakistan, had destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan.
Clearly the Islamic State is not interested in winning the hearts and minds of common Muslims, the overwhelming majority of whom it considers apostate. I recall being told by a Muslim youth, a University student in Nottingham, that ahl-e-Hadeesis, belonging to the most rigid sub-sect of Salafi-Wahhabism, are the only true Muslims. When asked what about the 99 per cent of Muslims who were not ahl-e-Hadeesi at that time, he had said, “they are the first and foremost enemies of Islam.” When I asked him how would ahl-e-hadeesis deal with these “enemies of Islam,” he had told me chillingly: “kill them.” This was early 1987. No recent Western foreign policy blunders like Afghanistan, Iraq, etc affecting Muslims had taken place by then. Not willing to let go of this conversation as the ravings of a mad man, I investigated, and found that under the influence of a fiery speaker Omar Bakri, the founder of al-Mohajiroun, and later the spokesman of Osama bin Laden, already in 1987 a considerable majority of Muslim youth in UK campuses had alienated themselves from the British mainstream.
The guiding principle of this onslaught on mainstream Islam is the core saying of Mohammad Ibn-e-Abdul Wahhab, according to which a Muslim cannot interact with non-Muslims including non-Wahhabi Muslims. Wahhab said: “Even if the Muslims abstain from Shirk (polytheism) and are Muwahhid (strict believer in oneness of God), their Faith cannot be perfect unless they have enmity and hatred in their action and speech against non-Muslims. (Majmua Al-Rasael Wal-Masael Al-Najdiah 4/291)
So all those Muslims who interact with non-Muslims, including non-Wahhabi Muslims who are considered apostate, must be hated and treated as enemy. This naturally includes even the government of Saudi Arabia, the main purveyor and exporter of Wahhabi ideology around the world, not to speak of Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia. Every mainstream Muslim government is obliged to interact with non-Muslims of the world. So all of them and their civilian population are targets.
Clearly a major ideological war is going on in the Muslim world. In fact, this is perhaps my wishful thinking. For, the mainstream Islam, even Muslim governments or ulema have not joined the ideological war. There is a largely one-sided onslaught on mainstream Islam, on Muslims who want to lead a peaceful life, co-existing with others, following clear pluralistic guidelines in the Quran. According to Quran, belief in previous prophets of God, no matter what name they are remembered by, considering them equal in stature to Prophet Mohammad, and interacting with their followers, including having the most intimate marital relations, is an essential article of faith. But one doesn’t find ulema stressing this aspect of our faith. In fact, Indian ulema refuse to consider Hindus ahl-e-kitab, despite books like Vedas, Upanishads, Gita, Sri Yoga Vasishtha and a host of others, the likes of ancient spiritual literature that cannot be found anywhere in the world. Even Mohammad bin Qasim, the first Arab conqueror of Sindh had recognised the divinity of Hindu books on the advice of Arab ulema in early eighth century. What to speak of ulema, even the affected governments are merely engaged in fire-fighting. Not one government has joined or encouraged the ideological battle in any meaningful way.
A few progressive individuals are, of course, seeking to evolve a counter-narrative. But they have hardly any resources. On the other hand, Wahhabi, ahl-e-hadeesi preachers like Dr Zakir Naik, for instance, have all the financial and media resources they can possibly require. Indeed, Naik received Shah Faisal Award, the highest civilian recognition from Saudi Arabia recently, giving him $2,00,000, and a gold medal, for his “services to Islam.” He was the preacher whose YouTube videos had radicalised the Dhaka terrorists who killed 20 in a Café this week. He has also been the inspiration behind Indian Mujahedin, among other global terrorists.
But one doesn’t find Indian ulema engaging with him in a debate at all. They did not debate with him even when he called Yazid, the killer of the entire family of the Prophet, raziallah ta’ala anho, thus sending God’s blessings on him. They don’t debate with him when he says Muslims can have sex with sheep, or with sex slaves. They don’t debate with him when he denigrates other religions in full public view on his so-called Peace TV. Not even when he stage-manages conversions of Hindus and Christians in his TV shows, creating disconcert in the country. The reason clearly is that what he is saying is based on the current theology of Muslim consensus. Those among ulema who are criticising him now are being hypocritical as is their wont. Dar-ul-Uloom Deoband, for instance, gave a fatwa against Salafism-Wahhabism when it first entered India. Now when Salafi-Wahhabi ulema come from Saudi Arabia, they are first welcomed by Deoband leaders, invariably visit Deoband, to a huge reception, while the fatwa against Wahhabism has not been officially withdrawn. Deobandi madrasas in Pakistan, of course, produced the army of Taliban with Saudi support. The problem is the theology of consensus among ulrma of nearly all schools of thought. What is called Wahhabi-Salafi theology propounded by Ibn-e-Taimiya and Mohammad Ibn-e-Abdul Wahhab is not very different from the theology propounded by revered Indian theologians like Sheikh Sirhindi and Shah Waliullah, etc. It is this entire theology, a theology of political domination, that will have to be rethought. Islam requires a new theology, a theology of spiritualism, peace and pluralism.
This requires vast, seminal effort. Except for a few progressive scholars, hardly any classical scholars seem willing to engage in this endeavour at the moment. They are willing to give anti-ISIS fatwas and say that Islam is a religion of peace, based on some initial Meccan verses of Quran. But they are not willing to engage with militant ideologues who say that Meccan verses advocating patience, perseverance, peace, co-existence, pluralism and respect for other religions have been abrogated and replaced by Medinan verses of war, xenophobia, intolerance of other religions. Maybe the present global wave of terror will induce Muslim governments and ulema to think that they have no option but to join the war within Islam.
(A shorter version of this article appeared in The Sunday Guardian, 9 July 2016)