By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi, New Age Islam
02 January 2017
As the New Year 2017 arrives, one of the most sought-after questions is: will the Islamic State—the chief jihadist cult in the current history— end in the near future?
The self-imposed caliphate of Abu Bakr Baghdadi has reportedly been cleared from its two major strongholds—Mosul and Raqqah. Syria is believed to have defeated the ISIS monsters after a bloody civil war. But one wonders how could it be considered an end to the ISIS sympathizers and scores of other violent jihadist cults over the world?
Even Barak Obama had to acknowledge that merely destroying the ISIS strongholds may not reduce the danger in the near future. While the ISIS fighters have been physically fought in Syria on a large scale, their ideological supporters and sympathizers are playing havoc across much of the world today.
2016 ended with the jihadists striking various peaceful parts of the world. Their attacks in Ankara, Zürich and Berlin were the most recent. In Ankara, Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, a radical Islamist off-duty policeman assassinated Andrei Karlov, the Russian ambassador as he approached the podium to make a few words. In Zürich, a burst into a downtown Muslim gunman prayer center popular with Somali migrants and opened fire, shooting three worshippers. In Berlin, the pre-Christmas festivities were shattered by a semi-truck plowing into crowds gathered at the Christmas market in the heart of downtown. In most cases, the terrorists belonged to a normal background, but were later transformed into the jihadists or ISIS sympathisers. Researchers and analysts have identified various reasons and stimulus that catapult Muslims from being sane citizens to the mindless perpetrators of violence. But not many tend to go through the Islamic history to explore the deeper ideological underpinnings of the violent jihadism. The fact is that from Ankara to Zürich to Berlin, there is a significant role of ideological stimulus behind the nefarious spade of violent extremism.
A historical reading evidences that an intolerant jihadist narrative underpinned by the political Islamist ideologues has been at play in every age, not only today. The Kharijite movement—the first bloodthirsty incarnation of jihadsim— appeared in the early era of Islam in what is known today as Saudi Arabia. There is an endless list of the Prophet’s companions who were killed at the hands of the Kharijites who propounded the takfirist ideology. The Umayyad dynasty, the then Arabian government, sponsored the Kharijites. This was exactly what we call today as “state-sponsored terrorism”. But later, the Umayyads themselves destroyed the terror faction as it turned into a rebellious movement challenging the government. Much in the same way, the Saudi kingdom is fighting today the terror monsters of the ISIS who drive their ideological inspiration from Wahhabism, the state religion of the Saudi Arabia. Alastair Crooke, the author of “Resistance: The Essence of Islamic Revolution”, has candidly covered it in his article titled, “You can’t understand ISIS if you don’t know the history of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia”. (Source: huffingtonpost.com/alastair-crooke/isis-wahhabism-saudi-arabia_b_5717157.html)
After the Kharijites, the movement of Ali bin Muhammad emerged from the same deserts of Arabia—Najd. The militants of his movement, allied with the slaves of Zanj, indulged in wanton killing, looting and vandalism. This movement is known in the Islamic history as “Zanj Rebellion”. Between 255 to 270 Hijri, they killed hundreds of thousands of people and destructed the city of Ublah and Basra in Iraq. Having slaughtered all men in these cities, they took their women as ‘sex slaves’. Many women of the elite classes were sold out and distributed among the men of the Zanj for 2 dirhams each. Noted Islamic historians like Tabari and Mas’udi have detailed in their books the grave devastation caused by the Zanj movement in the Arabia.
After the Kharijites and Zanj, the Qaramatian movement originated in the Arabian Peninsula. The followers of this movement started razing down the historical heritage and went to the extent of attacking the Ka’ba—the holiest Islamic site in Mecca. They destroyed several cities in Syria and Iraq, particularly Hama, Maratun Noman, Baalbek and Salmiya. Almost all inhabitants were brutally annihilated in these cities. According to Tabari, the Qaramatians resorted to the gruesome terror tools which were not introduced earlier. One of the Qaramatian leaders owned a slave who would slaughter only ‘deviant’ Muslims. The present Saudi Arabian regions of Qatif and Ahsa were the Qaramatian strongholds. Majority of the Najdi tribes in Arabia were followers and supporters of the Qaramatian movement. The terror culture of burning cities and razing historical sites was initiated by the Qaramatians. They were mentors of the Mughals and the Tatars in this violent strategy. According to many authoritative historians, Qaramatians were among the first to use suicide bombers as war tactic. Al-Nuwayri, noted Arabic scholar writes in his book, Nihayatul Arab (the ultimate ambition of the Arabs) that the Qaramatians were first to lure and train the youth for suicide attacks. Today, suicide bombing is the most common tactic of the ISIS, Boko Haram, Taliban and all other jihadist outfits.
In 18th century, the world's biggest radical jihadist movement sprang out of the Najdi tribe settled in the central region of Saudi Arabia. Ibn Abdul Wahhab formed the bedrock of this global jihadist movement which later came to be known as “Wahhabism”. With its deep roots in the Kharijite ideology, Wahhabism was influenced by the extremist fatwas of Shaikh Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328). Ibn Abdul Wahhab, with the support of the Saudi Arabian ruler, Muhammad bin Saud, established the Wahhabi ideology as the state religion of the kingdom. This turned out to be the most extremist religious movement in the Islamic history. All Muslims who did not adhere to it were declared kuffar (disbelievers). Takfiri wars were waged against them. Other tribes of the Arabian Peninsula were fought as pagans and idolaters. Their lands were looted and women and properties were distributed as "maal e ghaneemat" (war booty), as the Arab historian Usman bin Bashar Najdi recounts in his book on the history of Wahabi movement “unwan al-majd fi tareekh al-najd”.
From 1745 to 1818, the Wahhabi movement waged the global jihad going berserk more than even the Kharijites in their atrocities, as the 18th century Arab scholar Shaykh Zaini Dahlan Makki, writes in his Arabic book “Al-Balad Al-Haram” (the sacred city). The aggression of the Wahhabi jihadists spread rapidly throughout the Muslim world, causing great distress among the common people. Given this, the governor of Egypt, Muhammad Ali Pasha sent his army to Saudi Arabia on the behest of the Ottoman Caliphate. After a long battle, the Egyptian forces defeated the Najdis and completely destroyed the capital of the first Saudi dynasty, Diriyah where the Wahhabi movement spearheaded. Thus, the Wahhabi jihadsim was militarily defeated to an extent, but it remained active on an ideological level to this day and age.
This glimpse from history clearly shows that the war on jihadism cannot be fought in a battlefield. It requires an entirely ideological onslaught. Just as the Wahhabism is flourishing today over the world despite its physical defeat several times, the ISIS will continue to lure many in the global Muslim societies, no matter it is cleared from Iraq and Syria. In order to defeat the ISIS, extremist religious thoughts need to be rebutted and hardcore philosophies have to be defeated. But this is too gigantic a task to achieve. It was neither done by the governor of Egypt nor by the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, soon after the return of the Egyptian forces which existed from 1821 to 1889, the second Saudi-Wahhabi nation state emerged with an ideology that resulted in the rise of many global jihadist movements including the ISIS.
It is interesting to note that the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan now claims to have “confirmed evidence” to prove that the US-led coalition supports ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria. (Source: independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/isis-president-erdogan-us-coalition-support-terrorists-a7497841.html) However, the U.S. has rebuffed Erdogan’s allegation stating that it did not create or support ISIS. “Assertions the US government is supporting Daesh are not true," the US Embassy in Ankara wrote, using the Arabic-language acronym for ISIS. (Source: tr.usembassy.gov/statement-12282016/)
Whether Daesh or ISIS was created and supported by the US or Saudi Arabia is not difficult to see. While both the U.S. and Saudi governments have always castigated the Daesh as a terror outfit, researchers find that ISIS is running on the American weaponry and Saudi-Wahhabi ideology. Does the Turkish Islamist President have courage of conviction to expose the complete truth? Regrettably, all political Islamists like Erdogan propagate the half truth. But what they try to hide from the world is now an open secret. Karen Armstrong, author of the seminar work “Religion and the History of Violence” clearly points it out: “It [ISIS] is neither typical nor mired in the distant past, because its roots are in Wahhabism, a form of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia that developed only in the 18th century”. newstatesman.com/world-affairs/2014/11/wahhabism-isis-how-saudi-arabia-exported-main-source-global-terrorism
Therefore, Armstrong aptly suggests that only Saudi Arabia which has already thwarted IS attempts to launch a series of attacks in the kingdom, may be the regional power capable of crushing the ISIS.
A regular New Age Islam columnist, Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a scholar of Comparative Religion, Classical Arabic and Islamic sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies.