By Sultan Shahin, Founding Editor, New Age Islam
28 February 2017
Is this Islam? A woman in Peshawar had asked this question, crying over the blood-spattered dead bodies of her school-going children in December 2014. The proud killers of 132 innocent children and scores of female teachers were the Pakistan Taliban. The Taliban are student of Islamic madrasas, supposedly well-versed in the teachings of Islam. They claim to kill in the name of Islam. They claim to glorify Islam. They say they are trying to establish the sovereignty of Allah over the world. So, the question is inevitable. Is this Islam, indeed?
Now Pakistan is once again in shock. Today the question is: Is this pure Islam or true Islam, as Salafis claim? Not for the first, nor for the last time, to be sure, over hundred devotees of Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sindh have been killed in the name of what Salafi-Wahhabis consider true, pure Islam. Salafi-Wahhabis abhor Sufism because they believe that Sufi practices resemble pre-Islamic polytheistic Hindu traditions. Any Muslim who strays from the path of what Salafis consider true Islam is an apostate and deserves to be killed. The murderer has been brainwashed by ulema of his sect into believing that he can be assured of a place in heaven if he kills apostates and kuffars.
Many Pakistanis claim the idea of Pakistan is that of a secular, democratic Pakistan. The idea of Pakistan as outlined by its founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was flawed right from start. In an address to the Constituent Assembly, delivered on 11 August 1947, he urged forgiveness of bygone quarrels among Pakistanis, so all can be ". . . first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights . . .". Pointing out that England in past centuries had settled its fierce sectarian persecutions, he expressed his wish for a Pakistan in which "in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State."
But if that was the idea of Pakistan, what was the need for a separate state, away from India? Where does the two-nation theory fit into this idea of Pakistan? Clearly it was a hypocritical statement. No wonder the ideology of exclusivism, separation, intolerance on which Pakistan was created almost immediately won the battle. On the insistence of Jamaat-e-Islami founder-ideologue Maulana Maududi, an Objectives Resolution was adopted by the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on March 12, 1949. The resolution proclaimed that the future constitution of Pakistan would be modelled on the ideology and democratic faith of Islam. The very first article in the resolution said: “Sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Allah Almighty alone and the authority which He has delegated to the state of Pakistan, through its people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust.”
Maulana Maududi was a Salafist. With the adoption of the Objectives Resolution, in accordance with his wishes, the Pakistani state itself became a Salafist state for all practical purposes. But the overwhelming majority of the people continued to be Sufi-oriented Bareilvis. Deoband had little influence in Pakistan at that time.
This is what created the division that has now led to a civil war-like situation. In Wahhabi-Salafi ideology that Pakistani state adopted so early on, there was no room for a tolerant and inclusive Sufism which would accord respect to all religions and follow the policy of Sulh-e-Kul (Genera Accord). Salafis consider followers of Sufi saints to be infidels at the same level as polytheists or idol-worshippers. In their understanding of pure Islam, these people deserve to be killed. It is the acceptance of Salafi-theology as Pakistan’s state ideology from the very beginning that has created an environment in which such regular massacres at a number of Sufi shrines across Pakistan have become possible. This is not the first time and Pakistan is not the first country where Wahhabism is spreading in this fashion. Indeed, the entire establishment and expansion of Wahhabism as a force to reckon with has been based on mass murders and destruction of shrines from early 19th century onwards.
Wahhabi vandalism started in 1802 when an army of 12,000 Najdi Salafi warriors called Ikhwan attacked Shia holy sites in the city of Karbala, slaying 4,000 of that city's inhabitants. In 1803 they attacked Makkah but the Makkaans, having known the fate of Karbala, surrendered to Saudi Wahhabi rule. The Wahhabi Ikhwan then smashed Sufi shrines and the graves of even the closest companions of the Prophet. In Madina, they not only destroyed common grave-sites, but even attacked the tomb of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). Since then the history of Islam has been a history of massacres of non-Wahhabi Muslims and destruction of holy sites. Presently the banner of forcible Wahhabi expansion is taken up by al-Qaeda, ISIS, Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangawi, Al-Shabab, Boko Haram, etc.
Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab (1703–1792), the founder of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi-Salafi creed declared all rationalist and mystic Muslims as mushrik or polytheists and thus “wajibul qatl” (deserving death). In a long discourse in Kashaful Shubhat, he explained why all Muslims despite their claim to believe in one God are polytheists whose lives and property are halal (permitted) for Wahhabi Muslims. He concluded his discourse: “… You now understand that these people's (non-Wahhabi Muslims’) accepting tauheed (oneness of God) does not make them Muslim; the fact that they expect intercession from others than God (Sufi saints) makes them liable to be killed and their property to be looted." --- Kashaful Shubhat, p.9, Maktaba al-salafia bil Madina Munawwara, 1969 CE)
Another Abdul Wahhab quote necessary to understand the current conflict is the following: “Even if the Muslims abstain from shirk (polytheism) and are muwahhid (believer in oneness of God), their faith cannot be perfect unless they have enmity and hatred in their action and speech against non-Muslims (which for him includes all non-Wahhabi Muslims). (Majmua Al-Rasael Wal-Masael Al-Najdiah 4/291).
While generally Indian ulema stay silent when such atrocities are perpetrated, this time a few have come up with denunciations. Maulana Asghar Ali Imam Mehdi Salafi, general secretary of Ahl-e-Hadith, has, for instance, condemned this incident vigorously. But the problem with Indian Salafi ulema who condemn such terrorist incidents is that while they condemn specific terrorist incidents, they do not denounce the Wahhabi-Salafi ideology that they actually follow. This is a self-contradictory stance. No wonder it is also self-defeating. Denouncing terrorism means very little, if the ideology from which it emanates continues to be followed. From the time of the Mohammad bin Abdul Wahhab - Muhammad bin Saud pact in 1744, Salafi-Wahhabis have been following this murderous ideology which calls all non-Wahhabi Muslims Mushrik (polytheist) and Wajibul Qatl (deserving death).
If Ahl-e-Hadith and other Salafi Muslims are sincere in condemning sectarian terrorism they need to also denounce and renounce the Wahhabi-Salafi ideology that calls for murder, destruction and looting of property. They only need to do what Abdul Wahhab’s father and brother did. In fact, his brother Shaykh Sulayman ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab wrote a book refuting his arguments. Abdul Wahhab was able to propagate his ideas freely only when his father, a Qazi of the region, passed away.
Although Sufi-oriented Muslims, rationalists, Shias, etc have been victims of Salafi-Wahhabi terrorism, it would be wrong to conclude that extremism is limited to Wahhabis. There is a consensus of ulema of all schools of thought on an extremist understanding of Islam. Take any popular book of Tafsir (interpretation), of the holy Quran, from Ibn-e-Kathir to Jalalain Shareef, or even later ones like that of Maulana Maududi. Quran’s original teachings of peace and pluralism, patience and perseverance, in early Meccan verses, are said to have been abrogated by the later war-time verses that were revealed at Mecca in a time when Islam was indeed facing an existential crisis and defensive war was unavoidable. Take Friday sermons read out in mosques anywhere in the world. Muslims are forever praying for victory over kuffar and mushrekin (non-believers and deviants, infidels and idol-worshippers. Not only that You will even find us Muslims praying to God to curse the non-Muslim and defeat them. In the case of Wahhabi-Salafi the curse applies to even the Muslims who may have a mystical bent of mind, as for them all non-Wahhabis are infidels and deviants, for whom the only punishment is beheading, here and now.
Would a Muslim-majority country allow a non-Muslim minority to keep cursing it all the time and praying for its defeat at the hand of non-Muslims, that too in peace time, when no battles are being fought. Muslim-majority countries indeed do not even allow worship places to be built by other religious communities, in some cases, and where they do, they put a variety of restrictions on them. The most bizarre, of course, is the prohibition for Christians to use the word “Allah” to denote God in the most technologically advanced Muslim country, Malaysia.
Many Muslims would be surprised to know all this as they do not know what they are hearing in Arabic in Friday sermons. Most have not read the Quran with meaning, much less it’s various tafsirs taught in madrasas. Then there is also the case of tampering of these tafsirs of Quran by Salafi-Wahhabis in recent decades. The translation of a very popular book with religious-minded Muslims, particularly Tablighi Jamaat, al-Nawawi's Riyadh al-Salehin, published in 1999 by Darussalam Publishing House, Riyadh, is a case in point. As if Riyadh al-Salehin was not sufficient in selecting extremist, xenophobic, intolerant material from Quran and Hadith, in its Book of Jihad, commentaries have been inserted art various places to give them an even more radical interpretation. The 11075-word Chapter on Jihad, for instance, doesn’t have a word to say about what we moderates call Jihad-e-Akbar (Greater Jihad), i.e., struggle against one’s own negative or evil inclinations, citing a saying of the Prophet (pbuh). This saying has been declared by most theologians as zaeef (weak), hence unreliable and inauthentic. On the other hand, Ahadith saying that struggle against non-Muslims should go on till eternity and that killing of even innocent civilians was allowed by the Prophet himself are found in sihah-e-sitta, i.e., all the six volumes of “authentic” Ahadith. The result is that the only basis for a Muslims’ relationship with a non-Muslim is considered in theology to be war.
In the case of Wahhabi-Salafi theology, even the basis of a Wahhabi’s relationship with a Sufi-oriented Muslim would be conflict and strife. No wonder our ulema stay completely quiet, when Khalifa Baghdadi and his followers from India declare in YouTube Videos telecast on world television, as they did last year, that “Islam has never been a religion of peace, not even for a day; it has always been a religion of peace and strife.” What can the ulema say, after all. This is what they have learnt and this is what they teach.
Many a Muslims pins their hope on Sufis. It would be nice to do so. We will have some basis for optimism left. But we should not forget that in the last four decades, these petrodollar decades, there has been a Wahhabisation of Sufism itself. The Wahhabi takfiri ideology has penetrated all sections of the community. The 4 January 2011 murder of Pakistani Punjab’s Governor Salman Taseer and the recent deification of his Barelvi-Sufi murderer by millions of Muslims can be cited as strong evidence for this phenomenon.
A bodyguard of Salman Taseer was told by the Mullah he followed that Taseer had become an apostate by opposing Pakistan’s (black) blasphemy laws and showing sympathy for a Christian lady (falsely) accused of blasphemy. This man Mumtaz Qadri used his service weapon to kill the Governor in cold blood. While the killer became a hero instantaneously, most Ulema were not even prepared to lead the funeral prayers of the slain Governor. Lawyers of Pakistan’s High court, supposedly educated people working to uphold the law, threw rose petals on the killer when he was brought to court. Courts found him guilty, as the killer was not contesting the facts of the case, and awarded him death sentence. He has been executed. But the government had to permit a shrine being built in his name. He has been declared a saint. Millions throng his shrine and seek his intercession with God to fulfil their own needs.
Is Jinnah’s idea of a secular and democratic Pakistan then quite dead, if it ever had any resonance with the Pakistani state which had accepted the Objectives Resolution with so much alacrity so early? Perhaps not quite. These same lawyers who threw rose petals on the killer were also in the forefront of fight against General Musharraf’s dictatorship and did eventually manage to throw him out of power. But the idea of Pakistan, or whatever is left of it, is scuttled by the ideology of Pakistan again and again.
However, the issue of Salafi-Sufi civil war does not concern Pakistan alone. Muslims are a global community. One can see manifestations of the same struggle everywhere. India too is not immune. We need to remain extremely vigilant Already there are signs of expanding radicalism. Even a few score Muslim youth, all well-educated, well-off, well-settled with good jobs, leaving everything to fight for the so-called Islamic State, should be enough to cause disquiet. But the greater worry is that most Indian Muslims are not worried. We are happy to wish these worrisome thoughts away by putting the blame on Zionism, Islamophobia, etc, for everything negative that happens in the community. If we do indeed wish to live peacefully in this inter-connected world, we will have to change course and rather urgently.