Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Digitalising Islam and Virtual Ummah: Globalising Local Discourses?

By Irshad Ahmed Bhat and Zahid Sultan Magray, New Age Islam
28 May 2019
What about internet? It is perhaps here on internet that some of the most interesting things are happening. It should be noted that global technology of western origin is turning into a vital tool for the conduct and propagation of new hybridised practices. These practices are formed by inserting the normative discourse of Islam into western discourse of information technology and are classical example of “Globalising the local”. What are the implications of the media revolution for those communities which inhabit global space, then? While as Anderson once argued to the pioneering efforts of New World ' Creoles' in the formation of imagined communities, he now talks of the new ' creoles' of the information superhighway. But, we should refrain from jumping into the conclusion that internet is suddenly going to transform Muslim understandings of political community radically. Anderson further pointed out that transnational theories, fixated on media and forms of alienated consciousness distinctive of late modernity, tend to overlook the social organisation into which new media are brought in a rush to the new in expression. Impressed by what simmel much earlier called ' cosmopolitanism’, we overlook measures of social organisation in pursuit of media effects.
To comprehend the processes by which community is created, we need also to understand the circumstances under which Muslim identities’ become diasporic. , How other aspects of identity influence the terms of religious discourse on internet? Such issues are often battled out on internet using methods of reasoning and Debate then in the traditional idioms of religious discourse.  Internet impacted the centre/ periphery relations in the Muslim world; country such as Malaysia considered to be on religious & geographical margins in terms of influence, has invested heavily in information & network technologies then the venerable institutions of Cairo, Medina or Mashhad have . Even the ayatollahs of Iran have jumped on the information bandwagon.  For overwhelming majority of Muslims in West, internet is mainly a forum for the conduct of politics within Islam which is gaining ground in non western Muslim societies too. In the absence of sanctioned information from recognised institutions, Muslims are increasingly taking religion into their own hands, and internet provides them useful medium for disturbing information about Islam and about behaviour required of a good Muslim.
Internet has also served to reinforce and rectify the impact of print capitalism on traditional structures and forms of authority. Instead of having to go down to the mosque to elicit  advice from local imam or mullah, Muslims can now receive ' authoritative ' religious pronouncements via the various email Fatwas services . But due to  the largely anonymous nature of the internet , one can also never be sure whether the authoritative advice received via these services is coming from a classically trained religious scholar or hydraulic engineer moonlighting as an amateur Aalim. This new media has opened up new spaces for religious contestation where traditional sources of authority could be challenged by a wider public. The fragmentation of traditional sources of authority is a key theme with regard to the nexus of Islam and Globalization. But on the other hand, internet created availability of Qur’an, several collections of prophetical sayings, Tafsirs, and other jurisprudential works, created a sort of new constituency for religious texts. This sort of Ijtihad toolkit in the words Zaiuddin Sardar in his book ,”Media, culture and society”  observed, Would amount to a virtual Aalim and would pose a further challenge to traditional religious scholarship authority. Internet and communication networks have also improved the capabilities of Global terror outfits like Al Qaeda, ISISI and similar others to plan and conduct operations with far more devastations. It particularly improved their capability in Areas of proselyting, coordination, security, mobility and lethality; propagate their version of theological arguments to legitimise Global jihad Ideologies. Internet in Muslim world is serving as a double aged sword.
 However, the issue of internet in Persian Gulf and other gulf countries, the distinction has to be made between the availability of internet access and their domain of usages. With strict censorship, ban in political activism, unquestioning obedience to political and religious authorities, a medium which by its very nature is heavily resistant to any attempt to control, closed society, censorship or regulation makes the issue a quandary. It must be noted that access to information technology requires resources and permission to political liberty to explore such networks.
It has become apparent that the encounter between Islam and the globalised technologies of communication is as multifaceted as the religion itself. Globalization which is seen as a source of homogeneity also be understood as a culturally heterogeneous force as well. What we need to understood is the extent  to which the Globalization of information and communication networks can provide a new framework within which Muslims can re-imagine the Ummah.
Firstly, it is worth mentioning to recognise we are dealing with Virtual community; is a context in which indirect and distanciated relationships are sustained through computer – mediated communication. To invoke Gibson’s metaphor, participants in this kind of community are ' wrapped in media’; such that one's corporeal existence becomes insignificantly de- emphasized. Community here is a product of communication then the one in which one is born (ethnicity or nationality). It fosters social networks through which distanciated Muslims can organise and communicate. Communication networks provide spaces for critical dialogue , Debate about Islam and encounters with the Muslim order; Allowing Muslim movements to locate and share resources and more particularly , opening forums in which Muslims can find solidarity, and support to the cause of Ummah.
But the question is to what extent would original sense of Ummah as a new social paradigm be recreated; that is a form of community where factional identity barrier are subservient to a religious whole.  What about politics within such medium? And who can administrator this virtual Ummah?  How will traditional centres are going to reproduce themselves in cyberspace? These are some key paradoxical questions will lay at the heart of Globalization and Islam paradigm.
Zahid Sultan and Irshad Ahmad Bhat are Research scholars of political science

Religious and Theological Underpinning of Global Islamist Terror: Full Text of Speech at International Counter Terrorism Conference 2016 in Jaipur

By Sultan Shahin, Founding Editor, New Age Islam
3 February 2016

Sultan Shahin speaking at International Counter-Terrorism Conference  at Jaipur
The ease and swiftness with which the so-called Islamic State and the self-declared khilafat of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has attracted over 30,000 Muslims from 100 countries around the globe in just one year has surprised many.  But this should not have come as a surprise to us in India. Muslim love for the idea of global Khilafat is well-known. From Indian subcontinent alone, less than a hundred years ago, at least 18,000 Muslims had left their homes, even government jobs and marched off to fight for the last Ottoman Khilafat. This was madness, pure and simple. Most ruined their lives and some died. But they are considered ghazis and martyrs. Important clerics including Maulana Abul Kalam Azad issued fatwas calling for Jihad or Hijrat (emigration) from British India, which was considered Darul Harb (Land of conflict, ruled by infidels), as a religious duty.
 So, for a large section of Muslims the lure of a Khilafat that would rule the world, eliminate all other religions, particularly all forms of idolatry, establish the truth of Islam, is nothing new. When Baghdadi announced his khilafat, it was welcomed in many Muslim newspapers in India. An influential cleric from Nadwatul Ulama, went so far as to post a letter to the so-called Khalifa on his Facebook page, addressing him as Ameerul Momineen, spiritual leader of all Muslims. He faced no protest, not even from Nadwa or Darul uloom Deoband.
With the so-called Islamic State proudly broadcasting its monstrous brutalities and inhuman practices like sex slavery, the community is embarrassed and support is now muted. But this can only be described as hypocrisy.  India’s most popular Islamic preacher and Ahl-e-Hadithi televangelist Zakir Naik has been saying for years, that “Allah has made halal for Muslims sex with slaves and women captured in war.” Muslim religious leaders have never protested. But when ISIS takes these fatwas and Wahhabi/Salafi teachings to their logical conclusion, actually kidnaps and makes Yazidi, Christian and Shia women sex slaves, the community is embarrassed and some clerics start saying Islam has nothing to do with terrorism.

Sultan Shahin speaking at International Counter-Terrorism Conference  at Jaipur
Of course, Islam has nothing to do with terrorism. It is a spiritual path to salvation, not a political ideology for dominating the world. Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) was a mystic who was eventually appointed a messenger of God. There are innumerable verses in the Quran that call for peace at all costs, even going to the extent of saying that murder of one innocent person amounts to genocide of humanity and protection given to one innocent amounts to saving humanity (Quran 5:32). The same is also true of narrations of Prophet’s supposed sayings, Ahadith, (pl. of Hadith). Prophet’s own conduct (Seerat) shows that he accepted peace even at the cost of justice and fairness for Muslims in the famous treaty of Hudaibiya. To avoid bloodshed in the Battle of the Trench (Ghazwah al-Khandaq, 627 CE), he secured the city of Medina behind a ditch he dug along with his companions around Medina. He declared a general Amnesty for all Meccans after conquering it without bloodshed (629 CE), when Meccans were apprehending a general massacre as was the prevailing custom of those times. So not only does Quran specifically forbid all violence against innocents and repeatedly warns against aggression, but the Prophet himself avoided violence as much as possible in the most trying times of Islam’s infancy.
 It is true that madrasas and mosques do not overtly preach violence and terrorism. But it is also true that text books in madrasas do preach supremacism, xenophobia, exclusivism and intolerance.  Thus they do the groundwork for militant ideologies by instilling in their students a binary thinking of Muslim/Kafir as opposites who cannot co-exist. As a result, some Muslims self-segregate and alienate themselves from the mainstream. A global Muslim missionary organisation Tablighi Jamaat, for instance, which has up to 150 million adherents in over 200 countries now, focuses entirely on segregating Muslims from the mainstream, asking them to maintain a separate identity, and prohibiting them from following any customs they may have in common with the non-Muslim majority. This Wahhabi/Salafi organisation was recently banned from university campuses in Pakistani Punjab but faces no such restriction in India.
Indeed, a Muslim is bombarded from all sides with sermons calling for Jihad; a Jihad, which is shorn of all its spiritual content and used simply as a synonym for qital, warfare. Even historical fiction written by 20th century Urdu novelist Nasim Hejazi, for instance, can be taken as a call for Jihad, far more effective than any overt Jihadi literature. In most popular Urdu fairy tales, Dāstān-e-Amīr Hamzah, for instance, the central character is fighting with demons who do not believe in oneness of God and are thus kafir. The devotional poetry a Muslim listens to at Sufi shrines contain lines like the following: Aaj bhi darte hain kafir Haidari Talwar se,” meaning, even today the kafirs are afraid of the sword of Hazrat Ali, the fourth caliph. Even the first biographies of the Prophet written by Arabs called them “Maghazi Rasulullah,” meaning battle accounts of the Prophet. The first Muslims, the Arabs, could not celebrate his devotion to peace, moderation, Huqooqul Ibad (human rights) and mystical approach to religion.  They could only hail him as a hero presenting him as a great warrior which he was not. He barely lifted a sword once or twice, 14 years after prophethood, at the age of 54, purely in defence. The prayer a Muslim has been hearing week after week in every Friday sermon for 1400 years is for victory over kuffar (infidels), establishment of the true religion of Islam, dominance over the whole world, elimination of idolatry from the planet, and so on, all generating supremacism, exclusivism, xenophobia and intolerance.
The idea of a permanent confrontation with the kafir, thus, runs through our veins. In verses often quoted by militant ideologues, God assures Muslims in two places in Quran (8:12 and 3: 151) that “He will cast terror into the hearts of the Kuffars (Unbelievers).” This is a contextual verse, like some others, similarly militant and intolerant, revealed during the course of the existential wars waged by the Muslims in early Islam. Any rational Muslim would say today that these contextual war verses do not apply to us anymore. But you will not find even those moderate scholars seeking to refute terrorist ideologies saying that. In fact, the refutations go on to actually justify the core theology of terror and violence.
A hundred thousand copies of an Arabic book titled “Refuting ISIS” has recently been distributed in Syria and Iraq. It is also available online in English. The author Shaykh Muhammad Al-Yaqoubi is, of course, sincere in his refutation. But he too quotes from the same set of end-time prophesies, seeking to prove that Baghdadi and his clique are idiots and should be fought, thus giving credibility to these same series of millenarian prophesies. So what he actually ends up doing amounts to strengthening ISIS’ propaganda of the allegedly coming apocalypse. Unlike al-Qaeda, which did not talk so much about apocalypse, ISIS vision is largely apocalyptic. They base the justification for their war as being the prophesied end-times war. They sacrificed many men capturing a militarily insignificant town called Dabiq (which is also the name of their mouthpiece) because the end-times prophecies refer to a war in this town.
Apocalyptic prophesies are one of the chief tools used by ISIS to attract Muslim youth to be part of an end-time war. If the world is going to end in a few years’ time, with Islam conquering the world, as is prophesied, decimating all infidels, why not be on the winning side. This is an argument that appeals to many. So someone seeking to refute ISIS should not be strengthening their chief propaganda tool. But this cleric or any other cannot help but strengthen ISIS. All clerics believe in the same core theology as do the terrorists. These predictions come from Ahadith (purported sayings of the prophet, pl. of Hadith) and ulema (scholars) from all school of thought consider them akin to revelation. These end-time prophesies can only by questioned fruitfully by questioning the credibility of narrations that were collected up to 300 years after the demise of the Prophet and attributed to him, not by calling them akin to revelation.
Some of these prophesies also come from speculative readings of two allegorical verses in the Quran 4:159; 43:61. Muslims have been asked not to speculate about their meaning and leave them alone. But, of course, Muslims do, and the result is prophesied scenarios of apocalyptic wars.
Similarly, in its core theology even the 14,000-word fatwa issued recently (August 2015) by 120 scholars from around the world, agrees with the militant ideologies. Their “Open Letter to Al-Baghdadi” also calls Hadith akin to revelation, knowing full well that all justifications of killings of innocent civilians come from a hadith attributing to the Prophet permission for killing of innocents in an attack at Taif by the use of catapult (manjaniq): (Sahih Muslim 19:4321 & Sahih Bukhari 4: 52:256). This hadith is also used by al-Qaeda to justify use of weapons of mass destruction.
In point 16. Hudud (Punishment), the moderate fatwa establishes a general rule: "Hudud punishments (death for apostasy, etc.) are fixed in the Qur’an and Hadith and are unquestionably obligatory in Islamic Law." Having accepted the basic premise of the Baghdadi tribe it goes on to criticise its implementation in the so-called Islamic State. But once moderate ulema have accepted the basic premise of Hudud (Punishments) based on some verses of Quran and seventh century Bedouin tribal Arab mores being "unquestionably obligatory in Islamic Law," what difference does actually remain between moderation and extremism?
 In point 20 of the fatwa, the moderate ulema seem to be justifying the destruction of idols and Sufi shrines, by talking of the supposed Islamic obligation to destroy and remove all manifestations of shirk (idolatry), only opposing the destruction of graves of the prophets and their companion.
In point 22 of the Open Letter, titled, The Caliphate, the moderate ulema again concur with the basic proposition of the Baghdadi clique: "There is agreement (ittifaq) among scholars that a caliphate is an obligation upon the Ummah. The Ummah has lacked a caliphate since 1924 CE."
This moderate fatwa even expresses belief in the theory of abrogation, whereby terror ideologues debunk peaceful Meccan verses that came at the beginning of Islam.  Thus, like Sheikh Yaqoobi’s “Refuting ISIS” this fatwa too strengthens the terrorist ideology, while criticising its practice.
This is not surprising. The commonly accepted theology of most Muslims agrees with the following features of the Jihadist theology:
1.    It regards God as an implacable, anthropomorphic figure permanently at war with those who do not believe in His uniqueness, as against the Sufi or Vedantic concept of God as universal consciousness or universal intelligence radiating His grace from every atom in the universe;
2.     Quran as an uncreated aspect of God, a copy of the eternal Book lying in the Heavenly vault. Hence all its verses, in their literal meaning, have to be treated as an eternal guidance to Muslims without any reference to context;
3.    Ahadith or so-called sayings of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) as akin to revelation, even though they were collected two to three hundred years after the demise of the Prophet. This is what allows ISIS to justify civilian killings and sex with female war prisoners. It also helps ISIS draw an apocalyptic, end-time war scenario and attract Muslim youth to participate in what they are told is a final war to make Islam victorious in the world;
4.     Sharia laws as divine, even though they were first codified 120 years after God announced the completion of the religion in one of the last verses in Quran;
5.    Jihad in the sense of Qital (warfare) as the sixth pillar of Islam;
6.   Some early verses of Quran have been abrogated and replaced by better and more appropriate later verses. This consensual doctrine of abrogation is used by radical ideologues to claim all 124 foundational, Meccan verses of peace, pluralism, co-existence with other religious communities, compassion, kindness to neighbours, etc., have been abrogated and replaced by later Medinan verses of war, xenophobia and intolerance;
7.    Hijra (migration to Darul Islam – abode of Islam- from Darul Harab (Land of disbelief and conflict) as a religious duty and an act of devotion;
8.    a caliphate is an obligation upon the Ummah (global Muslim community).
Twentieth century scholars like Syed Qutb (1906–1966) of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Abul A’la Maududi (1903–1979), of India and later Pakistan, who founded Jamaat-e-Islami, are considered the two fathers of modern Islamist terrorism or Jihadism. More contemporary ideologues who have contributed enormously to the Jihadist discourse are Abdullah Yusuf Azzam (1941-89) and Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi (Born: 1959), etc.
Many Muslim scholars would distance themselves from these militant scholars today. But the reason Jihadism is so influential and attractive to so many is that the Jihadist theology is based on the popular theology propounded by major classical Arab theologians like Ibn-e-Taimiya (1263-1328), and Mohammad Ibn-e Abdul Wahhab (1703-1792) or for that matter major Indian theologians like Mujaddid Alf-e-Saani Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindī ((1564 –1624) and Shah Waliullah Dehlavi (1703–1762).
For hundreds of years now, major Muslim theologians have been engaged in creating a coherent and comprehensive theology of supremacism, intolerance and violence in order to expand the Islamic reach. They have conclusively made the lower form of Jihad, i.e., warfare, compulsory for Muslims in place of the highest form of Jihad which calls for struggle against one’s own lower self. Luminaries of Islam have established a theology which basically declares that Islam must conquer the world and it is the religious duty of all Muslims to strive towards that goal and contribute to it in whatever way they can.
All these theologians present in essence a supremacist, exclusivist, xenophobic and intolerant view of Islam and wield enormous influence on our clergy today.
 It is not possible to accept classical theologians and reject their modern militant offshoots just as it is not possible to reject Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and accept Zakir Naik simply because the latter is not actually having sex with sex slaves as Baghdadi is. Our radicalised youngsters can very well see the hypocrisy of those who on the one hand revere Taimiya, Wahhab, Sirhindi and Waliullah and on the other hand claim to oppose Qutb, Maududi, Azzam and Maqdisi and their followers like Osma bin Laden and Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi. No surprise that some of our educated, 21st century, internet generation youth choose to rather be honest terrorists than dishonest hypocrites like their parents, community leaders, politicians, madrasa teachers, mosque imams, intellectuals, etc. who keep saying Islam is a religion of peace while also professing belief in the core theology of Jihadism, equating it with Islam.
One of the key instructions of God was moderation in matters of religion (Quran: 4:171 and 5:80). This was repeated often by the Prophet “Beware of extremism in religion, for it destroyed those before you.” [Sahih al-Jami’ (nos. 1851 & 3248), M.N. al-Albani, no. 2680, and & al-Sahihah of M.N. al-Albani, no. 1283.]
 But extremism has been endemic in Islam, present almost from the beginning of Islamic history. Muslims fought among themselves and quite vehemently even before the collection of Hadith which they now consider divine, and codification of Sharia which they consider their religious duty to impose on the world.
Muslims have still not found an antidote to militant verses in the Quran. Considering all verses of Quran as providing eternal guidance undermines the universality of essential, foundational, constitutive, verses that were revealed largely in the initial years of Islam in Mecca. We received very good advice from Pope Francis recently (September 2015) which is consistent with several verses in the Quran. Describing the holy Quran has as a “prophetic book of peace,” Pope Francis asked Muslims to seek “an adequate interpretation.” The Quran also asks Muslims repeatedly to reflect upon the verses and find their best meaning, as in Chapter 39: verse 55; 39: 18; 39: 55; 38: 29; 2: 121; 47: 24, etc.
Calling Hadith and Sharia divinely inspired and fundamental elements of Islamic faith is irrational.  Saying that it is a Muslim’s primary religious duty to help establish God’s sovereignty on earth and impose “divine” Sharia Laws on the globe is only a way to intensify extremism which goes against the basic tenets of Islam. The idea of Jihad against kuffar and hijrat (emigration) to the so-called Islamic State as a religious duty is preposterous at a time when millions of Arab Muslims are marching almost barefoot to Europe, the so-called Darul Harb, seeking refuge, a refuge that is denied to them by the so-called Darul Islam in the Arab world.
Muslims will just have to abandon the generally accepted current theology that leads to violence and supremacism. We will need to revisit all our literature, even popular fiction and romance, and explain to our youth that we are now living in a multicultural, multi-religious world where a binary thinking of Muslim/Kafir as opposites and permanent war with them or self-segregation is just not viable. Even Saudi Arabia, which teaches in its schools the worst forms of intolerance, xenophobia, supremacism and exclusivism, has to deal with all religious communities.
ISIS may be militarily defeated tomorrow and even go out of existence. But this will not solve the problem of Muslim radicalisation. If our madrasas and educational institutions continue to prepare the ground for self-segregation and militancy, expounding the current theology, mixed with narratives of victimhood and marginalisation, Islam will continue to be hobbled, Muslims will continue to struggle to fit in the way of life in contemporary world.
Moderate, progressive Muslims must urgently evolve and propagate an alternative theology of peace and pluralism, human rights and gender justice, consistent in all respects with the teachings of Islam, and suitable for contemporary and future societies, while refuting the current theology of violence and supremacism.
Unfortunately, as we have seen above, the task is not so easy.  Radicalisation has not just happened overnight. Jihadi theology has evolved over hundreds of years. Major theologians who have studied Islam independently have brought to us a political version of Islam, stripping the religion of all its spirituality.
While it is primarily the duty of Muslims to fight this ideological war within slam, this is no longer just a Muslim concern. The world too must confront Muslim scholars with the supremacism and extremism present in their theology and ask them to rethink.  Progressive Muslims should join the rest of the world to defeat extremism in current, generally accepted Islamic theology. Islam has all the required resources to evolve a theology of peace and pluralism suited for the present age if only we read our scriptures differently and correctly, in accordance with repeated Quranic advice to find the best meaning of verses.

Defeating Islamism and Jihadism: Evolve a New Theology of Peace, Pluralism and Gender justice, Sultan Shahin asks Muslim States at UNHRC in Geneva

By Sultan Shahin, Founding Editor, New Age Islam

14 September 2018
Oral Statement, 39th regular session of UN Human Rights Council, Geneva (10-28 September 2018)
General Debate, Item 3, Promotion and Protection of All Human Rights, Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Including the Right to Development
Delivered by Sultan Shahin, Founding Editor New Age Islam,
On behalf of Asian-Eurasian Human Rights Forum

Mr. President,
A War on Terror has been raging for 17 years now but we are no closer to defeating Islamist terror. Jihadism continues to attract Muslim youth. This is because the world has not paid enough attention to the ideology of Islamism and Jihadism.
Mainstream Muslims have considered Islam a spiritual path to salvation, one of the many. Islam aims at reforming society for a peaceful, harmonious, pluralist existence. However, due to certain historical factors, the theology and jurisprudence of Islam that evolved in the 8th and 9th centuries (CE), present Islam as a political, totalitarian ideology of supremacism, xenophobia, intolerance and gender discrimination. It is this theology of violence, exclusivism and world-domination that is taught in madrasas and sustains Islamism. But despite the Islamist violence against peaceful Muslims and non-Muslims alike, the community is still not focussed on the need for evolving a counternarrative of Islam.
 It is imperative that Muslim countries that have signed the UN Charter look into the issue urgently and work towards developing a new theology of peace, pluralism and gender justice. While several countries like Morocco and now Saudi Arabia appear to be moving in this direction, the one country that has made a solid contribution is Turkey. In a decade-long exercise 100 Turkish scholars have managed to limit the number of authentic ahadith to just 1600, out of over 10,000, and provide each hadith with context and suitable interpretation. This book of authentic Hadith has been provided to all mosques in Turkey but I hope it is made available to the global Muslim community in their own languages as soon as possible.
The present theology is simply not compatible with the requirements of living in complex, plural societies of the 21st century. Allama Iqbal, a poet-philosopher of the South Asian sub-continent had called for the reconstruction of religious thought in Islam almost a hundred years ago. Let us at least start working on it now.
But first, it’s important for us to understand what has led to the present state of affairs. Why have the Muslims ulema (religious scholars) become so tolerant, if not actually supportive, of the militant Jihadis in our midst, despite the horrendous toll, in which tens of thousands of Muslims have themselves been killed, not to speak of events like 9/11, and repeated terrorist violence in a number of cities in Europe and North America.
The so-called Islamic state which is known for broadcasting its brutalities in chilling detail has been ousted from its control of territories in Iraq and Syria, but its ideology appears to be gaining ground in Africa and South Asia. Al-Qaeda may be down but is not out; it continues to exert ideological influence on sections of Muslim youth. The Taliban which harboured al-Qaeda in Afghanistan are resurgent and the world community appears to be gradually coming round to the view that they should be allowed to share power in the Kabul administration from which they were ousted soon after 9/11 in 2001.
Islamist terrorist organisations like Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and Jaish-e-Mohammad in Pakistan, Boko Haram and Al-Shabab in Africa and Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia, indeed all across the world, are continuing to gain strength.
Mr. President,
While the world community may have gotten involved in issues related to Islamist extremism since 9/11, this is essentially a war of ideas within Islam which has been going on for centuries. Both God and His Prophet wanted Muslims to be a moderate, justly balanced community. An ummat-e-wasta, Holy Quran 2:143, said. Numerous verses in the Quran and narrations of Hadith, exhorted Muslims never to take to extremes, not even in matters of fulfilling religious obligations like prayers and fasting. The Prophet actually expressed his anger specifically against a group of people who wanted to pray all day and night, fast continuously for weeks, abstain from marriage, give up eating meat in order to control their lust and to renounce sleeping in beds, etc.
And yet, not long after the demise of the Prophet in 632 (CE), extremists started emerging and taking it upon themselves to decide who is a Muslim and who a Murtad (apostate), Mushrik (polytheist) or kafir (infidel) and also taking it upon themselves to punish and kill people for perceived apostasy or blasphemy. The first group to do so were called the Khwarij (the excluded). They killed thousands of Muslims including Hazrat Ali (RA), the fourth rightly guided caliph. Today our religious books, belonging to all sects in Islam, give scores of grounds on which a Muslim can be declared an apostate (Murtad), Mushrik (polytheist), or infidel (Kafir) and punished with death.
These theological views empower even individual Muslims to start delivering justice to Muslims who, they think, have committed acts of apostasy or blasphemy. The divine justice that was to be delivered by God on the Day of Judgement is dispensed here by individuals who have been brainwashed with extreme ideas of the scope and authority of divine commands like Amr bil Maroof wa Nahi 'anil Munkar (Enjoining good and forbidding wrong).
Quran, Hadith, and classical Fiqh (jurisprudence) all agree that while there is no concept of an Islamic state in Islam, only the rulers of a legitimate Muslim state can take decisions for perpetrating any kind of violence, either in a war against another state or against individuals in order to impart justice. In classical fiqh (jurisprudence) no individual or group is empowered to take any violent action on its own. But today, violence in various forms is tolerated by the community in the name of Islam. A terrorist has only to quote something from scriptures in justification, without even a reference to context, and his vile acts are forgiven. After all, Osama bin Laden never faced a fatwa of apostasy or blasphemy, while religious reformers like the famous educationist Sir Syed Ahmad (1817—1898) of India were issued scores of fatwas of apostasy by Indian Deobandi ulema as well as the Mutawalli of Khana Ka’aba in Makkah. Indeed, dissenters and reformers in various parts of the Muslim world continue to be killed by individuals and groups. So-called Islamic State chief Khalifa Baghdadi’s statement that “Islam was never a religion of peace, not even for a day,” was greeted with complete and resounding silence from Muslim ulema around the world.
Mr. President,
This apathy to growing Islamist extremism is so great that even some highly educated Muslims ask: “What if 30,000 Muslims from 86 countries joined the Islamic State in just one year? What is their percentage in a community of 1.7 billion people? How can you cite this miniscule percentage as evidence of growing extremism?”  One doesn’t know how to respond to such “intellectuals.” The fact is that even if one Muslim thinks that going to a mosque in the form of a human bomb and blowing oneself up to kill fellow Muslims during prayers will bring one divine reward, the community should have been wondering what is it in our religion that lends itself to such dastardly crimes in the hope for reaching Heaven. Radicalisation has grown exponentially, but even after thousands of terrorist crimes having been perpetrated, one or two being reported practically everyday from some part of the world, we remain unconcerned.
Indeed, the man who killed Governor Salman Taseer of Pakistani state of Punjab for showing kindness to a Christian lady accused of blasphemy, is glorified as a saint. After his judicial execution, the Sufism-oriented Barailvis of Pakistan have built a shrine in his name and hundreds of thousands visit it, seeking this vile murderer’s intercession with God for ending their woes in this life and beyond.
What is the source of this glorification of crimes committed in the name of religion? What lies behind this indifference, this unthinking, unquestioning acceptance of any crime that is perpetrated in the name of Islam? It seems Muslims actually stopped thinking and questioning with the defeat of Mutazillah, the rationalists, in the middle of ninth century (CE), i.e., a little over two centuries after the demise of Prophet Mohammad (peace be upon him). They were told by the ulema to close the doors of Ijtihad, the Islamic principle of creative rethinking and they did. Ijtihad had been used from the time of Hazrat Umar (RA) the second rightly guided caliph who assumed office merely two years after the death of the Prophet (peace be upon him).
Mr. President,
Even after the closure of doors, ijtihad has continued to be used by individuals but without sanction from the larger community. It’s only when ulema themselves accept some innovation that it becomes acceptable to the community. Take for instance, the use of photos for a passport to go to Hajj, loud speakers or radio to recite Quran or that of internet for purposes of Dawah (inviting others to the religion of Islam). These have become acceptable to our religious divines after long debates. So, it would appear some measure of rationality does dawn upon our ulema after long, excruciating debates. It seems the time it takes for their minds to get illuminated is also getting shorter. It took ulema of Khilafat-e-Osmania (Ottoman Caliphate) almost four centuries to give religious sanction to the import of printing presses from Europe, but only a few decades to accept passport-size photographs, loud speakers, radio, television and internet.
It is not difficult to see why the world of Islam is mired in deep darkness of ignorance while the world is making progress by leaps and bounds. Syrian poet Ali Ahmad Said Adonis (b. 1930) called it “a phase of extinction, in the sense that we have no creative presence in the world.” Tunisian thinker Abdelwahab Meddeb (1946 –2014) prophesied “Arab (civilisation), constrained by the framework of Islamic faith, will join the great dead civilisations.” What constraints of Islamic faith is Meddeb talking about? Can you imagine Khilafat-e-Osmania (1517–1924), the rulers of one-third of humanity for centuries, not importing a printing press, not even to propagate holy scriptures, because religious scholars thought all new inventions were works of the Shaitan (Satan). Probably, our religious scholars thought that God had lost His creativity after revealing the religion of Islam and now only Devil could invent new things. In fact, in the view of our ulema even Quran is not created by God but is uncreated and co-eternal with Him, lying in the divine vaults for aeons; He merely revealed a pre-existing Quran to humanity through Prophet Mohammad in the seventh century (C. E).
It was largely on the question of createdness or uncreatedness of Quran (khalq al-Quran) that a major conflict took place among the ulema of 8th and 9th centuries (CE), leading to the defeat of rationalist theologians. The rationalists (Motazallah) said that Quran was created by God in a particular time in history; it was a compilation of verses that came from time to time to guide the Prophet and Muslims in the evolving situation in early seventh century Arabia following the appointment of the Prophet as a messenger of God. So, many verses are contextual in nature and cannot be applied to other contexts. But the orthodox literalist ulema would not accept this. They said that Quran was unique like God and co-eternal with Him; God merely revealed the Quran and did not create its verses as the unfolding events demanded, the implication being that all verses are of eternal applicability.
Even Imam Abul Hasan al-Ash’ari, a Motazallah rationalist till the age of 40, joined the orthodox camp, though continued to use Motazallah methodology of logical arguments to support his case. But logic and reasoning were not allowed in the literalist Hanbali creed even to support their own cause. So bitter opponents of Motazallah, the Hanbalis and Ash’aris also went their own separate ways.
The uncreatedness of Quran meant that all the events that led to revelations in the Quran guiding the Prophet and his companions through the struggle and strife of the early seventh century Arabia were pre-ordained and choreographed to create opportunities for Quran’s verses to be revealed. It also meant that all those who supported the Prophet were simply meant to do so and all those who opposed the Prophet tooth and nail, including making attempts at his life, were just doing God’s bidding. How else could a pre-existing Quran be revealed?
This understanding of Islam also means that everything happening in the world, good or bad, is pre-ordained. Where is the question of reward and punishment then, the rationalist (Motazallah) ulema asked? How can God be considered Just, Kind and Merciful, if He punishes people for doing things he Himself chose for them to do? All those opposed to the use of reasoning in matters of religion, the Hanbalies, Ash'aris, Maturidis, Zahiries, Mujassimites and Muhaddithin, said God is all-powerful; He simply does things that he wills to do. In their view, imposing canons of justice and morality on God would amount to limiting his power and this cannot be done. God is not rational or just; He is the embodiment of power and will, he does what He pleases. God is the First Cause in a universe which does not have any secondary causes. No cause and effect for the orthodox ulema, only God’s will and power to do as He pleases.
In the raging theological debates in the 8th and 9th centuries (CE), both groups cited verses of Quran. The group opposed to reason also quoted numerous ahadith (believed to be sayings of the Prophet, even though collected up to three centuries after his demise). [Some verses of Quran used in this debate can be seen below in an annex attached to this oral statement.]
A century and a half after the rationalist group had been defeated and their books burnt, Imam Ghazali (1058 –1111) summed up the Islamic theology of consensus (Hanbali, Ashari, Maturidi, etc. minus Motazallah) in this way. He put the following words in the mouth of God:

“These to Bliss, and I care not; And these to the Fire, and I care not.”

It’s this supposed indifference and arbitrariness of God that Ibn-e-Rushd (1126 –1198), known as Averroes in Europe, countered in his famous book “Incoherence of the Incoherence.” This was a point-by-point refutation of Imam Ghazali’s book “Incoherence of the Philosophers.” But all of Ibn-e-Rushd’s books were burnt down in supposedly liberal Muslim Spain (1195) and he had to go into exile. Some of his books survived only because they had already been translated in European languages and gained a lot of supporters, even though his ideas were condemned by the Catholic Church in 1270 and 1277. What gained him most following in Christian Europe, despite opposition from Church, was his ‘unity of the intellect’ thesis, claiming that all humans share the same intellect. As a result, Europe got its renaissance and Muslim world pushed itself into a darkness from which it is still to emerge.

Mr. President,
Under this literalist theology, violence, xenophobia, intolerance and gender injustice become acceptable due to an interpretation of Quran and Hadith which deliberately avoided using reason and logic. Early 20th century radical ideologues like Hassan al-Banna, Syed Qutb, Syed Abul Ala Maududi and numerous later ideologues of Al-Qaeda, ISIS, etc have gone further than the classical jurists and come up with interpretations that even justify horrors of terrorism in the name of Muslims’ religious duty to make Islam victorious in the world. In many mosques even in the non-Muslim majority West today prayer-leaders curse non-Muslims and pray for their defeat and victory for Islam in their Friday sermons. The seventh-century war-time Arabian mindset persists.
 In classical jurisprudence Jihad or Qital ordered by the state was considered farz-e-kefaya, a communal duty which some people in the community would perform voluntarily absolving others of this duty. To defend one’s country in the event of an external attack was considered farz-e-ain, every capable individual Muslim’s religious duty. But even this was subject to the guidance and instructions and requirements of the State.  But modern ideologues have made even offensive Jihad (in other words terrorism) a farz-e-ain for all individual Muslims, and even done away with the need for a legitimate Muslim state to order such fighting.
Islamic scriptures and books of fiqh (jurisprudence) and aqaid (beliefs), can always be made to yield some sort of support for almost any position, even positions that are diametrically opposed to each other, as we have seen above in the debate between Motazallah and the Hanbalis and Ash’aris. And these become acceptable to a populace that has been told for a millennium that merely thinking a thought is unbelief or infidelity (al-fikr kufr).
We have seen in the above quotations from Quran cited by the Motazallah that God asks Muslims again and again to think, observe, learn and so on. Occasionally, He gets angry and asks Muslims, why won’t you think? See, for instance, the following verse from Quran: "Truly, the worst of all creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf, the dumb, those who do not use their reason/think." Qur'an 8:22
And here we are, a community that has accepted for a millennium that merely thinking a thought amounts to denying God’s divinity. We are where we are today largely because we have accepted our dominant theology of al-fikr kufr, leading to violence and exclusivism. Blind, unthinking adherence to the dogma (taqlid) has been our practice since the 9th century. Even the Salafi/Wahhabi who call themselves ghair muqallid (those who do not follow any school of thought) actually follow equally blindly the Hanbali jurisprudence and Ibn-e-Taimiya and Mohammad Abdul Wahhab’s theology.
Mr. President, I hope Muslims states that are signatories to the UN Charter take the issue of terrorism seriously, understand its link with our current taqlidi theology of consensus, make serious efforts to evolve a new ijtihadi theology of peace, pluralism and gender justice, and revise our madrasa text books accordingly. The new theology should be more rational, coherent and internally consistent, over which a consensus of the global Muslim community can be gradually evolved.
Thank you, Mr. President.
Annex 1
Motazallah view of God’s rationality and justice and encouragement to reasoning emanate from the following and similar verses in the Holy Quran:

Surely the worst of beasts in God's sight are those that are deaf and dumb and do not reason. (8:22)
Qur'an explains its verses to a “tribe, nation or community (qawm) who thinks" and chastises "those who do not use their reason" (see for instance, al-Baqara 2:164; al-Ma'idah 5:58; al-Ra'd 13:4; al-Nahl 16:12; Maryam 19: 93-95.
And He lays abomination upon those who do not reason. (10:100)
(2:164) (To guide) those who use their reason (to this Truth) there are many Signs in the structure of the heavens and the earth, in the constant alternation of night and day, in the vessels which speed across the sea carrying goods that are of profit to people, in the water which Allah sends down from the sky and thereby quickens the earth after it was dead, and disperse over it all manner of animals, and in the changing courses of the winds and the clouds pressed into service between heaven and earth.162
 “A book We have sent down to thee, blessed, that men possessed of mind may ponder its signs and so remember.” (38:29)
“That thou mayest bring forth your people from the darkness into the light ... “(14:5)


“And We sent down with them the Book and the Balance so that men might uphold justice ... “(57:25)
“We have not sent thee, save as a mercy unto all beings. “(21:107)
“A Book We have sent down to thee that thou mayest bring forth mankind from the darkness into the light... “(14:1)
It is incumbent upon Allah to show you the right way. (16:9)

Annex 2

Hanbali-Ashari-Maturidi view of God as omnipotent, whimsical, arbitrary, wilful, despotic, not limited by canons of justice and rationality emanate from the following and similar verses of the Holy Quran (as well as many Ahadith, specially mutawatir ahadith, considered totally authentic and akin to revelation by most Muslims). I am not quoting Hadith here but apart from Quran, it was a large number of Hadith narrations that solidified their view:

“Allah does what he wills.” (14:27)
(Allah is) the Doer of what He wills.7 (85:16)
“He forgiveth whom He pleaseth, He punishes whom He pleaseth.” (2: 284)
“He forgives whom He wills, and He punishes whom He wills. And to Allah belongs the dominions of the heavens and the earth and whatever is in between them and to Him is the final destination,” (5: 18)
“He punishes whom He wills and forgives whom He wills, and Allah is over all things competent.” (5: 40)
 “In their hearts is a sickness, and God has increased that sickness ...” (2:10)
God has set a seal on their hearts and on their hearing, and on their eyes is a covering ... “(2:7)
We lay veils upon their hearts lest they understand it ...”. (6:25)
So, does God seal the hearts of the unbelievers.” (7:101)
“God is the Protector of the believers; He brings them forth from the darkness into the light. And the unbelievers --their protectors are taghut (satanic forces), that bring them forth from the light into the darkness ...” (2:257)
 “So, whosoever Allah wants to Guide, He expands his breast to Islam and whoever He wants to misguide, He makes his breast tight and constricted as though he were climbing into the sky.” (Quran 6: 125).
 Also, “If Allah so willed, he could make you all one people. But he leaves straying whom He pleases, and He guides whom He pleases and you shall certainly be called to account for all your actions.” Quran (16: 93). 

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This ‘Hafta-e-Shahadat’ In Kashmir Is The Time For An Honest Introspection, Not Just For Qur’an Recital Competition (Husn-e-Qirat Mehfil)!

New Age Islam Special Correspondent
21 May 2019
The ‘Hafta-e-Shahadat’, also known as ‘Hafta-e-Shuhada’ (the week of martyrs)—the anniversary of Mirwaiz Maulvi Muhammad Farooq or ‘Shaheed-e-Millat’—commenced from May 18 in the valley of Kashmir. The Awami Action Committee (AAC) has called for complete shutdown on May 21 to commemorate the occasion.
On May 18, the ‘Hafta-e-Shahadat’ commenced with the recitation of holy Qur’an at all district and Tehsil headquarters of the party amid special prayers for the ‘Shaheed-e-Millat’ Mirwaiz Maulvi Mohammad Farooq, who was brutally murdered on May, 2, 1990, at his residence in Srinagar. On this occasion, the Anjuman-e-Auqaf Jamia Masjid also organised a competition for the Qur’an recitation (Muqabal-e-Husn-e-Qira’at) at the historic Jama Masjid.
On May 19, the Hurriyat Conference (M) organised a seminar at its Rajbagh headquarters wherein the Hurriyat leaders paid tributes to ‘Shaheed-e-Millat’, ‘Shaheed-e-Hurriyat’ and martyrs of Hawal massacre. On May 20 today, Anjuman-e-Nusratul Islam organised a seminar at the auditorium of Islamia Higher Secondary School Rajouri Kadal under the title “Amal Say Zindagi Banti Hai Jannat Bhi, Jahannam Bhi”. On this occasion, a special issue of ‘Shaheed-e-Millat’ number 2019 has also been released.
Having organized all that, what the Hurriyat and other commemorators of the ‘Hafta-e-Shahadat’ have consciously or unconsciously missed out is the self-appraisal about the brutal assassination of the top leaders of the Hurriyat conference. This occasion of the ‘Hafta-e-Shahadat’ must open the conglomerate to introspection and self-assessment on these questions:
Can anyone among them do an independent review of the gruesome assassination of ‘Shaheed-e-Millat’ without blindly accepting the dictates of Pakistan’s army or ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence)? How many hidden truths such as this are lingering in the political closet of the separatist leadership in the valley? What is the attitude of the separatist leaders towards the security of the region at a time when the criminality of terrorists gets exposed?
On May 21, a complete shutdown will be observed across Kashmir in memory of ‘Shaheed-e-Millat’, ‘Shaheed-e-Hurriyat’, martyrs of Hawal massacre and all other martyrs of Kashmir and a congregational Fatiha Khawani will be held at martyrs’ graveyard Eidgah. Eventually, the Hurriyat leaders, as usual, will again take a pledge to carry on the ‘peaceful struggle’ for the right to ‘self-determination’. They would again call all such gruesome murders as a ‘state-sponsored conspiracy’ to derail the ‘armed struggle’.
But regrettably, no one would tell the common people in Jammu & Kashmir about the real culprits and terrorists who crush down every voice of reason in the valley. In 2011, almost two decades after the assassination of the Mirwaiz, the prominent Hurriyat leader, Abdul Ghani Bhatt, admitted that the killing of many Kashmiri leaders, including the Mirwaiz, Abdul Ghani Lone, his own brother Mohammad Bhatt and Professor Wani was the handiwork of terrorists. "Lone sahib, Mirwaiz Farooq and Prof. Wani were not killed by the army or the police. They were targeted by our own people. The story is a long one, but we have, to tell the truth," he said.
This admittance was corroborated by the facts brought out by Wikileaks which said that ISI had a direct hand in the killing of prominent personalities in Kashmir. Wikileaks quoted a US cable as saying that an Al Qaeda terrorist arrested in 2002 had given this information when interrogated. Notably, the targets in India, according to the terrorist, were chosen by the Pakistani Army. This acknowledgment sent shock waves outside the valley, but the common Kashmiri people have been kept in the darkness about all this, as the separatist leaders continue to mislead them to achieve their own political interests. They are just offered the beautiful recitation of Quran and special payers to mark the commencement of “Hafta-e-Shadat”, while being left in the lurch about the real motives behind the  death of slain Hurriyat leaders Mirwaiz Maulvi Muhammad Farooq and  Khawaja Abdul Ghani Lone and victims of Hawal massacre of May 21, 1990. 
Even the Islamic clerics, Imams and other prominent local leaders do not seem fully aware of how Islamic leaders are misused and sometimes brutally killed if they speak out the truth. In this ongoing ‘Hafta-e-Shahadat’ too, a large number of imams of various mosques have participated in the Husn-e-Qirat Mehfil organised by the Anjunam-e-Auqaf Jamia Masjid along with the Hurriyat members and workers. According to their statement, the Qur’an recitation competition was held with the sole aim of attracting children towards the better recitals and understanding of Qur’an and its teachings. The Qur’an recitation programme assumes more significance owing to the month of Ramazan which is the same month in which holy Qur’an was revealed upon the beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAW). As a result, great enthusiasm was shown on this occasion from several madrasas and their rectors including the Madrasa Kanzul Uloom Ganderbal, Darul Uloom Dawoodiya Srinagar, Sa’adatul Quran Nagabal, Darasgah Farooqiya Hawal, Srinagar among others. The prominent Islamic clerics of the valley who participated in the event included the Imam and Khateeb of Jamia Masjid Srinagar Maulana Syed Ahmed Naqashbandi, Mufti Muhammad Abdullah Qasimi, Maulana Inayatullah, Mufti Ghulam Rasool Samoon, Muhammad Yasin Shah and Molvi Altaf Ahmed. This was perhaps the biggest function to pay tributes to ‘Shaheed-e-Millat’, ‘Shaheed-e-Hurriyat’ and martyrs of Hawal massacre. Mirwaiz distributed prizes among the children who won the Qur’an recitation competition.
But the worrying fact of this Husn-e-Qir’at programme is that students of Hifz from various Kashmiri madrasas and Darul Ulooms, who participate in it having memorized the entire Qur’an by heart at a tender age, are susceptible to the misinformation being promulgated on these occasions.  
On April 2011, a similar brutal murder of a religious leader—Maulana Shaukat Ahmed, the soft-spoken, 55-year-old chief of the Jamiat-e-Ahli-Hadees (JAH)—was witnessed. Maulana was a man of conviction who did not hesitate from speaking out his mind. He held pro-freedom views but was also very vocal against all forms of violence in the valley. Therefore, he openly denounced stone pelting and other such disruptive activities as completely “un-Islamic”. He also issued Fatwas against the acts of violence in Kashmir. Unfortunately, he faced the ire of the separatist leaders like Syed Geelani and other terrorist organisations. But ironically, after Maulana’s gruesome assassination, conspiracy theories from the separatist leaders abounded. Geelani said the killing was “the handiwork of the anti-Kashmiri and anti-Islam elements”. Significantly, Maulana Shaukat Ahmed was the first to demand an inquiry into the killings of Mirwaiz Farooq and Abdul Ghani Lone. It was as a follow-up to his statements that Abdul Ghani Bhat openly said that these leaders had been killed by “our own men”.
This ‘Hafta-e-Shahadat’ is the prime time for the Hurriyat and all separatist outfits to turn inward and introspect. The commemoration should not be confined to only the valley-wide Husn-e-Qirat Mehfil. While the Awami Action Committee calls shutdown on May 21, the more needful to do is an honest and candid exposition of the hidden truths in the killings of Kashmir. There was a deafening silence from the separatist leaders when the Hurriyat leaders were mercilessly killed by the terrorists back in 1990. Much damage has already been done and a huge price will be extracted once again if the truth is not told. Most of the Kashmir carnages are direct or indirect result of a plethora of misinformation being spread by vested interests bred by the foreign forces.

Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamaath Insists It Had Nothing to Do With Sri Lanka Blasts; It Only Sends Present-Day Muslims to Medieval Times, Brands Sufis As Apostates, Deserving Death

By TR Vivek
May 16, 2019
The deadly Easter terror attack in Sri Lanka that claimed 253 lives has put Tamil-speaking Islamist groups on either side of the Palk Strait under the scanner. The National Thowheed Jama’ath (NTJ) is one of the prime suspects that the Sri Lankan government banned in the immediate aftermath of the eight serial blasts, for which the Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility.
President Maithripala Sirisena used his emergency powers to ban the NTJ and another group known as the Jamathei Millathu Ibraheem (JMI). Security and counter terrorism experts in Sri Lanka believe the hitherto little-known NTJ to be an organisation that split from the Sri Lanka Thowheed Jamaath (SLTJ) in 2014.
SLTJ, a prominent Muslim outfit that seeks to spread a fundamentalist, Wahhabi version of Islam has a track record of inciting racial hatred, vandalising Buddhist places of worship, and openly endorsing the IS brand of violent jihad. In 2016, SLTJ’s general secretary Abdul Razik was arrested for hate speech.
The Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamaath (TNTJ), which in the aftermath of the bombings, found itself in the eye of the storm — initial reports by media houses laid the blame of the terror attack on them — is a bonafide affiliate of SLTJ.
Both organisations actively collaborate towards translating and distributing versions of the Quran, spreading the message of what they claim is true Islam; the SLTJ has also hosted TNTJ leaders in Sri Lanka.
Beyond religious ideology, the two organisations are conjoined by the bonds of Tamil linguistic identity. Muslims comprise nearly 10% of Sri Lanka’s population. Concentrated in the north and east of the country, a majority are Tamil speakers.
By all measures, the TNTJ is a hardliner religious organisation, but it insists that it had nothing to do with the serial blasts on April 21, Easter Sunday, that occurred in St Sebastian’s church in Negombo, among other churches, and in many luxury hotels in Colombo.
Ties Of Tongue
In the aftermath of the bombings, multiple media reports linked the Chennai-headquartered TNTJ to the attacks, forcing its leaders to address a press conference to deny the allegations, as well as condemn terror attacks as anti-Islamic.
“Connecting NTJ with TNTJ is like saying All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) are sister groups because DMK is common to both their names. Thowheed is an Arabic word that means oneness of God, and several organisations use it. No government has linked us with NTJ; it’s only the handiwork of some media houses that seek to spread mischief and defame real Islam. We work closely with SLTJ, a peaceful organisation that functions within the laws of Sri Lanka. Whoever has carried out the attacks cannot be a real Muslim,” says B Abdul Rehman, a tall, slender man in his mid-thirties who is the vice president of TNTJ.
When HT visited them earlier this month, the cramped three-storey headquarters, surrounded by power tools and textile sellers in the wholesale trade hub of the old British settlement of George Town, Chennai, was abuzz with activity.
Hundreds of bundles of TNTJ’s mouthpiece, a 16-page Tamil weekly tabloid called Unarvu [which loosely translates to ‘consciousness’], are piled up ready for dispatch. Every inch of the tabloid dated May 3-9, 2019, is devoted to the Sri Lanka terror attacks. In Unarvu’s crosshairs is a Times of India report that alleged TNTJ’s links to the prime suspect NTJ; one article praises BBC’s “even-handed coverage” de-linking them from the banned Sri Lankan group; several articles denounce IS as an Jewish-American enterprise. The receptionist’s phone hasn’t stopped buzzing. The attendant, a bearded man in his twenties, patiently directs all media queries to TNTJ’s leadership. Though Hindi is not the lingua franca here, he addresses everyone with the north Indian suffix “ji”.
TNTJ runs 600 mosques in all districts of the state, conducts summer camps for children, and also provides ambulance services, medical and educational help to the poor within the community, and organises blood donation camps. It runs old age homes, homes for children without families and Islamic schools. It claims to have a membership of nearly one million.
A Hardliner View
TNTJ claims to be the largest Muslim group in Tamil Nadu with membership exceeding a million. It was established in 2004 by P Jainulabdeen (popularly known as “PJ”) as a non-political organisation to spread a hardcore Saudi-Wahhabi inspired version of Islam. The TNTJ’s precursor, the quasi-political Tamil Nadu Muslim Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK), also led by PJ, was a somewhat bigger tent that attempted to electorally rally the state’s 6-7% Muslim population. In the 2011 assembly polls, its political wing, Manidhaneya Makkal Katchi won two seats, as an ally of the AIADMK. In the following elections, it tied up with the DMK, and contested on four seats. It won none.
The TMMK, eventually, morphed into a hardliner, proselytising organisation called TNTJ that sought to replace other branches of Islam including Sufism and Shiaism with its Saudi-inspired version. It began to publish a monthly religious magazine, Ekathuvam (which translates to ‘oneness’), and booklets titled Kolgai Vilakkam (‘ideological explanation’), and Manithanukketra Margam (‘the best path for man’).
The TMMK and its later avatar TNTJ, has often been critical of the DMK and Tamil nationalist groups for their support of the militant Sri Lankan separatist movement led by Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The predominantly Hindu and Catholic LTTE’s expulsion of Tamil-speaking Muslims from the territories under its control in the 1980s sowed the seeds of distrust.
Up until 2018, PJ, 66, was the face of TNTJ. Last year, however, he was expelled when multiple audio recordings (purportedly in his voice) of explicit sexual conversations with women, began to circulate. Born in Thondi, a small seaside town in the Muslim-dominated region of Ramanathapuram on the south-eastern coast of Tamil Nadu, just across a stretch of sea from Sri Lanka, he built TNTJ Bayan by Bayan — the Arabic term used by TNTJ followers for speeches based on the teachings of Quran and Hadith. A small, dark-skinned man, with a closely trimmed beard, PJ’s speeches are available on YouTube. Almost always attired in a full-sleeved shirt, a white lungi, a prayer cap and brown tinted Ray-Ban aviator glasses, he speaks Tamil with a thick Madurai accent. The only foreign words used in PJ’s bayans are direct, extempore quotations from the Quran in Arabic. TNTJ’s version of Islam does not even attempt any indigenisation. There is no mention of Deoband, the pre-eminent seminary of sub-continental Islam in its literature. An overwhelming majority of the young people who now form TNTJ’s leadership at the state and district levels were inspired by PJ.
Since 2004, PJ’s bayans, titled Islam Oru Iniya Margam (‘Islam, the sweet path’), syndicated on several Tamil satellite TV networks, have fuelled TNTJ’s popularity among Tamil Muslims in India and abroad. “We believe only in PJ’s tarjuma (translation) of Quran because he is a real Aalim (scholar),” says Arif Khan, a 42-year-old district secretary of TNTJ in Ramanathapuram.
“PJ had trained us so well in the margam [Islam’s true path] that we have the courage to throw him out when he himself commits haram,” adds Khan.
In the wake of the scandal, PJ refused to grant HT an interview — this was conveyed through the employees of the departmental store that he runs in Broadway, barely a few hundred metres from the TNTJ headquarters. He now heads another religious outfit.
TNTJ condemns terrorism as anti-Islamic. It also labels Muslims who don’t adhere to its version of Islam as apostates.
“In a traditional sense, TNTJ is a purist Islamic outfit. It was one of the organisations that forced the cancellation of American Islamic feminist scholar Dr Amina Wadud’s lecture in Chennai. However, it engages in religiously inspired community work as well but it is primarily driven by Islamic identity assertion politics in the face of rising communalisation of society and politics,” explains Neshat Quaiser, a former professor of sociology at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi. Wadud, an Islamic scholar, was supposed to give a lecture on Islam, gender and reform, in 2013, which was cancelled after the state police received information of possible violence.
Setting the Ideal Path
In Muslim-dominated Keelkarai, about 15 km from Ramanathapuram, TNTJ has put together an “Exhibition of Islam” in a playground. It has stalls on the ideal way to lead their lives — issues of converting idol worshippers, Quranic duty, and “handling” of women form the bulk of the exhibition.
One of the biggest victories that TNTJ claims is the weaning away of Tamil Muslims from dargahs. “In Keelakarai, there are two Dargahs by the seaside. In a town of 40,000, we have worked so effectively that not more than 40-50 people visit them,” boasts Ayub Khan, the TNTJ Ramanathapuram district general secretary.
TNTJ also takes pride in the increasing number of Muslim women opting for the burqa in Tamil Nadu. “Women are like jackfruit. They are bound to attract flies. Just as we should cover the fruit, we must cover our women,” explains Habibullah, a 36-year old tailor and the head of TNTJ in Madurai.
According to Quaiser, Tamil Nadu Muslims have traditionally been deeply rooted in syncretic socio-cultural ethos and the state has largely been free from radical Muslim politics. However, incidents like the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, and the Gujarat riots in 2002, “Tamil Nadu too has witnessed certain limited amount of radicalisation of Muslim politics, which in no way be characterised as mainstream Tamil Muslim politics.”
“In Tamil Nadu for instance, there has been a dramatic increase in Muslim women wearing the Burqa. It is partly an effect of the work TNTJ and similar outfits have done but in large measure a reaction to the rise of Hindutva in post-Babri Masjid demolition India. Although they have nothing culturally common with North Indian Muslims, the Tamil Muslims are trying to forge a certain unity in this context. The rise of Hindutva also gives organisations like TNTJ a concrete shape and the ability to articulate their regressive worldview. Both come together to create an extremely dangerous situation,” says Quaiser.
At Alhidaya, a women’s madrasa run by TNTJ in Madurai’s Avaniyapuram, warden Ziaur Rehman, a young man in his 30s, calls it a “reformatory” for Muslim girls. On the day HT visits, about 80 young girls have finished a 10-day introductory course on the Islamic way of life. There is also a 10-month diploma course post which around 100 girls between the ages of 15 and 25 would become “aalimaas”—fully trained in the Quranic way of life.
“Did you see that girl at the gate? Her father got her here because she was chatting with boys in her street. She was arguing with her parents on matters of deen [faith]. She would sit in the drawing room alongside male guests. Did you see how perfectly she wore the hijab? All parts of the body completely covered, just the face visible. That is what we do. You call it fundamentalism; we think it is the only way to live.”
Source; hindustantimes.com/world-news/tn-islamic-group-decries-terrorist-tag/story-QTeWO7tz3in9jirmhRQb9O.html

The Creative Entity

By Asif Merchant, New Age Islam
23 May 2019
Is there a God, or is there no God?
It cannot be denied that wherever we look, it is always possible to find a pattern. The arrangement of leaves on a branch, the way fruits are designed, the human body, the other animals, in fact, whatever you want to study. In addition, we have the laws of Physics which always succeed in predicting various phenomena, and when they don’t, it is possible to find out why, or if necessary, work out where the law went wrong, and eventually correct the laws. How has all this come about? There appears to be a Grand Design for the entire Universe. How do we explain it?
One approach is to postulate a ‘Creative Entity’ which is responsible for all this. The next step would be to try and find out more about this ‘Creative Entity’. The most common approach is to call it ‘God’, or Allah, Bhagwan, Jehovah, or any other name. Even this would be okay, but now, in addition to the name, various properties are assumed as being essential to the Creative Entity. It is called ‘All-knowing’, ‘Good’, ‘Just’, capable of interfering in earthly matters in response to supplications from believers, rewarding or punishing humans after they die, etc.
None of these are essential to the original postulate, but still, these are deemed as most important. Religions are made, and people are willing to go to war to uphold their ideas about the Creative Entity. I don’t occur to most people that these ideas are limited to the Earth, which is negligible even in the solar system. Yet we expect the ‘Creator of the Universe’ to be concerned about them. Such ideas are based more on hope that this is what the Creative Entity is, rather than a rational approach. If you think about it, most of these ideas unconsciously assume a flat Earth as the centre of the Universe. People point upward and say ‘God’. They speak of ‘the Heaven above’. It is this flat Earth which is believed to be the centre of the Universe, with Heaven above and Hell below, though most would indignantly deny that they believe the Earth is flat.
To explain the Grand Design, one only needs the Creative Entity, which formulated the laws of Physics and instigated the Big Bang. Everything else, in the entire Universe, would evolve in time. I have deliberately spoken only of the laws of Physics, ignoring other branches of Science because when you come down to basics, everything depends on the laws of Physics.
If what I have just written is true, what happens to the teachings of the various Prophets?  Was Jesus wrong? Was The Holy Prophet bluffing?
I don’t think so. They had a Message, and that should be seen as being more important than the ideas of sin, heaven, or hell which dominate religious thinking. I think they were attempting to present the idea of civilisation. This was necessary, as populations increased, and there was more interaction between different cultures. What is known as Globalisation now. As populations increased, social reforms became necessary to reduce exploitation of the deprived, and of the women. Maybe the prophets were influenced by their early upbringing into bringing the idea of God into what they were trying to achieve. Or maybe they were deliberately employing a ‘carrot and stick’ approach to make people obey. However, if you think about it, whatever they taught about how to live, does not need any God. The emphasis was always on living a just life, respecting different opinions, etc., all with the aim of achieving a way in which many people could live and work together in peace.
The Buddha was more direct about this. He said that there is no need to worry about the nature of the Creator. What is required is a life devoted to peace and justice.
The Holy Quran has over seven hundred references to the Universe, and believers are exhorted to study this. No answers are given, but the command is to go even to far off places in search of knowledge of the Universe. Ideas about heaven and hell are not written in the Holy Quran with so much emphasis. Nor is there so much about sin.
If you think about it, what we call sins are actions that only affect human life on the planet Earth. They do not affect the Universe in any way. Surely it needs a highly inflated opinion of ourselves and this Earth to believe that actions which are only related to human life can be of any importance to ‘The Creative Entity’. They have importance to us because they help us live together in large groups with minimum conflicts among ourselves.  This is what we mean when we speak of civilized living.
The civilisational aspect of all religions should have been enough to eliminate religious disputes. When there is a willingness to agree to disagree where is the chance of religious conflicts? Unfortunately, this has not happened.
All religions have come to be dominated by professionals – the clerics. These people have managed to acquire a monopoly on the interpretation of the teachings of the prophets. To maintain this monopoly, they have invented various rituals that all believers have to follow in order to acquire merit which will ensure them a place in heaven. The Clerics have managed to convince their followers that the most important part of living is salvation and a place in heaven. They claim that only they know the secret of achieving this. The different rituals guarantee that religions will always succeed in dividing people.
 An essential part of rituals is the Holy Language, which most clerics don’t understand, and very few believers understand, but which gives a feeling of holiness and mystery. Perhaps a nearness to whatever god they worship. Since the holy languages are all different, this works as one more device to keep people divided.  The distortion of the noble aims with which the Prophets came before the people is complete.
Sabotage of a reformer’s ideas has always occurred. Also the deification of the reformer. The reformer’s civilisational ideas are replaces by miracles, and the sabotage is complete.
A rational approach to religion would concentrate on the civilisational ideas expressed in various religions. With so much literacy, we are exposed to ideas about living even from non-religious sources. All these are part of our heritage, and we should make full use of the ideas available to us. Our own minds can guide us along the right path. There is no need to subordinate our intelligence to any so-called religious authority. In fact, Muslims believe that the Prophetic line ends with the Holy Prophet. Maybe it is for the same reasons that I have suggested. When there is access to so much thinking by various intellectuals all over the world, there is no need for a human claiming to be Divinely Inspired. We should be guided by our own judgment about a just society is achieved.
Since we are gifted with consciousness, it should be natural for us to want to know more about this fascinating thing called life, and the wonderful Universe we find ourselves in. Instead of worrying about Heaven and Hell, we should try to discover more about ‘The Creative Entity’ and ‘The Grand Design’.