By Sultan Shahin, Founder-Editor, New Age Islam
6 March 2020
Oral Statement, 43rd regular session of UN Human Rights Council, Geneva (24 Feb – 20 March 2020)
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, Founder-Editor, New Age Islam
On behalf of Asian-Eurasian Human Rights Forum
The Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) told the Council last week that the OIC will adopt the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI) after it is revised in accordance with international human-rights standards. This would have been reassuring if individual member states had shown any renewed commitment to Human Rights. That, however, doesn’t seem to be the case. Only a couple of examples can be cited here. Turkey is bringing a law that would allow child rapists to walk free if they marry their victims, thus legitimising rape. Hundreds of Hindu, Sikh and Christians girls are subjected to forcible conversions and rapes in Pakistan every year. Equally frequent are continuing practices of harassment and murder of religious minorities through misuse of blasphemy law, religious persecution against Shias, Ahmadiyas, Ismailis and Hazaras in Pakistan. Children are still recruited for terror activities including suicide bombing in Pakistan and other Islamic nations.
OIC secretary-general also notes that the organization continues to condemn the ideological rhetoric adopted by terrorist groups. But mere condemnation of Jihadi rhetoric has not and is not going to help. Jihadis do not merely apply rhetoric. They have worked out a very coherent, internally consistent theology of violence and exclusion.
This theology is effective because it’s based on the consensus of all traditional schools of Islamic thought. It cannot be countered by the platitudes that our scholars deploy. A new theology of peace and pluralism needs to be evolved. This should be equally coherent and internally consistent. OIC seems to be making no effort to evolve such a theology yet.
Considered the intellectual branch of the OIC Sawt Al-Hikma Center or Voice of Wisdom is merely recounting the positive virtues of Islamic tolerance based on early Quranic verses that have been declared abrogated by the traditional ulema. It’s not taking into account doctrines in which the real strength of the Jihadi ideology lies. For instance, the Uncreatedness of Quran, which is the basis for universal and eternal applicability of all Quranic verses including the contextual war-time verses; Doctrine of Abrogation, that says that war-time instructions that were revealed later in Madina have abrogated the peacetime pluralistic verses that were revealed earlier in Makkah; Takfirism, that declares Muslims as Kafir, Mushrik and Munafiq and thus liable to be killed; Millennarian end-of-the-world theories like Ghazwa-e-Hind that made ISIS so attractive to our youth; the Doctrine of offensive Jihad to help expand Islamic territories; the Doctrine of Global Khilafat that considers modern democracy as un-Islamic; the Doctrine of al-Wala wal-Bara (loyalty and disavowal, loving and hating, only for the sake of God) that asks Muslims to have good relations only with Muslims and avoid interaction with non-Muslims; the forcible application of the Doctrine Al-amr bil-maʿrūf wan-nahi ʿanil-munkar (Enjoining what is right and Forbidding what is wrong) in which Islam is considered right and all non-Islamic religions are considered wrong; the argument that Muslims who are helpless, facing persecution, and do not have any other weapon, can use their own bodies as weapons of war for the so-called martyrdom operations; and so on.
If the OIC genuinely wants to make a difference, it will have to consider the Jihadi theology in all its aspects and refute it with compelling arguments based on Quran and Sunna. It’s member countries also need to show a real unquestionable commitment to human rights. When they signed the UN Charter of Human Rights, they committed to its provisions. The Human Right Council should ensure that its provisions are implemented by the signatories.
On the basis of my decades-long study of Jihadi literature and its roots in the classical theology taught in our madrasas, at least the following points should constitute part of the counter-narrative of the ulema to have any impact. They should elaborate the points I am making here and present them convincingly, and in theological terminology, if they genuinely want to influence our youth and help prevent further radicalisation.
1. Jihad fi sabilillah (Jihad in the path of God) is essentially an internal, spiritual struggle against one’s own evil thoughts and base desires, to fulfil one’s duty towards God (Huqooqul Allah). This is a constant struggle that Muslims have to face, so that their mind does not get diverted from remembrance of God. This may be a difficult proposition for ulema as every school of thought defines Jihad fi sabilillah as propagating the message of Islam and fighting those who do not accept it. But this will have to be done, if a counternarrative is to have any meaning.
2. Qital (fighting) in the way of God is also a form of Jihad fi sabilillah but it is a lesser form of Jihad. Jihad fi sabilillah has no connection to a holy war. In Islam there is no concept of holy war. Jihad fi sabilillah may sometimes be fought against religious persecution and oppression on conditions of physical capability and under the command of the ruler of a duly established Islamic State. This, however, had to be fought under very strict conditions like an Islamic State either fighting in defence or declaring war in advance, renouncing all treaties with the enemy state, no harm being done to non-combatants under any circumstances, etc. Individuals and groups simply cannot engage in warfare of any kind under any circumstances and call it Jihad fi sabilillah.
3. Qurʾān’s contextual war-time verses from Surah Tawbah (also known as Barā’ah), Surah Anfal, Surah al-Maidah, Surah al-Baqrah, Sura al-Hajj, etc cannot be used to wage a permanent war against Mushrikeen (polytheists, idol-worshippers) and ahl-e-kitab (People of the Book).
Qurʾān is a collection of verses, created by God, that were revealed to Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) initially in Mecca, as instructions into the universal faith that has been coming to humanity since the advent of Prophet Adam (AS) on earth, through a series of prophets of equal status (Qurʾān 2:136) sent to all nations, bearing the same message, in the languages of those times and places. So, these initial verses that teach us peace and harmony, good neighbourliness, patience, tolerance and pluralism are the foundational and constitutive verses of Qurʾān. They constitute the fundamental message of Islam.
However, Qurʾān also contains many contextual verses that were revealed as instructions from time to time for the Prophet (pbuh) and his companions to deal with exigencies that arose as both the Mushrikeen (pagans) of Makkah and Ahl-e-Kitab (Jews and Christians) living in Madina mostly refused to accept the message of God coming to them through the Prophet. The Makkan pagans decided to assassinate the Prophet when he was living among them. They continued to pursue him and his few followers even when they migrated to Madina. These verses of war that followed are of great historical importance and tell us the near-insurmountable difficulties the Prophet had to face to establish our religion. But despite their importance they are no longer applicable to us as instructions of war, over 1400 years after the wars were fought and won. We are not engaged in any war now. Jihadi ideologues who misuse these verses of war for political purposes and even classical scholars who call them applicable to us today in the 21st century are doing great disservice to Islam. Muslims should not fall in their trap.
4 The Doctrine of Abrogation, as defined by radical ideologues today, is a false doctrine. God cannot give instructions only to abrogate them later, except that some commands like war-time instructions may have only been meant to have temporary application. There is no question of Makkan verses exhorting peace, pluralism, co-existence with other religious communities and patience in times of adversity having been abrogated by later Madinan verses of war. But this is what several books of tafsir (exegesis) of Qurʾān tell us explicitly. This is what our madrasas teach their students.
Late-classical exegetes of Quran (Muta’akhkhirin) like Eighteenth century scholar Shah Waliullah Dehlavi had reduced the number of abrogated verses to just five from the five hundred mentioned in early exegetical works. Yet many present-day interpreters of Quran continue to follow the early-classical exegetes (Muta’qaddimin) and just copy what they had said in a very different time and place. Early books of tafsir (exegesis) of Qurʾān, for instance, claimed that one sword verse (Qurʾān 9: 5) alone abrogated 124 peaceful verses of Qurʾān revealed in the early Makkan period. A 20th century scholar like Ghulam Ahmad Pervez who called the Doctrine of Abrogation a false doctrine is reviled by our ulema as “aqal-prast,” meaning rationalist, as if being rational is a crime in Islam.
This should stop now and we should declare that inclusivist Makkan verses of peace and pluralism have not been abrogated by later Madinan verses exhorting war and exclusion against Mushrikeen and Ahl-e-kitab. The later verses of war were only meant for the times when those wars were fought by the Prophet and his companions in the early seventh century. Surah Tawbah, for instance, was revealed on the eve of the Prophet’s expedition to Tabuk in 630 CE (AH 9). It should have been accepted as inapplicable in future once the war was over.
5. The millenarian end-of-the-world theory presented by ISIS and other radical ideologues are based on Ahadith of doubtful validity and carry no credibility. Muslims should not take them seriously.
Militant ideologues quote several Ahadith to justify their actions. The massive propaganda launched by Pakistani religious scholars about the so-called Ghazwatul Hind (religious crusades against India) is also a part of this millenarian thesis. It must be emphasised that Hadith (so-called sayings of the Prophet) cannot be confused with wahi (revelations from God). Ahadith were not written down immediately as the Prophet (pbuh) spoke. The revelations that constitute Quran were immediately written down as well as memorised by several people. Hadith has come down to us through a long chain of narrations. Hundreds of thousands of Ahadith are known to have been forged for a variety of reasons. So Ahadith calling for war against infidels in general or those related to prophesied end-time wars cannot be used today to start new wars like Ghazwa e Hind.
6. Takfirism (the practice of calling other Muslims kafir) is unacceptable in Islam. God does not prescribe any punishment for blasphemy and apostasy. Nor does He authorise any human, a ruler or a scholar, to punish any one. So even if there is foolproof evidence of someone having committed any of these crimes, the punishment has to be left to God. Thus, all judgements of takfeer on the basis of presumed blasphemy or apostasy or shortcomings of faith (aqeeda) and practice should be considered void.
The historical example of Ridda (Apostasy) Wars are cited in this context to justify punishments for Apostasy. The first Caliph to succeed the Prophet (pbuh) Hazrat Abu Bakr (RA) did fight Ridda (apostasy) wars immediately after assuming office. But that was a very different time and place. We do not know exactly what compelled him to do so. Also, none of us today is comparable to Hazrat Abu Bakr in our understanding of Islam. He was the first person to embrace Islam and had been the closest companion of the Prophet throughout the 23 years of his Prophethood. We cannot cite the historical example of ridda wars as justification for punishment of death being meted out to anyone supposedly guilty of irtidād (apostasy) today.
History is not a good guide in matters of faith. History can be interpreted in many ways. It is often based on manufactured stories suitable to the rulers of the day. We should go by the fact that Qurʾān and Hadith do not prescribe any punishment, nor do they empower any of us to punish others for these supposed sins. This is between a Muslim and God. Let us stay away from taking over divine functions. Let us ban all Takfiri punishments and Ridda wars on the basis of Qurʾān and Hadith.
7. For long periods in Islamic history, Muslim kings who called themselves caliphs continued to expand their territories pursuing imperialist wars. The clergy in those times interpreted Muslim scriptures in a way that suited those times. These wars were called Jihad fi Sabilillah to expand the frontiers of Islam. We are now living in a world of modern nation-states; our international relations are guided by the charter of United Nations which has been signed by virtually the whole world including all Muslim majority states. It is simply not possible today for any state to conquer new territories and establish its rule there as was the norm until the first decades of the twentieth century. So, misguided ideas like Muslims having a religious duty to perform Jihad at least once a year should be abandoned, even if this was mandated by an eminent early scholar of the stature of Imam Abu Hamid Mohammad al-Ghazali (1058 - 1111 CE). It is doubtful that such interpretations had any scriptural legitimacy even when they were propounded. It is simply impractical in this day and age and God does not ask us to perform impossible tasks (Quran 2: 286). Violent, xenophobic passages dealing with such medieval interpretations should be weeded out from madrasa text books.
8. There is no scriptural sanction for the call of a global Khilafat for Muslims either in Qurʾān or Hadith. Modern pluralistic states are very much in tune with the first Islamic State evolved by Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) under the constitution provided by Meesaq-e-Madina. Muslims do not need a global Khilafat, though Muslim-majority nations can cooperate more fully in the spirit of brotherhood sanctioned by Qurʾān and even form a commonwealth of Muslim states on the pattern of European Union and other regional groupings. The Khilafat movement waged in India to protect the Khilafat-e-Osmania (Ottoman Caliphate) exactly a century ago raised passions that have still not subsided fully. It is imperative that the scriptural illegitimacy of that movement is studied afresh and called out for the folly it was.
9. Modern Democracy is a fulfilment of the Qurʾānic exhortation of amrahum shoora bainahum. So, Muslims should try and strengthen democratic institutions in the countries where they live either as a majority community or as a religious minority. It may be true that democratic transfer of power took place in Islamic history only for the first 30 years after the demise of the Prophet. Since then by and large the Qurʾānic dictum of amrahum shoora bainahum (Islamic system is based on consultation among Muslims - Ash shura 42: 38) has been relegated to the background. Coupled with the Quran’s message of complete human equality (al-Hujurat 49:13), amrahum shoora bainahum provided the perfect doctrine of modern democracy. But both these Quranic rules were ignored throughout Islamic history. Our history is largely a story of despotic rulers wearing cloaks of piety and most ulema supporting their authoritarianism and imperialism with their misguided fatwas violating universal directives of Quran. As a result, even today, few Muslim countries can claim to be even a well-functioning democracy. Jihadi ideologues propagate that democracy is the rule of Taghut (false deity or demon, but now used mostly for an enemy of Islam or an agent of Western imperialism). This is completely false and contrary to Islamic teachings. It needs to be rejected and countered strongly by our ulema. Democracy is in the best traditions of Islamic governance. Our first four caliphs, the khulafa-e-rashidoon (rightly guided caliphs) were democratically appointed with a consensus of opinions of all Muslims behind them. The radical doctrines calling on Muslims to struggle for establishing Hukumat-e-Ilahiya (Sovereignty of God) and Iqamat-e-Deen (Islamic Revolution) must be repudiated fully. Democracy is the path chosen for us by God and it was practised by our pious predecessors (al-salaf al-ṣāliḥ) till the time they could. It was not by their choice that the system of democracy of the first three decades of Islamic history was overtaken by brutal dictators who established a monarchical style hereditary Khilafat. The fourth of the Khulafa-e-Rashideen (The Rightly Guided Successors of the Prophet) Hazrat Ali (RA) fought against this misappropriation of authority by Hazrat Muawiya and Imam Hussain sacrificed his life fighting the Khilafat turning into hereditary monarchy instead of Khalifas being chosen by popular will.
10. Islam is not a totalitarian political doctrine of world domination. While Islam does guide us fleetingly in running various affairs of our life, it is primarily a spiritual path to salvation, one of the many, sent by God to humanity in different ages through different prophets (Qurʾān 5:48), all of equal status (Qurʾān 2:136, 21:25, 21:92). God has asked us to compete with one another in performing good deeds [Qurʾān 2:148, 23:61] and that is what we should be focussed on. As Qurʾān came to confirm and validate all previous faiths, we can only respect and accept all other religions as paths to the same divinity. Islam is the most pluralistic of religions and Muslims should be the most pluralistic of people.
11. All religious groups will be judged on the Day of Judgement on the basis of their own Sharia. So, to say that Muslims alone will go to Heaven is absurd. Qurʾān has specifically prohibited such thoughts, citing the example of previous religious groups like Jews who considered themselves “chosen people.” Indeed, Qurʾān mocked the Jews for claiming that Heaven was exclusively for them (2:94). God will judge all religious groups according to the laws that have been given to them (Qurʾān 5:48). There are no chosen people who alone will go to Heaven. Muslims have no reason to treat any other religious group with contempt.
12. The Doctrine of al-Wala wal-Bara (loyalty and disavowal, loving and hating, only for the sake of God) is propagated by radical elements and taught in our madrasas, particularly in Saudi Arabia. This is misconceived as well as impractical in the present highly complex and intricately interwoven global society. It is simply not possible today to maintain relations only with Muslims and cutting off relations with all non-Muslims. The madrasa text books that teach this kind of exclusivity should be amended, as this keeps our children from leading an integrated life in society. This Doctrine may mean a certain affinity among Muslims towards other Muslims, a sense of brotherhood that the Qurʾān also promotes (Qurʾān 49.10), but it certainly does not mean disavowal of relations with other religious communities. Qurʾān honours all human beings and accords them equal dignity and respect (Qurʾān 17:70).
13. One more pernicious consequence of the Doctrine of al-Wala wal-Bara is that, coupled with the doctrine of takfir, it is leading to Muslims cutting off relations even with Muslims of sects other than their own. Many Muslim ulema use the doctrine of takfir to denounce other Muslim sects as infidel and thus encourage others to go out and kill them. Attacks on Shias, Ahmadis and Sufis have become quite frequent. Indeed, it was the Sunni-Shia rift in the Middle East that greatly helped the rise of the so-called Islamic State. Ulema must come out strongly against both these doctrines and denounce them as un-Islamic in the way they are being practiced.
14. The Doctrine Al-amr bil-maʿrūf wan-nahy ʿanil-munkar (Enjoining what is right and Forbidding what is wrong) is a beautiful Islamic doctrine but it cannot be implemented by the use of force. It is necessary to understand as well-known Islamic scholar Javed Ahmad Ghamidi has explained that the term Maʿrūf only denotes what is universally accepted by all as correct and munkar means what is universally accepted by all as wrong. This doctrine does not involve forcing people to accept Islam and preventing them from doing kufr (denying prophethood of Hazrat Mohammad (pbuh) or shirk (associating other deities with God or polytheism). Those who use this doctrine to employ force in matters of religion are wrong and should be opposed. Ulema must revise their understanding of terms like Maruf and Munkar and speak against the use of force to implement this doctrine.
15. La Ikraha fid Deen, Qurʾān (2:256), meaning “No compulsion in religion” is an absolute and universal Qurʾānic doctrine and cannot be violated under any circumstances. Several other verses of Qurʾān like 10:99 and 18:29 support the same view. Verse 18:29 is most emphatic in presenting this same view: "Waquli alhaqqu min rabbikum, faman shaa falyumin waman shaa falyakfur.” (The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills - let him believe; and whoever wills - let him reject). Ulema must stop ignoring these universal teachings of Quran, as they do now, and instead start propagating them if they really want to create a counter-narrative to Jihadism.
16. All religious groups should be considered Ahl-e-kitab (People of the Book) with whom Muslims are supposed to have the most intimate relations including marital relations. For, according to Quran, God has sent to all nations messengers with revelations, which become books when collected. Some of these prophets are mentioned and many are not. According to a Hadith there were 124,000 of such prophets who came to all corners of the world bringing God’s message in the languages of their time and place. Let us see what God actually says in Quran in this regard:
“For every community or a nation, there is a Messenger (Qur'ân 10:47);”
“We have sent Messengers before you (O Muhammad); of some of them We have related to you their story and of some We have not related to you their story (Qur'ân 40:78).
“say, ‘We believe in God and what He has revealed to us and to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, and their descendants, and what was revealed to Moses, Jesus, and the Prophets from their Lord. We make no distinction among them and to God we have submitted ourselves.""(Al Baqarah: 2: 136)
“All the messengers We sent before you [Muhammad] were men to whom We made revelations,” (Quran 12:109)
“We make no distinction between any of God’s Messengers."(Al-Baqarah-2: 285)
Traditional Islamic theology by and large ignores these verses of Quran. Ulema must take these revelations of God into account while evolving a new truly Islamic theology of peace and pluralism which will also be consistent with the requirements of our time and help us fight growing extremism.
17. Ulema need to emphasise Islam’s vision of a society that gives perfect religious freedom to all. Indeed, the first time Muslims were allowed to defend themselves with arms, they were told that this was necessary to protect religious freedom of all religious communities. “If God did not check one set of people by means of another, there would surely have been pulled down monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques, in which the name of God is commemorated in abundant measure.” (Qurʾān 22: 40). Clearly Muslims were being asked to fight for religious freedom per se, not for religious freedom for Muslims alone. So, it is imperative that Muslims speak out wherever religious minorities face persecution, particularly if this happens in Muslim-majority countries. Clearly Islam recognised that religious freedom and human rights are indivisible. It is the job of ulema to propagate this vision, in words and in deeds. It is imperative that Muslims in India, particularly ulema, stand up for Hindu and Christian minorities in countries like Pakistan and Bangladesh.
18. Suicide is banned in Islam. (Qurʾān: 4:29) It is haram (prohibited) under any circumstances. It is considered such a great sin that Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) refused to participate in the funeral prayers of one of his companions, a Ghazi, who had committed suicide, unable to bear the pain of injuries he had sustained fighting a battle as part of the Prophet’s army.
Suicide simply cannot be used by Muslims as a tactic of war. The argument that Muslims who are helpless, facing persecution, and do not have any other weapon, can use their own bodies as weapons of war for the so-called martyrdom operations is completely false. It does not hold water in the face of very clear directives in Qurʾān and Hadith. Ulema must clarify this and propagate the actual position of Islam on this issue. It is shameful for us in India that even the Taliban who have gone through Islamic education in Pakistan's Deobandi and Ahl-e-Hadeesi madrasas, which use the same textbooks as our own madrasas in India, consider suicide as a legitimate tactic of war. Obviously ulema have not explained to their students well enough how utterly prohibited in the highest degree is suicide in Islam as well as killing of innocents.