Political Islamism holds Pluralistic Islam hostage in Kerala

Political Islamism holds Pluralistic Islam hostage in Kerala

By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi | NEW DELHI | 21 October, 2017
False Islamic schools are spawning an ideological extremism among gullible youths.

In his recent visit to Delhi on 25 September, the Syrian Grand Mufti, Shaikh Ahmad Badreddin Hassoun cautioned India to pay heed to “external calls of Wahhabi jihad”. He particularly urged Indian Muslims and madrasas to take cognizance of this foreign fanatic creed. “Steer clear of mercenaries and infiltrators” and “stay unified against the Wahhabi extremism”, he said. This was also endorsed by the Syrian ambassador to India, Riyadh Abbas, when he stated, “Wahhabism is the enemy of people and Islam and Indians should not take calls of Wahhabis.” Expressing serious concerns over the “sectarian terrorism” playing havoc across the Muslim world, Hassoun averred that it also endangered India’s syncretic and pluralistic ethos.

The Syrian Grand Mufti’s advice to the Indian government to act cautiously while dealing with the theoretical onslaught of Wahhabism, came at a critical juncture. But it appears that many analysts have overlooked its significant ideological dynamics. They failed to assess as to why the topmost Islamic authority in Syria cautioned Indian Muslims not to pay heed to “external calls of jihad from Wahhabis” and why there should be a serious deliberation of all religious heads on this issue to safeguard India.

Wahhabism is not a mainstream Islamic sect like Sunni or Shia. Rather, it is an extremist ideology based on an exclusivist takfirist theology propounded by the medieval theologian Sheikh Ibn Taimiyah and promulgated by the 18th century orthodox Islamist ideologue, Sheikh Ibn Abdul Wahhab Najdi. In his masterpiece in Arabic, Kitab al-Tawhid (Book on Monotheism), Najdi wrote: “Islam of a man can never be accepted, even if he abandons polytheism, unless he shows hostility towards the disbelievers and infidels, not only in his/her words but also in actions…Kufr and Islam are opposed to each other. The progress of one is possible only at the expense of the other and co-existences between these two contradictory faiths is unthinkable…The honour of Islam lies in insulting Kufr (disbelief) and Kafir (disbeliever). One who respects the Kafirs, dishonours the Muslims. To respect them does not merely mean honouring them and assigning them a seat of honour in any assembly, but it also implies keeping company with them or showing considerations to them. They should be kept at an arm’s length like dogs…”

Such exclusivist writings created the virulent theology of takfirism—declaring a Muslim apostate or beyond the pale of Islam—and thus justifying the wanton killings of innocent civilians across the world. An objective reading of Islamic history unravels this widespread global and historical phenomenon.

The 14th century radical Islamist jurist, Ibn Taimiyah’s famous Fatwa of Mardin, which is mentioned in the 28th part of his book, Majmu’a al-Fatawa, justified the massacre of the non-combatant civilians of Mardin—a town located on the border between Syria and Turkey. The ISIS’ mouthpiece Dabiq (Issue 6, page 40) has also quoted this pernicious fatwa of Ibn Taymiyyah as theological justification for the assassination of moderate Muslim scholars and civilians declared “apostates” in its view.

But in a sharp rebuttal to this ferocious fatwa of Mardin, mainstream Muslim scholars, particularly the Hanafi and Sufi scholars of his time, refuted Ibn Taimiyah. They countered one more fatwa issued by Ibn Taymiyyah, which encouraged those engaged in “jihad ma’al kuffar” (war against the infidels).

Now, contrast Ibn Taimiyah with the present-day chief Islamist jurist and the ideological icon of the Ikhwan al-Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood)—whose fatwas are authoritative for the global Wahhabi-Salafi community—the Qatar-based Salafist cleric, Shaikh Yusuf Al Qaradawi. In fact, Taimiyah’s fatwa of Mardin is synonymous with Qaradawi’s clerical call to kill the Syrian armed forces, civilians, religious clerics and even the common citizens, whom he calls “ignorants” and “illiterates”. He blatantly states that it is permitted [in religion] to target “anyone who supports the Syrian regime”. 

Interestingly, Qaradawi is the first contemporary Islamist jurist who justified suicide bombing as a war tactic in “certain circumstances”. He gave this fatwa in his worldwide exposure via Al-Jazeera television through his weekly programme “Sharia and Life” (al-Shari’awal-Hayat). Qaradawi’s fatwas justifying violent jihad and suicide bombing provided theological legitimacy to those fighting the Kuffar (infidels) and Murtaddin (apostates). His fatwas also promoted and legitimised martyrdom operations referring to them as “a higher form of jihad for the sake of Allah”, as Al Arabiya reported. 

Notably, the Qatar-based Salafist jurist, Qardawi opined that “he was not alone in believing suicide bombings as legitimate form of self-defence for people who have no aircraft or tanks”. “Hundreds of other Islamic scholars are of the same opinion”, he said. Much like Yusuf al-Qardawi in Qatar, The controversial Islamist preacher in India, Zakir Naik justified suicide bombing as “a war tactic”. 

Many more Takfiri-Wahhabi preachers in India have provided untenable theological underpinnings justifying certain acts of terror. They have long been calling for “jihad-e-Kashmir” and “Ghazwa-e-Hind” (jihadist expedition against India) through religious sermons. The staunch Salafist preacher in Kashmir, Maulana Mushtaq Veeri regularly delivers sermons filled with extremist provocation in the valley’s Wahhabi mosques. Scores of his hate speeches are catching the imagination of young Kashmiris towards the Islamic State. Similar to his exclusivist underpinnings, the popular Salafist cleric in Malappuram, Shaikh Shamshudeen Fareed has promulgated similar obscurantist Islamist rhetoric in Kerala.

Given the Grand Syrian Mufti’s word of caution about “external calls of jihad from Wahhabis”, Indian Muslims as well as government should act cautiously to safeguard internal security. 

IN KERALA

In fact, the rescue of Islam from the false schools of thought bred by “ulterior foreign motives” should begin from India. Only moderate Muslims in India can win this war within Islam. At the moment, they must concern themselves with the rise of overt religious fanaticism in Kerala. Though the issue has attracted national attention and has forced Keralite Muslims to think of who they are and where their state is headed for in the coming decades, regrettably, the larger section of the community is still in denial. Only a few progressive and thinking Muslims are cognizant of the false Islamic schools spawning an ideological extremism among gullible youths. More regrettably, political Islamist outfits in Kerala are pledging an allegiance to the Ikhwan al-Muslimin or Muslim Brotherhood. Youths are systematically targeted by the educated class, such as clerics, editors of Arabic and Islamic magazines, preachers and televangelists of the Salafi-Wahhabi sect. 

Islam emerged in India through two different groups—Muslim traders and Arab invaders. In sharp contrast to other parts of India, Kerala witnessed Islam’s advent through completely peaceful means—trade and travel. While North India’s “first encounter” with Muslims through the Arab invaders has not gone down well in history, Kerala had the bliss of mystical Islam in the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) through his direct companions (Sahabis). As evidenced in the historical records, Islam blossomed in South India, with the Prophet’s noble companions reaching the coastal areas of Malabar for their trade. 

But over the past few years, the Muslim Brotherhood’s movement, led by al-Qaradawi, has been massively funded and supported in India’s Salafist circles, particularly in Kerala and the Malabar coastline. This has systematically been pursued in a bid to indoctrinate the Keralite Muslims into the theocracy of the two political Islamist ideologues: (1) Syed Qutub, the Egyptian theologian and the leading member of the Ikhwan, who conceptualised other insurgent Islamist outfits in Egypt; and (2) Maulana Maudoodi, whose writings politicised the Islamic doctrines and practices to an extent that he viewed every spiritual belief and act of Islam with a political outlook. 

Hasan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928 in Egypt. But it actually gained ideological momentum with the theoretical framework of Syed Qutub, who propounded the doctrine of “Hakimiyyah” (God’s sovereignty on earth). For instance, in his commentary on the Qur’an, fi dilalil Qur’an (In the Shade of the Qur’an), he misinterpreted the 44th verse of Surah al-Maida to buttress his own argument that every modern, liberal and democratic form of governance is “infidelity”.

Such an exclusivist interpretation, which turned Islam from being a faith of spiritual salvation into a religion of political dominion, has created chaos in West Asia. But more deplorably, it appears to play havoc in India too—now at the behest of Qatar.

It was during the 1990s when Kerala first witnessed the self-styled Islamist doctrine of Hakimiyah, with the establishment of an Islamist outfit, Muslim Aikya Sangham, by Vakkam Abdul Qadar, popularly known as Vakkom Moulavi. Influenced by the thoughts of Syed Qutub and Hasan al-Banna, Vakkom Moulavi championed pan-Islamism for the Muslims of Travancore, Cochin and Malabar regions. He was instrumental in creating an “Islamist renaissance” in Kerala through Arabic and Malayalam literature like The Muslim (1906), Al-Islam (1918) and Deepika (1931). Through these publications, he tried to preach the “puritanical” Salafi Islam, purging the Keralite Muslims of local festivals like the Nerchas and Urs. Thus, his proselytes deviated from Islamic postulates and principles reflecting Kerala’s ancient Muslim heritage.

The advent of Islam in Kerala is attributed to the early Sufi saints, who reached the coastal areas of Malabar. Hazrat Malik bin Dinar, a mystically inclined companion of the Prophet was the earliest Muslim preacher in South India. The first mosque in Kerala, built in 603 AD and known as Malik Dinar Masjid, is located in Kasargod, with an adjacent graveyard and is embellished with gravestones, known as mizan-stones. Remarkably, this foremost Muslim in Kerala, greatly inspired the noted mystics of Islam in Arabia like Hasan al-Basri and Rabia al-Adawiya. In fact, he coined the Sufi term of ‘jihad bin-Nafs’—inner jihad against one’s baser instincts—in contrast to the offensive jihad. He also showed wide embrace for all faith traditions in India. Imbued with the spiritual ideals of Jesus Christ (pbuh), Malik bin Dinar memorized various chapters and commentaries of the Bible along with the Qur’an. Thus, he was an epitome of peaceful coexistence with Christians and other faith-based communities on the Indian subcontinent.

Now, let’s discern between Malik bin Dinar’s Islam, which meted out a magnanimous treatment to Christians, and the self-styled Islamists chopping off a Christian professor’s hand in Kerala’s Idukki. Thus, ironically, the Salafist preachers of Islam in Kerala are catapulting the Keralite Islam from inclusivism to the brutal religious exclusivism. There is a continued wave of radicalisation in Kerala and the Malabar region, thanks to the extremist outfits which camouflage political Islam in the name of “fight for Muslim rights”.

The Kerala-based political Islamist outfit, Popular Front of India (PFI) is a substantial case in point. PFI cannot be understood without grasping this broader ideological dynamic. It claims to be an NGO, but pledges allegiance to the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan-ul-Muslimin). It also has alleged links with terror activities like chopping of a Christian professor’s hand in Kerala’s Idukki, and running the “Islamic State Al-Hindi Module”. A case was busted in which PFI planned to target prominent people and places in South India by involving the outfit Islamic State Al-Hindi, as the NIA report on government table revealed.

What we have learnt, so far, from various media outlets, is that PFI may soon be banned by the Union government. A Ministry of Home Affairs dossier has claimed that the PFI is indulging in actions detrimental to the overall security of India. Investigators have accused PFI of pursuing a secret agenda inspired by radical Islam in India. The NIA has revealed that PFI cadres impart training in the use of explosives at isolated places and promulgate a narrative of victimhood among Muslim youth.  But the question is: will banning the radical Islamist outfits serve the purpose? Has the government’s crackdown on the radical Salafist preacher, Zakir Naik and his outfit Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) brought any tangible developments on counter-extremism? 

STRENGTHEN SUFI SHRINES

Merely mulling a crackdown on radical institutions is pointless. India would do better if it strengthens spiritual Muslim centres like Khanqahs and Dargahs (Sufi shrines) as quality education centres in order to rescue young and impressionable Muslim minds from being misguided. Given the meagre resources they have, they cannot undertake this gigantic task. But do they have the option to do nothing, just stand and stare? 

Today, there are two major groups of Keralite Muslims diametrically different in thought and action: Sunni Muslims and Mujahid Muslims. While the Keralite Sunni Muslims are believed to be pluralistic, peaceful, and Sufi-oriented shrine-visitors, the “Mujahid Muslims” in Kerala constitute the “puritanical” Salafis often indulging in communal and sectarian clashes. Recently, on 6 September, they razed the tomb of a Sunni spiritual leader, Muhammad Swalih at Vazhikkadavu on the Nilambur-Ooty road. A piece of paper stuffed inside a bottle was recovered from the vicinity. The words written on it in Malayalam were: “I am going to the Arabian Sea”. In their protests, the Sunni-Sufi leaders came down heavily on the Salafis. K.P. Jamal Karulayi, district leader of the Sunni Yuvajana Sangham said: “Wahhabism should be thrown into the Arabian Sea.”

Regrettably, Qatar continues to provide enormous wealth to the Muslim Brotherhood to woo the gullible youths in India. But while the radical thoughts of the Ikhwan are spawning across the South India, the mainstream Keralite Muslims are concerned that the pluralistic ethos they have inherited from their peaceful predecessors, is now under attack.

Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a scholar of Classical Arabic and Islamic sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies. He tweets at @GRDehlvi and can be reached at grdehlavi@gmail.com

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