Respected Sufi divines attending the counter-terrorism conference in Delhi, may peace and God’s grace be with you. The international counterterrorism conference being held in Delhi next week is happening at a delicate time. Already, scores of Indian youth are known to be fighting with the terrorist army of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS); a few have even got themselves killed. Over 30,000 Muslim youth from 100 countries around the world joined this takfiri organisation within a year of its announcement of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as Khalifa. An influential Indian aalim, Maulana Salman Nadvi even addressed him as Ameerul Momineen (another term for Khalifa) in a letter posted on his Facebook page. Muslim newspapers were in general quite welcoming of the “Khilafat” until ISIS started broadcasting its brutalities in gory details, thus bringing itself into disrepute. Indian enthusiasm for the Khilafat was not surprising, as our current theology calls it a religious duty for all Muslims to help establish a Khilafat. At least 18,000 left their homes and jobs in British India in their bid to go and fight for the Khilafat-e-Osmania less than a hundred years ago. Many perished but are today revered as shaheeds (martyrs) and ghazis (Islamic warriors).
We are living in an environment in which our societies are producing armies of suicide bombers wherever and whenever required by a motivated group, with necessary funding and logistics. Some children already sing songs with refrains like “zindagi shuru hoti hai qabr mein (life begins in the grave)”. You can imagine what little effort is required by vested interests to turn people with such a belief system into suicide bombers. No wonder the application form for joining the so-called Islamic State army asks the potential recruits to specify their time and place of death. The ISIS knows no indoctrination is required; Islamic theological books are already doing their job for them.
Terrorist ideologues ask our youths not to wait for reaching the ISIS borders to start fighting jihad. Act as lone warriors, is the advice given to them through social media posts easily available to all. “Don’t wait to be trained in bomb-making too; don’t you have a car, just ram it into a crowd of infidels,” is another advice. Some misguided youth have already started following this advice in different parts of the world.
The situation today is dire. When self-declared Khalifa Baghdadi announced recently that “Islam has never been a religion of peace, not even for a day,” not one Urdu newspaper in India disputed this, or expressed any outrage, though most editorial columns are now written by clerics. [One Urdu columnist did criticise Baghdadi over this remark, but most Sunni Muslims dismissed that as the ranting of a Shia.]
Respected Sufi divines, I am sure you will say repeatedly and fervently: Islam has nothing to do with terrorism; Islam is a religion of peace; even killing one innocent person in Islam amounts to the genocide of humanity and saving one life amounts to saving humanity (Quran 5:32). Some of you will probably also quote an iconic Quranic verse of freedom in religion, like La ikraha fid deen(There is no compulsion in religion: Quran 2:256) and teachings of co-existence like lakum deemaku, waleya deen (for you your religion and for me mine: Quran 109:6).
Of course, you will be totally correct and completely justified in making all these observations. Islam is indeed a religion of peace, compassion, pluralism, co-existence, good neighbourliness, complete human equality before God, gender justice and so on. Indeed, there are at least 124 verses that teach such humane traits. If all of us were to follow these constitutive verses of the Holy Quran, we should have been the most peaceful, pluralistic community on earth, as we have been at various places and in different periods of history. But the situation today is dire. When self-declared Khalifa Baghdadi announced recently that “Islam has never been a religion of peace, not even for a day,” not one Urdu newspaper in India disputed this, or expressed any outrage, though most editorial columns are now written by clerics. [One Urdu columnist did criticise Baghdadi over this remark, but most Sunni Muslims dismissed that as the ranting of a Shia.]
Scholars of the moderate mainstream and Sufi ulema and mashaikh in particular have been denouncing terrorism and declaring Islam to be a religion of peace and pluralism repeatedly since 11 September 2001, when Islamist terrorists killed nearly 3,000 innocent people in New York. This denunciation of Islamist terrorism has been going on in India much longer. For, we have been at the receiving end of Islamist terrorism since much before 9/11.
So, I would like to tell the respected divines gracing this counterterrorism conference with their presence that the issue today is not that of denouncing terrorism as un-Islamic or declaring Islam as a religion of peace and pluralism. Not only Muslims, but even the world at large is aware of that. The question before us is the following. How come the more we denounce terrorism and the more we assert Islam’s peaceful nature, the more terrorists get created? What is the source of the terrorist ideology’s strength? Why are some of our educated, intelligent, internet-generation youth listening to the terrorist ideologues and not us, the moderate, the progressive, the Sufi? Why does a highly educated person of the 21st century leave his well-paying job, beautiful wife, children, all living in a peaceful environment, and rush to join a war, with death or severe injury assured, without a hundred per cent belief in his new-found faith, without a hundred per cent surety of the correctness of his cause? Where does this fanaticism spring from?
Nearly all Muslims consider Sharia as divine and immutable, even though it was first codified on the basis of some Quranic verses and pre-Islamic Arab Bedouin customs 120 years after the demise of the Prophet and completion of the religion of Islam as declared by God in the Quran (5:3). The result is that even Muslims living in non-Muslim majority multicultural Europe demand Sharia-compliant laws. No wonder that those who want to practice what they believe in would want to migrate to the so-called Islamic State, sometimes even with their families.
What are our educated youth learning about our faith on the internet or in madrasas, colleges and universities, being told by some of our greatest, universally respected theologians? From Sufi Imam Ghazali, Hanbali Ibn-e-Taimiya and Hanafi Sheikh Sirhindi to Abdul Wahhab, Shah Waliullah, Abul A’la Maududi, Syed Qutb, and even an indefatigable promoter of peace and pluralism like Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, the curious youth gets the same message of supremacism, exclusivism, xenophobia, intolerance and his duty of jihad in the sense of qital, in varying degrees. A few specimens:
Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali: “…one must go on jihad at least once a year...one may use a catapult against them [non-Muslims] when they are in a fortress, even if among them are women and children. One may set fire to them and/or drown them…One must destroy their useless books” (Kitab Al-Wagiz FI Figh Madhad Al-Imam Al-Safi’i pp. 186, 190, 199-203).
Shah Waliullah Dehlawi: “It is the duty to establish the domination of Islam over all other religions and not leave anybody outside its domination whether they accept it voluntarily or after humiliation” (Hujjatullahu al-Balighah, volume 1, Chapter 69, Page No 289).
Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, the founder of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi-Salafi creed: “Even if the Muslims abstain from Shirk (polytheism) and are Muwahhid (believer in oneness of God), their Faith cannot be perfect unless they have enmity and hatred in their action and speech against non-Muslims” (Majmua Al-RasaelWal-Masael Al-Najdiah 4/291).
Abul A’la Maududi, founder of Jamaat-e-Islami: “Islam wishes to destroy all states and governments anywhere on the face of the earth which are opposed to the ideology and programme of Islam, regardless of the country or the nation which rules it.”
Maulana Wahiduddin Khan says in that the job is to exterminate unbelief from the world, even using military means. But if this is so, what would stop Bin Ladens and Baghdadis claiming that they are simply carrying forward this mission? It is not difficult for an intelligent, educated Muslim to find out that what is censured by moderates as radical theology is not substantially different from the current Islamic theology accepted through a consensus by the ulema of all schools of thought. Osama bin Laden and Baghdadi did not invent a new theology. Their use of consensual theology is what lies behind their great success in attracting thousands of youth in such a short while.
What are the ingredients of this consensual theology, which is leading to the radicalisation of our educated youth? A few examples:
1. Sufi concept of God is as universal consciousness or universal intelligence radiating His grace from every atom in the universe. Unfortunately, Sufi madrasas themselves have abandoned, at least on the Indian sub-continent, the concept of wahdatul wajud (unity of being), for fear that this would be considered too close to the Vedantic and, thus, Hindu concept of God. Instead, they teach Sheikh Sirhindi’s wahdatul shuhood (“apparentism”, unity of appearances) in the name of wahdatul wajud. Sheikh Sirhindi had invented this concept to counter the influence of Sufi masters like Mohiyiddin Ibn-e-Arabi and Mansour al-Hallaj. Most Sufi madrasas have thrown out of their curriculum books like Kahsful Mahjub, Awarif-ul-Ma’arif, Fawaidul Fu’aad, Masnawi Maulana Rumi, Gulsitanand Bostan, Fususul Hikam, teachings of Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti, Baba Fareed, Ameer Khusro, etc.
2. Radical ideologues quote some verses of Quran to support offensive jihad. We moderates from Sufi stream of thought counter that by saying: look at the context. These verses came during war and had to inevitably order killings, exclusivism, etc. It’s not unusual in wars to make binary arguments. They are not applicable todaywhen that context does not exist.
3. There is consensus in Islamic theology that Hadith, the so-called sayings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), are akin to revelation. These were collected up to 300 years after the demise of the Prophet and rational Muslims doubt their credibility and authenticity, but even the ulema opposed to ISIS cannot bring themselves to question the Hadith-based millenarian thesis that is the primary cause of ISIS’ great success in comparison to Al-Qaeda, which did not stress millenarianism.
As predictions can be interpreted to mean that the world is about to end, and Islam is about to be victorious following the end-time war such as being waged by ISIS, then what is the point of working for corporates run by infidels? Why not join the battle and become a martyr or ghazi just before the world ends? So goes the argument.
One of the permanent bestsellers in Delhi’s Urdu Bazar is a booklet called Qeyamat ki peshingoiyan (End-Time Predictions). I imagine a similar booklet selling on the streets of Cairo, Baghdad, Damascus, Istanbul, wherever. Why should ISIS not make good use of this belief, when it has the unquestioning support of theologians of all schools of thought, including self-proclaimed moderates, who call Hadith akin to revelation? Ahadith are also used to justify the killing of innocent civilians in a war, although there are repeated and clear instructions in the Quran against that. But the moment you say Hadith is akin to revelation, you are nullifying the impact of your Quranically justified claim that in Islam killing of one innocent person amounts to killing of humanity.
4. Nearly all Muslims consider Sharia as divine and immutable, even though it was first codified on the basis of some Quranic verses and pre-Islamic Arab Bedouin customs 120 years after the demise of the Prophet and completion of the religion of Islam as declared by God in the Quran (5:3). The result is that even Muslims living in non-Muslim majority multicultural Europe demand Sharia-compliant laws. No wonder that those who want to practice what they believe in would want to migrate to the so-called Islamic State, sometimes even with their families.
The radicalised youth cannot be blamed for feeling that the moderates in India, for instance, are hypocrites. They want to use their purported belief in the divinity of Sharia only for male-supremacist privileges like instant divorce and multiple marriages, whereas the radicals migrating to the so-called Islamic State are willing to accept all the rigours of Sharia’s criminal justice system, namely, cutting off hands for theft, lashes and stoning for adultery and murder, etc.
5. There is consensus in theology that helping establish and supporting a caliphate is the religious duty of Muslims, even though there is absolutely no such direction in the Quran and Sunna.
6. Hijrat (migration) to the land of Islamic Sharia from Darul Harb, where Sharia is not enforced is a religious duty for Muslims. This may appear grotesque at a time when millions of Muslims are marching to the so-called European “Darul Harb” almost barefoot in a desperate effort to escape from the so-called “Darul Islam” of Khalifa al-Baghdadi. The “Darul Islam” of Saudi Arabia has refused to give refuge to a single soul, while the European “Darul Harb” is accommodating millions of Muslims. But the ulema will not allow any part of their theology to be questioned.
7. Theologians of all school believe that some early verses of the Quran have been abrogated later verses. This consensual Doctrine of Abrogation is used by radical ideologues to claim that all 124 foundational, constitutive, 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. As long as Sufi theologians do not contest this Doctrine of Abrogation, their quoting verses from Meccan Quran has no meaning.
Turkish spiritual leader, Fethullah Gülen’s Hizmet movement calls its approach “Deradicalisation by Default.” This too, mainly, focuses on the positive features of Islam. Hizmet has vast resources and has deployed them well. It has already taken positions against widely accepted concepts like dar al-harb and dar al-Islam. But ISIS continues to draw a steady stream of recruits from Turkey and elsewhere.
Respected Sufi divines, I would, therefore, earnestly appeal to you to use the opportunity provided by the Delhi conclave to go beyond the usual shibboleths. Sufi approach of focusing on the positive features of Islam worked well at one time. There was no internet then. In the internet age, everyone is a scholar. In this age of instant scholarship, nothing can be hidden or bypassed.
It must be understood, that the radical theology and the current theology of consensus are by and large one and the same. Any differences are cosmetic. ISIS may vanish tomorrow. But the problem of radicalisation will remain. Islam supremacism, xenophobia, intolerance and exclusivism are inherent in the current Islamic, and not just Islamist, theology.
Focusing on positive features of Islam is an essential part of de-radicalisation, or, more realistically, preventing radicalisation. But this is not bearing fruit in full measure as the core theology agreed to by nearly all of us militates against these positives. As briefly outlined here, this core and consensual theology nullifies the impact of all arguments made against violent extremism. It is this core theology that needs to be refuted and changed. Let us all try and bring the core Islamic theology in line with the actual teachings of Quran and Sunnah.
Sultan Shahin is the Founding Editor of a Delhi-based progressive Islamic website, NewAgeIslam.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org