King of Jordan Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein was on a three-day visit to India starting on 27 February. In the conference themed “Islamic Heritage: Promoting Understanding and Moderation” at Vigyan Bhavan, he highlighted Jordan’s and India’s roles in combating extremist thoughts and averting the threats of ISIS and Al Qaeda. The topic was reportedly selected by the king himself to address an audience that included academics, Islamic clerics and representatives of all Islamic denominations in India.
Remarkably, India’s religious plurality was highlighted in this conference as key to success in averting the extremist groups. The motif that India can best establish an inclusivist Islamic identity was evident throughout Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s talk that stressed the Islamic moderation in the context of Indian composite culture. He highlighted India as a country of the divine message (khuda ka paigam) where all religions have been nurtured, calling Indian democracy as “celebration of age-old pluralism”. “Whether it’s Buddha or Mahatma Gandhi, the message of peace was spread from here, India has created an identity while considering the whole world as one family”, he said.
Historically, India is the only country which laid the foundation of its composite culture (Ganga-Jamuni Tahzib) with a fusion of the Vedic tradition, the Eightfold Path (Ashtanga) of Gautam Buddha, ahimsa (non-violence) of Mahavir Jain, the Sikh focus on the Divine Unity (Wahe Guru) and the Sufi message of reconciliation with all (sulh-e-kul). Undeniably, only in the pluralistic ethos of the inclusivist Indian polity, the uncompromising monotheistic belief of the Semitic religions (tawheed) has lived peacefully with the polytheistic faith traditions. Thus, just as PM Modi averred that counter-terror was not a fight against any religion, but rather against a particular misleading mindset, King Abdullah rightly termed the global war against terror as “fight by moderates of all communities against extremists”.
Inevitably, the government’s progressively robust policies involving the Muslim countries into a dialogue over Islamist radicalisation is a major achievement for the country’s foreign policy as well as the community’s resilience against radicalism. The strongly-worded statements of both PM Modi and King Abdullah will greatly help in popularising an inclusivist narrative of Islam in India, though regrettably, it is still drowned by the aggressive posturing of hardliners in different ways. However, one hopes that this rare gathering of all Muslim denominations will build strong community resilience against the internal security threats posed by foreign or home-grown extremists.
Tellingly, when it comes to counter-extremism, Islamic clerics of all hues have created a melody in India. Leaders of all Islamic denominations (Sunni, Shia, Barelvi, Deobandi, etc) and all schools of Islamic jurisprudence (Hanafi, Shafa’i, Maliki) categorically denounced the extremist tendencies. Significantly, most anti-extremism fatwas emanated from India’s ulema and muftis (Islamic jurists). Both in Sunni-Sufi leadership’s conclave at Ramlila Maidan (World Sufi Forum) in March 2016 and Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind’s multi-religious conference (Aman and Ekta Sammelan) at Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium in October 2017, thousands of Indian Muslims came together to adopt a declaration of peace, pluralism and counter-extremism, castigating every form of violence as “anti-Islamic” (ghair Islami), “anti-national” (khilaf-e-watan) and “anti-humanity” (ghair insani).
But despite these large-scale conferences on counter-extremism, Indian ulema have not yet stemmed the tide of Takfirism (a Takfiri Muslim is one who accuses another Muslim of apostasy), which is still ideologically rampant in the country, though not violent. Non-takfirism is precisely what Indian Muslims can particularly learn from the progressive Islamic leadership of Jordan.
Jordan’s importance for Indian Muslims lies in an inclusivist non-Takfiri interpretation of Islam, which King Abdullah championed through the Amman Message, which assumed global significance against the backdrop of increasing Islamist radicalisation. Syed Ata Hasnain writes: “With the other major threat looming over the Middle East, that of Radical Islam and in the midst of the growing sectarian discord between Iran and Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah held one of the best attended conclaves to address the issue of the hijacking of the moderate Islamic street by the Islamic radical elements. The culmination of this conclave of Islamic clergy and scholars across the sectarian divide in 2004 was the Amman Message of which enough has not been written nor spoken. Among many of the sub messages gloved in the folds of this amazing message was the acceptance by the Islamic clergy of the need to do away with the self-assumed practice of ‘takfirism’.”
Remarkably, the Amman Declaration evolved into a crucial Islamic consensus (ijma’a) of the world’s leading Islamic scholars on three points: (1) inadmissibility of accusing others apostates (takfirism); (2) inviolability of their blood, honour and property; (3) audacity of those not qualified in issuing religious rulings. Indian ulema must heed these cogent points in order to counter Takfirism in India. The crisis in the community in India is that while several counter-radicalisation conferences have successfully garnered attentions, they still fail to fight the Takfirist thoughts. Winning this war on Takfirism, rather than issuing the attention-grabbing anti-terror fatwas of little use, is what the ulema can learn from Amman.
One of the most noteworthy aspects of this conference, which was the first of its kind for New Delhi, was an authoritative work on the essence of Islam tilted A Thinking Person’s Guide to Islam: The Essence of Islam in 12 Verses from the Quran. An Urdu translation of this book authored by King Abdullah’s cousin and renowned Islamic thinker, Prince Ghazi Bin Mohammad was launched in the same conference. Detailing how countries like India have escaped jihadist influences due to the most moderate and tolerant strand of Islam—non-Takfiri Hanafi Islam—being largely practised in the country, the book includes a complete chapter on the “Crisis of ISIS”. It holds vital significance not only because it has been authored by the Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad, who is the 41st generation descendant of the Prophet (pbuh), an Islamic scholar globally renowned for his work on counter-extremism, but also because the book’s foreword has been written by the King himself, who has taken major initiatives for de-radicalisation, beginning with the Amman Message. In his summative points of this declaration, the King of Jordan explained how Islam honours every human being, regardless of his colour, race or religion, quoting this verse from Quran: “We have honoured the sons of Adam, provided them transport on land and sea, sustained them with good things, and conferred on them special favours above a great part of our creation” (17:70). He also states that “true Islam forbids wanton aggression and terrorism, enjoins freedom of religion, peace, justice and good-will to non-Muslims. It is also a message of good news, friendship and hope to the whole world.”
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan also convened the Assembly for Moderate Islamic Thought and Culture convened in Amman, to promote the essential Islamic principles of moderation and reconciliation, justice and equality, good governance and wider political participation, rule of law and protection of human rights, social justice, transparency and accountability.
The 200 topmost Islamic leaders and scholars of different countries including India, who participated in the Amman Message against Takfirism, believe that if the Amman Message is truly practised in Muslim societies, it will end the pernicious spade of ideological extremism. The leading Islamic cleric in South India, Shaikh Abu Bakr and the renowned professor in Islamic studies in North India Akhtarul Wasey, who were among the chief guests of both the Amman and Vigyan Bhavan conferences, endorsed this point.
Given that a large section of Indian Muslims are still imbued in an age-old inclusive faith tradition, they are likely to welcome the far-reaching impact of this joint venture of Indian and Jordan against exclusivism. For India’s young generation of Muslims, modernity and tradition go hand in hand. Hence, PM Modi’s significant pitch at Vigyan Bhavan that “Muslim youth should have Quran (tradition) in one hand and computer (modernity) in the other” is being praised in the community. Hailing the PM’s speech, the Chennai-based Islamic Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Thought stated: “Indian Islam is the best interpretation of Quranic Islam. Indian Muslims have always believed in Islam being syncretic. This conference is again the reiteration of that faith. Not long ago, the Prime Minister said that Indian Muslims are not at all radicalised.”
However, it added that when the Modi government says there is no radicalisation among Indian Muslims, then there is also no room for talk of love jihad. “Islam in India is what real Islam is—syncretic and harmonious. It does not believe in compulsion or forcing religion on anyone,” the Islamic Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Thought stated.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a scholar of classical Arabic and Islamic studies, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies. He tweets at @GRDehlvi and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org