Moore'srear view on Islam
By Balbir K. Punj
Salman Rushdie, after recently taking a pot-shot at Deoband'sDar-ul-Uloom seminary for exercising medievalist sway on Muslim community, has now blamed the US President George W. Bush for provoking radicalisation of Islam through his Iraq invasion. He stated this while speaking at Edinburgh Book Festival where his new novel Shalimar, the Clown, partly set in the backdrop of terrorism in Kashmir was launched. Rushdie (58) feels that Islam has ceased to be a pacifist religion as it used to be in his younger days and instead has been highjacked by Jihadis.
His latest observation on Islam is correct provided it came from Rushdie, the fictionist but incorrect if it came from a graduate on Islamic history from King'sCollege, Cambridge (1968). Rushdie is often precise and vague at other times. It is perhaps because he writes magic realism. In his most popular book like Midnight'sChildren the reader treading terra firma of national history often disappears into an absurd surreal world that terminates without any legible conclusions. The historian Rushdie is seemingly the best character walking out of his novels.
Shortly after Rushdie was born on June 19, 1947, the Partition of India accompanied by butchery and expulsion of Hindus and Sikhs from West Punjab and Sindh took place. If the Great Calcutta Killings, 1946, ?Hans ke liya Pakistan, Ladke lenge Hindustan?, ?Koi Sikh na rahne paye Maghribi Punjab mein? were expressions of Pacifist Islam, one shudders contemplating its radical form.
Rushdie is often precise and vague at other times. It is perhaps because he writes magic realism. In his most popular book the Midnight'sChildren the reader treading terra firma of national history often disappears into an absurd surreal world that terminates without any legible conclusions.
At a superficial level, Rushdie seems correct that Islam was pacifist in 1950s and 60s. Even famous Islam-watcher Daniel Pipes, who also authored The Rushdie Affair, says??If the Koran causes terrorism, then how does one explain the 1960s, when militant Islamic violence barely existed? The Koran was the same text then as now? (Should we read the Koran?). But in reality nothing supports Rushdie'sstatement than our own ignorance of Islamic history and indifference to know it.
The macropicture is that Islam has never been a religion of peace throughout its history. Beginning from 622 CE when Prophet Mohammed resettled himself at Medina it has been associated with raids, slaughter, capture of booty, extermination of Jewish tribes from Arabian peninsula and finally war against Byzantine Empire. The heydays of Islamic conquest from Oman to Spain by Arab army is matter of common pride amongst all Muslims. From mid-7th century to beginning to colonialism in late 15th century Islam was dominant from Spain to India. This domination began to crack during the colonial era as European powers got better of Muslims from Spain to Indonesia. By the 20th century after dissolution of Ottoman Empire all but three Muslim countries were living under one or another European powers.
The European rule introduced modern education in Muslim colonies. The Western ideas of French Revolution, Socialism and Marxism made inroads into insular Islamic mindset. The house of Mohammed Ali in Egypt imported tens of thousands of European settlers into Egypt in the 19th century. In 20th century Kemal Ataturk established a secular republic in Turkey. Reza Shah Pehalvi, who wrested power in Persia (Iran) in 1921, wanted to build his country on Western lines. He sent hundreds of Iranians including his son (future king Mohammed Reza Pehalvi) to study in Europe. During World War I, as never before in history, Muslim soldiers fought against one another for both rival camps of European powers.
One of the deep impacts of European rule was that the young generation had begun to feel diffident about their Islamic identity. They chose to voice their national aspirations and social concerns through European idiom. In 1940s, 50s and 60s the incumbent regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Syria, Indonesia all spoke the language of socialism. The models of Jihad, Nizam-e-Mustafa, Dar-ul-Islam stood discredited. Arab nationalism was trendy and Islamic ummah was out. Hardly had the world extricted itself from colonial era than it got involved in the Cold War. The voices of Jihad got subsumed in a confrontation between Capitalism and Communism. Muslim countries were lackeys of either Western or Soviet Bloc while large number of them were part of NAM, which was indirectly a Soviet ally. Salman Rushdie had grown up in this entire Cold War period.
The voices of Jihad got subsumed in a confrontation between Capitalism and Communism. Muslim countries were lackeys of either Western or Soviet Bloc while large number of them were part of NAM, which was indirectly a Soviet ally.
But as Cold War began to fade Islam began to reassert its pre-colonial power. Salman Rushdie got its personal proof in form of Ayatollah Khomeini'sfatwa on Satanic Verses. The same Khomeini had written to Gorbachev that Russia accept Islam as an alternative method of governance since Communism had failed. Mujahideens in Afghanistan rose in arms to oust infidel Russians. General Zia-ul Haq on siezing power in Pakistan in 1977 started the process of radical Islamisation. In December 1984 referendum, he put the question whether people of Pakistan wanted Shariat Law to be enforced on the country. Pakistanis overwhelmingly voted in favour of it. In 1988, Bangladesh, which was founded on secular principles, declared itself constitutionally Islamic.
Giles Kepler, foremost French expert on Mid-East, in his book Jihad: Trial of Political Islam has shown how radical Islam was actually regrouping itself when it seemed to have sunk. He writes: ?Thus, by the end of 1960s, Saudi Arabia was the only country in the Muslim world in which ulemas had not lost control of the public debate over the central values of the society.? In 1961, the same year when Nasser extended state control over traditional Al Azhar University, Islamic University was established in Medina (Saudi Arabia). Most of its scholars were radical Islamists who had to flee Nasser'sEgypt. The university became a focal point of radical Islam. The dangerous mix of Wahabi Islam and petro oil gave a filip to Islamic radicalism.
The enormous army of Islamic ulema is dedicated to revive Islam as it was in its imperial heydays. George Bush'sIraq invasion, establishment of Israel, India'sperceived hegemony in South Asia as provocations for radicalisation of Islam are sheer bunkum. While world was cracking its head over Capitalism and Communism, ulemas were silently building up Islam as the next force. For they are convinced that while colonialism, Cold War and globalisation are transitory, Islam is eternal. It is only today that we are noticing that Muslim global demographic share has risen from 12 per cent to 19 per cent?an Islamic answer to democracy based on one man, one vote. This is the brief history of Islamic pacifism to radicalism.
(The writer, a Rajya Sabha MP and Convener of BJP'sThink Tank, can be contacted at [email protected])