What lies behind radicalisation of Muslims across the world? We cannot understand this frightening phenomenon unless we appreciate that, despite the very word Islam means peace and total submission to God, the roots of radicalisation go very deep in Islam.
Year 2015 has been very frustrating for a moderate, progressive, pluralistic, inclusivist Bharateeya Muslim. Bharat used to express pride in the fact that not one Muslim from this country joined the multi-national al-Qaeda terrorist group. But the year gone by has shown that we perhaps prematurely celebrated a lack of radicalisation in Bharateeya Islam. We need to stop being complacent and study the reasons behind the ideological attraction that some of our youth are feeling towards radicalisation, so that we can focus on what can be done to stem the silent drift.
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This year has seen a spectacular rise of the so-called Islamic State. It now appears that Islamic radical ideology has infected a number of youth from all parts of Bharat, particularly Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Jammu & Kashmir, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Delhi and Kerala. Some have either gone to join what is propagated by IS as the end-time war or worked for its success on social media. Compared with other Muslim majority or Muslim minority countries, the number of Bharateeya Muslim youth is still small. But this is hardly any consolation. In any case, we will be making a huge mistake if we judge the extent of radicalisation with the number of youth having joined the war in Syria and Iraq.
What lies behind radicalisation of Muslims across the world? Over 30,000 Muslims have joined the Islamic State from as many as 100 countries including Europe, United States and Australia. We cannot understand this frightening phenomenon unless we appreciate that while the very word Islam means peace and total submission to God, in Islam roots of radicalisation also go very deep. Not many, including Muslims who are bewildered at the present turn of events, are aware that ideological extremism has been a part of Islamic history almost from the very inception. The fourth caliph Hazrat Ali was assassinated by a Kharjiite (a group excluded from Islam by the mainstream) in 661 AD, that is, barely 29 years after the demise of Prophet Muhammad. This extremist Kharjiite group, also called Khwarij, has been a part of Islam throughout history, sometimes even dominant, but mostly dormant. The present-day terrorists are called neo-Khwarij. This term is also used by mainstream Muslims to describe the Wahhabi-Salafi ideology which has been propagated around the world with the investment of tens of billions of petrodollars in the last four decades. The supremacist, exclusivist and xenophobic teachings of Ibn-e-Taimiya or his disciple Muhammad Ibn-e-Abdul Wahhab are now a part of Islamic education curriculum across the world. Indeed, a large Ibn-e-Taimiya university has come up in the last few years in Champaran, Bihar, educating thousands of students in his radical ideology. Scores of students even in Jawaharlal Nehru University prefer to call themselves Taimi rather than Wahhabi, as Abdul Wahhab is considered not puritan or extremist enough. Kerala is awash with mosques and madrasas and Islamic bookshops proudly proclaiming their Salafi affiliation.
But radicalisation of Bharateeya Muslim youth is also caused by the fact that extremism in Islam does not come only from the Wahhabi-Salafi ideology. Unfortunately nearly all major Muslim theologians of whichever persuasion (including Sufi) who have studied Islam extensively and independently have expounded a supremacist, exclusivist, confrontationist theology that is bound to encourage militancy and violence in one form or another if the youth are brainwashed into this ideology. Muslims should acquaint themselves with the supremacism, exclusivism and intolerance found even in the writings of such universally revered figures in Islamic theology as Imam Ghazali, Sheikh Sirhindi, Shah Waliullah, etc.
The result is that when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declares his own khilafat, a respected Nadwi scholar Maulama Salman Nadwi of Lucknow writes to the so-called Khalifa addressing him as Ameerul Momineen (leader of all Muslims). He is nether pulled up by Nadwatul Ulema nor by other Muslim institutions or scholars. Similarly when self-declared Khalifa Baghdadi asserts that “Islam has never been a religion of peace, not even for a day,” no Bharateeya ulema refute this statement. There is no expression of outrage or even disagreement even when the self-styled Khalifa says that “Islam has always been a religion of war and strife.”
Jihadi modules making space in Assam
The world wide threat of IS has begun to lurk around Assam as well. Though the Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi and Director General of Police of Assam, Mukesh Sahay, have denied any presence of the Islamic State, jihadi modules have been in making in the sensitive districts of the State. These modules under the guise of some or the other outfit grow surreptitiously and ultimately play second fiddle to extraneous forces. In the early part of this month, as a part of its drive, state police nabbed 6 jihadis with arms and ammunitions from three districts of Chirang, Baksa and Kokrajhar under Bodo Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD).
This, of course, is too small a sample to be even considered the tip of the iceberg containing the vast corpus of juristic rulings, volumes of Ahadees, Sharia, Tafasir of Quran, Sira books and so on.
What must also be propelling Muslim youth towards radicalisation is the duplicity of Bharateeya ulema in rightly claiming that Islam is a religion of peace but not refuting at all the contrarian view. For instance, ulema never tire of repeating a verse of Qur’an (5:32) saying that killing one innocent person amounts to genocide of the entire humanity and saving one person amounts to saving the entire humanity. But the same ulema never utter a word when one alim (singular of ulema) from among them, a Hyderabad scholar Maulana Abdul Aleem Islahi justifies indiscriminate violence in his fatwa on the concept of power in Islam.
It would not matter so much if it were an isolated Maulana with incendiary opinions like the above opposed by every other Maulana. What must confuse our youth and then clear in their mind the path to so-called Jihad is the fact that there is no opposition to or even debate in the community over these radical views. It must be clarified that Jihad in Islam is primarily a spiritual struggle against one’s own nafs (negative ego) but is wrongly used by ulema in the sense of qital, defensive warfare, which has very strict rules in Islam.
So clearly what the Muslim community needs to do is to ask the Maulanas to renounce such extremist views in no uncertain terms and weed out pronouncements like the above from Islamic theology curriculum.
The most important thing, however, is that a debate starts in the community over the radical, intolerant, xenophobic theology being propagated by radical Islamists. The reason, terrorist ideologues are succeeding, is that their theology of violence, evolved over centuries, is very coherent and has deep roots in commonly accepted theology among Muslims. The earlier Bharateeya Muslim ulema realise this the better for both the Muslim community and the larger Bharateeya society. It’s time for moderate, progressive intellectuals to reach the mainstream Muslim society and sensitise it to the need for confronting the ideology of violence and also evolving and promoting an ideology of peace and pluralism.
Sultan Shahin (The writer is founder-editor of NewAgeIslam.com)