The Intellectual Churn Within Islamic World

Sanjay DixitWednesday, February 24, 2016 4:30 pm IST
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Can radical Islam be confronted with armed forces, or is there a need to come up with a powerful counter narrative to deal with it? Our series on ‘The intellectual churn within Islam’ explores more such questions.

Even as the ISIS, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab set new standards in brutality and inhuman behavior the intellectual foundations behind this phenomenon has not received adequate focus.

Many world leaders have opined that what the ISIS is doing are pure acts of terrorism and have nothing to do with religion. There are a number of intellectuals within the Islamic World, however, who differ.

We can look at these writings more objectively as most of these came before the ISIS phenomenon exploded.

Three of these intellectuals are more recent. Tarek Fatah has written “Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State” about 7 years back and “The Jew is Not My Enemy” recently. He is presently engaged in a work titled “The Hindu is Not My Enemy”. I also read “The Heretic” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and “The God Who Hates” by Wafa Sultan.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Credits:<br clear="none" />AFP PHOTO MARTIN BUREAU)
Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Credits:<br clear="none" />AFP PHOTO MARTIN BUREAU)

The only thing common to the three is that they are, or were, Muslims. Otherwise they all come from different ethnicity and background.

Tarek Fatah is a Punjabi Muslim who emphasizes his Indian roots. Ayan Hirsi Ali is a black Somali woman and Wafa Sultan is a Syrian Arab woman.

Tarek Fatah remains a Muslim while the other two have given up Islam. All three have Fatwas against them and are under threat from fanatic Jihadis.

Tarek Fatah
Tarek Fatah

I also looked around for a view on Islam being a religion of peace. This is usually the politically correct view, which the world leaders are quick to air whenever a ghastly crime is committed by any of the Jihadi groups around the world.

I must admit it was more difficult to find. Finally I found “Islam and Peace” by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan of India (as translated by Farida Khanam). It probably articulates the practice of overwhelming majority of Muslims in India, but is getting increasingly drowned in the narrative being propagated by hate merchants like Anjem Chaudhary of UK and the Wahhabis of all hues and shades owing their allegiance to the Salafi variant of Islam.

Hanafis are either getting sidelined or remain confined to the Indian sub-continent. Even within Hanafis, Pakistan is well on its way to radicalize its Deobandi followers. The Barelvis, meanwhile, are struggling to keep their narrative relevant in spite of being the majority among Muslims in Pakistan and being an overwhelming majority in India and Bangladesh.

The world and world leaders have to recognize this battle of narratives and realize that a Charlie Hebdo massacre or a systematic enslavement and organized rape of Yazidi women is borne out of a narrative which must be defeated on the intellectual plane.

Heavy weaponry and massive deployment of forces is not enough. It’s like tackling Malaria. You have to destroy the breeding ponds of larvae for total eradication even as medical treatment is given to those already affected by the parasite. Proper diagnosis is a sine qua non of treatment of a disease.

The fundamental problem seems to be the way different interpretations are ascribed to Islamic scriptures. Being a faith based religion in the nature of a complete social order; clerics wield a disproportionately large influence on the community.

They don’t seem to agree on anything. Some clerics go to the extent of laying down a law that no Muslim is permitted to make an independent interpretation of the various scriptures including The Qur’an.

Even The Qur’an has been compiled in a way that groups different verses on the basis of subjects. There is no chronological order on the basis of which the faithful may draw any independent conclusion.

Add to that the fact that all post-Quranic literature, which largely governs the social order, was compiled during the time of despotic rulers. Though Maulana Wahiduddin Khan would claim that these men of virtue compiled these books of religion in spite of the oppression they faced from the rulers, it defies comprehension.

Maulana Wahududdin Khan
Maulana Wahududdin Khan

How could it possibly happen in a monarchic structure of the Ummayads and Abbasids that religious instruction could go undetected? In fact, all the other three contend that scriptures were twisted to suit the requirement of the rulers to keep the population under their thrall.

Situation is further confounded by the various schisms, the most prominent being that between Sunnis and the Shi’ites over something as temporal as a dispute of succession. Add to that the 7 versions of Hadis and innumerable versions of the Sharia Law, one can see that both pious men and murderers quote from the same sources.

The Qur’an was revealed over 23 years. The Prophet passed away in 632 AD and the disputes began on the day The Prophet died. Tarek Fatah deals with this event in some detail in his “Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State”.

The biography of The Prophet, known as Sira or Seera, was written nearly 100 years afterwards. The Hadis or the Hadith were compiled between 200 to 400 years after His death, and the Sharia Law was written in the age of the Abbasids between 400 to 600 years after The Prophet passed away.

The most extreme interpretation of Islam was done by Abdul Wahhab (1703-92) with the full abetment and cooperation of the House of Saud. It was under his inspiration, soon after his death that the Sauds, ruler of Nejd province attacked Hejaz, the province of The Prophet and sacked Mecca.

Mecca remained under Saudi occupation from 1803 to 1813 till the Ottomans reclaimed it. Finally in 1925, Hejaz came under Saudi occupation. Saudis have demolished 95% of old buildings of Mecca and Medina, including many in which The Prophet lived. There is now a Wahhabi movement on to demolish the shrine housing the grave of The Prophet.

Tarek Fatah reckons that the Saudi regime is the most evil influence on Islam and has not only undone most of the moderate influences but is also an exporter of the extreme Jihadi narrative worldwide.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, on the other hand contends that jihad is non-violent activism, and violent activism is termed as ‘qital’ in Islam.

One thing, however, is clear as crystal. If the fanatic jihadi narrative is not countered at the level of a counter-narrative, no amount of force would be able to defeat it comprehensively and bury it.

Force will only suppress the symptoms for a while before they re-emerge elsewhere. A counter-narrative alone will defeat the likes of ISIS, Boko Haram, and al-Shabaab at the level of the mind.

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