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Voices Against Terror - Edited and Translated by Yoginder Sikand

Voices Against Terror: Indian Ulema on Islam, Jihad and Communal Harmony

Edited and Translated by Yoginder Sikand

Publisher: Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, Mumbai vak@bom3.vsnl.net.in

Pages: 207
Year: 2010
Price: Rs. 100

Islam, like all other religions, can be interpreted in diverse ways. Not surprisingly, therefore, there is no unanimity among Muslim scholars on the details of the Islamic concept of jihad and Islamic teachings about relations between Muslims and others. Radical Islamists regard jihad, in the form of physical warfare, as a permanent duty binding on all Muslims. Like some conservative ulema, they also believe that Muslims must necessarily hate what they regard as ‘disbelievers’ and ‘infidels’, seeing that as an expression of their love for Islam and as being mandated by the Quran. These supremacist understandings emerge from their own reading of the Quran and Hadith, the corpus of sayings attributed to or about the Prophet Muhammad. They are also reflected in some strands of traditional Islamic jurisprudence or fiqh, which developed in the centuries after the demise of the Prophet. On the other hand, numerous other Muslim ideologues and scholars vehemently disagree with radical jihadists on their understanding of jihad, their political vision and their interpretation of Islamic teachings about relations between Muslims and others. 

The essays included in this volume, translated from Urdu, all deal with the issue of Islamic teachings on jihad and inter-religious and inter-community relations. What unites the authors of these essays, Indian ulema who represent different Islamic sectarian and ideological tendencies, is a strident opposition to what they regard as the jihadists’ gross misinterpretation and misuse of the concept of jihad and by, like some traditional ulema, their unconcealed hostility towards people of other faiths and persuasions. Simultaneously, these authors also seek to address widespread misgivings among non-Muslims about Islam, particularly with regard to Islamic injunctions about jihad and inter-community relations.

Unbeknown to many, a number of Indian Muslim scholars or ulema do indeed differ from, critique and oppose the arguments of radical Islamists and obscurantist ulema on jihad and relations between Muslims and others. Some of them have written extensively on these matters.  However, the vast majority of them write only in Urdu, a language that, for various reasons, few non-Muslims read and that increasing numbers of Indian Muslims do not know. Hence, few non-Muslims and other non-Urdu knowing people have access to their valuable critiques, argued from within a broad Islamic paradigm, of the politics and theology of radical Islamists and certain obscurantist traditional ulema. Some of the boldest such critiques are today being articulated by Indian ulema who have received a traditional madrasa education, thus indicating that many commonly-held and facile generalizations about madrasas and traditional ulema need to be interrogated and revised.

In a sense, these critiques are a reaction to the rise of radical jihadist trends in large parts of the world. Their proponents are consciously engaged in a conversation with, and against, radical Islamists, concerned that the latter are, as they see it, misinterpreting and misusing Islamic teachings, thereby defaming Islam itself. By questioning the very credentials of radical jihadists to speak for Islam and dismissing their arguments as ‘un-Islamic’, they serve a valuable purpose in seeking to convince Muslims that the radical jihadists’ positions on jihad and inter-community relations lack Islamic validity. In this way, they can prove to be major, indeed the most effective, actors in the struggle against radical jihadism and the obscurantism of certain influential sections of the ulema.

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The first essay in the volume is an edited and considerably shortened version of a book titled Islam Aur Dehshatgardi (‘Islam and Terrorism’) [Hyderi Kutub Khana, Mumbai, 2003] by the noted Indian Shia scholar and community leader, Maulana Mirza Muhammad Athar, President of the All-India Shia Personal Law Board. The book consists of transcripts of majalis or lectures delivered by Maulana Athar over ten days in the Islamic month of Muharram in 2003 at the Masjid Iraniyan, Mumbai, to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Husain, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. In his majalis, Maulana Athar presents the Shias as being characterized, from the very inception of the community more than 1400 years ago, as victims of terrorism in the name of Islam. He depicts as the archetypical terrorist the figure of Yazid (680-83), a Sunni Muslim Caliph, son of the Caliph Muawiyah (d.680), founder of the Umayyad dynasty, and grandson of Abu Sufiyan (d.650), an arch-enemy of the Prophet Muhammad. In the month of Muharram in the year 680, Imam Husain and several dozens of his disciples and relatives were slaughtered at Karbala, a town now in Iraq, by the army of the tyrant Yazid, a turning point in the history of the Shias and Shia-Sunni relations. Mirza Muhammad Athar depicts the slaying of Imam Husain and his followers at the Battle of Karbala as epitomizing terrorism in the name of Islam. At the same time, in line with Shia beliefs, he presents the valiant resistance put up by the Imam against the forces of evil, oppression and tyranny represented by Yazid’s army to be the highest form of jihad. The battle of Karbala, he points out, was fought between two groups of Muslims. One of these groups, represented by the figure of Yazid, upheld a false Islam, the Islam of monarchs who sought to use and abuse Islam and the Islamic concept of jihad to bolster their own power by resorting to terrorism in the name of the faith. The other group, represented by Imam Husain, championed the authentic Islam, the Islam of the Prophet Muhammad, his son-in law and Imam Husain’s father, Imam Ali, and the Ahl ul-Bayt, the Family of the Prophet. They stood for what Mirza Muhammad Athar describes as the authentic Islamic jihad. This struggle between the two forms of Islam and the two contrasting interpretations of jihad, he says, continues down to our own times. In this way, he articulates an inspiring response to, and critique of, terrorism in the name of Islamic jihad.

The second essay is a translation of a chapter of an Urdu booklet titled Ikisvin Sadi Mai Islam, Musalman Aur Tehrik-e Islami (‘Islam, Muslims and the Islamic Movement in the Twenty-First Century’) [Markazi Maktaba-e Islami, New Delhi, 2005]. The author, Mohammad Nejatullah Siddiqui, is a leading Indian Islamic scholar, whose specialisation is ‘Islamic Economics’. Recipient of the King Faisal Award for Islamic Studies, he has taught at the Aligarh Muslim University and the King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah. A prolific writer, he served for sixteen years as member of the Central Committee of the Jama‘at-e Islami Hind. Siddiqui critiques the excesses committed by self-styled jihadist movements and points to the futility of armed struggle by Muslim groups against the West as a reaction to real or perceived injustices, arguing that this is causing much more damage to Muslims themselves than to others. He pleads for the need for inter-faith dialogue, in particular for Muslims to join hands with people of other faiths for issues of common concern, including in the struggle for peace and justice.

The third essay is a translation of portions of an Urdu book titled Al-Jihad by a young Sunni Deobandi scholar from Lucknow, Maulana Yahya Nomani, who works with the popular Islamic journal Al-Furqan. Nomani begins by noting and lamenting widespread anti-Islamic prejudices among many non-Muslims, based on ignorance and misunderstandings, which he regards, in part, as the outcome of the deliberate efforts of some forces inimical to Islam. At the same time, he acknowledges that certain self-styled jihadist groups have, through their violent actions and rhetoric, only further solidified Islamophobic prejudices, thereby giving Islam a bad name. Nomani focuses particularly on the doctrine of jihad itself, including the conditions under which, according to the Sunni theorists he supports, jihad can be waged and the strict rules and ethical limits that it must follow. Of particular interest in this regard is his discussion about proxy and guerilla war and war in the name of jihad waged by non-state actors, in which his differences with radical Islamists clearly emerge. Nomani also devotes considerable attention to critiquing Muslim ideologues who insist that Muslims must not befriend or help or work with people of other faiths or be law-abiding citizens of non-Muslim states, arguing that this represents an extremist position that is not in conformity with the Quran and the Sunnah or the practice of the Prophet.

The fourth chapter consists of translations of excerpts put together of three lengthy articles by the well-known New Delhi-based Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, a prolific Sunni scholar and a leading proponent of inter-community dialogue. These articles are taken from two Urdu books of his, Aman-e Alam (‘Global Peace’) [Goodword Books, New Delhi, 2005] and Islam Aur Intiha Pasandi (‘Islam and Extremism’) [Positive Thinkers Forum, Bangalore, n.d.]. Khan points out the distinction between jihad, understood as struggle in the path of God, and qital or armed struggle, and argues that Muslims as well as others have, unfortunately, taken the two to be largely synonymous. He critiques traditional Muslim historiographers for presenting the Prophet’s mission in largely political terms and his life as being a series of wars. Khan argues to the contrary, and points out that jihad, in the sense of qital, is only possible in very extreme cases. It is not a permanently operating principle, unlike what both radical jihadists as well as certain traditional ulema make it out to be. Khan opines that peace is basic to Islam. It is the norm, while war is only an exception, and that, too, in extreme and unavoidable situations. He regards as the Muslims’ fundamental duty the task of da‘wah or ‘inviting’ others to Islam, and argues that this duty can only be fulfilled in a climate of peace and good relations with people of other persuasions. Hence, he insists, radical Islamists are not just theologically wrong. They are also the major obstacle to what he regards as the Islamic mission for they are inherently and viscerally opposed to peace and good relations between Muslims and others.

The fifth chapter is a collection of excerpts put together from three articles written by Maulana Waris Mazhari, a graduate of the Dar ul-Ulum at Deoband and editor of the New Delhi-based journal Tarjuman Dar ul-Ulum, the official organ of the Deoband Madrasa’s Graduates’ Association. These articles have been published on various websites and in the journal that Mazhari edits. Mazhari articulates an Islamic ethic of inter-faith dialogue, which he sees not just as important in today’s context in order to counter anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic prejudices but also as a basic Islamic imperative. In this regard, and like Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, he critiques the notions of dar ul-islam (‘land of Islam’) and dar ul-harb or ‘land of war’ as contained in the corpus of medieval fiqh and which radical jihadists also espouse. He also critically interrogates Pakistan-based radical Islamists, such as the Lashkar-e Tayyeba, for what he regards as their deliberate misinterpretation of certain alleged statements of the Prophet in order to justify their acts of terrorism in India.

The sixth, and final, essay is a translation of excerpts from the Presidential address delivered by the noted Deobandi scholar, Maulana Anwar Shah Kashmiri (1875-1933), to the meeting of the Jami‘at ul-Ulama-i Hind (‘The Union of the Ulema of India’) in Peshawar in 1927. In his lecture, Maulana Kashmiri argues against proponents of Muslim separatism and lends support to the notion of a united India, consisting of Muslims, Hindus and others. Invoking the Treaty of Medina, or what some Muslims refer to as the ‘Constitution of Medina’, he argues that the Prophet Muhammad accepted the Jews and some other non-Muslim groups of Medina as members of the same qaum or ‘nation’, with equal rights as Muslims. Hence, he says, arguing against both Muslim as well as Hindu opponents of Hindu-Muslim unity and united Indian nationalism, Islam is not a barrier to better relations between Hindus and Muslims. Nor, he stresses, does it insist on Muslim political separatism, contrary to what, for instance, the Muslim League in pre-Partition India claimed or what radical jihadists today would argue.