[Reader-list] Voices Against Terror: Indian Ulema on Islam, Jihad and Communal Harmony

Javed javedmasoo at gmail.com
Sat Mar 20 14:49:01 IST 2010

New Book

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

Edited and Translated by Yoginder Sikand
Publisher: Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, Mumbai (vak at 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.

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.

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