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Monday, December 8, 2008
Battle For The Muslim Mind
Your powerful sentence is the highlight of the article "By identifying the terror attacks as "un-Islamic", the clerics undermine the religious legitimacy that the terrorists seek to bring to their violent acts." Furthermore, the denial of burial space for the terrorists by Indian Muslims sends a very strong signal to the terrorists that upon their death, ugliness will be meted out to them and not the houris. They will realize that they have been duped and hopefully the recruitment to terrorism will dwindle.
Battle For The Mind
9 Dec 2008, 0012 hrs IST,
Post-Mumbai terror strikes, most of the talk has been about improved security and ways of hitting terror camps within Pakistan. But we often forget that the battle against terror must be won in the mind too. It is in this context that the unequivocal condemnation of the Mumbai terror by prominent imams in Delhi and Mumbai is important. And well before the Mumbai carnage happened, a gathering of some 6,000 Islamic clerics in Hyderabad endorsed a fatwa against terror issued by the influential Deoband seminary.
What effect, you might ask, would the Deoband fatwa and the imams have on those who inflict terror in the name of Islam? Possibly not much. Those who have been indoctrinated into taking up arms in the name of martyrdom and a place in paradise would probably continue doing terrible deeds. But the actions of the clerics are not academic exercises either. By identifying the terror attacks as "un-Islamic", the clerics undermine the religious legitimacy that the terrorists seek to bring to their violent acts.
In a larger context, the proclamations by the clerics and the Deoband school are very much a part of the process of interpretation of Islamic law and canons, which have been going on since centuries. It's a common error to regard Islamic law as unchanging and cast in stone. Though the Quran, the sunna (the practice of the Prophet) and the hadiths (sayings of the Prophet) are the primary sources of Islamic law, there is also a place for ijma (consensus), qiyas (analogical thinking) and ijtihad (systematic original thinking).
Ever since Islam was founded, change has been a part of the religion. And this continues to be so. Just a few weeks ago, lawyers, religious scholars, judges, journalists and activists gathered at Salzburg a not-so-unlikely place considering the Ottomans had once reached the gates of Vienna to debate and discuss if there was a common ground between Islamic and international law. There were no simple answers at the Salzburg Global Seminar but the consensus was that in many areas Islamic law was compatible with international law and covenants such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The gatherings in Hyderabad or Salzburg must be seen in this context of reinterpreting tenets of Islam, perhaps the most controversial being jihad. Jihad which in Arabic means "righteous struggle" or "striving" can be looked at in several ways. There are many Islamic scholars who believe that the greater jihad is the inner or spiritual struggle. These interpretations, of course, cut no ice with the terror groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) or the "army of the pure" which orchestrated the Mumbai terror.
It is no secret that jihadi terrorism has emanated from radical and backward-looking strains of Islam such as Wahhabism and Salafism. It's also no secret that the dominance of these hardline ideologies can be traced to Saudi backing and money. This has resulted in the mushrooming of mosques and madrassas across the world that preach an ideology of hate. LeT is known to have received Saudi funds and, of course, Pakistani patronage. Undoubtedly there are some in India who are also receptive to this ideology.
This is where Islamic clerics figures of authority for many Muslims could play a crucial role. If they interpret Islam as being patently against terror and violence, it is bound to have an effect on believers. And if the majority of Muslims subscribe to that view, it makes it that much more difficult for the purveyors of terror to gain acceptability.
A long-term solution to countering the ideology of hate must involve liberal interpretations of Islam. India, and indeed South Asia, could be one of the poles of this transformation. It is often forgotten that nearly half of the world's Muslims live in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. And contrary to what many people think, an overwhelming majority of ordinary Muslims in South Asia we must not, of course, confuse them with governments reject the ideologies of hate and violence. That's why international relations scholar Vali Nasr said during a recent visit to India that South Asia "matters to the Muslim world in real terms much more than the Arab world".
There could be other poles for the reinterpretation of Islam. Turkey, where the AKP party has won elections for the second time running, could provide a testing ground for a confluence of Islam and secular ideologies. The AKP leader and Turkish PM, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has on more than one occasion affirmed his faith in secularism even while arguing for more freedom for Muslims. Indonesia, the largest Muslim nation but also a multi-religious one, could be another pole. Recent reports suggest that the government is serious about cracking down on radical groups such as the Jemaah Islamiah. And Muslim groups, including the Indonesian Ulemas' Council, have said that the three men recently executed for the 2002 Bali bombings must not be treated as martyrs. These are encouraging signs.
It is a truism that terror has no religion. But when that terror emanates from a twisted interpretation of religion, we must acknowledge it instead of justifying it by referring to Kashmir or atrocities against Muslims as some prominent commentators have done. This is precisely the sort of logic employed by LeT ideologues. Such bigots and their followers have no place in civilised society. But they cannot be countered by force alone; their militant ideologies have to be thoroughly discredited. This is where India's 150 million Muslims and clerics could play a significant role.