One kind of terrorism is affecting the whole world. There is no singular phenomenon other than Islamism that motivates terrorists from Asia to Europe to Africa. Now even the US, protected geographically on either side of its landmass by the massive Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, making logistics a challenge for militants, is not safe, as the Orlando shooting showed.
Further in the US, a man from Tucson plotted a terrorist attack on a motor vehicle office in metro Phoenix. He has also confessed to hatching a plot to target Jews in particular.
Then there was Nice in France, where a Tunisian Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel ran a truck over hapless pedestrians, killing more than 80 people. Not just the Israeli forces, but even civilian Jews face constant attacks from Palestinian terrorists. In Africa, girls are abducted wantonly by Boko Haram. Even as this article is being drafted, terrorists must be striking some target or plotting to target one somewhere in the world.
This manifestation of Islamism that we see is a combination of two things: (a) an action to establish a world that will have only one religion, namely Islam and (b) a reaction to a perpetual grievance of the community that Muslims have been short-changed wherever they have gone.
While the first is a recent phenomenon exemplified by the Islamic State and Boko Haram, the second appears in the form of a simmering discontent among the so-called moderates. This perennial and incorrigible feeling that non-Muslims have no constructive work to do and, therefore or otherwise, they conspire against Muslims all the time is a breeding ground for extremism that finally makes some of them here and some there take to arms.
We Indians may recall the case of Afzal Guru, for instance. Some Hindu columnists and television panellists reposed faith in the judiciary of the country that gave him capital punishment for conspiring to attack the Parliament House. Some others said he should be given the benefit of the doubt. On the other hand, not one Muslim journalist wrote in any newspaper, website or blog — or said on TV — that the trial through appellate jurisdiction had been fair. So, where was the variety in Muslim opinion? Who out of them is a moderate?
Yes, we are also troubled by Maoism and some persistent and sporadic instances of insurgency in the Northeast. Internationally, for the sake of a research, one may dig out a White supremacist outfit called Aryan Nations outlawed by Australia or a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia banned by the United States, but that would be obfuscation.
Muslims alone have this international brotherhood concept
A terrorist of a certain religion is not necessarily a religious terrorist. None of the other terror outfits one can name is fighting for the establishment of a kingdom of their religion the way thousands of Muslims are fighting for the Caliphate. None of the other terror outfits is pooling in men and women of different nationalities together in the name of religion.
A Catholic interest group Aid to the Church in Need, for example, said in a report last year that Christianity was under serious threat in the Middle East and Africa. Did any Christian in faraway Mexico or Philippines get so agitated by the proposition that he packed his bags and set sail for the affected regions to exact revenge on Muslims? But tell an Afghan, a Moroccan, an Algerian and, of course, a Pakistani Muslim that India has “wrongfully” occupied “Muslim” Kashmir, and they will all gang up and infiltrate the Indian territory with the objective of bombing it all over the place.
Identifying non-Pakistani gunmen fighting alongside Kashmiri Muslims and Pakistani infiltrators was commonplace during the worst phase of Kashmiri insurgency. And now the fanatics from different parts of the globe are headed towards Iraq and Syria to realise their dream of a world where Islam will be the only religion. Those who want to go but can’t are planning strikes sitting in their respective countries.
Forget foreigners, your Muslim barber or cobbler who cannot locate Israel on the world map is disturbed by the “plight” of Palestinians!
History of world’s tolerance towards Islam
While the clergy and the orthodoxy of Judaism and Christianity have been intolerant as the succeeding religion emerged, the class of intellectuals — both Jew and Christian — have been more accommodating in their views of the founder of Islam. Of course, Muslims regard Moses and Jesus as preceding prophets, but Jews disregard Jesus and Mohammed whereas Christians disregard Mohammed. But isn’t this natural? Islam believes that God revealed his messages to the humankind in instalments per se, beginning with Adam through Abraham, Moses, Jesus and hundreds of other prophets before “He” revealed Himself fully and finally to Mohammed. Now, how can a believer accept the assertion that God kept his prophet partially in the dark and reserved some truths for a subsequent prophet? No wonder, every Middle Eastern religion looks down upon its successor while acknowledging that their religion had had predecessors.
The world of academics has, however, reacted with patience and circumspection to the scourge of international Islamic brotherhood since the time it began writing Prophet Mohammed’s history even as Islam’s ruthless expansion drive had begun towards pagan and Hindu East and Jew and Christian West.
But we will begin by exploring a phase that came even before. Jews, Christians as well as Muslims believe in the legends about the family of Abraham (Hazrat Ibrahim in Islam). They all regard him highly. But why do they fight one another?
There is supposed to have been a feud in the family that separated Abraham’s sons Isaac (Ishaq in Islam) and Ishmael (Ismail in Islam). A rationalist would be driven to his wit’s end to figure out how these brothers — born some millennia before any of Judaism, Christianity and Islam was conceived by anybody, presuming they were real characters from history — could be the progenitors of Judaism and Islam. Ergo, this legend or mythology is unable to answer the question. So, we move to believable, documented history.
The first of Prophet Mohammed’s biographers were those whose accounts of his life and preaching are considered ahadith (singular: hadith), namely Mohammed al Bukhari, Muslim ibn al Hajjaj, Muhammad ibn Isa at Tirmidhi, Abd ar-Rahman al Nasai, Abu Dawood, Ibn Majah, Malik bin Anas and al-Daraqutni — more or less in a decreasing order of authenticity. Between the 7th and 16th century, the world saw 68 Muslim biographers of Islam beginning with Sahl ibn Abī Ḥathma.
Groomed in Christian mores, the initial pack of Byzantine historians reacted negatively to the life, times and ideology of the Prophet as published in the hagiographic sira literature, which was natural. They called him a “false prophet” or “schismatic” [Doctrina Jacobi Nuper Baptizati and Dante’s Divine Comedy, Inferno, Canto 28]. Generations of Muslim historians then emerged saying that the “peace be upon him” (sall-Allahu alaihi wasallam in Arabic) guy was grossly misunderstood.
Till day, Christian, atheist and agnostic writers of Europe refer to ibn Ishaq, who attributed spirituality to Mohammed’s claims such as the travel with angel Gabriel from Mecca to the mosque known as al Aqsa, as a “historian”. So generous are they towards the Islamic faith that they call subsequent story-tellers like al Tabari and ibn Kathir, who held that ibn Ishaq’s narration was literal rather than allegorical, “historians” too!
The tolerance witnessed a hiatus during the Crusades between 11th and 15th centuries. Even in those 400 years, the objective of Christian literature was not anti-Islam always. Some of those wars were fought for territorial occupancy or dominance; at times, Christians fought Christians or sought to wage wars to deflect attention from their own conflicts, or to unite Roman Catholics against a common enemy. And then, they had some positive impacts like reopening of the Mediterranean route for commerce.
Among intellectuals, even when the Crusades were waged, with Christian-Muslim bonhomie touching its lowest ebb, there was an Italian Brunetto Latini of the 13th century who saw in Mohammed a monk and cardinal [Li livres dou tresor].
What is curious, when you ask an average Muslim to justify Mohammed’s 13 wives — the last two might have been his concubines — he might well come up with the theory that too many women were widowed in the Crusades and then they needed some guardianship for social security. Imagine, a man marrying 11 or 13 times, eight centuries after he is dead! But no, the educated clerics will tell you that those were battles with Jewish tribes in and around Mecca that left many women without fathers and husbands, creating a gender demographic with a heavy female skew in Arabia, which necessitated polygamy.
This explanation has loopholes, too. How come Jews, who lost more men in the war with Mohammed’s army than Mohammed did, did not turn polygamous? Why should warring be the modus operandi to establish which method of worshipping God is right? By what divine decree were women widowed in families that were formerly Jews ordained as Muslim property after every battle that the Muslims won? But the world accepted the Muslim theory. Tolerance!
The 16th century saw a tempered rationalisation of everything Mohammed did once again. The European historians also accepted not only the logic that Mohammed and his men married widows to offer the disinherited women a semblance of social security; they also justified these men’s act of marrying minor girls to make peace with tribes with which they would have otherwise fought bitter battles. Ah, a woman as a bargaining chip! To hell with feminism!
These accommodating historians were mostly French: Guillaume Postel, Henri de Boulainvilliers and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz was German and Thomas Carlyle was Scottish.
No less than conqueror Napoleon Bonaparte found in the Prophet a great legislator.
In the 19th century, Germans Gustav Weil and Theodor Nöldeke, Scottish William Muir and Austrian Aloys Sprenger gave balanced accounts of Mohammed’s life, time and philosophy.
In contemporary history, Adolf Hitler was an admirer of Prophet Mohammed while he loathed his own religion Christianity for being “meek”, “flabby” and too “dogmatic” to face the onslaught of scientific knowledge. To quote him verbatim, “You see, it’s been our misfortune to have the wrong religion. Why didn’t we have the religion of the Japanese, who regard sacrifice for the Fatherland as the highest good? The Mohammedan religion (Islam) too would have been more compatible to us than Christianity. Why did it have to be Christianity with its meekness and flabbiness?”
Then the German said, “The best thing is to let Christianity die a natural death. A slow death has something comforting about it. The dogma of Christianity gets worn away before the advances of science… The instructions of a hygienic nature that most religions gave, contributed to the foundation of organized communities. The precepts ordering people to wash, to avoid certain drinks, to fast at appointed dates, to take exercise, to rise with the sun, to climb to the top of the minaret — all these were obligations invented by intelligent people. The exhortation to fight courageously is also self-explanatory. Observe, by the way, that, as a corollary, the Moslem was promised a paradise peopled with sensual girls, where wine flowed in streams — a real earthly paradise. The Christians, on the other hand, declare themselves satisfied if after their death they are allowed to sing hallelujahs! …Christianity, of course, has reached the peak of absurdity in this respect. And that’s why one day its structure will collapse. Science has already impregnated humanity. Consequently, the more Christianity clings to its dogmas, the quicker it will decline!”
No less than the then President of the United States, George Bush Jr, had said, standing on ground zero after 9/11, that American Muslims salute the American flag with no less pride than their counterparts in other religions.
The legacy of tolerance lives. Mortals lesser than historians, we the commentariat in media, have tried it whenever a bunch of Islamists went on a killing spree. Along the lines of Islamic reformist Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, we presumed that Muslims might turn reasonable people if they abandoned the questionable ahadith — or at least make sure the hadith is genuine — and regressive shari’ah, and stick to the Qur’an. We, the rationalists, wouldn’t mind the story that the message of God descended straight from heaven; let Muslims subscribe to the whole of it.
I do not claim that Christians have been tolerant towards Islam throughout history. I mean that historians, who happened to be Christians who grew up on Christian values, too have not been uncharitable towards Prophet Mohammed. Like Christian historians of the Crusades and post-Crusades era, today’s media commentators have been lenient towards Islamic excesses. But neither historians of yesteryears nor journalists of today have been able to pacify Islamists, who continue to believe that the whole world is antagonistic towards their community.
Sankrant Sanu had taken exception to Swarajya’s line in the article about the Peshawar attack on school children. He wrote, “The ‘use just the Quran’ idea is a fantasy. Not one of the major schools of Islamic jurisprudence subscribe to it and many contemporary Islamic practices come from the Hadith not the Quran. You are asking Muslims to throw away their entire 1400 years of scholarship on which many current countries in the world base their laws. Wishful thinking that anything remotely close to that will happen.”
But my logic is this: If you are supposed to negotiate terms with a party to a dispute and, right in the beginning, you reject them lock, stock and barrel, where is the room left for further negotiations? Muslims will simply refuse to talk to someone holding such a rigid position.
As for theological positions, the group that adheres exclusively to the Qur’an are referred to as Ahl al Qur’an (people of the Qur’an) in Arabic and Qur’anists in English. One may refer to Yvonne Y Haddad and Jane I Smith’s The Oxford Handbook of American Islam, Richard Stephen Voss’s Identifying Assumptions in the Hadith/Sunnah Debate, and Aisha Y Musa’s The Qur’anists for relevant details. They are beyond the Indian subcontinent and their postulates apply to Muslims in general across the world.
Among eminent Islamic theologians, the name of Ibrahim an-Nazzam can be mentioned as a pioneer in Qur’anism. His student al Jahiz furthered the credo of rejecting the ahadith. In Egypt, Muhammad Tawfiq Sidqi extended the logic of Salafism to reject taqlid, which is the Arabic term for following an Islamic scholar to interpret the shari’ah.
In political Islam, Ahl-e-Qur’an surfaced as a reaction to Ahl-e-Hadith in 19th century south Asia.
But non-Muslims’ experiment with accommodation of Islamic sensitivities (by accepting a part of it and disposing of the rest) is not working. More than a century of the legacy of Sir Syed — who had famously averred that Muslims must improve their economic lot before indulging in politics (read “freedom struggle”), something that BR Ambedkar later prescribed for Dalits — has hardly changed the Muslim attitude. Outside a motley group of Indian Muslim scholars who admire the founder of the Aligarh Muslim University, Sir Syed is reviled in the Islamic community. Move from India to Pakistan, and the disapproval for what the 19th century personality of history stood for turns to hate.
Few Muslims are buying the proposed solution of sticking to the Qur’an and discarding the ahadith and shari’ah. Worse, like demagogues of other religions who quote verses from the Qur’an selectively without context, Muslim extremists themselves do the same to justify their terrorism. They do not ascertain the authenticity of a hadith either, much as the entire bodywork of ahadith has an error margin of ± 3,500. That is, as many sayings that are attributed to Mohammed may not have been said by him at all! Or, he said something, and something else was reported by the sahabas (companions of the Prophet) in as many cases. Or, the report of one sahaba did not concur with that of another in 3,500 cases.
And then there are grandma stories that are attributed to the Prophet. If a granny cannot discipline an unruly child in a Muslim family, she invents a dictum and claims that Mohammed saahab, sall-Allahu alaihi wasallam, had said such a thing about children!
In Islamic theology it is advised that one must not quote a verse of the Qur’an without the preceding and succeeding verses and that one must always tell the listener in what context it was said. The Muslims whom commentators euphemistically refer to as “gunmen” couldn’t care less. They kill and leave pamphlets on the spot that contain a random Qur’anic verse or two without context. For an example, refer to the three verses in the image below. The ahadith and shari’ah are hardly needed to perpetrate violence.
These killers are “condemned” by moderate Muslims, of course. The extremists don’t give a tuppence. If the former call the latter “un-Islamic”, the latter have the same opinion about the former. “Who is a true Muslim?” has turned a funny question. The pedantic approach is not helping the victims of bullets and bombs in any event.
The approach of covering up Muslim atrocities has not mellowed the extremists down. The proposed compromise that they stick to Qur’an but leave aside the ahadith and shari’ah has not been accepted.
Now, can there be a social solution? As and when nefarious elements grow in or sneak into a ghetto or a village, the chieftain must inform the police. The local Imam is mostly the first authority to know something is brewing in the neighbourhood. Indeed, the Muslim community practices khap panchayat-like ostracism at will. Why don’t they use the weapon against terrorists? Excommunicate the terrorists’ family. Gradually, they will earn the faith of the administration.
But there has been no sign of a will to take this necessary step on the part of the community’s elders. If they were willing, this is not a suggestion that needs to be given. Any average citizen who cares for the country informs the police when he suspects something wrong is transpiring around him, but a Muslim doesn’t.
Therefore, we are left with just one solution, however outrageous it may sound. The way some Hindu outfits made headlines in the recent past for carrying out a campaign to convert India’s Muslims back to the Hindu fold, the Jews and Christians in the West must appeal to Muslims in their countries to return to the faith the ancestors of the latter had left — or were forced to leave — centuries ago to embrace Islam.
It does not matter that, theologically, Islam explains the Middle Eastern concept of God much better than Judaism and Christianity. Equally, it does not matter that the Old Testament has repugnant — sometimes unqualified — exhortations for violence. Let’s deal with one menace at a time.
Muslims as citizens of various countries must mull over the immense benefits of abandoning their religion. If you are in a secular or non-Islamic state, the police, your neighbours and your colleagues will stop looking at you with suspicion. You won’t be asked to step aside for an extra round of frisking or strip search at airports. The traffic police wouldn’t ask for all the documents of your car during a routine check. Landlords will readily offer you houses on rent. Overall, you will be treated like just another human being.
This is not to suggest that non-Muslims love to persecute Muslims; the latter’s behavioural pattern observed across the world — and the unwillingness of the community to hand over suspects to the state law enforcement authority — is responsible for this environment of distrust.
If you are in an Islamic state, the nonsensical conflicts between Shi’ahs, Sunnis and other Muslim sects, which the rest of the world can make no sense of, will stop forthwith.
Think! Choose between what your book deems the best and only god and what normal people across the world believe is the best life possible. A life where you are innocent until proven guilty!
Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information in this article.
The author is National Affairs Editor, Swarajya. He has served The Statesman, The Pioneer and Money Life in the past. He was a banker and then a teacher before he switched to journalism.