The trail of terror continues with cricketers as the latest target. The Mumbai and Lahore attacks, public executions and the murder of over a thousand civilians in the Swat valley by Taliban style terrorists are horrifying examples of atrocities committed by militant groups thriving on political Islam. Global Muslim communities require urgent measures in condemning the agenda of political Islam that distorts religious scriptures to legitimise violence. This ideology of Islamism is threatening to replace a moderate and spiritual Islam, leading to the destruction of society, particularly oppressing women and minorities.
Muslims have a moral responsibility to engage in the social, political and economic development of the societies they live in. Global Muslim societies would do well in following the exceptional efforts of the Indian clerics in denouncing terrorism and de linking it with Islam. Sincere moral outrage needs to be expressed at Taliban atrocities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, political kidnappings and assassinations, militancy in Kashmir, Shia Sunni killings in Iraq and Pakistan, fatwas that condone suicide bombings in the Israel Palestine conflict and other such atrocities that effect innocent lives. Muslims require the consensus of the international in combating extremism but our credibility is lost when we demonstrate selective outrage as in the aftermath of the Danish cartoons.
Political Islam draws its lifeblood from the ideology of fighting the oppressor, but has clearly become the oppressor. Even though some Islamist groups have renounced violence and accepted the principles of democracy, marginally improved their stand on women and minority rights, they remain socially conservative. In Jordan, the Islamist party does not support the rights of women to file for divorce. In Kuwait the Islamists fought against the right of women to vote. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood will not allow a woman or a person from a minority community to become head of state. Unfortunately, militant Islamist groups thrive in the political vacuum created by oppressive regimes in most Islamic countries.
Muslims must stop blaming the problem of extremism on catastrophic foreign policies for two wrongs simply do not make a right. Islamism is primarily a Muslim problem, threatening both Muslim and non- Muslim societies. We need to acknowledge there is a problem of theology when extremists talk of going straight to heaven after taking innocent lives.
The roots of all modern militant Islamic movements can be traced to one man called Abdul Wahab from Nejd in the Arabian Peninsula. He set out to Ã¢â‚¬ËœpurifyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Islam, believing that Muslims had drifted away from true religion. WahabÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s followers destroyed many sacred sites he considered idols. Attacking the arts for being frivolous and dangerous, Wahab sanctioned the rape; murder and plunder of those who refused to follow his injunctions. He was considered a heretic by most, for Makkah and Madinah were then centres of contemplative Islam, inhabited by Sufis from all over the world.
In 1774-5 Wahab negotiated a deal with the then nomadic tribe of Saud, forebears of the current royal family in exchange for support in their quest for political domination. Most SaudiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s reject the name Wahabbi; they either call themselves Muwahuddin- Unitarians- or Salafi, refering to salaf, the venerated companions of the Prophet. In this blinkered view, no other version of religious truth can exist. This new face of Islam has nothing to do with Sufis, music, poetry, miracles or the countless devotional customs of Muslim cultures across the world.
Under the patronage of the Saudi Arabia, Wahabism went from strength to strength. Abul Ala Mawdudi, a journalist who translated the Quran outside the paradigms of classical propagated the Wahabi ideology. He founded the political party Jamaat e Islami in Pakistan, making jihad central to Islamic discourse. Addressing non-Muslims as infidels, he grouped Muslims into Ã¢â‚¬ËœpartialÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ and Ã¢â‚¬ËœtrueÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ Muslims. MawdudiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ideas of Islam as a revolutionary doctrine to take over governments and overturn the whole universal order deeply influenced Syed Qutub of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. These groups have been motivated by political upheavals and the rejection of traditional scholars. Syed QutubÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s brother happened to be among the teachers of Osama bin Laden.
The extremism now found in Makkah and Madinah, the heartland of Islam, is the Wahabi ideology that the Saudis have spent millions in promoting through their outreach programs. There is no tolerance for Shias, Sunni Sufis or other Muslim traditions, leave alone non -Muslims. Unfortunately, there is no collective Muslim protest against the Saudi regime for bulldozing graveyards, destroying cultural and religious heritage in the holy cities, imposing a certain sexual segregation of the sexes inside the Prophets mosque at Madinah, radical sermons, or the distribution of radical literature outside Saudi mosques, many of them issuing calls for death to whoever they view as infidels or innovators of Islam. The problem of Muslim extremism began in the Muslim world and the responsibility of resolving it lies with us.
The inability to present a picture of Islam as a peaceful religion is a collective failure of global Muslim communities. We could begin with increasing the decibel in condemning violence, sectarianism, standing up for the rights of women, stop demonising the other as kufaar (infidels) and show increased support for democratic movements in Muslim countries. It is time for the devout, silent peace-loving Muslim majority to speak for Islam. Let us become louder than the radical voices that claim to represent us.
Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi based writer and author of the forthcoming book, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Sufism: The Heart of IslamÃ¢â‚¬Â published by HarperCollins India.