Closer Look: Osama Bin Laden

By Kashif-ul-Huda,,

Whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind. [Surah Al Maeda : 32]

If killing one innocent person is like killing the entire humanity then Osama Bin Laden has killed the humanity many times over. Since his 1998 fatwa against the United States till his death in 2011, the organization that he established or people that he inspired have killed thousands all around the world. Majority of his victims have been Muslims, people that he was supposed to be helping.

Thanks to Osama Bin Laden, Afghanistan and Iraq lay in ruins and Pakistanis are not safe in their own country. Hundreds of thousands of innocents were killed and continue to be killed by either Osama followers or armies in pursuit of his followers. He wanted to do armed jihad to get rid of foreign armies from Muslim countries but ended up causing “fasad” and helping Western media create the impression that followers of Islam are a violent people.

In the post-9/11 world, Muslims became a target of suspicion and victims of harassment. And this was not just inconvenience of airport security or denial of visa. Al-Qaida- inspired terrorism claimed innocent lives from Indonesia to London. Suicide bombing was introduced in Pakistan and Afghanistan by Bin Laden followers and now it has become a weapon of choice of the terrorists causing much mayhem.

In India, what post-Babri Mumbai serial blasts of 1993 could not do was achieved easily after the 9/11 attacks. SIMI was banned in the wake of 9/11 without any evidence of their involvement in any terrorist activities. Western media’s lead on stereotyping Muslims as terrorists was followed enthusiastically by Indian media in cooperation with law-enforcement agencies. Hundreds or perhaps thousands of Muslim youths continue to be arrested and harassed in the name of terrorism and some unfortunate ones killed in cold-blood by what we know as “fake encounters.” Yes, we do fault Indian agencies in killing Indian citizens but the sins will also go in Osama’s amaal-nama (book of deeds) as unintended consequences of his actions and rhetoric.

Osama’s mindset just like his rhetoric was medieval. He did not understand that in this modern world you can win a war but still lose politically. He did understand the power of media but failed to appreciate how the economy can play a bigger role than the fire power. Wall Street investment bankers and speculative traders have done more damage to the United States than what Osama could ever imagine.

A section of Muslims do have soft spot for Osama Bin Laden for what they think was his tough stand against the United States. They think that like Saddam Hussain, he stood up to the American injustice and hence consider him a hero forgetting that in Islam the end does not justify the means. His track record of killing mostly Muslims proves that an enemy’s enemy is not necessarily a friend.

It will be better if Muslim leaders instead of subscribing to conspiracy theories or saying that Osama was CIA creation, which serves no purpose; start dialogue within the community on dangers of extremism and the threat that path of violence poses to the world in general and Muslims in particular.

Closer Look is a monthly column by editor Kashif-ul-Huda. For publication permissions please contact

Islam Is Not Just “Rituals”

By A. Faizur Rahman,

A resolution passed by the Mahmood Madani faction of the Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Hind (JUH) at a meeting of its managing committee held in New Delhi on March 7 says that “Muslims should be convinced for regular practice of namaz and keeping fasts during the month of Ramadan. Youths should be persuaded to practise salam, don their Islamic identity and create a religious atmosphere at home.” The Jamiat also proposed the setting up social reform committees in villages and towns to ensure that Muslim residents live by “Islamic rules and social values.”

Of course namaz and fasting are important institutions in Islam and their performance is a farz on the Muslims. But should they be treated as mere rituals? Or is there a wider meaning to them? Unfortunately, the JUH pronouncements seem to reinforce the centuries old ritualistic notion that restricts Islam to a mere belief in “five pillars” namely, faith in Allah and Prophet Muhammad, the five times prayers, the Ramazan fasting, the Hajj and the concept of Zakat. Identity markers such as a long beard for men and thehijab or burqa for women also form part of this superficial characterisation. The question is: could this have been the concept of Islam that was propagated by our beloved Prophet?

Holy relic being Shown to people during the URS at Dastigeer Sahab Khanyar, Sri Nagar

An in-depth study of the Quranic thought would reveal that Islam is not the name of a personal god-based ritualistic religion. It is actually a system of moral and legal codes which proposes to regulate society on the universal principles (termed maroof by the Quran) of justice, fairness and equity through the institutions of prayers (salaat or namaz), fasting (saum), Hajj and zakat (compulsory tax). If understood in their originality it would be realised that there is nothing ritualistic about these concepts.

For instance, during salaat the message of the Quran is read out five times a day to people standing shoulder to shoulder in the mosque irrespective of their social or financial status. This negates the doctrine of untouchability and inculcates a sense of communal equality. Saum, the thirty-day Ramazan fasting, focuses attention on hunger, and zakat underscores the importance of equitable distribution of wealth, and through it the eradication of poverty. Hajj is more of an annual international conference to discuss global issues for the benefit of mankind as implied by the Quran (22: 27-28) than just a pilgrimage to perform certain rites. It is also the world’s biggest display of unity in diversity where men and women of different nationalities congregate for a common cause.

But unfortunately the Muslims have been wrongly made to believe that these “rituals” are an end in themselves as the JUH resolution proves. This has resulted in their spirit being completely lost. Thus we see today Muslims mechanically praying five times a day, regularly fasting in Ramazan, frequently visiting Mecca for Hajj and even paying nominal zakat, all without making any difference to the quality of their lives, or in any way reducing the poverty and illiteracy around them.

Muslims offering prayer at Gandhi Maiadan in Patna during the conference organized by JUH in 2009

The Quran highlights this malady in a subtle verse saying, “It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards East or West,… but to spend from your wealth… for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, the wayfarer, for those who ask and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in salaat and zakat, to fulfill the contracts which you have made, and to be firm and patient in pain and adversity throughout all periods of panic…” (2: 177)

The Prophet further emphasized this saying; “One who strives for the widows and the poor is like the one who strives in the way of God. I shall regard him as one who stands up for prayer without rest and as one who fasts without break.” (Bukhari)

The emphasis on ritualism among Muslims today is a result of the misinterpretation of the Quranic term deen which has been wrongly equated with mazhab (religion). The truth is that while the word “religion” exemplifies a set of dogmas revolving around a personal god who needs to be appeased through superstitious rituals, deen is about abiding by certain rules and regulations for the common good of society.

Deen is analogous with the constitution of a country which once adopted is bound to be respected by every citizen whether he likes it or not. For instance, a high caste Hindu who disagrees with Article 17 of our constitution which makes the practice of “untouchability” a punishable offence would still have to conform to it. In the same way, a “Muslim” is a peaceful person who submits willingly or unwillingly (tau’an wa karhan) to a body of humanitarian precepts promoted by the Quran and taught by the last Prophet. However, such laws are governed by the concept of laa ikraaha fid deen (there is no compulsion in deen) and cannot be enacted unless a majority favours it.

Surprisingly, some Muslim jurists have restricted the meaning of the laa ikraaha injunction to ban forced conversions when it should also include the de-legitmisation of the coercive imposition of Islam on an unwilling nation. In other words, a handful of extremists cannot force their brand of shariah on any group of people just because they have the power to do so. Islam is against any form of imperialism, and the Quran on two occasions (3:159 & 42:38) has instructed the Muslims to take decisions only after a democratic consensus has been reached.

This is the true meaning of Islam which needs to be widely propagated through “social reform committees” proposed by the Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Hind.

The author is the secretary-general of Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Thought among Muslims. He may be reached

[AIP Photos By /Shahid Tantray]

David Cameron Was Right On “Islamist” Extremism

By A. Faizur Rahman,

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s speech against “Islamist extremism” delivered recently at a security conference in Munich sparked an unnecessary controversy in the U.K., particularly among Muslims. Ramadhan Foundation, a Muslim youth group, described it as an attempt to “score cheap political points” in a way that would “rip communities apart.” Continue reading David Cameron Was Right On “Islamist” Extremism

Islam, Family and Modernity

Sometime ago I happened to go to Turkey for an international conference on the topic of Family. I wrote an account of my journey to Turkey but here I want to talk about my presentation in the conference. It was an impressive international conference from around 50 countries and 300 scholars, social scientists and activists. Several papers were read and discussed on various aspects of family. The common concern was that the institution of family is getting weakened and family being the very foundation of our civilization, it must be saved from disintegration.

I was asked to talk about Islam and institution of family. In fact the Prophet of Islam did not approve of life of celibacy except in some situation. He also disapproved of renunciation of world (ruhbaniyyah) and preferred living in the world and facing all the situations. Various pronouncements of the Qur’an relate to family life, marriage, divorce and children. Qur’an also says if you have no means to marry and sustain your family, lead pious life until Allah gives you necessary means. Also, Qur’an prescribes punishment for illegitimate sex fornication, rape and adultery.

According to Islamic teachings, sex is permissible only within the institution of marriage as sex only for pleasure, is not permissible; sex is basically meant for raising family. Today in western countries, people do not want to take responsibility for raising family but want to have sex for pleasure and hence ‘live-in’ arrangement has come into vogue and this concept of live-in has dealt great blow to the institution of family. In this arrangement both man and woman can walk away any time they like.

Thus the basic idea is not to have any responsibility towards each other, much less towards children. In fact every attempt is made to avoid begetting children and, if at all, children are born, the whole responsibility will come on a single parent, especially on mother. The result is man tries to have multiple partners to enjoy sex and woman is burdened with children and faces psychological stresses and strain.

Sex cannot be an end in itself as it happens in live-in arrangement. There are, according to Qur’an two important purposes of marriage – to raise family and provide companionship to each other. The very philosophy of marriage is based on love and companionship. Qur’an says, “And of His Signs is this, that He created mates for you from yourselves that you might find quiet of mind in them, and He put between you love and compassion. Surely there are signs in this for a people who reflect.” (30:21

Thus the institution of family, according to the Qur’an, should be based on higher and noble values of life .Simply to gratify sexual desire can never lead to higher civilization and stability in one’s life. Stability, compassion and love are the very basis of human civilization and family is an important institution in building civilization. Family, as far as possible, should not break and that is why according to the Prophet’s hadith, divorce is most disliked among permissible things and also according to another hadith heavens shake when man pronounces divorce to his wife because divorce delivers blow to very institution of family.

Today in the contemporary world institution of family is increasingly getting weakened due to certain contradictions arising in our life due to modernity. In modern period women too work and become quite independent and hence refuse to bow down to wishes of her spouse. In the past women were quite economically dependent on husbands and felt more secure in bowing down to his wishes. Husband was thought to be master and crown of her head (sartaj). Today women are from middle class families highly educated and work with high salaries and so they refuse to bow down before their husbands.

So many orthodox Muslims feel this is the result of women getting educated and earning for themselves. It is destabilizing families. This is wrong conclusion because we are embedded in patriarchal values. In fact if women have to have dignity and self-respect they should not be asked to submit to husband’s authority. Any institution based on authority rather than higher values cannot be stable and cannot lead to higher civilization. Qur’an while giving women right to earn and property, also gives her equal dignity and self respect and makes it clear that family should be based not on authority of husband but on love and compassion for each other.

If these values are meticulously practiced both husband and wife have mutual respect and consult each other before taking any crucial decision, woman’s education and earning would make family much more stable and prosperous. If our culture remains patriarchal and husband’s authority supreme, family in which woman is highly educated and cares for self respect and dignity, would tend to come under strain and break. Even in highly modern societies women has no role in decision making on crucial matters and hence family life comes under severe strain and percentage of divorce goes up because woman refuses to submit.

Thus solution does not lie in abandoning the institution of family and go in for live-in relationship. There will be no genuine love and compassion. Solution lies in according equal dignity to women and equal role in decision making. This alone will strengthen institution of family. Thus if philosophy of family as propounded by the Qur’an is followed institution of family will not fall apart. It will be strengthened instead.

Why Ummah Wahidah Remains Only An Emotional Slogan

For last fourteen hundred years we have heard a slogan one Allah, one Prophet and one Qur’an and so all Muslims should unite and constitute one ummah. Also, interestingly enough our ulama narrate a hadith from Prophet (PBUH) that “my ummah will be divided into 72 sects and only one of them will be naji i.e. will achieve liberation and others will be doomed”. Thus we ourselves contradict ourselves. On one hand, we desire unity and then go on dividing the ummah in 72 sects conflicting with each other.

And fact is that Baghdadi by the end of second century hijrah wrote a book AlFarq Bayn al-Firaq (Difference between Different Sects) and gives more description of more than 100 sects among Muslims by that time. In fact we should understand that emotional slogans will never bring unity and more we raise such slogans, more we will stand divided. In fact differences among Muslims–political, social, economic and cultural began among Muslims not too long after the death of the Prophet (PBUH).

The conquests, if anything, made situation much more complex bringing in more power wealth and foreign influences which sharpened divisions though it took some time for sects to formalize and differences assume theological structure. In order to understand and analyze these differences, we have to go much beyond theology and try to understand much deeper causes.

First of all we must understand that the message of Islam brought about a fundamental change in the then Arab society of much deeper nature than we realize. It completely changed religious, moral, social and political structures and the Arab society could never be the same again. Yet the change was so rapid that Arabs could hardly absorb it. What was more tragic that the Prophet (PBUH) also departed from the scene who was a supreme guide who was listened to reverentially by all Muslims?

Muslims for various reasons turned outward rather than inward to consolidate the gains of deeper Islamic revolution which could have been more beneficial to the nascent Muslim society. The most fundamental message of the Qur’an was moral and to bring in equality and justice in the society. The Qur’an repeatedly emphasizes importance of ‘amal salih along with iman (faith or belief in Allah, His prophets and the Prophet, day of judgment and accountability

Secondly the Qur’an gave a new vision of a just and egalitarian society with due emphasis on human dignity and freedom of conscience. It also found a new middle path in which both ummah and individual was important with freedom of conscience which until then was unknown in the Arab society. The Arabs were highly tradition bound and deeply immersed in their respective tribal cultures.

Islam tried to usher in new culture which was deeply humane and universal rather than tribal. But it was not easy to liberate oneself from pre-Islamic traditions which Muslims themselves called culture of jahiliyyah i.e. culture of period of ignorance. Yet its influence was so deep that mere acceptance of Islam could not bring in deep transformation which was in need for total social transformation.

The Qur’an had given Arabic language a new diction both moral and literary at which great Arab creative poets and others wondered and found themselves unable to match. But this diction was not only full of creative beauty but also morally high as the Qur’anic vision was to create a new society and a new human being literally what Qur’an calls mu’min a man of faith working for new vision as Iqbal put it mu’min hai to naya jahan paida karr (if you are a man of faith create new world and don’t live in the old world).

This new human being of faith not only would have accepted all the Qur’anic values of unity, human dignity, freedom of conscience, diversity, truth, compassion, equality, justice and great courage. But except a few companions of the Prophet (PBUH) there was no one dedicated himself or herself to cultivate this new culture and sustain this new Islamic vision.

What were worse the conquests further damaged this process as new alien values, mostly feudal and authoritarian in nature further damaged the whole process. Now emphasis was more on share state power and newly acquired wealth and splendour than fulfill the Qur’anic moral vision. The process of coming into being view visionary society received serious set back. The Islamic society began to be polarized between those who were engaged in worldly pursuits and squabbling for power and those who engaged themselves in only matters spiritual and almost reduced themselves as recluses.

One more setback came with coming into existence the Umayyad Empire which was highly repressive in nature and authoritarian and build more on the Roman model than inspired by Islamic values and vision. The Umayyads, deeply immersed as they were, in pre-Islamicjahiliyyah culture and tried to revive pre -Islamic culture with emphasis on its poetry. Kitab al-Ghina was written based on pre-Islamicjahiliyyah poetry and became immensely popular.

This jahilliyah culture’s foundational values were simply worldly pleasure completely devoid of high moral values. One can argue well what was wrong with it, after all it was rich Arab heritage and its revival after all was a legitimate act. This argument has of course some validity. After all a powerful Arab empire had come into existence and it needed its own national cultural heritage to be proud of and to trace its own national and tribal roots.

But as far as our present concern of Islamic society we are looking at it from altogether another perspective. What was tragic in this revival was revival of pre-Islamic culture only strengthened tendency to seek pleasure and power and enjoy life irrespective of what kind of society Islam wanted to build up. Secondly, and more damaging was that now this pre-Islamic language and diction became fashionable and even Qur’anic words and their meanings were sought to be understood in the light of how they were used in pre-Islamic poetry.

In fact Qur’an had created a new language rich in its own meaning. Its diction was moral and revolutionary to infuse new values in building a new society and the Qur’an used that new diction for this purpose. Now tragically pre-Islamic poetry became the basis of understanding Qur’an and its meaning. I think it was a great calamity that pre-Islamic poetry constituted the very basis of understanding Qur’an’s meaning. To some extent it was perhaps inevitable but without being conscious of its consequences it cause serious damage to the vision Qur’an was aiming at.

Third thing was the nature of theological debates which began to rage among theologians when the very moral foundation of Islamic revolution began to be weakened. Theological debates whether human being is free agent or divinely determined became supreme in which the ruling class had very high stakes. If human person is divinely determined then Umayyad regime is also divines willed and its oppressive and exploitative base cannot be challenged. After all it is divinely willed.

As we have pointed out Qur’an lays emphasis on freedom of conscience as much as even Shaytan was granted freedom and allowed to choose not to bow before Adam. Now human person was sought to be seen as mere toy destined to act as per divine will. Theologians were polarized according to their political inclinations. Those who did not want to challenge Umayyad power sought refuge in this theological formulation and refrained from political activism and some even sought to benefit from being part of ruling classes.

This is not to say that there were no ulama of great courage and moral integrity who refused to become part of ruling structure and engaged themselves in cultivating and promoting Islamic values and vision. But such were very few and far in between.

Fourthly, the Abbasids, in order to challenge Umayyad power launched an underground movement with the help of Iranian discontents who were feeling marginalised with Arab supremacy in the political as well as cultural areas. They had embraced Islam but never became part of political and cultural processes. The Persians readily agreed to support the Abbasids who promised them substantial part in the political process and Abu Muslim Khorasani organized military and mass support in favour of Abbasids.

The Persians had their own proud cultural and political heritage and they looked upon Arabs with sheer contempt as uncouth and uncultured Bedouins. As soon as Abbasids captured power and Umayyads dethroned, many Persian wives slaughtered their Arab husbands. But this was not to last longer. The Abbasids were after all Arabs and they did not want to share political power, at least substantial part with non-Arabs.

Thus first thing they did was to get rid of Abu Muslim Khorasani who had meticulously built political basis of Abbasid power. But they were shrewd enough to reward Persians for their support in some other way. Many Persian intellectuals were appointed on key bureaucratic posts to give them sense of participation. Though not politically but they became dominant in intellectual and cultural fields.

This also had its own social and moral consequences. Great social and intellectual changes began take place in very approach to Islam. The Mu’tazila movement acquired a new vitality under the Abbasid patronage and controversies like whether the Qur’an is created or uncreated broke out and Muslims were divided never before on such intellectual issues. If the Umayyads encouraged controversy about human determination, Abbasid encouraged the controversy about created-ness or uncreated-ness of Qur’an.

Both controversies, may or may not have philosophical and intellectual importance but helped divert attention from basic political social and economic issues. The theologians debated these issues and were polarized. Also, the Abbasids patronized translations of Greek books on philosophy into Arabic as well as from Persian and Indian sources and Biat al-Hikmah (the House of Wisdom) became centre of great intellectual ferment and enlightenment and Arabs began to lead in science, mathematics and technology and several other sciences.

It was indeed a great intellectual contribution to the world by Arab and non-Arab Muslim thinkers, philosophers and intellectuals, mostly Persians. By all means it was unparalleled intellectual ferment. But it also resulted in further division in the ummah and new sects were born, especially Ismai’lis and Qaramia, also known as batinis i.e. those who believed in interpreting the Qur’an with hidden meaning which were real meanings and the zahiri apparent meanings were meant only for masses, not for initiated.

The Isma’ilis were further subdivided in several sects and sub-sects. The Qaramitas, a sub-sect of Ismailis, were on the other extreme and believed in suspending practicing zahiri shari’ah as those who followed hidden meaning of Qur’an (also called ta’wil), need not indulge in shari’ah practices. Also, Qaramita’s whole emphasis was on communistic living under a da’is command.

All the members of the sect contributed all their earnings to the da’i who ran common kitchen. Private possession was allowed only in arms like swords and bows etc. The Qaramitas succeeded in establishing their state in Bahrain for thirty years. Nasir Khusrro whoseSafarnameh, critical edition edited and published by Zakir Husain in Germany, has given detailed account of Qaramita’s state in Bahrain and has refuted unfair charges against them like possessing common wives etc. It is interesting to note that some scholars maintain that Mansoor Hallaj who was put to death by Abbasids, also belonged to Qaramita movement and was put to death not really for his slogan of ana’l haq but for conspiring, along with Qaramita, to overthrow Abbasid regime.

Qaramita also became rivals of Fatimids in Egypt and Tahir Qarmati established his regime in Syria when he took away Hajar al-Aswadfrom Ka’aba and kept it in his possession for thirty years and the Fatimids had to persuade him with great difficulty to release it and they (Fatimids) restored it to Ka’ba and thus relieved the whole Islamic world of great anxiety.

Also, there was sharp polarization in the Sunni Islam. As a reaction to new intellectual trends due to transfer of philosophical treasures of the world to Baghdad which then established itself as greatest intellectual and philosophical centre of the world, brought about sharp reaction to intellectual trends among mainstream theologians. They used the weapon of philosophy and developed what came to be termed as ilma al-kalam i.e. dialectical knowledge.

They began to refute all claims of philosophers through ilm al-kalam. The famous debate between al-Ghazali and Ibn Rushd is well-known. Al-Ghazali wrote his tract Tahafut al-Falasifa (Bewilderment of Philosophers) to which Ibn Rushd replied by counter-tract Tahafut Tahaful al-Falasifa (Bewilderment of Bewilderment of Philosophers). Ash’ari, another theologian took extreme positions on all theological issues and naturally as against philosophers who had limited following among the intellectual elite, theologians like Ash’ari found mass following and established themselves as great theological leaders.

Ghazali himself wrote classic work Ihya’ al-Uloom (Revivification of Knowledge to revive traditional theology). It became a classical ash’arite theological work in Islamic world and is referred to by all traditional scholars. Some scholars maintain that it was after al-Ghazali’s work that all gates of ijtihad were closed in the Islamic world. But this seems to be oversimplified position. There are very complex causes for this. Fall of Baghdad, end of central Abbasid regime what the great historian Toynbee calls universal
Islamic state and development of weak regional states are some among them.

What is to be noted here is that this polarization could have been avoided with some caution to avoid division in Islamic world. The traditional theologians and ulama reacted too sharply to the intellectual and philosophical movement; some philosophers too, on the other hand, went to extremes. And Qaramita, as already discussed, even suspended shari’ah causing alarm among all.

A section of Isma’ilis who later established Fatimid regime first in Western Africa and later in Egypt exercised due caution in creating balance between what was zahiri and batini but their political rivalry with the Abbasids proved no less divisive on theological front too. Unfair accusations were made against them by mainstream theologians. In fact it was Fatimids who persuaded Qaramitas to return hajar al-Aswad back to Ka’ba.

There was another division too: the philosophers and intellectuals tried to grasp truth through intellectual efforts while the Sufis laid stress only on spiritual aspects and experiences. In this the Qur’anic middle path was lost. Qur’an had evolved a unique approach which was very comprehensive. It was approach based on all important components of life – spiritual, intellectual, moral and material.

It invited believers to live in this world, contribute to its material prosperity, reflect deeply on Allah’s creation, enrich spiritual relations with its creator so as never to become arrogant of ones material achievements, to maintain high moral standards to keep order and balance in the world and to constantly learn lessons from the past how people suffered because of their misdeeds. The Qur’anic language was a new contribution of all these aspects.

However, theological debates and efforts to understand Qur’an in the light of pre-Islamic Arabic diction destroyed much of this uniqueness. What was worse many commentators of the Qur’an not only depended on this pre-Islamic usages of Arabic words but also on myths and legends from Judaic and Christian sources which completely destroyed the Qur’anic spirit and Qur’anic commentaries became a mythological labyrinth.

Commentators like Imam Fakhruddin Razi tried to use Aristotelian deductive logic to write commentary on Qur’an. All this went on causing sterile theological debates. More such debates took place more theology became complex and beyond the reach of common Muslims. For jurists Qur’an was more a source of legal wrangling and sterile debates on various sterile issues like whether to raise hands or to do masah this way or that way and so on. Fiqh, instead of becoming a source of high morality became cause of division among Muslims on very petty and ridiculous issues.

Now we have reached a stage wherein sharp divisions have taken place among Muslims through out history. As explained these divisions were political, theological and intellectual and it is very challenging to undo these differences. The present political climate in the Muslim world is further sharpening these differences. That is why one ummah has become an empty slogan. What is worse every effort to unite results in further division.

The Arab worlds itself stand divided along their political interests and then there are Arab and non-Arab divisions. They do not get united even on major political challenges like those from Israel and United States of America. This reality should not be lost sight of. To evolve common strategies one has to be realistic and should not be swayed by any kind of rhetoric.

Muslims tend to be often emotional and more divisive forces work, more insecure they feel and more insecure they feel more emotionally they react. Attacks on Islam have multiplied like never before and it makes Muslims react more emotionally than strategically and intellectually. It requires great maturity and political shrewdness to respond these attacks. Our emotional reactions and street protests, and worse, terroristic and violent response benefits only our enemy and attacks on Islam further sharpen.

We may not be able to overcome our differences resulting in complete unity of ummah but certainly we can work out strategies to reacts un-emotionally and more intellectually so as to project a peaceful and dignified image of Islam. It will greatly enhance respect for Islam and Muslims in the world.

What Makes the Muslims Angry: Analysing the Causes that Foster Fundamentalism

Throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.”
—Barack Obama, 44th President of USA

THE year 1979 holds special importance. It was the year that saw two significant happenings in the Muslim world. The events occurred in two states holding contrasting views on Islam but triggered by a common enemy, the US. One was the hostage crisis in the Shiite ruled Iran, which was covered quite extensively by the press, the other being the lesser known and reported uprising at Islam’s holiest shrine in Mecca, the city under the control of Sunni Muslims.

There was a fundamental difference though between the two events. The embassy takeover in Tehran was a student initiative against the US for its meddling in the country’s politics. The siege of Mecca was the rebellion of a Muslim group against the policies of the ruling family in Saudi Arabia which were influenced by the US.

The rebellion in Mecca combined with the events in neighboring Iran forever changed the equation of Muslims with the US, and the west in general.

Act I, Tehran

On November 4, 1979, some 400 Iranian students decided to stage a sit-in at the American embassy in Tehran. It was a demonstration both against the Iranian Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan’s meeting in Algiers with Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s National Security advisor, to discuss common security issues and the Shah’s admission to America for his cancer treatment.

The protest soon turned into a takeover of the embassy and its staff as more radical elements took over. The captives were paraded blindfolded before the world’s media.

Ayatollah Khomeni at first wanted the students to be taken out by force, but later changed his mind riding on the popular mood and supported their cause. He even denounced the embassy as a ‘nest of spies’. Con Coughlin writes how it influenced the Islamic revolution in Iran, “The American embassy siege proved to be a defining moment both for Khomeini and the Islamic revolution. Whereas previously he had sought to control the wilder excesses of the revolution, such as limiting the number of executions, now he fully embraced the concept of revolutionary action, and gave the student revolutionaries free rein to confront the negative influences of imperialism, liberalism and democracy.”[1]

The move was also initially opposed by two prominent student activists – one of them (surprisingly) was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from Tarbiat Modarres University. Both eventually joined ranks with the majority.

Although the hostage crisis was a student initiative, it found mass support in Iran because of the role US played in the past politics of the country. America helped depose the elected and popular government of Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. Iranians never really forgave the US for it.

The embassy staff of 52 Americans was held hostage for a total of 444 days. It damaged relations between Washington and Tehran permanently.

Act II, Mecca

The Mecca uprising was the revolt of a group of Muslim extremists against their own rulers.

Juhayman ibn Saif al Uteybi, a retired corporal in the Saudi National Guard, was the chief architect of the events that unfolded in Mecca on November 20, 1979.

His role in the uprising was an outcome of the anger that has been building inside him for some time. Perhaps it’s not surprising then that his name itself means ‘Angry Face’ in Arabic.

During the mid 1970s Juhayman lived in Medina trying to model his life on the ways of the Prophet 14 centuries earlier. He was not alone.

Robert Lacey sheds light on such individuals, “Those who opted for back-to-basics called themselves Salafi, because they sought to behave as salaf, literally the pious ancestors of one of those three early generations that were mentioned with such approval by the Prophet. A group calling itself Al-Jamaa Al-Salafiya Al-Muhtasiba, “the Salafi Group That Commands Right and Forbids Wrong,” had been active in Medina for some time, and Juhayman joined it when he came to town, plugging himself into some of the Kingdom’s strongest and most ancient traditions of piety.”[2]

Medina’s Salafi Group was created around 1965.

For Juhayman, wherever he looked he could detect bida’h (any Islamic innovation). By now his rejectionist thinking found a few takers. They started referring to themselves as Al-Ikhwan (the Brothers). The word itself had a dangerous resonance with the Saudi past. It was also Juhayman’s legacy.

A confrontation with Sheikhs though resulted in the security forces running after the Ikhwan for interrogation. Juhayman was on the run.

Unable to meet his followers, Juhayman turned to the written and spoken words. His printed words (“The Letters of Juhayman”) survived and have long influenced Muslim extremists over the years.

His grievance was that al-Saud had exploited Islam to guarantee their worldly interests, and have brought evil and corruption upon the Muslims by paying allegiance to the Americans.

It was in late 1978 that Juhayman started having dreams about the Islamic Messiah – the Mahdi or rightly-guided one – who would come down to earth to correct the problems of mankind. His dreams even revealed the identity of the Mahdi as one of his own followers, Muhammad Abdullah Al-Qahtani. Juhayman soon married his sister.

This was also the time when Juhayman was ready to confront the rulers by violent means. His armed men took control of the Grand Mosque on the First day of Muharram (first Islamic month) in the Islamic year 1400, which translates to November 20, 1979.

The siege finally ended on December 4 as the last of the remaining rebels were captured by the government forces.

The bitter struggle saw 127 government soldiers perish and 450 injured. Some 117 rebels including Muhammad Abdullah were killed. Twenty six worshippers also lost their lives.

The outcome surprised even Juhayman. Yaroslav Trofimov in his definitive account of the events says, “As Juhayman was led away, one of the officers asked him again why he had desecrated the holiest shrine. The reality of utter defeat began to sink in. “If I had known it would turn out this way, I wouldn’t have done it,” Juhayman muttered in response.”[3]

It would take several months to undo the physical damage to the Grand Mosque.

The Brothers in Islam

The founder of modern Saudi Arabia Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud was ably supported by warriors from the Bedouin tribes who called themselves Al-Ikhwan. For them to support the Saudi cause was to engage in Jihad and that made them ferocious warriors.

As the empire got established the Ikhwan were told to settle down peacefully. But being the Bedouin warriors, they continued their raids suspecting their former leader to have made peace with the British.

Abdul Aziz spent more than a year in vain to strike a deal with the Ikhwan. The showdown finally came in March 1929 in the open plain of Sibillah, north of Riyadh. The Ikhwan were given one last chance to surrender but they ignored and attacked. In response Aziz’s men opened fire. Hundreds of men and their camels perished that day.

Among those who survived the onslaught was Muhammad ibn Saif al-Uteybi, father to Juhayman.

Birth of Political Islam

The siege of Mecca was the first major challenge to the ruling group in Saudi Arabia since the Ikhwan rebellion. It brought into open the rising tension between the state and its own religion.

Madawi Al-Rasheed explains, “It was vital to devise a formula for reconciling the state’s immense wealth with the austerity of Wahhabi* Islam. The incompatibility between religious dogma and royal pomp and the vulnerability of the royal family to attacks from within the ranks of the most loyal supporters (the religious establishment) shocked inside and outside observers who considered Saudi Arabia one of the most stable states in the Middle East. The constant search of the Saudi state for ways to accommodate the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ crumbled with the siege of the mosque.”[5]

It also forced the rulers to grant more powers to the ulama (Islamic scholars) and Islamic activities more political space in the early 1980s. The ulama seized the opportunity to reinforce the strict Wahhabi rules on ritual observance and moral behaviour.

It was also the beginning of a new era where the banner of Islam was unfurled for political means. Thomas Hegghammer talks about its ramifications, “However, the ‘Wahhabism’ and the ‘pan-Islamisation’ of 1980 Saudi Arabia represented two distinct processes with different causes and results. While the first was a purely domestic process promoted by the Najdi Wahhabi ulama and resulting in social conservatism, the latter had international ramifications, was promoted by the Hijaz-based organisations such as the Muslim World League (MWL) and produced political radicalism. Nevertheless, both processes left more political space for Islamist activism of all kinds. The political opportunity structure for Islamist activists – especially those seeking to mobilise people for the jihad in Afghanistan – thus became highly beneficial.”[6]

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 prompted several Islamic organisations to issue calls for jihad against the occupiers. This gave the conflict a whole new religious dimension.

Saudi involvement in Afghanistan was unprecedented and it exceeded even the assistance for the Palestinians. It also saw the Kingdom graduate from a passive and financial to an active and military approach to pan-Islamism. This was made possible by US approval, the access to Pakistani territory, and the willingness of the Afghans.

Iran, sharing its border with Afghanistan, saw this as an opportunity to increase its influence in the area. It backed the Afghan Northern Alliance, which included the Shiite Hizb-l Vahdat representing the Hazaras (a local minority Shia tribe).

The invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein forces gave another opportunity to the fundamentalists. Fearing a possible Iraqi attack on its own soil, Saudi Arabia welcomed foreign forces in 1990 to help defend the country. This was also the time when some sahwa** members began to speak out against the monarchy. Under pressure the government looked out for ways to compensate the lost credibility.

The opportunity came in the form of the Bosnian war of 1992.

Saudi was not alone in making the most of it. Iran and Sudan, too, tried to exploit the Bosnian crisis to gain regional control.

In fact Iran made good use of its long-standing links with Bosnian political leaders to provide substantial material support for the war ravaged country.

The roots of Political Islam were firmly established by now.

The Role of Wahhabism

The rigid views of Wahhabism and the patronising it received from the Saudi rulers in the past, fostered Muslim fundamentalism. The doctrine considers Muslim sects like the Shiites and the Sufis as heretics. It even inspired people like Juhayman to take up arms against the royal family.

Although Juhayman was beheaded soon after the uprising, his ideals and vision survived long after. The baton was passed on to another misguided flag-bearer of Islam, Osama Bin Laden. Like Juhayman, Osama too, had issues with Saudi ties to the US.

It came as no surprise to many that 15 of the 19 al-Qaida jihadists involved in the 9/11 attacks were from Saudi Arabia. The sad news was followed by a discovery of a huge arms cache in Riyadh and subsequent attacks on residential compounds in 2003. The terror continued in the country so much that by the December of 2004, some 176 policemen and civilians (mostly foreigners) had lost their lives.

The events showed a scary trend. The home-grown fundamentalists were turning into terrorists. The rulers of the state had to take swift and strict measures.

Dr. Sherifa Zuhur gets the point across, “Saudi Arabian officials decried al-Qa’ida’s actions in the United States, and have captured and killed operatives, arrested more than 600 suspects, forced key clerical figures to recant their radical views on television, recalled more than 1400 imams who were counselled on their divergent opinions, and took a variety of measures to diminish the financial support of terrorist organisations. The government also announced modest political reforms that began with voter registration from 2004-05, and municipal elections in 2005 which will enhance political participation.” [7]

The tentacles of the Osama factory are now reaching Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Indonesia, among others. It misses no opportunity to unleash terror on countries and people in the name of God.

The Israeli Angle

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the stumbling block in the stability of Middle-East and a cause for Arabs to take up arms. For years now it has been the driving force behind Muslim fundamentalism across the globe.

The difficulty in resolving the issue has only frustrated the parties involved.

The sad part is those who were once the land owners are now refugees in their own land. More than 300,000 Jews immigrated to the then British Mandated Palestine between 1923 and 1938. Now compare this with the 3.5 million Palestinians displaced because of the 1948 and 1967 upheavals (500,000 alone during the Six-Day War in 1967).

Millions of Palestinians refugees are today dispersed throughout the Middle-East, many in camps in neighboring countries. They are still searching for a way to coexist with the nation that is responsible for the mess.

According to Amnesty International 2011 Report, in 2010, Israeli authorities demolished 431 structures in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, a 59 per cent increase over 2009. At least 594 Palestinians – half of them children – were displaced, while more than 14,000 Palestinians were affected by demolitions of water cisterns, wells and structures relating to their livelihoods.

The Israeli military killed 1,510 Palestinians in 2006-09. Of these, 617, including 104 children aged under 18, were not taking part in any hostilities when they were killed.[16]

The Arab and Muslim worlds remain split between rejectionist forces and those willing to recognise Israel in the name of peace.

As for Israel it continues to enjoy strong support from both the Democrats and Republicans in the US. No US president ever questions the country’s so-called security needs.

Both Clinton and Bush failed to strongly take up the case of settlement expansion and certain occupation practices, which have nothing to do with security, with Israel.

Barack Obama generated so much hope in the Muslim world with his landmark speeches, but, he too couldn’t do much to help resolve the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

Flawed US policies in the past gave ample opportunities to other state actors with their own agendas. Both Syria and Saudi Arabia attempted to broker a Palestinian unity government without Washington’s help. Iran responded by strengthening its ties to Syria and Hamas, thereby increasing its influence in the region.

The Gaza blockade and the Israeli West Bank barrier have only added to the woes of Palestine. Indirectly it has fuelled the strong sentiments of the Arabs and Muslims elsewhere against the state of Israel.

Engaging the Extremists

The West over the years has followed a flawed policy of “engaging the moderates and shunning the extremists.” You ignore a person and you ignore his cause. By ignoring such individuals we harden their stand. It makes them look out for alternate ways to make their voices heard. Unfortunately, violence is one such means which makes maximum impact.

We need to condemn violence in any form. No second thoughts there! We also have to understand that killing one Osama Bin Laden would not help. Osama has become more of a symbol of resistance to the so called jihadists. You kill Osama and there are hundreds ready to take his place and promote the cause.

Occupying lands in the name of security threats will offer only temporary solutions and would strengthen the resolve of the jihadists. Incidentally it is also this angle which extremists, like Osama, relish.

In an interview given to CNN in 1997 Osama said, “If there is a message that I may send through you, then it is a message I address to the mothers of the American troops who came here with their military uniform walking proudly up and down our land while the scholars of our country are thrown in prisons. I say that this represents a blatant provocation to 1250 million Muslims. To these mothers I say if they are concerned for their sons, then let them object to the American government’s policy and to the American president. Do not let themselves be cheated by his standing before the bodies of the killed soldiers describing the freedom fighters in Saudi Arabia as terrorists. It is he who is a terrorist who pushed their sons into this for the sake of the Israeli interest.”[9]

The best way to approach them is to find their ideological mentors and engage them. A dialogue on any given day is a much better start.

This in itself is no mean task and a definite policy shift has to be exercised in the name of peace by the West.

Bridging Divides

The Muslims today are angry more than ever. But we need to separate anger from madness (of a few). Wherever the anger is justified it needs corrective measures.

1979 is history, but it could very well repeat itself. And with the power of the electronic media today the situation could be worse.

The West for its part needs to engage the Muslims more than ever before. Most importantly dialogues should be insulated from any act of violence. As we have seen in the past, the rise of Islamophobia only helps the extremists!

The US needs to rethink its policy of dictating other countries’ affairs in the name of national security. Afghanistan and Iraq are in a mess but the terror threat continues, not to mention the millions who lost their lives and the million others rendered homeless.

Sheikh Salman al-Oadah echoes the sentiments of fellow Muslims in the region, “And if the West considers September 11 as an affront to civil security in the West, then we can share with it that feeling and even the stance of rejecting attacks against civil security throughout the world. But it is important for the West to realize that civil security in the Islamic World has not seen stability for decades and a lot of the impediments to civil security have come about under the umbrella of Western policy and quite possibly due the direct actions of the West.” [10]

The once mighty British Empire also collapsed under the pressure of putting foot at too many places. You can’t win people over by occupying their lands!

The Palestine-Israel conflict is one issue that will influence any peace initiative between the Muslims and the West. For long it has been a stumbling block in the stability of the Middle East. You resolve that and half the work is done.

The US handling of this crisis also is faulty and needs serious rework. Daniel Kurtzer and Scott Lasensky stress this point, “The United States also has tried mistakenly to cherry-pick Palestinian negotiating partners, sometimes seeking to bypass more senior figures whom Washington perceives as intransigent. This approach tends to backfire; when we try to pick our winners, our diplomacy often loses.”[11]

Israel has also to be pressured into an inspection of its nuclear arsenal.

The two main players in the Middle-East, Iran and Saudi Arabia, influence most of the Muslim world today. The tension between them is a direct outcome of the desire to control the region and their different religious beliefs. This is also a sad reflection of the divide between the Muslims in general.

Saudi Arabia needs to promote more tolerance in its society. An outright rejection of beliefs not conforming to the majority is the first step in promoting hatred. Qur’an itself speaks against it. In verse 118, chapter 11, the books says, “If thy Lord had so willed, He could have made mankind one People: but they will not cease to dispute.”

There is also no denying the fact that the Saudi society is gradually changing and the new rulers must be credited for it.

The difficulty the rulers face is in striking a healthy balance between admonishing the violent opposition and co-opting those with similar views. Religious sensibilities have to be taken into due consideration before making any policy shift.

This is not an easy task as Madawi Al-Rasheed explains, “Saudi Arabia’s specific Islamic tradition, namely Wahhabi teachings, did not encourage an easy immersion in modernity in the twentieth century. From the very beginning, the ruling group stumbled across several obstacles when they introduced the most simple of technologies (for example cars, the telegraph and television among other innovations). Objections from conservative religious circles were overcome as a result of a combination of force and negotiations. Social and political change proved more problematic and could not be easily implemented without generating debates that threatened the internal stability of the country and alienated important and influential sections of society.”[5]

How successful would they be in the long run only time will tell!

The Saudis need the US support to guard themselves against a powerful neighbour in the form of Iran, something that has not gone down well with many in the Kingdom.

Iran needs to engage in dialogues rather than raising tempers with the now familiar diatribe of Ahmadinejad.

There are unsubstantiated claims by certain countries in the Middle East of Iran’s role in their internal affairs. The country needs to put more confidence building measures in the wake of its nuclear program.

Iran is also facing some problems internally. Post election, as the events at home show, there is a growing dissatisfaction of the young population with the power the clergy enjoys. The Shah’s toppling was not possible without the student uprising. Those in charge should never forget this simple fact.

The US needs to respect the regime in Iran (whosoever) and sit with it. Surely the lessons of the past have not been learned. Stephen Kinzer endorses the view, “Today, as anti-Iran rhetoric in Washington becomes steadily more strident, it is urgent that Americans understand how disastrous the last US attack on Iran turned out to be. They might also ponder the question of what moral responsibility the United States has to Iran in the wake of this painful history.”[12]

The answer to that has the potential to change US-Iranian relations.

Barack Obama talked about a new beginning in his landmark speech given at the Cairo University in 2009, “We have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world that we seek — a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God’s children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.”

The average Muslim, too, is sick and tired of seeing his faith questioned every time some extremist blow himself to pieces in the name of Allah. They also seek a new start where they are free in their lands and are judged by their own actions.

The world has seen enough violence in the name of religion and security. Let’s give peace a chance!

(Revised and updated: Oct 29, 2011)


*Members of the Wahhabi movement prefer to call themselves Muslims, or muwahhidun (those who insist on the unification of the worship of Allah) or Ahl (community of) At-Tawhid (Monotheism). The teachings of the reformer Abd Al-Wahhab are more often referred to by adherents as Salafi (“following the forefathers of Islam.”)

**Sahwa movement emerged in Saudi Arabia during the late 1960s. It was a well organised political movement that pride itself on religious orthodoxy.

1. Con Coughlin, Khomeini’s Ghost (London: Pan Macmillan, 2010), 177.

2. Robert Lacey, Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Terrorists, Modernists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia (New York: Viking Penguin, 2009), 18.

3. The Siege of Mecca: The 1979 Uprising at Islam’s Holiest Shrine by Yaroslav Trofimov (New York: Anchor Books, 2008), 214.

4. As’ad AbuKhalil, The Battle for Saudi Arabia: Royalty, Fundamentalism, and Global Power (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2004).

5. Madawi Al-Rasheed, A History of Saudi Arabia (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 11.

6. Thomas Hegghammer, Jihad in Saudi Arabia: Violence and Pan-Islamism Since 1979 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 24.

7. Sherifa Zuhur, “Saudi Arabia: Islamic Threat, Political reform, and the Global War on Terror,” Strategic Studies Institute (2005), 13, accessed October 28, 2011,

8. Noam Chomsky, Fateful Triangle: the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians (London: Pluto Press, Updated Edition, 1999).

9. “Osama bin Laden Interview – CNN,” FindLaw, accessed October 28, 2011,

10. Sheikh Salman al-Oadah, “How We Can Coexist”, Islam Today, Jan 01, 2002  , accessed October 28, 2011,

11. Daniel Kurtzer and Scott Lasensky, Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: American Leadership in the Middle East, (Washington: United States Institue of Peace, 2008), 38.

12. Stephen Kinzer, All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, (New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons), xxiii.

13. “A History of Conflict”, BBC,  accessed October 28, 2011,

14. Roland Jacquard, In the Name of Osama Bin Laden: Global Terrorism and the Bin Laden Brotherhood (USA: Duke University Press, 2002, Revised and Updated).

15. Mark Bowden, Guests of the Ayatollah: The Iran Hostage Crisis: The First Battle in America’s War with Militant Islam (New York: Grove Press, 2006).

16. “Amnesty International Annual Report 2011: The state of the world’s human rights,” Amnesty International, accessed October 28, 2011,

Gandhiji And The Prophet (PBUH)

Note: This imaginary dialogue between Gandhiji and the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) is to clarify many misunderstandings which are being spread about Islam and Muslims. My mission in life is to promote peace and inter-religious understanding and to struggle against religious fanaticism and extremism. As I have deep conviction about teachings of Islam, I am also great admirer of Gandhiji and his philosophy of non-violence. (A.E.)

Gandhiji: I have drawn inspiration from Islam as much as from Christianity. Islam’s emphasis on justice, equality and human dignityhas always attracted me as love and forgiveness of Christianity. The Sermon on the Mount specially attracted my attention. As you know I am deeply committed to philosophy of non-violence and it is in this respect that I am approaching you to know more in depth about Islam’s teachings about non-violence. It is necessary as Islam and terrorism are being equated by some anti Islamic forces and it is you who can help dispel these attacks on Islam. Who can be the better person than you, O Prophet of Islam.

Prophet: I am so much pained that Islam is under attack today whereas 21st century should have been the most appropriate period to appreciate its teachings. Yes, I admit there are all kinds of people in any religion and some may be motivated by their own selfish interests and indulge in violence or other misdeeds but a religion should be judged by its core teachings, not by what some followersdo. I hope you will agree with me.

Gandhiji: Yes I do agree with you sir, the great Prophet of Islam.

Prophet: You would agree with me no religion can teach violence and be followed by millions of people. The very purpose of religion is to refine morals and guide its followers to a purposeful and meaningful life with inner peace and deep conviction. Islam is a religion of surrendering to Allah and Allah is Compassionate and Merciful (Rahman and Rahim) and in your devotional song you also mention Ram and Rahim. All Muslims are supposed to invoke Allah, the Compassionate and Merciful before they begin their work (bism Allah al-Rahman al-Rahim). It is very central to Islam. Also one of Allah’s name in Qur’an, you must have noted, is Salam i.e. Peace.

Gandhiji: I understand true meaning of religion and its need for human beings in life. Inner convictions play important role in giving meaning and direction to human life. I have always relied on my own inner convictions before I took any decision. But I want to understand Islam in all its comprehensive way so that there is absolutely no confusion and it would certainly reinforce my own conviction in non-violence.

Prophet: Look when I was chosen by Allah to be His prophet the conditions in Mecca was extremely precarious. There was moral chaos in society, the tribal chiefs were growing wealthier and wealthier as they controlled international trade and were becoming arrogant and neglecting all their moral obligations towards weaker sections of society, the poor, the orphans, the widows, the needy and, in order to achieve greater grip over the minds of people, were promoting all sorts of superstitions and irrational beliefs. All this disturbed me deeply and I retired to the cave of Hira where I received revelation.

The Qur’anic revelation dealt with the situation on two levels: first, it promoted concept of one God – Allah- the creator of all and worship Him alone thus uniting entire human kind and on social level it strongly condemned accumulation of wealth and predicted it will turn into hell fire if the weaker sections of the society are neglected and injustice and oppression prevails. Thirdly, it gave equal rights to women who were denied all rights and treated as mere chattels. Fourthly, it stressed need for knowledge (‘ilm) and compared it with light (noor) and ignorance as darkness.

Gandhiji: How like Upanishads. Upanishad too compares gyan with light and one of its prayers says lead me from darkness to light.

Prophet: Yes indeed, this prayer exists in the Qur’an too. And one other prayer says rabbi zidni ‘ilman (O Sustainer of this Universe increase me in knowledge). Indeed religions (not to be confused with customs, traditions and cultural institutions) do not contradict each other but compliment and stress same values.

Gandhiji: In Hindu tradition we maintain entire humanity is one family (Vasudhaiva kutumbakum).

Prophet: Yes I too have said in one of my hadith al-khalq-u-‘ayalullah (entire creation is Allah’s family.)

Gandhiji: How similar are teachings of two of our great religions. But, Hindus often complain that Muslims call us kafirs. Sir, are wekafirs?

Prophet: No, no. there is great misunderstanding about kufr among Muslims and others. In Qur’an kafir is one who hides truth and actively opposes it. Every religion is embodiment of truth and in every religious tradition Allah or God or Ishwar’s name is Truth, In Qur’an one of Allah’s name is Haq (Truth). So those who hide truth and actively oppose it is a kafir, not one who believes in it and strongly affirms it.

Gandhiji: We Hindus do believe in truth and indeed I always said Truth is God.

Prophet: Yes, yes, how can you be kafir. All those who affirm truth, truth of values and right path cannot be kafirs. Qur’an teaches that every qaum (nation) was given truth through prophets and I have said that Allah has sent 1,24,000 prophets and Qur’an also says “We have sent prophet for every nation.” And some of the Sufis in your country have said Allah must have sent prophets to Hind also to fulfill His promise in the Qur’an. However, I know some Muslims, either out of arrogance or ignorance, call others kafirs. Do not worry about them. Then even one Muslim sect in my ummah, unfortunately call followers of other sects as kafirs. It is nothing but false sense of superiority over others.

Gandhiji: May I request you sir to further throw some light on concept of kafir in Qur’an as there is so much confusion about it amongpeople.

Prophet: When I began to invite people of Mecca to Islam, a religion of truth revealed by Allah to me and it invited the powerful leaders of Mecca too, to accept Islam, their ego as well as their powerful interests were deeply hurt and they began to actively oppose Islam. Firstly they felt how can an orphan, without any wealth and social status could tell us what is the right path and ask us to deviate from the path of our forefathers. Secondly, Qur’an, as I pointed out, attacked accumulation of wealth neglecting weaker sections of society.

This deeply disturbed them as wealth was their main power and there was no state machinery in Mecca to tax them so the Qur’an proposed a voluntary contribution and called it zakat which literally means to purify. The zakat is meant to be distributed among the weaker sections of society, the poor, orphans, widows, needy, travelers and liberating slaves and prisoners. Thus economic justice will prevail and their wealth will be purified. However, so far they had only accumulated wealth and never spared anything for the weaker sections of society. This also created strong resentment among the wealthy of Mecca and they began to actively oppose me and myfollowers and even using their power persecuted me and my followers, torturing them in most inhuman manner. They even did not allow us to enter Ka’aba, our holy shrine for centuries.

The Qur’an condemned them as kafirs because they actively opposed the truth knowing fully well that I was bearer of truth from Allah. Their arrogance and their pride in their wealth blinded them. It indeed was not their ancestral religion but their arrogance and false pride in wealth which was the problem.

There were those Arabs who did not accept Islam but at the same time did not oppose Islam and hence Qur’an said for them that “O unbelievers for you is your religion and for me is mine”. Thus you will see religion was indeed not the problem, power, wealth and arrogance was. Also, the Qur’an says la ikrah fi’ al-din (i.e. there is no compulsion in matters of religion). No one can be coerced into believing as religion is matter of conscience and deeper conviction. Even an idol worshipper cannot be coerced into abandoning his way of worship. If a kafir (which only means non-believer in Islam) desires to live in peace with Muslims his way of worship has to be respected and protected along with his life and property. Qur’an calls them dhimmis (i.e. those whose responsibility of life and property) is on Muslims and those who harm them amounts to harming me and those who harm me they harm Allah.

Gandhiji: This completely clarifies the meaning of kafir. It is indeed very humane and in keeping with the contemporary world which believes in freedom of worship and freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. Unto me is my religion and unto you is yours. What more one can expect from any religion.

So sir it is not in keeping with the teaching of Islam that one should use sword to preach Islam. This misconcept is so widespread in the world today.

Prophet: This is sheer monstrosity. How can Qur’an which teaches freedom of conscience can teach such a thing. Qur’an says, on the other hand, call people to the path of Allah with wisdom and goodly words. Those who went out with swords were conqueror of territories, not conquerors of hearts for Allah.

Gandhiji: This clears many of my doubts and my countrymen’s doubts. I always thought Qur’an and Prophet of Islam can never allow such things. Religion is a moral force and can never permit coercion, let alone violence, for its acceptance. The conqueror may coerce some to convert but a religious person can never. Those conversions will be more for political than for religious conviction. In India most of the conquerors also hardly ever used coercion to convert Hindus though many of them supported various Muslim rulers militarily and politically. There may have been few instances but generally Hindus and Muslims lived in peace and harmony and evolved a composite culture.

Prophet: Yes indeed you are right and my mission (da’wah) was generally accepted by weaker sections of the society. In Arabia too it is poor, slaves, women, orphans and widows who responded to my mission promptly. In your country also, it is low caste Hindus who suffered indignities who responded readily as Islam stands for social justice, equality and human dignity.

Gandhiji: Now it brings me to the question of non-violence which I have practiced in my life, even for liberation of my own country from the British rulers. Does Islam accept non-violence as a basic doctrine? Or it accepts it only tactically in certain circumstances as many Islamic theologians maintain?

Prophet: Truth, as you know is very basic to the Qur’an as I told you and it is also one of Allah’s names. Another important names of Allah and Qur’an’s fundamental values are compassion and mercy. Now put all of them (truth, compassion and mercy) together and tell me how violence can ever be part of Qur’anic teachings? It is not merely tactical but non-violence is most fundamental to Islam.

You evolved the concept of satyagraha (insistence on truth) for practicing non-violence for liberation of Hind. Truth and non-violence go together and can never be a sundered apart. One who insists on truth, as you tried to do, can never resort to violence. Truth reflects our deeper conviction and is mirror of our pure conscience and you would agree with me conviction and coercion are poles apart.

Also, truth needs certain virtues most of all patience (sabr) and control over ones anger, desire and greed without which one cannot practice it. Qur’an also lays great emphasis on these virtues, as you also do. In one of the chapters of Qur’an it has been said, “By the time! Surely man is in loss, except those who believe and do good, and exhort one another to Truth, and exhort one another to patience.”

Thus it will be seen that truth requires tremendous patience and patience, in turn, curbs anger and desire. Those who have patience cannot be provoked. To practice truth you need these qualities. And hence where there is truth, there will be no violence. Violence is result of impatience, anger, greed and desire.

Gandhiji: You are very right O Prophet of Islam. I also always emphasized truth, non-violence and simple living. Without non-violence truth is not possible and without simple living too, non-violence is not possible. It is greed and desire which leads to more and more violence. In the twentieth and twenty first century more and more consumerism has meant more and more raw materials and western powers in collaboration with the native ruling elite plunder third world countries and for that they have to suppress people and displace them from their ancestral properties resulting in great deal of violence. The naxalite violence in my country is because tribal are being displaced without any dignified rehabilitation in the hunt for minerals.

Prophet: Yes, you are absolutely right. In Mecca when I exhorted the rich and powerful not to neglect the poor and needy and leave life of luxury they turned against me and persecuted me. My emphasis was on simple life and I set a rigorous example of simplicity. I am also known to Islamic historians as kambliwala i.e. one who used rough blanket and often wore patched clothes and used pillows stuffed with just palm leaves.

We have all this in common. But the powerful merchants of Mecca had greed for profit and were used to high life style and accepting my teachings would have meant giving up all this. When finally I left Mecca and migrated to Madina they pursued me and attacked me and first battle of Badr took place. It was the first battle ought by Muslims. It is Meccan merchants who were aggressors. I had to defend.

Absolute non-violence is not possible in the world where injustices abide, inequality and human lust is widespread and powerful are ever ready to exploit and deprive people of their rights and dignity. Violence is not our choice, it is often inflicted on us without we ever desiring it. I, along with my followers left Mecca quietly and yet the Meccan merchants inflicted war on us.

It was in this condition that the Qur’an permitted us to defend ourselves. The permission was granted conditionally that we do not commit aggression. Thus the Qur’an said that fight in the way of Allah against those who fight you and do not be aggressors as Allah does not love aggressors. If we had not defended ourselves we would have been wiped out. Non-violence should essentially mean absence of violence of aggression. And for Qur’an it is matter of basic principle that Muslims should not be first resort to violence..

Gandhiji: I am in perfect agreement with you honourable Prophet. I would also like to know more about the concept of jihad. It is highly misunderstood both among Muslims and non-Muslims. I hope it does not mean war and violence but I want to hear from you.

Prophet: You are right jihad does not even remotely mean war or violence. It means struggle for truth and truth prevails, as we discussed earlier, if we suppress our unjust desires, anger and passion for possession. Thus real jihad means to struggle against ones own selfish desires and this is most difficult struggle. I call it jihad-e-akbar i.e. the greatest jihad. Then I also have said that most meritorious jihad is speaking truth in the face of a tyrant risking ones own life.

People cannot wage such jihad, such struggle as it entails great sacrifices, they wage wars for selfish desires, kill innocent people and exploit the poor and call it jihad to legitimize it. Wars of aggression and territorial possessions can never be called jihad. Some of my followers in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and some other places are killing even fellow Muslims through terrorist attacks and call it jihad. Terrorism is terrorism and most condemnable act of cruelty. How can it be called jihad which is very noble act of upholding truth even at the cost of ones life. It entails self sacrifice and not killing innocent people.

Islam opposes violence of aggression in every form and respects life of even enemy and that is why the Qur’an says with great emphasis that if you kill one person without justification it amounts to killing the whole humanity and if you save one life as if you have saved entire humanity. If this principle is universally accepted there will be peace on our earth.

Gandhiji: Indeed the concept of jihad is very noble as explained by you O Prophet. I wish all Muslims and non-Muslims follow this noble principle and instead of attacking others and launching wars of aggression fight against their own selfish desires and greed for consumption and more and more possession. I have always believed that real peace is inner peace, borne by giving rather than taking from others

Prophet: Yes indeed Qur’an also says that give away what is more than what is left after your basic needs are met. Do not accumulate. It is desire to accumulate that leads to war and violence. Accumulation robs you of inner peace. Inner peace and satisfaction is real paradise as Qur’an says enter (paradise) with complete sense of peace and security. It is our desire for wealth which turns into hell.

Gandhiji: I also advised my followers to serve people and not run after power and self. I even advised Congressmen to turn themselves into an organization of serving people after independence rather than fight for crumbs of power. Serving people by sacrificing our own selfish desires is the highest goal of life. It gives you inner joy and makes your life meaningful.

Prophet: But the modern economy isn’t need based but greed based and hence so much violence in modern world despite so much talk of human rights and dignity, peace and security. It will never be realized until we wage real jihad for these noble ideals of human equality, dignity and justice.

Gandhiji: O Prophet of Islam, it was indeed very ennobling to have the honour of having talked to you. In the end I would thank you profusely for enlightening me on all these issues which have been causing so much confusion in minds of several Muslims and non-Muslims. May Allah’s peace be upon you. Your contribution to culture of justice, peace and human dignity has indeed been immense.

Fuel & Engine

By Dr Wasim Ahmad,

Spirituality is a force. It is energy. It takes one through the thick and thin. It gives one a   much desired direction and purpose behind ALL his efforts. Bereft of it, one is directionless. Islam and Qur’an provide this energy and this force. They propel our cart in the rightdirection. They are like the much desired fuel for the much needed engine of life. But some of us have only fuel with them. Others have only the engine and not the fuel. The fuel alone isn’t moving. The engine is devoid of energy and it is not taking us on the highway of success, honor and positive contribution.

A question, however, may be asked: how and why are the others excelling? Others are excelling because they do not have self-doubt, which we do. They have relegated religion to a very marginal role in their life. Also, bereft of the ideals they veto the resolutions which they shouldn’t have. They act before truly verifying the existence of WMDs. Knowledge for them does not remain only for power. It becomes a source of blind power. This is exactly what we are experiencing today. About which we only complain. We do not analyze it to the core and do not suggest an alternative or the ways of betterment.

Being unaware of this, while we do lament on the fact that the world has lost a lot because of the downfall of Muslims we still make sure that the fuel doesn’t get nearer the engine. The logical outcome is that the Muslims will continue in the same state and the world will continue to suffer. But we don’t see any link between what we lament about and what we actually do. This is one of those situations which make me think that we don’t know what we are saying and we ourselves are not aware of what we are writing about.

We have made sure that the two, FUEL & ENGINE, do not mix. The fact that both won’t work without each other is not of much concern to us. The fact that we don’t get started and don’t move in any direction is not a question worth pondering upon. Instead, I come across the expressions like “excellent job”. And I wonder what we mean by that!? Putting the fuel in the engine and enabling both to run on the highway that leads to the progress of humanity is what the Indian Muslims can offer to the world. We, the Indian Muslims, stand a huge chance of contributing positively to the world and lead towards building a better civilization.

The balanced, healthy and all-encompassing approach which the Aligarh Movement symbolizes and which is very well expressed in its vision (“The students coming out of our Universities should have Qur’an in the right hand, most modern scientific and technological advancements in the left hand and the crown of Laa Ilaah on the forehead. So that the Muslims regain the same glorious status of founders and promoters of science and technology as they did during the ascendance of their civilization.”) is the need of the hour. Before, however, we take it any further we need to see if we are living according to the spirit of this Movement and analyze the situation a bit more. The situation at the moment is that either the Right Hand is empty or the Left Hand. Both of them are not full – at the same time.

The Aligarh Movement is the antithesis of duality and the dichotomy of knowledge. It is about rejecting the serious and thick line that we have drawn between deen and dunyaa and deenee ‘ilm and dunyaawee ‘ilm. Aligarh Movement started to do away with this division. The movement did not ask to put two contradictory things together. It asked for putting two integrated things in two hands. Both are intimately related with each other. The Qur’anic spirit is behind all the scientific discoveries and technological advancements. But this is not the complete reality. It (the Book) gives a proper direction to all human activities and guides towards higher and long term spiritual goals as well. It combines ad-dunyaa with al-aakhirah.

The Aligarh Movement has a potentiality of doing away with the duality of knowledge and bringing about a confluence leading to excellence – paving the way for regaining the glorious position. However, even if the Aligarh Movement doesn’t do so the IndianMuslims in general can contribute their part. There is no insistence on the Movement. It is about the spirit. It is about the Book. More than anything else. Everything else is just a means to an end and not an end itself.

The descriptions like ‘deeni darsgaah’, ‘‘asri darsgaah’, ‘religious institutions’ and ‘secular institutions’ are all based on a misconception which is our bane. Similarly, I always wonder what we mean when we say, “Please avoid religious (as different from ‘worldly’) discussions”. We have deeply separated the spiritual from the material and have divided deen from dunyaa – forgetting that it is the outlook (niyyah) that actually determines the value of an action. These descriptions have entered quite deep in our psyche. Generations have grown up repeating these misnomers. No wonder that we have developed resistance for any criticism of these and are considering them as ‘articles of faith’ (arkaan al-eemaan). To me they amount to the jails of our own making. We need to come out of these psychological barriers.

Our ‘Ulama, unfortunately, have reinforced this DIVIDE and are perpetually reinforcing. If not much by words then certainly a lot by their actions – and by zabaan-e-haal. Being well versed in the Book they should have spearheaded the abolition of this DIVIDE. They are doing just the opposite is all the more surprising. We as a people should come out of such self-contradictory situations. And move inone direction with renewed energy and enthusiasm.

It is all about a BATTLE of minds and thoughts now. It is not about laying the foundation stone of a new College (which we must) as much as it was earlier. It is about correcting many prevalent and deep rooted (mis)conceptions. To be precise, it is now about listening to every speech and reading every write-up critically and analyzing it thoroughly. This is a must for a rebirth. We cannot avoid the pangs. But then we need very many people who should do this job.

The above task is a must to utilize the fuel for the engine – not only for the purposes of education but for engagement with life in its entirety without compartmentalizing it. Being divorced from the life as a whole and from the tools of modern education and its various disciplines it turned out to be a fuel which is left without the engine. It catches fire sometimes outside the engine. We do not analyze its reasons to the core. Islam is the fuel for life. We marginalized it fromlife. And, in turn, the life marginalized us.

Who takes up this job is a million dollar question. We all have to take it up. We all have to go back to ourselves. We all need to be watchful of our own expressions. Our own words. Our own speeches and utterances. We have to scrutinize our own thought patterns. Besides this, whenever we come across any such words and expressions that divide the knowledge and deen and dunyaa – we need to point it out. We need to correct it.

In this regard we need to do what the candle does. It brings light wherever it is. We almost always presume that the light needs to be brought somewhere else. The candle should lighten an unknown place – farther away. Our undeclared motto is “you bring light in mymohalla and I bring it in yours”. We need to put the fuel and the engine togetherwherever we are. We need to bring Islam back to the mainstream – in order to remove our own marginalization.

(The author is Head of the Dept of Islamic Studies, Preston University, Ajman, UAE.

Can Islam And Secularism Dialogue With Each Other?

By Maulana Waris Mazhari,

The question of whether or not there can be a dialogue between Islam and secularism is a particularly pertinent one today. Many Muslims, including the vast majority of ulema and Islamists, believe that these ideologies are polar opposites. Hence, they insist, there is no possibility of arriving at even a minimum consensus between the two.

Yet, the question of dialogue between Islam and secularism remains one of particular importance, especially in the context of the rights of Muslims living as minorities in non-Muslim-majority countries. Numerous non-Muslim scholars and even some noted Muslim intellectuals (such as the Pakistani writer Mubarak Ali, the Indian Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, and the late Professor Mushirul Haq) complain that where Muslims are in a majority, they brand secularism as ‘anti-Islamic’ and a threat to Islam and its followers, but where they are in a minority, they regard it as a blessing. Furthermore, where they are in a minority, they seem to argue for a secular state but, at the same time, insist that Muslims must remain safe from secularism.

These intellectual contradictions, which abound in our ulema and Islamist circles, must be resolved if we are not to be accused of double-standards. It is primarily the responsibility of the ulema and other ‘lovers of Islam’ to address this task with the urgency it deserves.

To cite an instance of such intellectual sophistry, in several of his Urdu works a noted, recently-deceased, Indian Islamic scholar described secularism in India as a ‘shady tree’ that must be protected and strengthened. At the same time, in his copious Arabic writings, aimed at Arab scholars and readers, he decried secularism in no uncertain terms. The same sort of contradiction may be observed, to an even greater degree, in the case of the ideologues and activists of the Jamaat-e Islami of India. Those of them who consider any minor departure from the thought of the Jamaat’s founder, Syed Abul Ala Maududi, to be damaging to Islam itself agree wholeheartedly with Maududi’s claim of secularism being a form of ‘infidelity’ (kufr). To my mind, these people are victims of a pathetic form of personality-worship and literalism.

On the other hand are some other individuals also influenced by Maududi’s thought, but who, after sixty years or so of lambasting secularism and hoping in vain for establishing in India what Maududi termed ‘Divine Government’ (hukumat-e ilahiya) or the Islamic Caliphate, have only just begun to realize that this utterly fanciful agenda is proving to be seriously counter-productive, creating immense hurdles in the path of Islamic missionary work and in the struggle for the rights of religious minorities, including Muslims, in India. It is striking to note here that these people have been compelled to accept secularism as the best available option. Theirs is not a choice willingly made, but one which they feel themselves forced, almost against their will, to accept because they realize that in India they have no other realistic option—the only alternative to a secular state in India being a Hindu state. This dualism in their thought is both a product as well as an indicator of the utter confusion and chaos that characterises contemporary Muslim political thought.

In this regard, the question must be raised that if such people do not willingly accept secularism or actually believe in it, but have been forced by circumstance (the fact of Muslims being in a minority in India) to pay lip-service to it, how far can they truly be loyal to a system based on secularism? How far can they help such a system if they have chosen to support secularism out of compulsion and not out of choice and conviction?

The emotionally-driven slogans of these people clamoring for what they call ‘Divine Government’ and the Caliphate in India have given added ammunition to anti-Muslim Hindutva forces in the country. Thus, in an interview given to the Urdu weekly Friday Special, the top BJP leader and former Home Minister Murli Manohar Joshi argued that if the Jamaat-e islami could talk of establishing an Islamic state in India, there was nothing wrong if the RSS demanded that India be declared a Hindu state.

It is an undeniable fact that Muslim religious leaders have grossly misunderstood the meaning of secularism in its true sense. They see secularism as wholly opposed to religion. This is reflected in the general tendency in Urdu circles to translate secularism as ‘irreligiousness’ (la-diniyat). This is completely incorrect. In actual fact, secularism does not imply anti-religiousness. Rather, it simply means that the state follows a policy of non-interference in the religious affairs of all its citizens.

There are two basic factors for the extremely erroneous understanding and interpretation of secularism in Islamic circles. One of these is the prevalence of a very narrow and restricted understanding of Islam. The second is the tendency to equate secularism with a certain strand of Western secularism that seeks not just to remove keep religion out of politics but also to uproot religion from society and from people’s lives. However, the fact remains that there is not just one form of secularism. Rather, it can be understood, interpreted, expressed and practically implemented diversely and in an expansive and flexible manner. Thus, for instance, a noted Arab scholar, Abdul Wahhab Masiri, speaks of two types of secularism. The first is what he calls ‘total secularism’ or ‘comprehensive secularism (al-ilmaniya ash-shamila), and the other ‘partial secularism’ (al-ilmaniya al-juziya). The former does not have any place at all for religion in the lives of individuals and society, while the latter provides for religion to be kept apart from politics, especially in plural societies, where this is the only practicable solution.

Theocratic rule is a notion that is foreign in Islam, which has no room for priesthood. According to the famous Egyptian Islamic scholar, Mufti Muhammad Abduh, an Islamic government is a ‘civil government’ (al-dawlah al-madaniya). A ‘civil government’, he explains, is one that is established on the basis of human welfare and works for this purpose, keeping in mind the comprehensive interests of its citizens. In a similar vein, the noted thirteenth century Islamic scholar Izz Ibn Abdus Salam wrote in his Qawaid al-Ahkam, ‘The aim of the shariah is to put an end to evil and strife and their causes and to promote the interests [of people] and the causes thereof.’ He further added, ‘People’s interests as well as evils and strife and the causes thereof are indentified through human experience, customs and [other] reliable means.’ This suggests the importance of human experience in devising structures, processes, and policies of governance.

It is not true to claim, as many Islamist ideologues and ulema do, that the ‘Righteous Caliphate’, the period of the first four Sunni Caliphs, has elaborated, expressed and fixed for all time all the features and details of Islamic government and governance. It is well-known that Abu Bakr nominated Umar as his successor, while the latter set up a committee of six persons to decide his successor. Obviously, this indicates, the methods of choosing a leader can differ according to the context.

The ‘Righteous Caliphate’ lasted, in practical terms, for a very short period of only thirty years. Undoubtedly, this system of governance was based on social justice and human welfare. However, to consider it the final Islamic model would mean accepting the argument that this model could not be realistically applied in later stages of history, and that it was rendered incapable of being applied after a short period of three decades.

Certain indispensable modifications in the concept of Islamic government had to be made in the early Islamic period itself, and this was accepted at both the ideological as well as practical levels. For instance, the later ulema and Islamic commentators rebutted the literal import of hadith reports that suggested that the Caliph must be from the tribe of Quraish. Likewise, the notion that there must be a single Caliph for Imam for the entire Islamic world was also negated. The noted twentieth century Indian Muslim thinker Allama Muhammad Iqbal went to the extent of claiming in his acclaimedmagnum opus Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam that in today’s world a single Muslim ummah simply does not exist. Rather, he argued, the world’s Muslims consist of several different communities, and recognized that it was difficult for all of them to form a single commonwealth.

From this discussion, it clearly emerges that human experience plays a major role in the construction of the state structures. New human experiences emerge with changing times and conditions, and these need to be incorporated in crafting patterns and processes of governance, contrary to what doctrinaire Islamists and ulema might argue. This is also indicated in the Quran, which speaks of monarchy as being a blessing from God (5: 20) although in today we are all aware of the pitfalls of this form of governance. In this regard, all we can say is that monarchy was more suited to the context and times this particular verse of the Quran referred to, although for today democracy is for more preferable.

A vital basis for dialogue between Islam and secularism, and evidence that such dialogue is indeed acceptable in terms of theshariah, is the polity established in Medina by the Prophet. The Constitution of this polity was, in a sense, based on the same princples that secularism (in its widely-accepted Indian sense) is founded on—equality and respect for the religious freedom of all communities. The leading ulema of the Deoband school, it is instructive to note, invoked the Constitution of Medina to legitimize their role in their struggle for a united and free India.

The noted Deobandi scholar Maulana Saeed Ahmad Akbaradi was of the view that there was no contradiction between Islam and secularism, as understood in its particular Indian sense. This approach to both secularism and Islam, I believe, is the only practicable one for plural societies today, and can serve as a firm basis for a meaningful dialogue between Islam and secularism, and between believing Muslims and secularists.


(Maulana Waris Mazhari is the editor of the New Delhi-based monthly Tarjuman Dar ul-Uloom, the official organ of the Graduates’ Association of the Deoband madrasa. He can be contacted on

(Translated from Urdu by Yoginder Sikand)

(Yoginder Sikand works with the Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion at the National Law School, Bangalore.)