Home English Articles In current climate of counter-nationalism, is there hope for Islamic reformation in...

In current climate of counter-nationalism, is there hope for Islamic reformation in India?


Tufail Ahmed’s speech delivered at a counter-radicalisation conference:

In the current weather of counter-nationalism sweeping through India’s television studios, it’s a privilege to share this stage with two military veterans, Lieutenant-General RK Sawhney and Lieutenant-General Syed Ata Hasnain. At think tanks in New Delhi, we rarely meet someone from Bangladesh. So, it is a pleasure to be speaking here with Faiz Sobhan, a well-known counter-extremism expert.

Ideas kill. Ideas have consequences. Most Muslims do not read the Quran – with meaning. Let me put it this way: Most Muslims do not offer prayers five times. Most Muslims are peaceful. I am not here to talk about peace. Because, it is not due to peace that you and I are here.

I have a message for the generation of my grandchildren and their children. In your times, Hindus will be forced to leave parts of West Bengal, parts of Kerala, parts of Bihar and parts of Uttar Pradesh – much like my Hindu elders were forced to leave Kashmir; much like the Sikh metropolis of Lahore is now Islamic; much like the Hindu city Multan is no longer Hindu; much like the Zoroastrian nation of Iran is no longer Zoroastrian; much like there are no Jews in Saudi Arabia.

In 1901, US president William McKinley was assassinated by a young Hungarian refugee (Leon Czolgosz), who was inspired by a philosophy. Islam is a philosophy of life, a religion, a type of politics, a system of ideas, an ideology, a movement of ideas – all combined into one. Islamism is Islam’s methodology. Jihadism is the weaponised version of Islamism.

Radicalisation is rooted in ideological-religious teachings: In the case of Muslims, it is rooted in Islam; in the case of Naxalites, it is rooted in communism. In the case of Muslims, Islamic clerics and Urdu editors radicalise youths; in the case of Naxalites, professors such as those from the Jawaharlal Nehru University radicalise youths to a point where they choose to live in jungles and take up weapons.

Radicalisation takes place among Muslims all the time. For example, Vivekananda International Foundation’s Navroz Singh has published a good paper on radicalisation in Central Asian states. The thrust of her paper is that radicalisation was dormant in Central Asia during the communist era, became active after the fall of the USSR and is more active with the birth of the Islamic State (IS). Because radicalisation takes place all the time among Muslims, a more relevant phrase is “further radicalisation” – it was coined by Sultan Shahin, editor of the reformist website NewAgeIslam.com.

To understand terrorism in Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Kashmir, all you need is to study only one subject: Pakistan. Across South Asia, we are noticing two types of radicalisation, a new and small portion of it is self-radicalisation and proactive recruitment by terror groups based abroad; but a large and dangerous portion of radicalisation in South Asia is state-backed, that is, backed by the Pakistani Military’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

The state-backed radicalisation is rooted in the ISI’s Islamist ideology and in Pakistan’s identity. Looking into the next few decades, Pakistan-backed radicalisation will not end for many reasons but the key reason why it will not end is the US aid to Pakistani military. It’s unfortunate that the US aid is a direct threat to the Pakistani people first, as well as to the happiness of the people of Afghanistan, India and Bangladesh. Unless the US stops aid to Pakistani military, simply forget that jihadism will end. Washington is part of our problem, the cause of our sorrow.

It’s not that Americans do not know that the ISI births, trains, shelters and uses jihadi organisations. In Guantanamo Bay, US officials classified the ISI as a terrorist group, as revealed by WikiLeaks, a very authentic source of information. In 1998, US President Bill Clinton ordered cruise missiles on six compounds used by Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan along the Pakistani border, but the important point was that those compounds were built by the ISI. Elsewhere, I have argued that Al Qaeda is a branch of the Pakistani military, though it has expanded further and beyond.

There are two key themes of the current session: Sufi Islam in South Asia and Reformation. My argument is this: All groups and sects of Islam are involved in radicalisation through mosques, madrassas, jalsas (congregations) and Urdu/Islamic newspapers. The fact that the colour and shape of burqa changes does not mean that it is not burqa. Sometimes clothes are not clothes, clothes are ideas, much like humans are ideas, not meat and bones. Since Islam is the youngest of the Middle Eastern religions, I believe that Islamic reformation can happen if Islamic clerics seriously think over it, but that is not happening for now.

In August 1936, in Chakwal in present-day Pakistan, Murid Hussain who had offered bai’yah to the Sufi mystic Khwaja Abdul Aziz Chishti, procured a dagger and killed Hindu doctor Ram Gopal for allegedly naming an animal after the prophet. Murid Hussain belonged to the Sufi school.

In 2015, exactly for the same theological reason, two brothers shot dead a dozen editors and cops at the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris. They belonged to Al-Qaeda. Exactly for the same reason, last year, a group of Islamic clerics in Bijnor offered a reward of Rs 51 lakh to kill Kamlesh Tiwari, either in jail or outside. In 2011, exactly for the same theological reason, Salman Taseer was killed by a member of the Barelvi group Dawat-e-Islami, which is gaining popularity in Maharashtra.

For example, Imam Khomeini sent killers for Salman Rushdie exactly for the same reason, though he belonged to the Shia sect. Or, much before jihadism in Kashmir became a force, Shia Kashmiris were the first to take up weapons right during the course of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Tehran, and weapons were also seized from them. In the current phase, Shia radicalism is dormant but radicalisation is underway. For radicalisation to become violent, it must happen in a certain geo-strategic context in which the US aid to Pakistani military assumes murderous consequences.

In 2009, Major Nidal Hasan shot dead 13 colleagues at Fort Hood, but he was not the first self-radicalising soldier to do so. In the British colonial India, Hindu soldier Charan Das was shot dead by Muslim soldier Miyan Mohammad at the Karachi cantonment in 1937. Babu Merajuddin shot dead his Sikh officer Major Hardyal Singh in Lucknow in 1942. After 2001, the US lodged the jihadis in Guantanamo Bay, which is not the first offshore detention centre. During the British rule, jihadis were routinely sent to the Andaman Islands for detention, along with others. The streets of Lahore in the 1920s through 1940s looked similar to the streets of Paris and Berlin today.

During the Khilafat Movement, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Abdul Bari and others issued a fatwa asking Indian Muslims to move to an Islamic state, something Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi is doing now. Addressing Indian Muslims in Kolkata on 27 October, 1914, Maulana Azad delivered, let me call it “a bloody speech,” radicalising Muslims.

There is no time to go into the details of his speech but I would like to state emphatically that there is absolutely no difference between what Maulana Azad was saying then and what Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi says now. He went on to become India’s first education minister, much like an Urdu editor who radicalises Muslims every week through his weekly Nai Duniya was moderating a session here this morning, in the name of moderate Islam.

In recent years, the Pakistani military has co-opted different militant groups, such as Punjabi Taliban chief Asmatullah Muawiya. Some terror attacks by IS are reported in Balochistan but we must keep in mind that it is Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, whose members were the first to go to Syria to work as part of IS from 2011.

The Afghan Taliban, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Muhammad and Jamaatud Dawa continue to work for the ISI. At any point of time, Jamaatud Dawa (JuD) and Jamaat-e-Islami are in a position to take over Pakistan with a slightest hint from ISI. Arif Jamal, the US-based counter-terror expert who could not be here today, said in a recent interview: “JuD was conceived and created as an organisation that can run a modern state. That is why JuD placed equal stress on recruiting its members from all professions and gives training to its members in all fields of statecraft.”

In the case of Pakistan, the biggest worry is its educational emergency. For any country to progress, you need a certain size of the population to be educationally qualified with the capability to think straight. While we know that madrassas in Pakistan are a problem, the bigger problem are the government-run schools that teach hate against non-Muslims, Christians, Hindus and others.

By all metrics, Pakistan will not be able to give primary education to all its children before 2050. As per Pakistan Education Emergency Report 2011, at current rate of progress, Punjab will provide education to all its children under 16 years by 2041, Sindh by 2049, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by 2064 and Balochistan by 2100 – which means that there is no hope for positive change in Pakistan.

So, is there hope for Islamic reformation in India? Islamic reformation must come from Islamic scholars, which is unlikely. Sufism can help manage radicalism; it cannot counter it. However, we have a historical model. Although India’s Hindu right-wing lambasts Lord Macaulay, not without justification, yet it is from him that we must learn and introduce change through school textbooks. Right from grade one through XII, children must be taught physics, mathematics and economics along with a textbook that teaches children the idea of god as believed by atheists, Zoroastrians, Jews, Hindus and others.

And for Islamic reformation to begin, we must look up to non-Islamic subjects. In Afghanistan, reformation begins when you buy a bicycle for your daughter. In India, reformation begins when you allow your daughter to contest panchayat elections. In Pakistan, reformation begins when you permit your daughter to shun burqa. In Bangladesh, reformation begins when you allow your daughter to do wrestling. Democracies must introduce mandatory military service for all, including women above 18 years of age, if we want to counter radicalisation. The issue of reformation must be seen within the broader context of liberty.

In the morning session, General NC Vij (the director of the VIF and former Army chief) said that we need to develop “community-specific options” to counter radicalisation. My point is this: Instead of running a Sufi express train, can we run a Sania Mirza express? Thank you!

The above content is the full text of the Tufail Ahmed’s speech delivered at a counter-radicalisation conference that was held in New Delhi on 16 January:

Tufail Ahmed  is an author, a former BBC journalist, is a contributing editor at Firstpost and executive director of the Open Source Institute, New Delhi.

Courtesy: Firstpost