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Lal Shahbaz Qalandar bombing: It’s worrying that Indian Urdu press allows arguments favouring mosque attacks


On a visit to Muzaffarnagar in western Uttar Pradesh on 17 February, I picked up a copy of the Urdu daily Roznama Rashtriya Sahara. It had an article examining how to establish an Islamic caliphate in modern times, written by Professor Mohsin Usmani Nadvi, the surname denoting that he is a graduate of the Lucknow-based Nadwatul Ulama madrassa. The other news that struck me was the bombing at the shrine of Sufi mystic Lal Shahbaz Qalandar at Sehwan in Pakistan. More than six dozen people were killed and hundreds wounded in the bombing at Sehwan, a town 200 kilometers northeast of Karachi.

Lal Shahbaz Qalandar is a household name in India as well. The worry, given the infrastructure of radical ideas spread by the Urdu media, is that such bombings can happen here too. Stories of radicalisation associated with the Islamic State (IS) have not ceased appearing in Indian media, which is troubling when seen in the context of the dangerous mix of religion and politics advanced by Hindu politicians in the name of secularism. But the question to be asked is this: Does a theological understanding exist among Indian Islamic clerics that bombing of mosques and shrines is justified? I think India is no exception to this theological principle.

In recent years, Taliban militants bombed mosques and dargahs (shrines) in Pakistan. Even in India, radical pro-jihadi groups, like the Tamil Nadu Thowheed Jamaath (TNTJ), have organised conferences and exhibitions where Sufi dargahs were dubbed as shirk (idolatry) and therefore liable to be demolished.

Additionally, a university has been established in Bihar’s Champaran region in the name of Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328), a renowned Islamic jurist who is now known as the grandfather of jihad in modern times. Suicide bombers emerge from the intellectual world created by Islamic scholars like Taymiyyah, groups like TNTJ, and the Muslim newspapers which advocate the establishment of a caliphate.

On 9 February, the Urdu newspaper Roznama Sahafat carried an article titled ‘The Practical Implementation of the Islamic Internationale’, written by one Javed Abbas Rizvi. The actual Urdu words used for ‘Islamic Internationale’ are ittehad-e-Islami. I wondered if it could be translated as “Islamic unity”, but it doesn’t seem feasible. If it were so, then the Urdu words would have been Islami Ittehad, and not ittehad-e-Islami. So, the nearest translation can be ‘Islamic Internationale’, which should be understood as a global methodology. Inspired by Imam Khomeini, Al-Qaeda’s American spokesman Adam Yahiye Gadahn had spoken of the Jihadi Internationale.

Rizvi’s article begins by quoting Khomeini, who led the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, which transformed Iran from a liberal state into a burqa-clad theocratic nation almost overnight. Khomeini is quoted in the article as saying, “Do not only parrot (in favour of) the Islamic Internationale, but also prove at the practical level that you are united.”

“The Islamic Internationale cannot be kept limited to conferences, seminars, talks and rallies. Rather, its implementation in the daily life of Muslims is essential,” it continues.

The need for finding practical solutions for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate is the subject of the Roznama Rashtriya Sahara’s article by Professor Mohsin Usmani Nadvi. He quotes a formulation advanced by Pakistani Islamist Dr Muhammad Hamidullah, that in modern times the divisive mindset of Muslim rulers will not permit the establishment of an Islamic caliphate, and therefore a federalist system like that in Switzerland should be set up, in which a representative from each region will be the caliph by rotation.

Nadvi quotes Hamidullah as telling an audience in Pakistan: “At present, Muslims have 40-50 countries. If such a (Switzerland-like) system is established in which the head of every country is a member of the representative council and governs as the ruler of the entire Islamic world by rotation, then a unity can be established this way among the Islamic nations.”

“There is a need for a well-woven and well-organised collective established based on the caliphate and emirate (provinces under a caliphate). The system of caliphate should serve as the central position for all the Muslims of the world,” Nadvi said.

Nadvi’s arguments will be accepted by almost all Islamic clerics, but there will be a difference with regards to how to implement it. Some doctrinal groups like TNTJ advocate a peaceful propagation for now; Nadvi advances arguments at an intellectual level, and the jihadis take this argument further by advocating use of force to achieve the same objective.

The problem is that in this process, bombing of mosques and shrines is justified. Even in India, numerous Islamic clerics and writers, both Shia and Sunni, believe that mosques can be demolished if they do not advance Islamic unity. In Kashmir, it were not the Sunnis, but the Shias who first took up arms against the Indian State at the time of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Roznama Sahafat is a pro-Shia newspaper leaning towards Tehran and Iran’s interests in India. Rizvi’s article cites a Quranic verse to advance the argument that mosques can be destroyed in order to forge Islamic unity. The Taliban, who are Sunnis, also justified their bombing of mosques, saying that Prophet Muhammad himself demolished a mosque in Medina.

The issue of demolition of mosques was discussed in the Quran. Rizvi cites verse 9:107 in this context: “And (there are) those (hypocrite Muslims) who took for themselves a mosque for causing harm and disbelief and division among the believers and as a station for whoever had warred against Allah and His Messenger before. And they will surely swear, ‘We intended only the best.’ And Allah testifies that indeed they are liars.”

Rizvi’s article basically laments that mosques are now divided in the names of sects, and his argument therefore runs that they can be demolished if they come in the path of Muslims’ unity.

As a reader in India, you will be justified to think that this article is an exception. However, it is not. The mosque demolished by the Prophet was known as Masjid-e-Zarrar. Another Urdu daily, Roznama Khabrein, carried an article by one Abdul Aziz on 6 February, on the need for “collective leadership” of Muslims. This article is also devoted to the need for Muslim unity, but goes on to cite the case of Masjid-e-Zarrar. The author says those who belong to the millat (the global Islamic nation) and “do not want to build a one-and-a-half brick mosque or Masjid-e-Zarrar” should “forge unity among Muslims”.

The unwritten argument here is that those who differ and build their own mosques such as Masjid-e-Zarrar are practically out of Islam. This is a key argument forwarded by the jihadis who bomb mosques and shrines in Pakistan. Such arguments will not startle us if they happen in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, but they are very much being discussed in the mainstream of Indian Muslims — very publicly in the Urdu press.

By Tufail Ahmad

The author, a former BBC journalist, is a contributing editor at Firstpost and executive director of the Open Source Institute, New Delhi. He tweets @tufailelif

Courtesy: Firstpost