Tackling Terrorism: A Call to Hindu and Muslim Religious Leaders

Maulana Waris Mazhari (tr. Yoginder Sikand)

Posted Dec 8, 2008      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Tackling Terrorism: A Call to Hindu and Muslim Religious Leaders

By Maulana Waris Mazhari

(Translated by Yoginder Sikand)

The recent assault on Mumbai is the most deadly terrorist attack that India has witnessed so far, and it has shaken every Indian. Every one of us is asking how it is that we have become so vulnerable and what it is that we must do to confront this situation. It has become a sort of fad to blame politicians for all our ills and problems. This is a very superficial and limited approach to understanding and tackling the menace of terrorism. Obviously, the problem cannot be solved simply by blaming politicians and ignoring various other causes that lie behind it.

The media has characterized 26/11 as India’s 9/11, and it is true that in its seriousness this deadly assault is very similar to the dastardly events of 9/11 that struck America. It clearly appears to be the handiwork of some Pakistan-based outfit. Given the sort of evidence that is emerging, this appears to be undeniable. However, I think that we should also explore the possibility that some other forces, such as the Pakistani, American or Israeli secret services, might have used some self-styled Islamist jihadist elements, which are notorious for their extremism and anti-India hatred, for this purpose. The very psyche of these self-proclaimed jihadist groups has been fashioned in such a way by their extreme emotionalism and simplistic approach to the world that they can easily be manipulated by such agencies to promote their interests. This is precisely what one version of the story of 9/11 seeks to argue—that the role of powerful intelligence outfit using certain elements within ultra-jihadist outfits in the Arab world to perpetrate the attacks cannot be ruled out. In this regard it is crucial to note that these self-styled jihadists are now not restricted to just jihadist outfits. Because of very strict controls on and actions against these groups them throughout the world, many self-styled jihadists have been scattered all over and are floating around, and so can easily be trapped and used by others as well for their own nefarious purposes.

The threat posed by self-styled jihadist outfits to Pakistan itself is very real. Influential sections of the Pakistani state as well as many ordinary Pakistanis are simply sick and tired of these groups and the deadly gun culture that they have fomented. Many Pakistanis feel very insecure in the face of these groups and their activities. There is thus no doubt that there is an element of truth in the Pakistani Government’s admission that terrorism has become a major problem for both India as well as Pakistan. But for the Pakistani Government to put an end to terrorism in the country or for Pakistani secular civil society groups and serious-minded Islamic clerics or ulema to marginalize them is as difficult as it is for the Indian state to clamp down effectively on Indian Hindu extremist groups or for secular-minded Hindus to galvanise public opinion to marginalize, politically and socially, Hindu extremists. In both Pakistan and India, despite the vocal or tacit opposition of the vast majority of people, extremists who have adopted the guise of religion have been able to strike very deep roots. Just as ardent supporters of Narendra Modi and his likes have millions of supporters in India, self-styled jihadist groups have a large number of backers in Pakistan. This fact alone should suffice to make us realize that both Islamist and Hindu extremists feed on each other and collectively pose the gravest danger to the people of South Asia as a whole.

Terrorism and religious extremism have assumed the form of deep-rooted social phenomenon in our part of the world, and so obviously cannot be countered simply through a law-and-order approach alone. Merely banning terrorist groups, sealing their bank accounts and arresting their activists is not enough. Such steps can only work in the short-term and that too not very effectively. Wee must realise that terrorism in South Asia is not an issue that concerns just one country or community, and that all forms of terrorism are inter-related. It is a common problem that concerns all the countries of the region and all the different religious communities that reside therein. We must also seek to understand the factors other than just political that are also responsible for generating terrorism, such as illiteracy, poverty, social inequality, unemployment and violation of human rights and moral values. Hence, and obviously, to seriously tackle terrorism from its roots a mere political approach would be inadequate. We also need to address these other underlying causes as well. This points to the need for civil society groups, in both India and Pakistan, to take a leading role in social activism against the menace of terrorism. Terrorism must be viewed as a social phenomenon, and, accordingly, must be sought to be countered through a strong and effective social movement, besides at the level of the state.

For this purpose, we need to chalk out a non-political programme that would bring together civil society groups as well as serious-minded religious leaders from the different communities in the region in a joint struggle against all forms of terrorism that are causing such havoc all across South Asia today. Perhaps this could take the form of a ‘South Asian Forum Against Terrorism’. Through such a forum it would be easier for us to appeal to Hindus and Muslims throughout our region with our message against terrorism. The most important role in this forum, I feel, should be that of responsible and right-minded Muslim ulema and Hindu religious personages such as dharmacharyas.

Some months ago, the Dar ul-Uloom Deband organized a massive rally, bringing together clerics from different Muslim sects to jointly issue a declaration or fatwa condemning all forms of terrorism and declaring these to be anti-Islamic. This was a very welcome step. Such mass rallies can be organized throughout South Asia by the Forum that I have suggested, wherein Hindu and Muslim religious leaders can jointly denounce terrorism and call upon Hindu, Muslims and others to join them in the struggle against it. If the leading responsible Muslim ulema and muftis of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh can jointly directly address jihadist Muslims and explain to them the errors of their views, it can have a very big impact on their thinking. They can thereby underline the gross misuse of the concept of jihad, which is now causing such pain, destruction and strife not just for non-Muslims but for Muslims themselves. Likewise, if the Hindu religious leaders of the countries of South Asia get together and declare that the fiercely anti-Muslim activities of extremists in a Hindu garb constitute a grave violation of the Hindu religion, it can certainly impress many Hindus. This sort of effort can play a major role in bringing Hindus and Muslims closer and solving many of their problems and conflicts. It can help build confidence and trust between Hindus and Muslims and between Pakistanis and Indians and in marginalizing the religious extremists on both sides.

Two weeks ago more than 60 Pakistani Muslim ulema from different sects issued a joint fatwa, through the United Ulema Council, condemning the spread of terror and strife in the name of jihad. They denounced the wave of suicide bombings that are now occurring with such frightening regularity in that country. They also declared that it was not permissible for non-state actors to declare jihad. From this, one can gauge how major a menace and threat to their country and to Islam many serious-minded Pakistani Islamic scholars and leaders regard the ‘New Taliban’ and other such crazed fanatics as. If such serious Pakistani religious leaders can be made part of a joint Indian-Pakistani civil society mass movement against terrorism it can make a very great impact.

I have another suggestion to make. In recent years, Saudi Arabia and several other Arab countries have imposed a very strict ban on jihadist literature. Just last week, the Saudi government banned the keeping of some books by Syed Qutb, a key Egyptian Islamist ideologue, and some other such writers in schools. Can we not, with the help of some governments, seek to exercise pressure on the Pakistani Government to ban completely the massive amount of jihadist literature that is freely available in that country? But, of course, for this we would also need to look within, at our own selves, to the freely available and equally venomous sort of literature that is being produced by some fascist Hindutva outfits in India.

I wish to cite the example of two notable Indian religious leaders—one an Arya Samajist, the other a Muslim—who have been playing a leading role in promoting communal harmony and inter-community dialogue as well as struggling against all forms of terrorism. The first of these is Swami Agnivesh, whom I had the good fortune to meet some days ago at his office in New Delhi. He passionately spoke about how he was working together with some Muslim ulema for communal harmony and had participated in their mass rallies to condemn terrorism unleashed by both Hindu and Muslim fanatic groups. He sharply berated fascist Hindutva forces for unleashing a reign of terror in India, and condemned this as anti-Hindu. The other Indian religious leader whose efforts I would like to cite here is the noted Delhi-based Islamic scholar Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, with whom I had the honour of working for some time. He has been consistently denouncing so-called jihadist tendencies, branding this form of terrorism as wholly anti-Islamic. I am sure there must be many other such Hindu and Muslim religious leaders in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. An effective, well-organised anti-terrorism forum bringing together such people can make a major breakthrough in our joint struggle against the terrorist menace.

Maulana Waris Mazhari, a graduate of the Dar ul-Ulum Deoband and the Nadwat ul-Ulema madrasa, Lucknow, is the editor of the Delhi-based Urdu magazine Tarjuman Dar ul-Ulum, the official organ of the Deoband madrasa’s Graduates Association.