Delhi Muslim Conference Condemns Terrorism
In the wake of the recent bomb blasts in Varanasi, a number of leading Indian Muslim organizations issued strong statements denouncing terrorism, stressing that it has no sanction in Islam. Groups representing a large section of Indian Muslim opinion, including the Deobandi-dominated All-India Muslim Personal Law Board and the Barelvi All-India Jamiat ul-Mashaikh, condemned the blasts and called for stern punishment to be meted out to the perpetrators.
Although newspaper reports claim the hand of the dreaded Pakistan-based terrorist outfit, Lashkar-e Tayyeba, in the blasts, the identity of the culprits remains elusive. Given the fact that the Lashkar owes inspiration to the Ahl-i Hadith school of thought, ideologically akin to the Saudi Wahhabis, the Markazi Jamiat-i Ahl-i Hadith-i Hind, the apex organization of the Ahl-i Hadith movement in India, hurriedly sought to distance itself from the blasts. In a conference organized last week in Delhi, which brought together Ahl-i Hadith office-bearers and activists from different parts of India, the Markazi Jamiat-i Ahl-i Hadith insisted that Islam has no room for terrorism and that the Ahl-i Hadith was not involved in the blasts. Significantly, the theme of the conference was ‘Terrorism: The Biggest Curse of the Contemporary Age’.
The highpoint of the conference was the issuing of a fatwa, which was read out to the audience. Signed by 34 noted Ahl-i Hadith ulema or scholars from different Ahl-i Hadith institutions in the country, it is a response to a question seeking the Islamic opinion on terrorist activities, such as bomb-blasts in public places, attacking of places of worship, hijacking planes and so on, that take a toll of innocent lives. In their fatwa, the ulema insist that ‘there is no room for this in the shariah’ and that ‘it is to be condemned, no matter what name it is given, and irrespective of whether such actions are undertaken by Muslims or non-Muslims or whether in a Muslim or non-Muslim-majority country. It cannot be legitimized in any way’. The killing of innocent people, no matter what their religion, the fatwa says, is ‘wrong’. ‘No group can take the law into its own hand and spread strife. If anyone does so, he should be severely punished’, the fatwa declares.
The fatwa seeks Quranic sanction for this stance, referring to the Quran’s condemnation of those who spread ‘strife in the land’ and to its insistence that the enmity of any community or nation should not drive one to swerve from the path of justice. It is thus, the fatwa concludes, impermissible for Muslims to ‘oppress or kill innocent people’. Interestingly, soon after the fatwa was read out, Abdur Rahman Butt, secretary of the Jamiat Ahl-i Hadith of Jammu and Kashmir, was invited to speak. He referred to the fatwa as binding on all Muslims. The fatwa, he said, had made it clear that Islam had no room for terrorism.
Numerous speakers at the conference insisted on the need for a more balanced, objective and comprehensive approach to the issue of terrorism. Maulvi Abdul Majid, editor of the official Arabic journal of the Markazi Jamiat-i Ahl-i Hadith, lamented the tendency to associate ‘terrorism’ with Muslims and Islam, and insisted that the American bombing and devastation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the state-sponsored genocide of Muslims in Gujarat, the slaughter of Muslims in Bosnia by Christian Serbs, the continued oppression of Palestinians by the American-backed Israelis, the killing of innocent people in the recent Varanasi bomb-blasts and so on must all be seen as manifestations of ‘terrorism’. He critiqued media representations of Islam as an inherently violent religion, stressing that the Quran condemns the killing of innocent people, irrespective of faith, and is opposed to ‘all forms of oppression and exploitation’. Echoing the views of several other speakers, he insisted that the United States is the ‘biggest terrorist’, being responsible for the slaughter of millions of people ever since its inception till today. He accused America of using the rhetoric of ‘Muslim terrorism’ simply in order to legitimize American global hegemony. At the same time as he insisted that the Ahl-i Hadith or any ‘true Muslims’ had no hand in ‘terrorism’, he pointed out that in the face of oppression and for self-defence Islam had sanctioned jihad. Jihad, he argued, was not the mindless violence that large sections of the media portrays it to be. ‘There are strict rules to be followed in a jihad, and innocent civilians cannot be targetted’, he said. Importantly, he pointed out, jihad cannot be declared by sundry groups, but, instead, by the head of an Islamic state.
Similar views were expressed by Maulvi Asghar Ali Imam Mahdi, general-secretary of the Makazi Jamiat-i Ahl-i Hadith. He insisted that since Islam does not allow the killing of innocent civilians, those who engage in such acts are not real Muslims even if they call themselves so. Hence, their actions cannot be linked to Islam and nor can they be seen as in any way representative of Muslims. Razaullah Karim, vice-president of the Markazi Jamiat-i Ahl-i Hadith, quoted the Quran as saying that if one kills a single innocent human being it is as if he has slaughtered the whole of humankind. The Prophet Muhammad is described in the Qur’an as a source of ‘mercy for the worlds’, and hence, he said, a true Muslim cannot engage in terrorism. At the same time he stressed the right and duty of Muslims to resist oppression, as in Palestine and Iraq.
In addition to Ahl-i Hadith scholars, leaders of some other Muslim groups also addressed the conference. Nusratullah Effendi, secretary of the Jamaat-I Islami referred to a number of cases of innocent Muslim youth languishing in various jails in India, falsely accused of being ‘terrorists’. He insisted that Muslim organizations are ready to cooperate with the Indian government in combating terrorism and in, as he put it, ‘frustrating Pakistan’s designs to spread terrorism in India’. But for this to happen, he said, the government and the media must desist from demonizing Muslims and from automatically blaming Muslims for every instance of terrorism. Shoeb Iqbal, Deputy Speaker of the Delhi Legislative Assembly, lamented the fact that owing to mounting Islamophobia Muslims are widely seen as ‘terrorists’ and ‘pro-Pakistan’, although Indian Muslim organizations have repeatedly condemned terrorism and although the Indian Muslims consider India as their own country. On the other hand, he said, when Hindutva groups and the BJP government Gujarat engineered a genocide of Muslims in Gujarat, it was not portrayed in the media as ‘terrorism’. The Indian Muslims, he stressed, needed no certificate of ‘patriotism’ from anyone. ‘India is our country. We will live and die here and will work for India’s welfare. We’ll keep raising our voice against every sort of terrorism and we need fear none but God’, he insisted.
Sayyed Ahmad Bukhari, Imam of Delhi’s Jamia Masjid, insisted that Islam and terrorism were incompatible but lamented that Muslims were still expected to ‘prove’ that they are ‘tolerant’ and not ‘terrorists’. Like many other speakers, he insisted that America is ‘the greatest terrorist in the world’, and also made the point that it is entirely possible that the blasts in Varanasi might well have been deliberately engineered by anti-Muslim groups to inflame Hindu passions and garner Hindu votes. This is not a far-fetched claim, he argued, pointing to the burning of the train coach in Godhra in 2002, now proved not to have been the handiwork of Muslims, which was used as an excuse by Hindutva outfits to launch a massacre of Muslims in Gujarat.
Stressing the need for a cross-community alliance against terrorism, Abdul Wadud Azhar, former head of the Persian Department at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, agued that Muslims, Hindus and others have to learn to live together. He advised Muslims to seek to resolve contentious issues through dialogue and not through ‘emotionally-charged agitation’ because that would only make their problems ‘even more convoluted’ and ‘strengthen the hands of anti-Muslim forces’. He lamented the fact that large sections of the media have a vested interest in portraying Muslims in a negative light and that, accordingly, they refuse to highlight Muslim denunciations of terrorism. In this regard, he appealed for Muslims to adopt a proper media policy to combat the growing wave of Islamophobia.
Voices such as those articulated at the conference clearly indicate that the vast majority of the Indian Muslims are opposed to groups that claim to be ‘Islamic’ but engage in terrorist activities which are seen as having no sanction in Islam. These voices reflect visions of Islam that can be a rich resource for promoting inter-community solidarity against all forms of terrorism. If sensitively approached by the Indian state and media they can also be prove to be a decisive force in combating hardliner Islamist groups in Pakistan that have a clear-cut anti-Indian agenda. At the same time, they point to the urgent need for a more comprehensive view of terrorism to include terrorism engaged in by a range of non-Muslim groups as well as by states, an obvious point but one which needs to be made at a time when strenuous efforts are being made to project terrorism as a Muslim monopoly.