Recently, I have been ridiculed and dismissed as a 'sanghi', as a Zionist and as an Islamophobe for arguing in my writings that Islamic clerics and Urdu journalists engender Islamist ideas and trap innocent Muslim youths in the web of jihadism. So, to defend me in the court of public opinion, I hereby present my advocate Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (1888-1958), the 20th century's foremost Islamic scholar who was born in Mecca as a citizen of the Ottoman Caliphate and went on to become the free India's first education minister.
But first, let's meet Abdul Hakim whose son Hafesuddin is among two dozen Keralite youths who left India to join the Islamic State (IS) in Syria this year. "My own son called me a kafir (infidel). Radicalism changed my son completely," Hakim told a TV channel on 11 July. One day, the son texted: "(I will) get the jannat (heaven), here no tax, here Shari'a law only, nobody here catching me, very good place." Hakim said: "He does not like me anymore. I don't know why he doesn't like me anymore."
The radicalisation of Hakim's son is rooted in the practice of Islamic teachings.
On 27 October, 1914, addressing a large Muslim gathering in Kolkata, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the internationally known cleric of his era, reflected on what should be the relationship between a jihadi son and his family members.
"This biradri (community of Muslims) has been established by God...All relationships in the world can break down but this relationship can never be severed. It is possible a father turns against his son, not impossible that a mother separates her child from her lap, it is possible that one brother becomes the enemy of other brother...But the relationship that a Chinese Muslim has with an African Muslim, an Arab bedouin has with the Tatar shepherd, and which binds in one soul a neo-Muslim of India with the right-descendant Qureshi of Mecca, there is no power on earth to break it, to cut off this chain…"
There are two points here: One, in Islam, only a member of the Quraishi clan can become a caliph – a theological point based on which the Islamic State rejected Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar as the caliph of Muslims and Indian Islamic scholar Mualana Salman Al-Husaini Al-Nadwi of Lucknow accepted IS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi as the caliph in 2014. Two, Maulana Azad was speaking at a time when the fall of the Ottoman Caliphate was in sight and his was a well-prepared, well-considered speech in support of global Islamism that led to thousands of Muslims leaving India to wage jihad in Turkey during the Khilafat Movement.
Maulana Azad was a fiery speaker and an editor par excellence. His speech gives a detailed insight into how Islamic clerics radicalise Muslims through sermons in mosques and speeches in jalsas (religious congregations). Outlining a view of global Islamism, which he explicitly endorsed, Maulana Azad told the audience: "If even a grain of the soul of Islam is alive among its followers, then I should say that if a thorn gets stuck in a Turk's sole in the battlefield of war, then I swear by the God of Islam, no Muslim of India can be a Muslim until he feels that prick in his heart instead of sole because the Millat-e-Islam (the global Muslim community) is a single body."
To inculcate the idea of global Islamism, Maulana Azad quoted Prophet Muhammad as saying: "One momin for another momin is like one brick assisting another brick in a wall." The word momin means "faithful Muslim" but is sociologically understood in the Indian Subcontinent as an Islamic superman (Mard-e-Momin), popularised by the Islamist poet Muhammad Iqbal who stole the idea of superman from German thinker Friedrich Nietzsche. Then Maulana Azad quoted the Verse 29 of the Quran's Chapter Al-Fatah which urges Muslims to be friendly between themselves and hard against kafirs (infidels). Maulana Azad translated the verse in following words: "[Be] extremely hard against kafirs but extremely sympathetic and kind among ourselves."
Maulana Azad accused Europe of inventing the bogus phrases like "the Eastern Problem" and "Pan Islamism" as "an extreme Satanic strategy" to divide the Muslim world, and lamented that Muslims were responding to it more like a scared "murder convict."
"Then, if it is true that a sword is being sharpened to strike in the heart of Islam, then what hesitation that we be engaged in developing a shield. If the worship of Jesus has ancient enmity against the worship of God, and this is not a new Christian conspiracy, then the unity of brotherhood is not a new tactic of the followers of Tawheed (Islamic monotheism) to defend against the attack of polytheists."
It is often argued by moderates that Islam did not spread by sword. Nevertheless, the idea of the sword has been integral to clerics' teachings. Pointing to the Ottomans who were waging jihad against Europe-backed Muslims in the Middle East, Maulana Azad said: "The last human sword of Islamic life is only in the hands of the Turks." Quoting articles from European newspapers such as the Budapest Herald and the Times of London, he said: "Europe considers it the 20th century's biggest service to civilisation to terminate 40 crore human souls, followers of Islam from anything called culture and civilisation." Although he said that "Pan Islamism" did not exist outside the mental world of Europe, in the same breath he added: "Alas, there existed pan Islamism among Muslims today! A pan Islamism for which there is no need for some secret committee of Muslims of Turkey and England to give birth to but that which we have been invited to (by Islam) from day one."
It appears that a debate was underway at the time to upgrade the MAO College into a full-fledged Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), which happened ultimately in 1920. Speaking about the need for the "Muslim University," Maulana Azad rejected territorial nationalism among Indian Muslims saying: "Remember, today, for Islam, for Muslims, any national or local movement cannot be fruitful." He rejected nationalist movements of Egypt, Turkey, Algeria and India, saying: "In my beliefs, all of this is an act of magic by the presager-Satan who makes those asleep because it does not like those sleeping [ie Muslims] to rise up." "The most important matter is that we have to build a university in Aligarh, have to collect Rs 30 lakh for this," he said and described it as a kaaba of Aligarh. More importantly, he said: "The day the university is established, wahi (revelation, of Quranic verse 5:3) … will land on the roof of the Strachey Hall (of AMU)." In verse 5:3, Allah says: "This day I have perfected for you your religion…"
Then, Maulana Azad made an astounding declaration before the Muslims of Kolkata, arguing that peace is useless and war is life. "Oh! dear brothers, remember that however rosy the idea of peace, compromise and rejection of murder and plunder in the world may be, but due to the bad luck of the world thus far the real power is the power of sword; and the source of life, the water of life is in the fountains and rivers of blood," the religious scholar declared. He was clearer: "Today, if it is asked, where to search for life of nations and evidence of life, then its answer will not come from universities of education and arts, and ancient libraries… Rather, it will be found in the metalled (war) ships which line up the coast…"
The word "peace" is frequently used by jihadi groups, but in their parlance it means the peace of Islam, which protects non-Muslims if they agree to live under that peace in lieu of jizya (tax on non-Muslims). Maulana Azad added: "That hand is pious in which the flag of compromise flutters, but only that hand can be alive which has the blood-soaked sword in its grip. This is the source of the life of (the global Muslim) nation, means of the establishment of justice…" He asked Muslims to bear in mind that at the time there was "only one sword in the defence of the religion of Allah" and that was in the hands of the falling Ottoman Caliph. He also criticised liberal Muslims who did not side with him in support of the Caliphate, saying that time has come to "discriminate between faith and kufr (non-belief)" and cited the Quranic verse 2:14: "These munafiqeen (hypocrites among Muslims), when they meet Muslims they say, we are Muslims. But when they visit alone their Satans (non-Muslims), then they say, we are with you by heart…"
Towards the end of his speech, Maulana Azad was conscious of the gravity of the announcement he was about to make for jihad. "Oh! dear brothers, the matter whose announcement I do not fear, it's strange if you would be scared of listening to it." And then he declared: "I say that, on every momin who believes in Allah, his messenger (Prophet Muhammad) and his book (Quran), it is obligatory that he rise up today for jihad fi sabeelillah (jihad in the path of Allah)." And then Maulana Azad added: "The first jihad for it is the financial jihad and after it if there be any need is the jihad of body and life..." He argued that "Islam is a sale and purchase (between God and followers)" and added: "The day we accepted that we are Muslims, the same day we accepted that our lives stood sold for Islam. The meaning of Islam is to surrender our heads before the only God, and then it is upon him whether he puts it in the lap of friends or under the sword of enemies."
Maulana Azad justified the sacrifice of human lives for jihad by the citing the tradition of Prophet Abraham, who offered his son for sacrifice, an occasion marked every year by Muslims as Eid Al-Azha (the feast of sacrifice) by sacrificing animals. Like today's jihadis, Maulana Azad asked Indian Muslims to preserve the Ottoman Caliphate "in their hearts as a pure religious relationship, to consider any government of the world that is its enemy as the enemy of Islam and the ones that were its friend as the friend of Islam because friendship and enmity were not for human purposes but only for the religion of Allah."
If you have been perplexed during past three years as to why Muslims from India and other nations are radicalised in favour of the Islamic State, Maulana Azad's speech gives a clear insight into the historical Muslim mind. And he was not a 'sanghi', or a Zionist, or even an Islamophobe. Today, an estimated 30 Indian Muslims are fighting alongside the IS in Syria and more than 250 youths are under surveillance in India, while some Indians are also based in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the early 20th century when Maulana Azad was speaking, about 18,000 Muslims from India went to Turkey to wage jihad and women sent their jewelleries so that the Turks could continue jihad. We are much in a better shape today than a century ago.
(Author's Note: Excerpts from Maulana Azad's 1914 speech used in this article are translated from Urdu book Khutbat-e-Azad (Speeches of Azad), published in 2010 by Maktaba-e-Jamal, Lahore. The book is available in India.)
Former BBC journalist Tufail Ahmad is a contributing editor at Firstpost, and executive director of the Open Source Institute, New Delhi. He tweets @tufailelif