On 13 August, Tufail Ahmad delivered a lecture in Hyderabad at a launch for his latest book Jihadist Threat to India: The Case for Islamic Reformation by an Indian Muslim, organised in Hyderabad by the Social Cause. Touching on various aspects of Islam, its various interpretations and permutations, Ahmad's lecture is being reproduced in three parts. You can read the first part of the lecture, titled 'Islam as a language of separatism and as a methodology', here. The second part follows:
Is terrorism Islamic?
In recent years, some terms used to make sense of this phenomenon include: Radical Islam, Islamic terrorism, political Islam, Salafi-Wahhabi Islam, or extremist Islam. Due to political correctness, world leaders like US president Barack Obama have refused to see any link with Islam. Terms like "political Islam" do assist world leaders in engaging with this problem sometimes, but at other times, these expressions obscure the gravity of the terrorist threat. So, the question is: Should it be called Islamic terrorism or something else?
Let me cite some points as to why it must be called jihadi terrorism. One, terms like "Islamic" or "jihadi" are used by Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the Islamic State themselves to describe their actions. They do not say that (Jamaat-e-Islami founder) Maulana Maududi or (Egyptian theologian) Syed Qutb started jihad. They cite the Quranic verses and Hadiths (sayings and deeds of Prophet Muhammad) to justify their actions. These groups reject democracy and advocate imposition of Shari'a in non-Muslim and Muslim countries. They are therefore called jihadis or Islamists.
Two, not all Muslim fighters are called jihadis. In Pakistan itself, Muslim rebels fighting for the independence of Balochistan are not called Islamists or jihadis because they do not stand for Shari'a. In Northern Ireland, the Protestant and the Catholic groups were not called Christian terrorists, because they were not advocating Christian rule. In Sri Lanka, LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) fighters were not called Hindu terrorists, because they were fighting for freedom of the Tamil people, not for Hindu rule.
Three, in India, not all fighters are called Hindu terrorists. Naxalite terrorists who are Hindus are not called Hindu terrorists because they do not advocate Hindu rule. But, members of Abhinav Bharat were called Hindu or saffron terrorists because they stood for Hindu rule. Shiv Sena has repeatedly called for "Hindu suicide bombers" to attack Pakistan.
Five arguments answered by jihadis
Let's take up some key arguments concerning jihad and examine how jihadis are responding.
Argument 1: Islam is a peaceful religion
But, the reality is otherwise. After Prophet Muhammad died, a war for succession began that later divided Muslims into two sects: Sunni and Shia. Except for the first caliph Abu Bakr, all three succeeding caliphs and twelve Shia imams were murdered. In fact, the Battle of Karbala was so bloody that after it most Shia imams were poisoned. Prophet Muhammad himself took part in 27 wars. Jihadi forces like the Islamic State were born in the times of early Islam itself, for example when the first caliph Abu Bakr took out his sword and threatened jihad against those Muslims who did not pay zakat (tax).
A major argument by apologists of Islamism is that the prophet ordered amnesty for everyone on the day of the Victory of Mecca. Al-Qaeda militant Ustad Farooq pointed out that this is historically incorrect. On that day, the prophet was informed that there were around 10 people, including women, who had committed blasphemy against him. He ordered that even if they were found hanging by the curtains of the Kaaba, they deserve no respect and should be killed. And they were indeed killed.
This is called Islam's blasphemy law due to which two jihadi brothers from Al-Qaeda shot dead the editors of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris last year. Much before the IS was born, it was Imam Khomeini of Iran who sent killers for Salman Rushdie for the same theological reason. For exactly the same theological reason, Islamic clerics led by Maulana Anwarul Haq Sadiq of Bijnor announced Rs 51 lakh for anyone who killed Kamlesh Tiwari in prison or outside. Even though the Indian state does not have a Pakistan-like blasphemy law, it has still jailed Tiwari for blasphemy. In Pakistan, elite security commando Malik Mumtaz Qadri shot dead Punjab governor Salman Taseer in 2011 for advocating reforms in the blasphemy law. Qadri belonged to the Barelvi group Dawat-e-Islami which is popular in Pakistan and Mumbai. So, whether Shias or Sunnis, Deobandis or Barelvis, or Al-Qaeda, they all believe in the blasphemy law.
Argument 2: Jihad means personally striving to become a pious Muslim
It is true that jihad also means striving, but in popular Muslim imagination it carries only one meaning: Military fighting. Jihadi videos cite the Quranic verse 8:39: "Fight them until no corruption (fitna) exists and all worship is for Allah alone."
There are many such verses in the Quran.
Verse 9:14 states: "Fight against them. Allah will torment them at your hands and will humiliate them, and will help you against them, and will heal the breasts of Muslims."
Verse 2:251 says: "And if Allah did not check one set of people by means of another, the Earth would indeed be full of mischief…"
Some writers cite the verse 2:256 that says: "There is no compulsion in religion."
However, jihadis argue that this verse is applicable to non-Muslims who must live under Shari'a rule. Pakistan-based Burmese militant Mufti Abuzar Azaam clarified that as per this verse, no Christian, Jew, or non-Muslim can be forced to accept Islam, but he went on to argue that when Muslims go to war, they first do dawah (invite non-Muslims to Islam) and if they do not accept, then fighting begins. He insisted that there is indeed compulsion for Muslims and quoted Prophet Muhammad as saying: "Beat up your children when they are 10 years old to offer their prayers if they do not do so…"
Argument 3: Room to criticise Islam
Critics of Islamism are told to shut up by supporters of everyday Islamism who argue that Islam promotes co-existence and pluralism. They cite the verse 109:6, "To you your religion, and to me mine." But this verse was revealed not to promote pluralism, but to ensure that the Islamic lifestyle didn't mix with non-Muslims of Mecca. Prophet Muhammad rejected an offer from the kuffar (infidels) of Mecca to share in power, saying: To you your religion, and to me mine.
Jihadis argue that Islam must prevail over all other systems of government, which means that Islam does not imagine a situation in which non-Muslims can be shareholders in power. Verse 2:190 says: "Whoever comes in the way of this system (of government), do qital (fight to kill) against them…" Here, we should also bear in mind that there are problems in interpreting verses.
Argument 4: Mosques cannot be attacked and suicide bombings not permitted in Islam
Jihadis argue that the prophet himself demolished the mosques of munafiqeen (hypocrites) in Medina. Verse 22:40 says that Allah protects monasteries, churches and synagogues. But, radical cleric Sheikh Abu Mundhir Al-Shinqiti argued that this verse refers only to the pre-Islamic era, and since Judaism and Christianity lost validity with the birth of Islam, their houses of worship also lost their protected status.
In 2013, a Taliban magazine cited two Quranic verses to rationalise suicide attacks. Verse 29:64 reads: "And this life of the world is only amusement and play! Verily, the home of the Hereafter, that is the life indeed..." Verse 3:169 reads: "Think not of those who are killed in the way of Allah as dead. No, they are alive, with their Lord."
Argument 5: Islam protects minorities
Yes, Islam does protect minorities, but in order to enjoy the protection of Islam, minorities must live under the Shari'a rule and pay jizya — a tax on non-Muslims. In other words, non-Muslims cannot be rulers. This is the precise jihadi reason due to which Pakistan'sConstitution formally bars non-Muslim Pakistani citizens from becoming the head of the Pakistani state. Jizya also means that a non-Muslim does not have right to life under Islamic rule, and therefore he or she must pay tax to buy that right annually.
Islamic clerics and common Muslims argue that the Quran advocates peace. Indeed, it does. There are numerous verses that teach love, peace and brotherhood. Islam is a peaceful religion, and the majority of Muslims are peaceful. However, it is equally true that there are numerous verses in the Quran that teach hate and war against non-Muslims. For a correct understanding, it is essential to admit this duality of the situation: Islam is peaceful and isn't peaceful — both at the same time.
Stay tuned for the final segment of Ahmad's speech:
The author is Director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC. He tweets @tufailelif