Reforming Islam: A moderate Muslim’s appeal – Sultan Shahin

World Sufi Forum, New Delhi, March 2016

Sultan ShahinThis appeal was made to the many learned Sufi masters and scholars who gathered at New Delhi in March 2016 for the World Sufi Forum

Respected Sufi Divines,

May peace and God’s grace be with you,

The international counter-terrorism conference […] held at Delhi [on 17 to 20 March, 2016 happened] at a delicate time. Already scores of Indian Muslim youth are known to be fighting with the terrorist army of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a few have even got themselves killed. Over 30,000 Muslim youth from 100 countries around the world joined this takfiri organisation within a year of its announcement of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as Khalifa. An influential Indian Aalim Maulana Salman Nadvi even addressed him as Ameerul Momineen (another term for Khalifa) in a letter posted on his Facebook page. Muslim newspapers were in general quite welcoming of the “Khilafat” until ISIS started broadcasting its brutalities in gory details, thus bringing Islam itself into disrepute. Indian Muslim enthusiasm for the Khilafat was not surprising as our current theology calls it a religious duty for all Muslims to help establish a Khilafat. At least 18,000 Muslims had left their homes and jobs in British India in their bid to go and fight for the Khilafat-e-Osmania less than a hundred years ago. Many perished but are today revered as Shaheeds (martyrs) and ghazis (Islamic warriors).

We are living in an environment in which Muslim societies are producing armies of suicide bombers wherever and whenever required by a motivated group with necessary funding and logistics. Our madrasa children already sing songs with refrains like “zindagi shuru hoti hai qabr mein” (life begins in the grave). You can imagine what little effort is required by vested interests to turn people with such a belief system into suicide bombers. No wonder the application form for joining the so-called Islamic State army asks the potential recruits to specify their time and place of death. The ISIS knows no indoctrination is required; Islamic theological books are already doing their job for them.

Terrorist ideologues ask our youths not to wait for reaching the ISIS borders to start fighting Jihad, that has been elevated to the sixth pillar of Islam. Act as lone warriors, is the advice given to them through social media posts easily available to all. “Don’t wait to be trained in bomb-making too; don’t you have a car, just ram it into a crowd of infidels,” is another advice. Some misguided youth have already started following this advice too in different parts of the world.

Respected Sufi divines,

I am sure you will say repeatedly and fervently: Islam has nothing to do with terrorism; Islam is a religion of peace; even killing one innocent person in Islam amounts to the genocide of humanity and saving one life amounts to saving humanity (Quran 5:32). Some of you will probably also quote an iconic Quranic verse of freedom in religion like La ikraha fid deen (There is no compulsion in religion: Quran 2:256) and teachings of co-existence like lakum deenakum, waleya deen (for you your religion and for me mine: Quran 109: 1-6).

 Of course, you will be totally correct and completely justified in making all these observations. Islam is indeed a religion of peace, compassion, pluralism, co-existence, good neighbourliness, complete human equality before God, gender justice and so on.  Indeed, there are at least 124 verses that teach such humane traits. If Muslims were to follow these constitutive verses of the holy Quran, they should have been the most peaceful, pluralistic community on earth, as they have been at various places and in different periods of history.

But the situation today is dire. When self-declared Khalifa Baghdadi announced recently that “Islam has never been a religion of peace, not even for a day,” not one Urdu newspaper in India disputed this, or expressed any outrage, though most editorial columns are now written by clerics. (One Urdu columnist did criticise Baghdadi over this remark, but most Sunni Muslims dismissed that as the rantings of a Shia.)

Scholars of the moderate Muslim mainstream and Sufi ulema and mashaikh in particular have been denouncing terrorism and declaring Islam to be a religion of peace and pluralism repeatedly since September 11, 2001 when Islamist terrorists killed nearly 3,000 innocent people in New York. This denunciation of Islamist terrorism has been going on in India much longer. For, we have been at the receiving end of Islamist terrorism since much before 9/11.

So, I would like to tell the respected divines gracing this counter-terrorism conference with their presence that the issue today is not that of denouncing terrorism as un-Islamic or declaring Islam as a religion of peace and pluralism. Not only Muslims but even the world at large is aware of that. The question before us is the following. How come the more we denounce terrorism and the more we assert Islam’s peaceful nature, the more terrorists we create. What is the source of the terrorist ideology’s strength? Why are some of our educated, intelligent, internet-generation youth listening to the terrorist ideologues and not us, the moderate, the progressive, the Sufi. Why do they consider us hypocrites? Are we indeed hypocrites? Is there some substance in their charge? After all, no intelligent, highly educated person of the 21st century would leave his well-paying job, beautiful wife, children, all living in a peaceful environment, and rush to join a war, with death or severe injury assured, unless he had a hundred percent surety of the correctness of his cause and total belief in his new-found faith. Where does this surety, this faith spring from?

Muslim youth gets the message of Islam supremacism from all the greatest theologians

Let us first see what are our educated youth learning Islam on the internet or in madrasas, colleges and universities, being told by some of our greatest, universally respected theologians? From Sufi Imam Ghazali, Hanbali Ibn-e-Taimiya and Hanafi Sheikh Sirhindi to Abdul Wahhab, Shah Waliullah, Abul A’la Maududi, Syed Qutb, and even an indefatigable promoter of peace and pluralism like Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, the curious Muslim youth gets the same message of Islam supremacism, exclusivism, xenophobia, intolerance and his duty of Jihad in the sense of Qital, in varying degrees. A few specimens:

Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058 – 1111), considered the greatest of all Sufi theologians, and by many as next only to Prophet Mohammad in his understanding of Islam:

 “… one must go on jihad at least once a year … one may use a catapult against them [non-Muslims] when they are in a fortress, even if among them are women and children. One may set fire to them and/or drown them…. One must destroy their useless books. Jihadists may take as booty whatever they decide…. Christians and Jews must pay … on offering up the jizya, the dhimmi must hang his head while the official takes hold of his beard and hits on the protuberant bone beneath his ear … they are not permitted to ostentatiously display their wine or church bells … their houses may not be higher than a Muslim’s, no matter how low that is.  The dhimmi may not ride an elegant horse or mule; he may ride a donkey only if the saddle is of wood.  He may not walk on the good part of the road.  They have to wear an identifying patch [on their clothing], even women, and even in the baths …  dhimmis must hold their tongue….” (Kitab Al-Wagiz FI Figh Madhad Al-Imam Al-Safi’i pp. 186, 190, 199-203)

Imam Ibn Taymiyya (1263 – 1328) Most revered Hanbali jurist and scholar among Wahhabi-Salafi Muslims whose influence has recently grown immensely with the propagation of his creed by the Saudi monarchy:

“Since lawful warfare is essentially jihad and since its aim is that the religion is God’s entirely and God’s word is uppermost, therefore according to all Muslims, those who stand in the way of this aim must be fought…. As for the People of the Book and the Zoroastrians, they are to be fought until they become Muslims or pay the tribute (jizya) out of hand and have been humbled. With regard to the others, the jurists differ as to the lawfulness of taking tribute from them. Most of them regard it as unlawful….”  (Excerpted from Rudolph Peters, Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam (Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener, 1996), pp. 44-54)

Shaikh Ahmad Sirhindi (1564-1624) – Indian Islamic scholar, Hanafi jurist, considered Mujaddid alf-e-Saani, the renewer of Islam of the second millennium:

1. “… Cow sacrifice in India is the noblest of Islamic practices.”

2. “Kufr and Islam are opposed to each other. The progress of one is possible only at the expense of the other and co-existences between these two contradictory faiths is unthinkable.

3. “The honour of Islam lies in insulting kufr and kafirs. One, who respects kafirs, dishonours the Muslims.”

4. “The real purpose in levying jizya on them is to humiliate them to such an extent that, on account of fear of jizya, they may not be able to dress well and to live in grandeur. They should constantly remain terrified and trembling.

5. “Whenever a Jew is killed, it is for the benefit of Islam.”

(Excerpted from Saiyid Athar Abbas Rizvi, Muslim Revivalist Movements in Northern India in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Agra, Lucknow: Agra University, Balkrishna Book Co., 1965), pp.247-50; and Yohanan Friedmann, Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi: An Outline of His Thought and a Study of His Image in the Eyes of Posterity (Montreal, Quebec: McGill University, Institute of Islamic Studies, 1971), pp. 73-74.)

Shah Waliullah Dehlavi (1703–1762), Highly revered Indian scholar, theologian, muhaddis and jurist:

 “It is the duty of the Prophet to establish the domination of Islam over all other religions and not leave anybody outside its domination whether they accept it voluntarily or after humiliation. Thus the people will be divided into three categories. Lowly kafir (unbelievers), have to be tasked with lowly labour works like harvesting, threshing, carrying of loads, for which animals are used. The messenger of God also imposes a law of suppression and humiliation on the kafirs and imposes jizya on them in order to dominate and humiliate them…. He does not treat them equal to Muslims in the matters of qisas (Retaliation), diyat (blood money), marriage and government administration so that these restrictions should ultimately force them to embrace Islam.” (Hujjatullahu al-Balighah, Volume – 1, Chapter – 69, Page No 289)

Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab, (1703 – 22 June 1792), the founder of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi-Salafi creed:

“Even if the Muslims abstain from shirk (polytheism) and are muwahhid (believer in oneness of God), their Faith cannot be perfect unless they have enmity and hatred in their action and speech against non-Muslims (which for him actually includes all non-Wahhabi or non-Salafi Muslims). (Majmua Al-Rasael Wal-Masael Al-Najdiah 4/291)

Abul A’la Maududi, Indian ideologue, founder of Jamaat-e-Islami, (25 September 1903 – 22 September 1979):

“Islam wishes to destroy all states and governments anywhere on the face of the earth which are opposed to the ideology and programme of Islam, regardless of the country or the nation which rules it. The purpose of Islam is to set up a state on the basis of its own ideology and programme, regardless of which nation assumes the role of the standard-bearer of Islam or the rule of which nation is undermined in the process of the establishment of an ideological Islamic State.…

“Islam requires the earth — not just a portion, but the whole planet … because the entire mankind should benefit from the ideology and welfare programme [of Islam]…. Towards this end, Islam wishes to press into service all forces which can bring about a revolution and a composite term for the use of all these forces is ‘Jihad’…. The objective of the Islamic ‘jihad’ is to eliminate the rule of an un-Islamic system and establish in its stead an Islamic system of state rule.” (Jihad fil Islam)

A Hyderabad scholar Maulana Abdul Aleem Islahi justifies indiscriminate violence in his fatwa on the concept of power in Islam. Let me quote a few lines from the writings of this Maulana who runs a girls’ madrasa in Hyderabad and is known to have been an inspiration behind Indian Mujahedin:

“Let it be known that, according to Islamic jurisprudence, fighting the infidels (kuffar) in their countries is a duty (farz-e-Kifayah) according to the consensus of ulema.…

“…  I can say with full conviction that qital (killing, violence, armed struggle) to uphold the Kalimah (declaration of faith) has neither been called atrocity or transgression nor has it been prohibited. Rather, qital has not only been ordained for the purpose of upholding the Kalimah but also stressed and encouraged in the Book (Quran) and the Sunnah (Hadith). Muslims have indeed been encouraged and motivated to engage in qital and they have been given good tidings of rewards for this.”

“It is the duty (of Muslims) to struggle for the domination of Islam over false religions and subdue and subjugate ahl-e-kufr-o-shirk (infidels and polytheists) in the same way as it is the duty of the Muslims to proselytise and invite people to Islam. The responsibility to testify to the Truth and pronounce the deen God has entrusted with the Muslims cannot be fulfilled merely by preaching and proselytising. If it were so there would be no need for the battles that were fought.

 “Jihad has been made obligatory to make the deen (religion) dominate and to stop the centres of evil. Keeping in view the importance of this task, the significance of Jihad in the name of God has been stressed in the Quran and Hadith. That’s why clear ordainments have been revealed to Muslims about fighting all the kuffar (infidels). “Unite and fight the polytheists (mushriks) just as they put up a united front against you” (Surah Tauba: 9:36)” — (Excerpted and translated from Maulana Abdul Aleem Islahi’s Urdu booklet “Taqat ka Istemal Quran ki Raoshni Main,” (The use of violence, in the light of the Qur’an))

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, (born 1 January 1925), says the following:

Efforts on the part of prophets over a period of thousands of years had proved that any struggle which was confined to intellectual or missionary field was not sufficient to extricate man from the grip of this superstition (shirk, kufr). (So) it was God’s decree that he (Prophet Mohammad) be a da’i (missionary) as well as ma’hi ((eradicator). He was entrusted by God with the mission of not only proclaiming to the world that superstitious beliefs (shirk, kufr) were based on falsehood, but also of resorting to military action, if the need arose, to eliminate that system for all time. — (From Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s book Islam: Creator of the Modern World, re-printed in 2003.)

It is ironic that even an indefatigable promoter of peace and pluralism among Muslims has to say on the basis of commonly accepted Islamic jurisprudence that the prophet’s job was to eradicate unbelief from the world, even using military means. And if this is so, what would stop Bin Ladens and Baghdadis of this world claiming that they are simply carrying forward the Prophet’s unfinished mission.

The message from all these sermons is clear. Islam must dominate the world and it is the duty of every Muslim to help the process. Wherever a Muslim turns to he gets the same Islam-supremacist message. The latest among the most authoritative books on Islamic theology is a 45-volume comprehensive Encyclopaedia of Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence). it was prepared by scholars from all schools of thought, engaged by Ministry of Awqaf & Islamic Affairs, Kuwait, over a period of half a century. Its Urdu translation was released in Delhi by vice-President Hamid Ansari on 23 October 2009.

This most influential book of Islamic jurisprudence has a 23,000-word chapter on Jihad. We moderate Muslims and Sufis keep talking ad nauseam about struggle against one’s own nafs (lower self, negative ego) being the real and greater Jihad and Qital (warfare) being rather insignificant, lesser Jihad. But except one sentence in the beginning, the entire chapter talks entirely about the issues related with combatting and killing enemies, i.e.  infidels, polytheists or apostates, starting with the stark declaration: “Jihad means to fight against the enemy.”  There is no mention of real or greater Jihad. Then Ibn-e-Taimiyya is quoted to say: “… So Jihad is wajib (incumbent) as much as one’s capacity”. Then comes the final, definitive definition: “Terminologically, Jihad means to fight against a non-zimmi unbeliever (kaafir) after he rejects the call towards Islam, in order to establish or raise high the words of Allah.” (Translated from original Arabic).

It is not difficult for an intelligent, educated Muslim to discover our hypocrisy. Clearly what is censured by us moderates as radical Islamist theology is not substantially different from the current Islamic theology accepted through a consensus by ulema of all schools of thought. Late Osama bin Laden or his ideological mentor Abdu’llāh Yūsuf ‘Azzām, now called father of global Jihad, and his present-day successor Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi did not invent a new theology. Their use of consensual theology is what lies behind their great success in attracting thousands of Muslim youth in such a short while. They will continue to attract more and more youths until we mainstream Muslims realise our hypocrisy and change course.

What are the ingredients of this consensual theology that is leading to radicalisation of our educated youth?

A few examples:

1. Following a literal reading of some allegorical verses in Quran, most Muslims now regard God as an implacable, anthropomorphic figure permanently at war with those who do not believe in His uniqueness. This is a negation of the Sufi or Vedantic concept of God as universal consciousness or universal intelligence radiating His grace from every atom in the universe. Unfortunately, Sufi madrasas themselves have abandoned, at least in the Indian sub-continent, the concept of wahdatul wajud (unity of being), for fear that this would be considered too close to the Vedantic and thus Hindu concept of God. Instead they teach Sheikh Sirhindi’s wahdatul shuhood (Apparentism, unity of appearances) in the name of wahdatul wajud. Sheikh Sirhindi had invented this concept to counter the growing influence of Sufi masters like Mohiyiddin Ibn-e-Arabi and Mansour al-Hallaj during the reign Emperor Akbar.

Most Sufi madrasas have thrown out from their curriculum mystical books like Kashful Mahjub by Hazrat Data Ganj Bakhsh Hijweri, Awarif-ul-Ma’arif by Shaykh Umar Shahabuddin Suhrawardi, Fawaidul Fu’aad by Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia, Masnawi of Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, Gulsitan and Bostan by Shaikh Sa’adi Shirazi, Si Asl by Mulla Sadra Shiriazi, Fususul Hikam by Shiakh Ibn ul Arabi, Life and teachings of great Sufis like Ghareeb Nawaz Khwaja Muinuddin Chishti Ajmeri (ra), Baba Fareed, Ameer Khusro etc.

2. Radical ideologues quote militant, xenophobic verses of Quran to support offensive Jihad. We moderates from Sufi stream of thought counter that by saying: look at the context. These verses came during war and had to inevitably order fighting, killings, offer rewards for martyrs and show intolerance towards the manifest enemy. It’s not unusual in wars to make binary arguments. Thus the Muslim-Kafir binary inevitably emerged during wars. After all, most of the war-time verses of Quran revealed in Medina, first permitting and then guiding Muslims in the course of various wars, were a response to the evolving situation. But we do not take the argument of these war-time verses being contextual in nature to its logical conclusion, which is, that these verses have now become obsolete; they are no longer applicable to us today when that context does not exist.

3. Not only that we do not call contextual verses of Quran obsolete, but we also agree with the radicals that Quran is an uncreated attribute of God, with all its verses, universally and eternally applicable to Muslims, without reference to context.  Every madrasa teaches that Quran is uncreated, divine, direct speech of God, as if God were an anthropomorphic being. This totally defeats our earlier argument that when dealing with Quranic exhortations, we should look at the context. What context? If Quran is an uncreated attribute of God, immutable, eternal, merely a copy of the original Quran lying in the Heavenly Vault (Lauh-e-Mahfouz), then where is the question of context? This makes it possible for militant ideologues to tell our youth that even the militant, xenophobic, intolerant exhortations of Quran that were revealed in the context of war, must be followed and implemented, as there is no controversy about their applicability today in any school of thought.

4. There is consensus in Islamic theology that Hadith, the so-called sayings of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh), are akin to revelation. These were collected up to 300 years after the demise of the Prophet and rational Muslims doubt their credibility and authenticity, but even ulema opposed to ISIS, cannot bring themselves to question the Hadith-based millenarian thesis that is the primary cause of ISIS’ great success in comparison to al-Qaeda which did not stress millenarianism.

 As a couple of allegorical verses of Quran and predictions attributed to the Prophet have been interpreted to mean that the world is about to end, and Islam is about to be victorious following the end-time war being waged by ISIS, then what is the point of working for corporates run by infidels? Why not join the battle and become a martyr or ghazi just before the world ends? So goes the argument.

One of the permanent bestsellers in Delhi’s Urdu Bazar is a booklet called Qeyamat ki peshingoiyan (End-Time Predictions). I imagine a similar booklet selling on streets of Cairo, Baghdad. Damascus, Istanbul, wherever. Why should ISIS not make good use of this belief, when it has the unquestioning support of theologians of all schools of thought, including self-proclaimed moderates, who call Hadith akin to revelation. A hadith are also used to justify the killing of innocent civilians in a war, although there are repeated and clear instructions in the Quran against that. But the moment you say Hadith is akin to revelation, you are nullifying the impact of your Quranically justified claim that in Islam killing of one innocent person amounts to killing of humanity.

5. Nearly all Muslims consider Sharia as divine and immutable, even though it was first codified on the basis of some Quranic verses and pre-Islamic Arab Bedouin customs 120 years after the demise of the Prophet and completion of the religion of Islam as declared by God in Quran (5:3). The result is that even Muslims living in non-Muslim majority multicultural Europe demand Sharia-compliant laws. No wonder that those who want to practice what they believe in would want to migrate to the so-called Islamic State, sometimes even with their families.

Radicalised youth cannot be blamed for feeling that the moderate Muslims, in India, for instance, are hypocrites. They want to use their purported belief in the divinity of Sharia only for male-supremacist privileges like instant divorce and multiple marriages, whereas the radicals migrating to the so-called Islamic State are willing to accept all the rigours of Sharia’s criminal justice system, namely, cutting off hands for theft, lashes and stoning for adultery and murder, etc.

6. There is consensus in Islamic theology that helping establish and supporting a caliphate is the religious duty of Muslims, even though there is absolutely no such direction in the Quran. But those who believe in the Hadith being akin to revelation are unable to dispute ISIS’ claim to legitimacy on the basis of this Hadith: “Hadhrat Huzaifa narrated that the Messenger of Allah said: “Prophethood will remain among you as long as Allah wills. Then Caliphate (Khilafah) on the lines of Prophethood shall commence, and remain as long as Allah wills. Then corrupt/erosive monarchy would take place, and it will remain as long as Allah wills. After that, despotic kingship would emerge, and it will remain as long as Allah wills. Then, the Caliphate (Khilafah) shall come once again based on the precept of Prophethood.” (Musnad Ahmed inb Hanabli.)

7. Hijrat (migration) to the land of Islamic Sharia from Darul Harb where Sharia is not enforced is a religious duty for Muslims. This may appear grotesque at a time when millions of Muslims are marching to the so-called European “Darul Harb” almost barefoot in a desperate effort to escape from so-called “Darul Islam” of Khalifa al-Baghdadi. The “Darul Islam” of Saudi Arabia has refused to give refuge to a single soul, while the European “Darul Harb” is accommodating millions of Muslims. But the ulema will not allow any part of their theology to be questioned.

8. Theologians of all school believe that some early verses of Quran have been abrogated and replaced by better and more appropriate later verses. This consensual Doctrine of Abrogation is used by radical ideologues to claim all 124 foundational, constitutive, Meccan verses of peace, pluralism, co-existence with other religious communities, compassion, kindness to neighbours, etc., have been abrogated and replaced by later Medinan verses of war, xenophobia and intolerance. As long as Sufi theologians do not contest this Doctrine of Abrogation, their quoting verses from Meccan Quran has no meaning.

9. There is consensus among theologians of all school of thought that there is no freedom of religion for Muslims in Islam. Apostasy (irtidad or riddah) has to be punished by death. The only dispute is whether the apostate should be given the opportunity to seek forgiveness and revert to his earlier position. With this core aspect of theology how can Muslims confront terrorist ideologues who order death for vast numbers of Muslims on ground of their having turned apostate. In their eyes all those Muslims who are not with ISIS and other such groups are apostates, particularly all Shia, Ahmadis, Yezidis, etc. How can we prevent radicalisation of our youth unless we confront this theology?

10. The problem is there is no consensus among Muslims as to who is a Muslim? Justice Munir of the commission of enquiry set up in Pakistan following anti-Ahmadia riots in 1954 reported that no two ulema agreed on the definition of a Muslim. Ideally, Quran should be our guide, according to which even Hazrat Moosa (AS) or Moses, who surrendered to God, much before the advent of Prophet Mohammad (saw), was also a Muslim (Quran 10.90). Allah informs us of Muslims who have converted but “faith has not yet entered their hearts” (Quran 49:14), and yet God does not prescribe any punishment for them, nor are they turned out of the fold of Islam. This means that anyone who claims to believe in or surrender to God is a Muslim. The least Muslims can do is to accept irja, the position of the murjias (postponers), who said let us postpone judgement in matters of faith for the Day of Judgement. Let us allow God to judge people on matters of faith. When we humans do not know what lies in someone’s heart, who are we to punish some one for what he believes in or not. A very rational position, but Muslims will need to embrace rationality or Quran first.

11. The same is true of blasphemy. Consensual Islamic theology prescribes death for the blasphemer, even on the flimsiest of accusation. Many Muslim countries have anti-blasphemy laws, though the one that misuses them most is Pakistan. Unfortunately, Sufi-minded Muslims are in the forefront of those who advocate killing for blasphemy and some are even among the killers for blasphemy. How can we fight ISIS ideology, if our own ideology is the same?

Turkish Spiritual leader Fethullah Gülen’s Hizmet movement calls its approach “Deradicalisation by Default.”  This mainly focuses on the positive features of Islam. Hizmet has vast resources and has deployed them well. It has already taken positions against widely accepted concepts like Dar al-Harb and Dar al-Islam. But ISIS continues to draw a steady stream of recruits from Turkey and elsewhere. Any strategy that doesn’t appear to be working well should be rethought.

Respected Sufi Divines,

I would, therefore, earnestly appeal to you to use the opportunity provided by the Delhi conclave to go beyond the usual shibboleths. Sufi approach of focussing on the positive features of Islam worked well at one time. There was no internet then. In the internet age everyone is a scholar. In this age of instant scholarship, nothing can be hidden or bypassed.

It must be understood, that the radical Islamist theology and the current Islamic theology of consensus are by and large one and the same. Any differences are cosmetic. ISIS may vanish tomorrow. But the problem of radicalisation will remain. Islam supremacism, xenophobia, intolerance and exclusivism are inherent in the current Islamic, and not just Islamist theology.

Focusing on positive features of Islam is an essential part of de-radicalisation or, more realistically, preventing radicalisation. But it is not bearing fruit in full measure as the core theology agreed to by nearly all Muslims militates against these positives. As briefly outlined above, this core and consensual theology nullifies the impact of all arguments made against violent extremism. It is this core theology that needs to be refuted and changed.  Let us all try and bring the core Islamic theology in line with the actual teachings of Quran and Sunnah. Let us move away from the current theology of violence and xenophobia. Let us move towards a coherent, comprehensive theology of peace and pluralism, co-existence and gender justice. – New Age Islam14 March 2016

» Sultan Shahin is the founder and editor of the multi-lingual Islamic website NewAgeIslam.com. He has acquired expertise in Islamic theology, politics, and culture as well as an empirical knowledge of the impact of religion and ideology over radicalization and radicalism. He is deeply convinced of the need for introspection by Muslims. Contact him at editor@newageislam.com and sultan.shahin@gmail.com.

Sultan Shahin

Christianity & Islam: Politics masquerading as religion – Sita Ram Goel

Sita Ram Goel

“Hindu society has to understand very clearly that what it is faced with in the form of Christianity and Islam are not religions but imperialist ideologies whose appetite has been whetted by running roughshod over a large part of the world. Hindu society is making a serious, almost a fatal mistake, in appealing to these ideologies in the name of reason and morality which are supposed to accompany religion. This sort of appeal is bound to fail because it falls on deaf ears.” – Sita Ram Goel

SufiThe Sufi as mystic

The story which I am now going to tell is true. I remember it word by word, although it happened twenty-five years ago.[1]

A young Muslim sufi from Kashmir was telling us about the teachings of his guru (this was the word he used for his teacher) who had died some years earlier. Prããyãma was a prominent part of these teachings. This again was the term he used, though he did not know even the Hindi language, not to speak of Sanskrit.

The sufi was a very simple and unassuming person. He had had no schooling. And he made his living by the humble occupation of a tailor. But we were fascinated by what he told us about the techniques used by his guru for his spiritual training. His language was straightforward without the slightest touch of pedantry.

As the conversation drew to a close someone from among us started to play a record of padãvali kîrtan by one of the few famous female specialists from Bengal. The sufi was visibly moved by the pathos in Radha’s pining for Sri Krishna who had left Vrindavana for Mathura. Soon after the music stopped, he exclaimed, “Aisã gãnã hamnê êk hazãr baras bãd sunã (I have heard this sort of music after a thousand years).” His eyes were brimming with tears which he was trying to hide.

We were amazed. He was in his thirties. He could not have been in this world a thousand years ago. What did he mean by that statement? We requested him to explain. He said in a voice full of innocence: “Pahle janam mêñ sunã hogã (I must have heard it in an earlier life).”

I became agog with curiosity. He was talking of transmigration. So I asked him, “Ãp kyã is zindgî sê pahlê janam kî bãt mãnatê hain (Do you believe in a birth before this present life)?”

The sufi seemed to be somewhat annoyed. He asked a counter-question in a tone which had a touch of temper: “Ãp mazhab kã sawãl kyoñ uthãtê hain (Why are you raising a theological controversy)?”

I was puzzled by his reply, as was everybody else. I had not the slightest intention to annoy him. He was our guest. I had asked the question out of sheer curiosity. So I came forward with a clarification, and said, “Sûfîjî, ãp musalmãn hain. Islãm êk hî janam mãnatã hai. Ãpnê pahle janam kî bãt kahî, isliyê sawãl uThãyã thã (You are a Muslim. Islam recognises only one life. You talk about an earlier life. That is why I had asked the question).”

He relaxed and explained: “Mazhab tõ wahî bãt kahtã hai. Lekin maiñ tõ rãz kî bãt kah rahã thã (It is true that theology says that. But I was talking of the esoteric way).”

We were surprised by this distinction. This was a new revelation to us – this separation of esoterism from theology. The sufi continued: “Rãz kî bãt ham sab kê sãmanê nahîñ kahtê. Yeh tõ maiñ ãp logoñ se kah rahã thã (We do not talk of the esoteric way before everybody. It is only to you people that I was talking about it).”

All of us asked simultaneously: “Kyoñ (Why)?”

The sufî said, “Woh log (those people)”… and without completing the sentence he put the edge of his outstretched palm on his throat and moved it across. He was trying to convey that “those people” would cut his throat.

We asked him about “those people”. Who were they? He did not name any. But he became gloomy. It was obvious that he did not like to continue the dialogue, which we dropped immediately.

I was sure in my mind that nobody was going to cut his throat these days even if he proclaimed publicly what he believed privately. Times had changed. Moreover, he was a citizen of India, not of an Islamic theocracy. Yet the alarm in his voice was unmistakable.

I knew how Mansur al-Hallaj had been tortured to death by an Islamic state prompted by Islamic theologians for saying that he himself was the Haqq (Truth). But that was all. I had not yet read any detailed history of Sufism, nor compared or contrasted the doctrines of Sufism with the dogmas of prophetic Islam. It was years later when I made such a study and came to know of the rishi tradition in Kashmir Sufism, that I was suddenly reminded of that talk with the young sufi that day. He was obviously referring to the tradition of terror which had silenced the sups of the rishi tradition, and forced them to keep in their breasts the best of their knowledge. The memory of that terror, it seemed, was still intact in the mind of this sufi.

AurangzebThe Sufi as fanatic

My studies in Sufism also brought back to my mind another encounter with another sufi at about the same time. He was an elderly man. He was quite learned in his own way, and could discuss various religious and philosophical doctrines with some knowledge. He could also manage some English in which language he also wrote an occasional pamphlet. The incident which I shall now relate took place when I met him for the first time, though I had heard a lot about him from a close friend.

I was staying by myself in the house of this friend when this sufi dropped in one day. I requested him to stay with me for a few days and give me the benefit of his company. He agreed and we had quite a few fruitful sessions during which we talked about mysticism and the rest, without touching the subject of Islam or Hinduism. I was impressed. His language was quite forceful, particularly when he made fun of atheists, materialists, and mere philosophers.

One day I was reading an Urdu translation of Sarmad’s Persian poems when the sufi came into my room and sat down by my side. I put away the book and had another long talk with him. Then I left the room because I had a few other things to do. When I returned after about half an hour, I found the sufi reading the same book by Sarmad. A few days earlier I had heard him talking about Sarmad with reverence and in a language of fulsome praise. So I sat down quietly in a corner and waited for him to read out and explain some significant lines from that book.

But I was taken aback when he suddenly threw the book against the opposite wall with some violence and shouted, “Harãmzãdã kãfir hî thã (The bastard was an infidel indeed)!” I picked up the book, brought it back to the sufi, and asked him to show me the lines that had enraged him so uncontrollably. He leafed through the book and finally put his finger on two lines almost towards the end. I cannot recall the exact words of the couplet but I remember very well the message that was conveyed. Sarmad had addressed himself as follows: “O Sarmad! What is it that goes on happening to you? You started as a follower of Moses. Next you put your faith in Muhammad. And now at last you have become a devotee of Rãm and Lachhman.”

I could see nothing wrong or improper in this couplet. Sarmad was only telling the story of his seeking which had led him from Moses to Muhammad to Rãma and LakshmaNa. I had not read the book as fast and as far as the sufi had done. Nor did I know the real reason for which Sarmad had been beheaded in Delhi by the order of Aurangzeb. All I had heard was that Sarmad used to roam about naked on the roads of this imperial city. I had supposed that he had been punished for his impudence in the midst of a polished society which placed immense importance on being properly dressed. It was years later that I learnt the real nature of Sarmad’s “crime”. It was apostasy which is punishable with death according to the law of Islam laid down by the Prophet himself during the days of his tussle with the polytheists of Mecca.

I have never lost my respect for this second sufi. He is a man of character endowed with a keen mind and a good knowledge of what passes for mysticism in Islam. But he becomes absolutely impregnable, indeed an insufferable fanatic, when it comes to the dogmas of prophetic Islam. His contempt for everything Hindu comes through clearly whenever he publishes a pamphlet. Hindus, he says, are worshippers of kankhajûrãs (scorpions), khatmals (bugs), gãy kã gobar (cowdung), and Kãlî. How he has worked out this combination of four “filthy” things has always defied my imagination. But one thing becomes obvious whenever he opens him mouth, namely, that he derives immense satisfaction by portraying Hinduism in this picturesque manner. Sometimes I feel that the very vehemence of his language against Hinduism helps him keep the fire of his fanaticism burning. Whenever he is in this mood, it is impossible to have a word edgewise with him, or make him realize that he is being downright ridiculous.[2]

Christian missionary in IndiaThe Christian missionary and the mystic

I had the same experience an year earlier with a Catholic missionary who was trying to convert me to his own creed. He had taken me to a monastery in a mountainous region, and put me into what the Christians call a retreat. The very first sentence he uttered in his very first lecture was that I should not expect him to give “some funny feeling inside you”. I did not get the point at that time. Later on I learnt that he was referring to the mystic experience for which we Hindus are supposed to have a special weakness. The Father failed to give me any feeling, funny or otherwise, and the retreat was a total failure. I had started as an ordinary Hindu and came out of it in the same condition. The dogmas of Christianity he had dished out sounded to me, to say that least, rather infantile. But what pained me the most in my meetings with this otherwise lovable man was his contempt for Hinduism which he always equated with the “worship of every bug that bites and every cockroach that crawls around”.

In later years I met another Christian missionary who made it a point to call on me whenever he visited Delhi. His first fascination in India (he was a foreigner [by name Fr. Henri le Saux better known as Abhishiktananda]) was for Ramana Maharshi. That led him to Vedanta and the Upanishads which fascinated him still more. Finally, he gave up his missionary station in the south and moved to the Himalayas for a quiet life of study and meditation. He was a prolific writer. He died a few years ago.

In my first encounter with him I made him feel somewhat uncomfortable by asking him some unconventional questions about Christian theology, particularly about Jesus being the only saviour. Next time we met, he asked me to avoid doctrinal disputation and join him in a deeper communion of minds in meditation. I agreed with him very gladly, and we never discussed theology again. Most of the time I listened to him as he as spoke about the Upanishads, particularly about the experience of Advaita. He had made a very deep study of the subject, and I was nowhere near him in my own knowledge of it.

But I was puzzled when I read some of his writings. Here he was trying very heard to reconcile the experience of Advaita with what he called the Christian experience. I referred the matter to Ram Swarup. He told me that Christian experience was the new name which they were now giving to Christian theology.

Fr. Henri le Saux OSB better known as Abhishektananda.I knew nothing about any experience, advaitic or Christian. Nor do I know it now. But one thing I know for certain is that human experience, whatever its level, is human experience. There is nothing Hindu, or Muslim, or Christian about it as such. The fact that Advaita is a Sanskrit word – a language which flourished in India and is now honoured by Hindus – as also the fact that it has been discussed most exhaustively in the Upanishads, which are now known as Hindu shastras, does not make it a national or sectarian word. For the word only refers to a state of human consciousness which Kabir has described so aptly as bãhar bhîtar ekai jãnõ, yêh guru gyãn batãî (it is the same everywhere, whether without or within; this is the secret taught by the teacher).

Here was a man who was moved so sincerely and so deeply by his seeking for Advaita. Why could he not concentrate on the experience itself, and forget Christianity for the time being? Why could he not throw his theological luggage out of the window and travel straight to the station towards which the train of his own experience was heading? Why should he look out every now and then to find out if the stations on the way had their nameplates inscribed in a language which he had inherited by the accident of his birth? I could not find at that time any satisfactory answers to these questions.

The young sufi was afraid of being slaughtered for saying what he believed to be true. The sincere Christian seeker was trying to stick a label where it failed to stick. Their plight was pathetic.

On the other hand, the old sufi was so sure about himself, about his Islam, and about the abomination that was Hinduism in his eyes. So was the Catholic missionary who had tried to save me from perdition. They seemed to know what was wrong, and where. They seemed to know what was right, and how. What was it that made them feel so secure in their beliefs, and so self-righteous in their swearing against Hinduism?

Religion & PoliticsPolitics masquerading as religion

The questions remained unanswered till I had a chance to read the life of prophet Muhammad and the history of the rise of Christianity. I knew a lot of Muslim history in this country, and also abroad. I knew how blood-soaked it was in all its chapters. I also knew a lot of Christian history in Europe, and America, and elsewhere. I knew what a horrible story it was in terms of death and destruction it brought to many lands. What I did not know for a long time was the genesis of these creeds which had inflicted so much sufferings on mankind.

It was only when I looked into the source books of these “religions”, and examined the character of their founders that I discovered the ãsurika roots from which they had sprung. It was only then that I realized the grave error in recognizing these creeds as religions in any sense of the term. I could see quite clearly that what we were faced with were purely political ideologies inspired by imperialist ambitions. It was only then that all pieces of the puzzle fell into a pattern – the theologies, the histories, the swearologies, and the rest.

Before I take up the genesis of these creeds I should like to make one point very clear. There are no non-Christian records available about the birth, rise, and spread of Christianity till it captured state power in the Roman empire. Whatever I write below about the genesis of Christianity is based entirely on early Christian records. Similarly, no non-Muslim records have survived about the rise and spread of Islam in Arabia. What I write below about the genesis of Islam is based entirely on Islamic records.

Angry Jesus drives the vendors out of the temple.Genesis and character of Christianity

Some historians in the West have serious doubts about the very existence of a man called Jesus Christ.[3] And almost all historians agree that if he existed at all, nothing can be known about his person or teaching because all contemporary sources, Christian and non-Christian, are either silent or unreliable regarding the subject. Thus all we have is the Jesus of the Gospels which are now regarded as theological statements rather than a record of historical events. And Jesus of the Gospels is a questionable character. He makes tall claims about himself, and curses all those who do not accept those claims. He denounces his own people as sons of the Devil and killers of prophets.

In due course, Christian theology came to proclaim that Jesus was the only-begotten son of the only true god; that he had been sent down in order to wash with his own blood the sins of mankind by mounting the cross; that he had risen from the dead on the third day and appeared to his apostles in flesh and bones; that he was the same as his father whose divinity he shared in full; that those who accepted him as the only saviour had all their sins washed by his blood; that he had entered his apostles as the holy ghost and entrusted them with the mission of saving all mankind from eternal hell-fire; that the Church founded by the apostles and joined by the converts was his body and bride; and that the whole world had been mandated to the Church by the father and the son and the holy ghost.

What one finds striking about these ridiculous statements is that none of them can stand the test of human reason or experience. The Church declares them to be mysteries beyond the reach of human understanding. The apostles had tried to sell these “mysteries” to the Jews in Jerusalem. The only response they met was dismissal with contempt. Next, they tried these “mysteries” on Jewish communities settled in Syria, Asia Minor and Greece. They had some small success but most of the time met with considerable resistance. Finally, they took this merchandise to the metropolitan mart at Rome where their business found some firm footing for the first time. It was in Rome that the methods of missionary salesmanship were matured over a period of time. The structure of the Roman empire provided a model for the structure of the Church. The missionaries got busy building a state within the state.

Constantine the GreatIn the next two centuries, the Church became a rich and powerful organisation with members in many leading families of Rome. It found many adherents among politicians who wielded power, among military commanders who were superstitious or in need of political support, and among merchants who had money but no brains for philosophical questions. The mother of emperor Severus (222-235 AD) became a Christian. So did emperor Philip the Arabian (244-249 AD). Helena, the mother of Constantine, was also a Christian convert. Now the Church extended the Divine Right to rule as a despot to anyone who was prepared to declare Christianity as the sole state religion and suppress all pagan religions. Constantine who wanted to secure a dynastic succession for his family – a practice unknown to Roman politics so far – saw his opportunity in this new doctrine, and proclaimed in favour of the Church. The common people in Rome resisted this royal renegade. So he removed his capital from Rome to Byzantium which was renamed Constantinople.

The precedent set by Constantine in consolidating a dynastic despotism with the help of the Church was copied by many crowned heads all over Europe in subsequent centuries. The king in pagan societies was only the first among equals. The Church enabled him to become an unbridled autocrat who derived his authority not from the community over which he ruled but from God Almighty. The conflicts which developed between these autocrats and the powerful Church with a Pope at its head, came much later, after the common people all over Europe had been enslaved and deprived of their traditional institutions which safeguarded their fundamental freedoms. For quite some time, the Church cooperated with the kings to convert the common people everywhere into hewers of wood and drawers of water.

This was one part of the story. Another was a large-scale destruction of ancient religions all over Europe, Asia Minor, and North Africa where the Church spread its tentacles with the help of despotic rulers. All pagan schools were closed, all pagan temples were demolished or converted into churches, and all pagan images were publicly defiled and destroyed. Pagan books were burnt and pagan priests were killed, mostly by Christian monks who led Christian mobs after lecturing them into fevered frenzy. That is how Christianity triumphed over pagan religions and societies – not by the power of its moral or spiritual superiority or the logic of its doctrines, but by the power of the sword wielded by despicable despots.

Prophet MuhammadGenesis and character of Islam

Muhammad followed in the footsteps of Jesus in making the same sort of claims for himself, cursing his own people in the choicest language of monotheism, and threatening them with slaughter. He, however, did not have to struggle against a centralized state when he found that his prophethood had no attraction for the people of Mecca. He migrated to Medina which was more receptive to monotheism because of a large presence of Jews in that town, and emerged as a powerful potentate. He ended by exiling or killing en masse the Jewish population which resisted him as soon as he came out in his true colours. Meanwhile, he had amassed much wealth by plundering merchant caravans and scattered Arab settlements. He created the nucleus of a standing army out of the toughs and desperados who flocked to him in increasing numbers for committing crimes and sharing the loot. In short, he built the apparatus of a military state in Medina and used it for imposing his closed creed on the tribal settlements of Arabia by means of armed force. The doctrines of Islam were tailored to the needs of this galloping tyranny, and sold with the help of the sword. And the sword was stamped with the name of an almighty Allah in whose service the ancient religion and culture of Arabia were destroyed root and branch.

Vatican Imperialism by Avro ManhattanThe mistake made by Hindu society

Hindu society has to understand very clearly that what it is faced with in the form of Christianity and Islam are not religions but imperialist ideologies whose appetite has been whetted by running roughshod over a large part of the world. Hindu society is making a serious, almost a fatal mistake, in appealing to these ideologies in the name of reason and morality which are supposed to accompany religion. This sort of appeal is bound to fail because it falls on deaf ears. The menace has to be met by methods and means which are suited to the nature and magnitude of the menace. Hitler had said that “if the chicken and geese pass a resolution about peace, the wolf is not convinced”. There is little chance that Hindu society will ever be able to contain Christianity or Islam if it continues to regard these aggressive and imperialist ideologies as religions, and extend tolerance to them. – Excerpted from Defence of Hindu Society, New Delhi, 19??

Footnotes:

  1. In 1958.
  2. This sufi remained a friend till he saw my writings, particularly Hindu Society under Siege. In my last meeting with him he said that I had “stabbed him in the back”. He died a few years ago.
  3. See Sita Ram Goel, Jesus Christ: Artifice for Aggression, Voice of India, New Delhi, 1994.