By Sultan Shahin, Founder Editor, New Age Islam
18 July 2016
“If Osama bin Laden is fighting the enemies of Islam, I’m for him. If he is terrorising America, the terrorist, biggest terrorist, I’m with him. Every Muslim should be a terrorist. The thing is that if he is terrorising the terrorist, he is following Islam. Whether he is or not, I don’t know. Now, don’t go around outside saying Zakir Naik is for Osama bin Laden. If he is terrorising the terrorist I’m with him.”
This is the quote of the week. Here Dr. Zakir Naik, the controversial but popular Islamist tele-evangelist is reacting to a question about Osama bin Laden, the terrorist mastermind of 9/11 that killed 3,000 innocent Americans. He doubts Osama bin Laden’s role in 9/11, as many Muslims and even American conspiracy theorists do. They think 9/11 was an inside job. Dr. Naik plays on this sentiment. He clearly supports terrorism, and goes on to say, every Muslim should be a terrorist in the sense of terrorising “enemies of Islam.” Now the question is: Who gives Naik the authority to sanction “terrorising” any one? Also: who are these “enemies of Islam” today?
To find an answer any follower of Zakir Naik would go to the literal words of the holy Quran. Naik is a Wahhabi-Salafi-Ahl-e-Hadeesi who has full Saudi financial and logistical support. He recently received Saudi Arabia’s highest civilian award, the Shah Faisal Award consisting of $200,000 and a gold plaque. Wahhabis consider themselves ghair-muqallids, i.e., Muslims who do not follow any of the five mazahib or schools of thought like, Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi΄i, Hanbali and Ja‘fari. Muslims on the Indian sub-continent used to follow the most broad-minded and moderate school of thought, the Hanafi, before the advent of Saudi Wahhabism in full force 40 years ago. The distinguishing feature of this sect is literalism. They read the Quran literally and consider all verses equally relevant, universal and eternal in their applicability to Muslims of all ages and all places.
So any Muslim who accepts Naik’s exhortation that Muslims should terrorise “the enemies of Islam,” would consult the Quran. Internet has made it much easier to access various renderings of Quran, as well as tafasir (exegesis and interpretations). The spirit of Quran, the overall sense of what the Quran is saying, a holistic view that the Sufis and moderates take, is completely missing in Wahhabi-Salafi Islam that Zakir Naik propagates.
Now what would a victim of Naik who takes him as a great scholar on the basis of his rote memory find in the Quran? Before we go into this question, we should acquire a little background of the advent of Islam, otherwise we are likely to be misguided in the same way the Indian Mujahedin or the Dhaka youth were. The Islam that came in Mecca with its foundational verses was a spiritual path to salvation of mankind. It taught honesty, integrity, equality of all humanity in the dominion of One invisible, formless God, patience and perseverance in dealing with other human beings and in the face of adversity, co-existence of all religions, good neighbourliness, gender equality, etc. However, the Meccan elite could not accept equality of all human beings, which brought them at par with the lowly, the poor and the slaves. They started persecuting Muslims and eventually planned to assassinate the Prophet. The prophet and most Muslims left and took refuge in another town, later called Medina. The Meccans followed them. A point reached when the only way for Muslims to survive was to defend themselves. At this point, 13 years after the advent of Islam, they were permitted to fight in defence and kill those who had turned them out of their houses only for having a different religion.
In is natural for the Quranic revelations, that were guiding the Prophet and his followers, to ask Muslims to defend themselves, fight and kill, terrify, put panic in the hearts of their enemies in those wars. So when a follower of Dr Zakir Naik, who has heard that “every Muslim should be a terrorist for the enemies of Islam,” goes to Quran and finds war-time, contextual verses like 9: 5, 3:151, 8:60, etc, and takes them literally as an exhortation valid for even today, he is likely to go astray, particularly in the absence of any contrary opinion.
Sūrah Taubah (Quran 9: 5)
فَإِذَا انسَلَخَ الأَشْهُرُ الْحُرُمُ فَاقْتُلُواْ الْمُشْرِكِينَ حَيْثُ وَجَدتُّمُوهُمْ وَخُذُوهُمْ وَاحْصُرُوهُمْ وَاقْعُدُواْ لَهُمْ كُلَّ مَرْصَدٍ فَإِن تَابُواْ وَأَقَامُواْ الصَّلاَةَ وَآتَوُاْ الزَّكَاةَ فَخَلُّواْ سَبِيلَهُمْ إِنَّ اللّهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ ﴿٥﴾
Translated by Yusuf Ali: But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practise regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful.
Sūrah āl ʿim’rān (Quran 3: 151)
سَنُلْقِي فِي قُلُوبِ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ الرُّعْبَ بِمَا أَشْرَكُواْ بِاللّهِ مَا لَمْ يُنَزِّلْ بِهِ
سُلْطَانًا وَمَأْوَاهُمُ النَّارُ وَبِئْسَ مَثْوَى الظَّالِمِينَ ﴿١٥١﴾
Translated by Yusuf Ali: Soon shall We cast terror into the hearts of the Unbelievers, for that they joined companions with Allah, for which He had sent no authority: their abode will be the Fire: And evil is the home of the wrong-doers!
Sūrah l-Anfāl (Quran 8: 60)
وَأَعِدّوا لَهُم مَا استَطَعتُم مِن قُوَّةٍ وَمِن رِباطِ الخَيلِ تُرهِبونَ بِهِ عَدُوَّ اللَّهِ وَعَدُوَّكُم وَآخَرينَ مِن دونِهِم لا تَعلَمونَهُمُ اللَّهُ يَعلَمُهُم ۚ وَما تُنفِقوا مِن شَيءٍ في سَبيلِ اللَّهِ يُوَفَّ إِلَيكُم وَأَنتُم لا تُظلَمونَ
Translated by Yusuf Ali: Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies, of Allah and your enemies, and others besides, whom ye may not know, but whom Allah doth know. Whatever ye shall spend in the cause of Allah, shall be repaid unto you, and ye shall not be treated unjustly.
And several other similar verses. Then a Muslim reader or listener of Zakir Naik may go to Hadees (Sahih Muslim 4322, Sahih Bukhari 52:256) and learn that Prophet (pbuh) himself justified killing of innocent women and children in Taif as collateral damage as the Taliban, al-Qaeda and ISIS claim.
- Sahih al-Bukhari Book of Jihaad,Vol. 4, Book 52, Hadith 256
Narrated As-Sab bin Jaththama:
The Prophet passed by me at a place called Al-Abwa or Waddan, and was asked whether it was permissible to attack the pagan warriors at night with the probability of exposing their women and children to danger. The Prophet replied, “They (i.e. women and children) are from them (i.e. pagans).” I also heard the Prophet saying, “The institution of Hima is invalid except for Allah and His Apostle.”
- Sahih Muslim Book 019, Hadith Number 4322.
“Permissibility of killing women and children in the night raids, provided it is not deliberate.
“It is narrated by Sa’b b. Jaththama that he said (to the Holy Prophet): Messenger of Allah, we kill the children of the polytheists during the night raids. He said: They are from them.”
The point to be understood is that when one is permitted to fight, one is also asked to confront, put panic in the heart, terrorise and kill the enemy. But these instructions are no longer valid when the war is over. As for Hadees, I cannot put any credibility on narrations that put words in the mouth of the Prophet saying what Quran specifically prohibited.
Muslims have already dismissed as obsolete many verses whose instructions can no longer be followed. Take this verse of Sura Hajj: “They will come to you on foot and on every lean camel, (to perform Hajj).” (Quran 22: 27) Now, who goes for Hajj on foot or on a lean camel today. Even the nearby Salafi-Wahhabi Arabs come to Mecca for Hajj in their air-conditioned cars and buses. Clearly even Salafi-Wahhabis consider this verse obsolete.
So these later Medinan verses ask Muslims to fight in the way of Allah, as they were engaged in an existential battle for survival. But what was the message of Islam that these Muslims were fighting to safeguard? Obviously, the spiritual message they had received in Mecca. Early Meccan Islam represents the foundational, essential, constitutive, eternal, universal teachings of Islam, valid for all times. Not the instructions given later at Medina to fight to safeguard Meccan Islam in an existential battle.
Islam is now safe. It has 1.6 billion followers. We no longer live in the 7th century when at one time in Medina if just 313 people had been killed in the battle of Badr, Islam would probably have ceased to exist. Special instructions are always given to protect an infant. But these instructions are no longer followed as the infant grows strong with age.
Are all later Medinan verses then only of historical validity? No, this principle only applies to war-related contextual verses asking Muslims to fight, kill and be killed and earn heavenly reward. These contextual verses of war are no longer applicable to us as we live in the 21st century in a world governed and protected by the UN Charter. Islam is not faced with an existential crisis like the one in seventh century Medina. Just as we have discarded the instruction to go for Hajj on foot or on camels, we should discard the instructions related to war.
But the problem is this. No, mainstream, peaceful, Sufi, Barailwi, Eiteqadi ulema who claim to oppose Zakir Naik are willing to say this in so many words. And, of course, you can’t expect Salafi-Wahhabi literalists to say so. And this explains why our youth are turning to Zakir Naik and other Jihadi ideologues and running away from the mainstream, peaceful Muslims. Zakir Naik is wrong, maybe evil, but he is not mincing his words. Youth is always attracted to honesty and courage of conviction, and repelled by hypocrisy.
Our focus should not be so much on Zakir Naik as on the question: why and how has he so easily succeeded in radicalising millions. Only a few of these millions may go on to join terrorism, but radicalisation of the millions is the real problem. Saudis and Ahl-e-Haeesis have only provided him logistical support. In my view the reason he has succeeded is that he is not saying anything new, or vastly different from what other clerics say. He is using the theology of consensus, the same theology that is taught in universities and madrasas. His distinction is in the presentation, using modern means of communication. He is reaching those who did not have access to this theology before. That is why ulema cannot oppose him in a meaningful way. Sufi-Barailvis and even some Deobandis have tried. They are angry because Naik has exposed their hypocrisy. But they will find it impossible to oppose him and others effectively unless they decide to let go of their hypocrisy and clarify their stand on Jihad, particularly offensive Jihad.
You cannot say in the same breath that instructions in all verses of Quran and narrations of Hadees are applicable to us Muslims even today in the 21st century and that those who are following these 7th century war-time instructions in Quran and Hadees to fight and kill the combatants as well as civilians are wrong. If ulema indeed want to save the community from further radicalisation, they just have to introspect on their own hypocrisy and help evolve a new and coherent theology of peace and pluralism based on the foundational, universal verses of Quran.
We will have to come out and say clearly and repeatedly that contextual verses meant for war in the seventh century are no longer applicable to us today. They have merely historical value and tell us the story of what nearly insurmountable difficulties our prophet (pbuh) had to face to safeguard the nascent religion of Islam then. Islam is no longer an infant today. It has grown up and found space in 1.6 billion hearts. It can very well take care of itself. Muslims n longer need to fight and kill and put terror in the hearts of so-called kuffar and mushrikeen for Islam to survive as was the case in the 7th century (C.E).
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