Murderous Sectarianism in Islam: Salafi Ulema Should Not Only Condemn the Massacre at Lal Shahbaz Qalandar Shrine but Also the Ideology behind It

The massacre of over a hundred devotees at Sufi shrine of Jhule Lal Shahbaz Qalandar at Sehwan in Sindh, Pakistan is neither the first such incident nor is it going to be the last. There are condemnations galore from Muslims of all hues including Salafi-Wahhabis. The general secretary of Indian Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith, Maulana Asghar Ali Imam Mehdi Salafi, for instance, has condemned the incident in the strongest terms.
However, the problem is that contrary to all evidence Salafi-Wahhabis refuse to accept that it is their own theology that has created an environment in which such regular massacres have become possible. Indeed, the entire establishment and expansion of Wahhabism as a force to reckon with has been based on mass murders and destruction of shrines from early 19th century onwards.
Wahhabi vandalism started in 1802 when an army of 12,000 Najdi Salafi warriors called Ikhwan attacked Shia holy sites in the city of Karbala, slaying 4,000 of that city’s inhabitants. In 1803 they attacked Makkah but the Makkans, having known the fate of Karbala, surrendered to Saudi Wahhabi rule. The Wahhabi Ikhwan then smashed Sufi shrines and the graves of even the closest companions of the Prophet. In Madina, they not only destroyed common grave-sites, but even attacked the tomb of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh).
Since then the history of Islam has been a history of massacres of non-Wahhabi Muslims and destruction of holy sites. Presently the banner of forcible Wahhabi expansion is taken up by al-Qaeda, ISIS, Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangawi, Al-Shabab, Boko Haram, etc.
Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab (1703–1792), the founder of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi-Salafi creed declared all rationalist and mystic Muslims as mushrik or polytheists and thus “wajibul qatl” (deserving death). In a long discourse in Kashaful Shubhat, he explained why all Muslims despite their claim to believe in one God are polytheists whose lives and property are halal (permitted) for Wahhabi Muslims. He concluded his discourse: “… You now understand that these people’s (non-Wahhabi Muslims’) accepting tauheed (oneness of God) does not make them Muslim; the fact that they expect intercession from others than God (Sufi saints) makes them liable to be killed and their property to be looted.” —– Kashaful Shubhat, p.9, Maktaba al-salafia bil Madina Munawwara, 1969 CE)
Another Abdul Wahhab quote necessary to understand the current conflict is the following: “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 includes all non-Wahhabi Muslims). (Majmua Al-Rasael Wal-Masael Al-Najdiah 4/291).
The problem with Indian Salafi ulema like Maulana Imam Mehdi Salafi is that while they condemn specific terrorist incidents, they do not denounce the Wahhabi-Salafi ideology that they actually follow. This is a self-contradictory stance. You denounce terrorism and follow the ideology from which it emanates. From the time of the Mohammad bin Abdul Wahhab – Muhammad bin Saud pact in 1744, Salafi-Wahhabis have been following this murderous ideology which calls all non-Wahhabi Muslims mushrik (polytheist) and Wajibul Qatl (deserving death).
If Ahl-e-Hadith and other Salafi Muslims are sincere in condemning sectarian terrorism they need to also denounce and renounce the Wahhabi-Salafi ideology that calls for murder, destruction and looting of property. They only need to do what Abdul Wahhab’s father and brother did. In fact, his brother Shaykh Sulayman ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab wrote a book refuting his arguments. Abdul Wahhab was able to propagate his ideas freely only when his father, a Qazi of the region, passed away.
Although Sufi-oriented Muslims, rationalists, Shias, etc have been a victim of Salafi-Wahhabi terrorism, it would be wrong to conclude that extremism is limited to Wahhabis. The recent murder of Pakistani Punjab’s Governor Salman Taseer and the deification of his Brailvi murderer by millions of Muslims shows that extremism is widespread across all sects of Islam. All Muslims who sincerely denounce terrorism need to introspect and brainstorm together how to weed out ideologies within Islam that lead to such massacres of Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
We also need to expose the hypocrites within Islam. There are people who denounce terrorism in public and teach in their madrasas that early peaceful and pluralistic verses of Quran have been abrogated by the later war-time verses asking us to kill the kafir and mushrik. Of course, war-time verses had come in a certain context which no longer exists and so these instructions can no longer apply to us. The first task before us is to come out of denial, accept that our theology and jurisprudence have been corrupted and then start thinking of changing our mindset, so that we can live as peaceful citizens of this inter-connected twenty-first century world.
Read more here: Islamic Ideology
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Deepening Signs of a Civil War in Islam: Massacres of Sufis in Pakistan In The Name Of Pure Islam Reveals a Worsening Global Crisis

Is this Islam? A woman in Peshawar had asked this question, crying over the blood-spattered dead bodies of her school-going children in December 2014. The proud killers of 132 innocent children and scores of female teachers were the Pakistan Taliban. The Taliban are student of Islamic madrasas, supposedly well-versed in the teachings of Islam. They claim to kill in the name of Islam. They claim to glorify Islam. They say they are trying to establish the sovereignty of Allah over the world.  So, the question is inevitable. Is this Islam, indeed?
Now Pakistan is once again in shock. Today the question is: Is this pure Islam or true Islam, as Salafis claim? Not for the first, nor for the last time, to be sure, over hundred devotees of Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sindh have been killed in the name of what Salafi-Wahhabis consider true, pure Islam. Salafi-Wahhabis abhor Sufism because they believe that Sufi practices resemble pre-Islamic polytheistic Hindu traditions. Any Muslim who strays from the path of what Salafis consider true Islam is an apostate and deserves to be killed. The murderer has been brainwashed by ulema of his sect into believing that he can be assured of a place in heaven if he kills apostates and kuffars.
Many Pakistanis claim the idea of Pakistan is that of a secular, democratic Pakistan. The idea of Pakistan as outlined by its founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was flawed right from start. In an address to the Constituent Assembly, delivered on 11 August 1947, he urged forgiveness of bygone quarrels among Pakistanis, so all can be “. . . first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights . . .”. Pointing out that England in past centuries had settled its fierce sectarian persecutions, he expressed his wish for a Pakistan in which “in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”
But if that was the idea of Pakistan, what was the need for a separate state, away from India? Where does the two-nation theory fit into this idea of Pakistan? Clearly it was a hypocritical statement. No wonder the ideology of exclusivism, separation, intolerance on which Pakistan was created almost immediately won the battle. On the insistence of Jamaat-e-Islami founder-ideologue Maulana Maududi, an Objectives Resolution was adopted by the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on March 12, 1949. The resolution proclaimed that the future constitution of Pakistan would be modelled on the ideology and democratic faith of Islam. The very first article in the resolution said: “Sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Allah Almighty alone and the authority which He has delegated to the state of Pakistan, through its people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust.”
Maulana Maududi was a Salafist. With the adoption of the Objectives Resolution, in accordance with his wishes, the Pakistani state itself became a Salafist state for all practical purposes. But the overwhelming majority of the people continued to be Sufi-oriented Bareilvis. Deoband had little influence in Pakistan at that time.
This is what created the division that has now led to a civil war-like situation. In Wahhabi-Salafi ideology that Pakistani state adopted so early on, there was no room for a tolerant and inclusive Sufism which would accord respect to all religions and follow the policy of Sulh-e-Kul (Genera Accord). Salafis consider followers of Sufi saints to be infidels at the same level as polytheists or idol-worshippers. In their understanding of pure Islam, these people deserve to be killed. It is the acceptance of Salafi-theology as Pakistan’s state ideology from the very beginning that has created an environment in which such regular massacres at a number of Sufi shrines across Pakistan have become possible. This is not the first time and Pakistan is not the first country where Wahhabism is spreading in this fashion. Indeed, the entire establishment and expansion of Wahhabism as a force to reckon with has been based on mass murders and destruction of shrines from early 19th century onwards.
Wahhabi vandalism started in 1802 when an army of 12,000 Najdi Salafi warriors called Ikhwan attacked Shia holy sites in the city of Karbala, slaying 4,000 of that city’s inhabitants. In 1803 they attacked Makkah but the Makkaans, having known the fate of Karbala, surrendered to Saudi Wahhabi rule. The Wahhabi Ikhwan then smashed Sufi shrines and the graves of even the closest companions of the Prophet. In Madina, they not only destroyed common grave-sites, but even attacked the tomb of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). Since then the history of Islam has been a history of massacres of non-Wahhabi Muslims and destruction of holy sites. Presently the banner of forcible Wahhabi expansion is taken up by al-Qaeda, ISIS, Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangawi, Al-Shabab, Boko Haram, etc.
Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab (1703–1792), the founder of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi-Salafi creed declared all rationalist and mystic Muslims as mushrik or polytheists and thus “wajibul qatl” (deserving death). In a long discourse in Kashaful Shubhat, he explained why all Muslims despite their claim to believe in one God are polytheists whose lives and property are halal (permitted) for Wahhabi Muslims. He concluded his discourse: “… You now understand that these people’s (non-Wahhabi Muslims’) accepting tauheed (oneness of God) does not make them Muslim; the fact that they expect intercession from others than God (Sufi saints) makes them liable to be killed and their property to be looted.” — Kashaful Shubhat, p.9, Maktaba al-salafia bil Madina Munawwara, 1969 CE)
Another Abdul Wahhab quote necessary to understand the current conflict is the following: “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 includes all non-Wahhabi Muslims). (Majmua Al-Rasael Wal-Masael Al-Najdiah 4/291).
While generally Indian ulema stay silent when such atrocities are perpetrated, this time a few have come up with denunciations. Maulana Asghar Ali Imam Mehdi Salafi, general secretary of Ahl-e-Hadith, has, for instance, condemned this incident vigorously. But the problem with Indian Salafi ulema who condemn such terrorist incidents is that while they condemn specific terrorist incidents, they do not denounce the Wahhabi-Salafi ideology that they actually follow. This is a self-contradictory stance. No wonder it is also self-defeating. Denouncing terrorism means very little, if the ideology from which it emanates continues to be followed. From the time of the Mohammad bin Abdul Wahhab – Muhammad bin Saud pact in 1744, Salafi-Wahhabis have been following this murderous ideology which calls all non-Wahhabi Muslims Mushrik (polytheist) and Wajibul Qatl (deserving death).
If Ahl-e-Hadith and other Salafi Muslims are sincere in condemning sectarian terrorism they need to also denounce and renounce the Wahhabi-Salafi ideology that calls for murder, destruction and looting of property. They only need to do what Abdul Wahhab’s father and brother did. In fact, his brother Shaykh Sulayman ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab wrote a book refuting his arguments. Abdul Wahhab was able to propagate his ideas freely only when his father, a Qazi of the region, passed away.
Although Sufi-oriented Muslims, rationalists, Shias, etc have been victims of Salafi-Wahhabi terrorism, it would be wrong to conclude that extremism is limited to Wahhabis. There is a consensus of ulema of all schools of thought on an extremist understanding of Islam. Take any popular book of Tafsir (interpretation), of the holy Quran, from Ibn-e-Kathir to Jalalain Shareef, or even later ones like that of Maulana Maududi. Quran’s original teachings of peace and pluralism, patience and perseverance, in early Meccan verses, are said to have been abrogated by the later war-time verses that were revealed at Mecca in a time when Islam was indeed facing an existential crisis and defensive war was unavoidable. Take Friday sermons read out in mosques anywhere in the world. Muslims are forever praying for victory over kuffar and mushrekin (non-believers and deviants, infidels and idol-worshippers. Not only that You will even find us Muslims praying to God to curse the non-Muslim and defeat them. In the case of Wahhabi-Salafi the curse applies to even the Muslims who may have a mystical bent of mind, as for them all non-Wahhabis are infidels and deviants, for whom the only punishment is beheading, here and now.
Would a Muslim-majority country allow a non-Muslim minority to keep cursing it all the time and praying for its defeat at the hand of non-Muslims, that too in peace time, when no battles are being fought. Muslim-majority countries indeed do not even allow worship places to be built by other religious communities, in some cases, and where they do, they put a variety of restrictions on them. The most bizarre, of course, is the prohibition for Christians to use the word “Allah” to denote God in the most technologically advanced Muslim country, Malaysia.
Many Muslims would be surprised to know all this as they do not know what they are hearing in Arabic in Friday sermons. Most have not read the Quran with meaning, much less it’s various tafsirs taught in madrasas. Then there is also the case of tampering of these tafsirs of Quran by Salafi-Wahhabis in recent decades. The translation of a very popular book with religious-minded Muslims, particularly Tablighi Jamaat, al-Nawawi’s Riyadh al-Salehin, published in 1999 by Darussalam Publishing House, Riyadh, is a case in point. As if Riyadh al-Salehin was not sufficient in selecting extremist, xenophobic, intolerant material from Quran and Hadith, in its Book of Jihad, commentaries have been inserted art various places to give them an even more radical interpretation. The 11075-word Chapter on Jihad, for instance, doesn’t have a word to say about what we moderates call Jihad-e-Akbar (Greater Jihad), i.e., struggle against one’s own negative or evil inclinations, citing a saying of the Prophet (pbuh). This saying has been declared by most theologians as zaeef (weak), hence unreliable and inauthentic. On the other hand, Ahadith saying that struggle against non-Muslims should go on till eternity and that killing of even innocent civilians was allowed by the Prophet himself are found in sihah-e-sitta, i.e., all the six volumes of “authentic” Ahadith. The result is that the only basis for a Muslims’ relationship with a non-Muslim is considered in theology to be war.
In the case of Wahhabi-Salafi theology, even the basis of a Wahhabi’s relationship with a Sufi-oriented Muslim would be conflict and strife. No wonder our ulema stay completely quiet, when Khalifa Baghdadi and his followers from India declare in YouTube Videos telecast on world television, as they did last year, that “Islam has never been a religion of peace, not even for a day; it has always been a religion of peace and strife.” What can the ulema say, after all. This is what they have learnt and this is what they teach.
Many a Muslims pins their hope on Sufis. It would be nice to do so. We will have some basis for optimism left. But we should not forget that in the last four decades, these petrodollar decades, there has been a Wahhabisation of Sufism itself. The Wahhabi takfiri ideology has penetrated all sections of the community. The 4 January 2011 murder of Pakistani Punjab’s Governor Salman Taseer and the recent deification of his Barelvi-Sufi murderer by millions of Muslims can be cited as strong evidence for this phenomenon.
A bodyguard of Salman Taseer was told by the Mullah he followed that Taseer had become an apostate by opposing Pakistan’s (black) blasphemy laws and showing sympathy for a Christian lady (falsely) accused of blasphemy. This man Mumtaz Qadri used his service weapon to kill the Governor in cold blood. While the killer became a hero instantaneously, most Ulema were not even prepared to lead the funeral prayers of the slain Governor. Lawyers of Pakistan’s High court, supposedly educated people working to uphold the law, threw rose petals on the killer when he was brought to court. Courts found him guilty, as the killer was not contesting the facts of the case, and awarded him death sentence. He has been executed. But the government had to permit a shrine being built in his name. He has been declared a saint. Millions throng his shrine and seek his intercession with God to fulfil their own needs.
Is Jinnah’s idea of a secular and democratic Pakistan then quite dead, if it ever had any resonance with the Pakistani state which had accepted the Objectives Resolution with so much alacrity so early? Perhaps not quite. These same lawyers who threw rose petals on the killer were also in the forefront of fight against General Musharraf’s dictatorship and did eventually manage to throw him out of power. But the idea of Pakistan, or whatever is left of it, is scuttled by the ideology of Pakistan again and again.
However, the issue of Salafi-Sufi civil war does not concern Pakistan alone. Muslims are a global community. One can see manifestations of the same struggle everywhere. India too is not immune. We need to remain extremely vigilant Already there are signs of expanding radicalism. Even a few score Muslim youth, all well-educated, well-off, well-settled with good jobs, leaving everything to fight for the so-called Islamic State, should be enough to cause disquiet. But the greater worry is that most Indian Muslims are not worried. We are happy to wish these worrisome thoughts away by putting the blame on Zionism, Islamophobia, etc, for everything negative that happens in the community. If we do indeed wish to live peacefully in this inter-connected world, we will have to change course and rather urgently.
Read more here: Moderate Muslims

Religious and Theological Underpinning of Global Islamist Terror: Full Text of Speech at International Counter Terrorism Conference 2016 in Jaipur

Sultan Shahin speaking at International Counter-Terrorism Conference  at Jaipur

The ease and swiftness with which the so-called Islamic State and the self-declared khilafat of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has attracted over 30,000 Muslims from 100 countries around the globe in just one year has surprised many.  But this should not have come as a surprise to us in India. Muslim love for the idea of global Khilafat is well-known. From Indian subcontinent alone, less than a hundred years ago, at least 18,000 Muslims had left their homes, even government jobs and marched off to fight for the last Ottoman Khilafat. This was madness, pure and simple. Most ruined their lives and some died. But they are considered ghazis and martyrs. Important clerics including Maulana Abul Kalam Azad issued fatwas calling for Jihad or Hijrat (emigration) from British India, which was considered Darul Harb (Land of conflict, ruled by infidels), as a religious duty.

So, for a large section of Muslims the lure of a Khilafat that would rule the world, eliminate all other religions, particularly all forms of idolatry, establish the truth of Islam, is nothing new. When Baghdadi announced his khilafat, it was welcomed in many Muslim newspapers in India. An influential cleric from Nadwatul Ulama, went so far as to post a letter to the so-called Khalifa on his Facebook page, addressing him as Ameerul Momineen, spiritual leader of all Muslims. He faced no protest, not even from Nadwa or Darul uloom Deoband.

With the so-called Islamic State proudly broadcasting its monstrous brutalities and inhuman practices like sex slavery, the community is embarrassed and support is now muted. But this can only be described as hypocrisy.  India’s most popular Islamic preacher and Ahl-e-Hadithi televangelist Zakir Naik has been saying for years, that “Allah has made halal for Muslims sex with slaves and women captured in war.” Muslim religious leaders have never protested. But when ISIS takes these fatwas and Wahhabi/Salafi teachings to their logical conclusion, actually kidnaps and makes Yazidi, Christian and Shia women sex slaves, the community is embarrassed and some clerics start saying Islam has nothing to do with terrorism.

Sultan Shahin speaking at International Counter-Terrorism Conference  at Jaipur

Of course, Islam has nothing to do with terrorism. It is a spiritual path to salvation, not a political ideology for dominating the world. Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) was a mystic who was eventually appointed a messenger of God. There are innumerable verses in the Quran that call for peace at all costs, even going to the extent of saying that murder of one innocent person amounts to genocide of humanity and protection given to one innocent amounts to saving humanity (Quran 5:32). The same is also true of narrations of Prophet’s supposed sayings, Ahadith, (pl. of Hadith). Prophet’s own conduct (Seerat) shows that he accepted peace even at the cost of justice and fairness for Muslims in the famous treaty of Hudaibiya. To avoid bloodshed in the Battle of the Trench (Ghazwah al-Khandaq, 627 CE), he secured the city of Medina behind a ditch he dug along with his companions around Medina. He declared a general Amnesty for all Meccans after conquering it without bloodshed (629 CE), when Meccans were apprehending a general massacre as was the prevailing custom of those times. So not only does Quran specifically forbid all violence against innocents and repeatedly warns against aggression, but the Prophet himself avoided violence as much as possible in the most trying times of Islam’s infancy.

It is true that madrasas and mosques do not overtly preach violence and terrorism. But it is also true that text books in madrasas do preach supremacism, xenophobia, exclusivism and intolerance.  Thus they do the groundwork for militant ideologies by instilling in their students a binary thinking of Muslim/Kafir as opposites who cannot co-exist. As a result, some Muslims self-segregate and alienate themselves from the mainstream. A global Muslim missionary organisation Tablighi Jamaat, for instance, which has up to 150 million adherents in over 200 countries now, focuses entirely on segregating Muslims from the mainstream, asking them to maintain a separate identity, and prohibiting them from following any customs they may have in common with the non-Muslim majority. This Wahhabi/Salafi organisation was recently banned from university campuses in Pakistani Punjab but faces no such restriction in India.

Indeed, a Muslim is bombarded from all sides with sermons calling for Jihad; a Jihad, which is shorn of all its spiritual content and used simply as a synonym for qital, warfare. Even historical fiction written by 20th century Urdu novelist Nasim Hejazi, for instance, can be taken as a call for Jihad, far more effective than any overt Jihadi literature. In most popular Urdu fairy tales, Dāstān-e-Amīr Hamzah, for instance, the central character is fighting with demons who do not believe in oneness of God and are thus kafir. The devotional poetry a Muslim listens to at Sufi shrines contain lines like the following: Aaj bhi darte hain kafir Haidari Talwar se,” meaning, even today the kafirs are afraid of the sword of Hazrat Ali, the fourth caliph. Even the first biographies of the Prophet written by Arabs called them “Maghazi Rasulullah,” meaning battle accounts of the Prophet. The first Muslims, the Arabs, could not celebrate his devotion to peace, moderation, Huqooqul Ibad (human rights) and mystical approach to religion.  They could only hail him as a hero presenting him as a great warrior which he was not. He barely lifted a sword once or twice, 14 years after prophethood, at the age of 54, purely in defence. The prayer a Muslim has been hearing week after week in every Friday sermon for 1400 years is for victory over kuffar (infidels), establishment of the true religion of Islam, dominance over the whole world, elimination of idolatry from the planet, and so on, all generating supremacism, exclusivism, xenophobia and intolerance.

The idea of a permanent confrontation with the kafir, thus, runs through our veins. In verses often quoted by militant ideologues, God assures Muslims in two places in Quran (8:12 and 3: 151) that “He will cast terror into the hearts of the Kuffars (Unbelievers).” This is a contextual verse, like some others, similarly militant and intolerant, revealed during the course of the existential wars waged by the Muslims in early Islam. Any rational Muslim would say today that these contextual war verses do not apply to us anymore. But you will not find even those moderate scholars seeking to refute terrorist ideologies saying that. In fact, the refutations go on to actually justify the core theology of terror and violence.

A hundred thousand copies of an Arabic book titled “Refuting ISIS” has recently been distributed in Syria and Iraq. It is also available online in English. The author Shaykh Muhammad Al-Yaqoubi is, of course, sincere in his refutation. But he too quotes from the same set of end-time prophesies, seeking to prove that Baghdadi and his clique are idiots and should be fought, thus giving credibility to these same series of millenarian prophesies. So what he actually ends up doing amounts to strengthening ISIS’ propaganda of the allegedly coming apocalypse. Unlike al-Qaeda, which did not talk so much about apocalypse, ISIS vision is largely apocalyptic. They base the justification for their war as being the prophesied end-times war. They sacrificed many men capturing a militarily insignificant town called Dabiq (which is also the name of their mouthpiece) because the end-times prophecies refer to a war in this town.

Apocalyptic prophesies are one of the chief tools used by ISIS to attract Muslim youth to be part of an end-time war. If the world is going to end in a few years’ time, with Islam conquering the world, as is prophesied, decimating all infidels, why not be on the winning side. This is an argument that appeals to many. So someone seeking to refute ISIS should not be strengthening their chief propaganda tool. But this cleric or any other cannot help but strengthen ISIS. All clerics believe in the same core theology as do the terrorists. These predictions come from Ahadith (purported sayings of the prophet, pl. of Hadith) and ulema (scholars) from all school of thought consider them akin to revelation. These end-time prophesies can only by questioned fruitfully by questioning the credibility of narrations that were collected up to 300 years after the demise of the Prophet and attributed to him, not by calling them akin to revelation.

Some of these prophesies also come from speculative readings of two allegorical verses in the Quran 4:159; 43:61. Muslims have been asked not to speculate about their meaning and leave them alone. But, of course, Muslims do, and the result is prophesied scenarios of apocalyptic wars.

Similarly, in its core theology even the 14,000-word fatwa issued recently (August 2015) by 120 scholars from around the world, agrees with the militant ideologies. Their “Open Letter to Al-Baghdadi” also calls Hadith akin to revelation, knowing full well that all justifications of killings of innocent civilians come from a hadith attributing to the Prophet permission for killing of innocents in an attack at Taif by the use of catapult (manjaniq): (Sahih Muslim 19:4321 & Sahih Bukhari 4: 52:256). This hadith is also used by al-Qaeda to justify use of weapons of mass destruction.

In point 16. Hudud (Punishment), the moderate fatwa establishes a general rule: “Hudud punishments (death for apostasy, etc.) are fixed in the Qur’an and Hadith and are unquestionably obligatory in Islamic Law.” Having accepted the basic premise of the Baghdadi tribe it goes on to criticise its implementation in the so-called Islamic State. But once moderate ulema have accepted the basic premise of Hudud (Punishments) based on some verses of Quran and seventh century Bedouin tribal Arab mores being “unquestionably obligatory in Islamic Law,” what difference does actually remain between moderation and extremism?

In point 20 of the fatwa, the moderate ulema seem to be justifying the destruction of idols and Sufi shrines, by talking of the supposed Islamic obligation to destroy and remove all manifestations of shirk (idolatry), only opposing the destruction of graves of the prophets and their companion.

In point 22 of the Open Letter, titled, The Caliphate, the moderate ulema again concur with the basic proposition of the Baghdadi clique: “There is agreement (ittifaq) among scholars that a caliphate is an obligation upon the Ummah. The Ummah has lacked a caliphate since 1924 CE.”

This moderate fatwa even expresses belief in the theory of abrogation, whereby terror ideologues debunk peaceful Meccan verses that came at the beginning of Islam.  Thus, like Sheikh Yaqoobi’s “Refuting ISIS” this fatwa too strengthens the terrorist ideology, while criticising its practice.

This is not surprising. The commonly accepted theology of most Muslims agrees with the following features of the Jihadist theology:

  1. It regards God as an implacable, anthropomorphic figure permanently at war with those who do not believe in His uniqueness, as against the Sufi or Vedantic concept of God as universal consciousness or universal intelligence radiating His grace from every atom in the universe;
  2. Quran as an uncreated aspect of God, a copy of the eternal Book lying in the Heavenly vault. Hence all its verses, in their literal meaning, have to be treated as an eternal guidance to Muslims without any reference to context;
  3. Ahadith or so-called sayings of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) as akin to revelation, even though they were collected two to three hundred years after the demise of the Prophet. This is what allows ISIS to justify civilian killings and sex with female war prisoners. It also helps ISIS draw an apocalyptic, end-time war scenario and attract Muslim youth to participate in what they are told is a final war to make Islam victorious in the world;
  4. Sharia laws as divine, even though they were first codified 120 years after God announced the completion of the religion in one of the last verses in Quran;
  5. Jihad in the sense of Qital (warfare) as the sixth pillar of Islam;
  6. 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, 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;
  7. Hijra (migration to Darul Islam – abode of Islam- from Darul Harab (Land of disbelief and conflict) as a religious duty and an act of devotion;
  8.    a caliphate is an obligation upon the Ummah (global Muslim community).

Twentieth century scholars like Syed Qutb (1906–1966) of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Abul A’la Maududi (1903–1979), of India and later Pakistan, who founded Jamaat-e-Islami, are considered the two fathers of modern Islamist terrorism or Jihadism. More contemporary ideologues who have contributed enormously to the Jihadist discourse are Abdullah Yusuf Azzam (1941-89) and Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi (Born: 1959), etc.

Many Muslim scholars would distance themselves from these militant scholars today. But the reason Jihadism is so influential and attractive to so many is that the Jihadist theology is based on the popular theology propounded by major classical Arab theologians like Ibn-e-Taimiya (1263-1328), and Mohammad Ibn-e Abdul Wahhab (1703-1792) or for that matter major Indian theologians like Mujaddid Alf-e-Saani Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindī ((1564 –1624) and Shah Waliullah Dehlavi (1703–1762).

For hundreds of years now, major Muslim theologians have been engaged in creating a coherent and comprehensive theology of supremacism, intolerance and violence in order to expand the Islamic reach. They have conclusively made the lower form of Jihad, i.e., warfare, compulsory for Muslims in place of the highest form of Jihad which calls for struggle against one’s own lower self. Luminaries of Islam have established a theology which basically declares that Islam must conquer the world and it is the religious duty of all Muslims to strive towards that goal and contribute to it in whatever way they can.

All these theologians present in essence a supremacist, exclusivist, xenophobic and intolerant view of Islam and wield enormous influence on our clergy today.

It is not possible to accept classical theologians and reject their modern militant offshoots just as it is not possible to reject Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and accept Zakir Naik simply because the latter is not actually having sex with sex slaves as Baghdadi is. Our radicalised youngsters can very well see the hypocrisy of those who on the one hand revere Taimiya, Wahhab, Sirhindi and Waliullah and on the other hand claim to oppose Qutb, Maududi, Azzam and Maqdisi and their followers like Osma bin Laden and Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi. No surprise that some of our educated, 21st century, internet generation youth choose to rather be honest terrorists than dishonest hypocrites like their parents, community leaders, politicians, madrasa teachers, mosque imams, intellectuals, etc. who keep saying Islam is a religion of peace while also professing belief in the core theology of Jihadism, equating it with Islam.

One of the key instructions of God was moderation in matters of religion (Quran: 4:171 and 5:80). This was repeated often by the Prophet “Beware of extremism in religion, for it destroyed those before you.” [Sahih al-Jami’ (nos. 1851 & 3248), M.N. al-Albani, no. 2680, and & al-Sahihah of M.N. al-Albani, no. 1283.]

But extremism has been endemic in Islam, present almost from the beginning of Islamic history. Muslims fought among themselves and quite vehemently even before the collection of Hadith which they now consider divine, and codification of Sharia which they consider their religious duty to impose on the world.

Muslims have still not found an antidote to militant verses in the Quran. Considering all verses of Quran as providing eternal guidance undermines the universality of essential, foundational, constitutive, verses that were revealed largely in the initial years of Islam in Mecca. We received very good advice from Pope Francis recently (September 2015) which is consistent with several verses in the Quran. Describing the holy Quran has as a “prophetic book of peace,” Pope Francis asked Muslims to seek “an adequate interpretation.” The Quran also asks Muslims repeatedly to reflect upon the verses and find their best meaning, as in Chapter 39: verse 55; 39: 18; 39: 55; 38: 29; 2: 121; 47: 24, etc.

Calling Hadith and Sharia divinely inspired and fundamental elements of Islamic faith is irrational.  Saying that it is a Muslim’s primary religious duty to help establish God’s sovereignty on earth and impose “divine” Sharia Laws on the globe is only a way to intensify extremism which goes against the basic tenets of Islam. The idea of Jihad against kuffar and hijrat (emigration) to the so-called Islamic State as a religious duty is preposterous at a time when millions of Arab Muslims are marching almost barefoot to Europe, the so-called Darul Harb, seeking refuge, a refuge that is denied to them by the so-called Darul Islam in the Arab world.

Muslims will just have to abandon the generally accepted current theology that leads to violence and supremacism. We will need to revisit all our literature, even popular fiction and romance, and explain to our youth that we are now living in a multicultural, multi-religious world where a binary thinking of Muslim/Kafir as opposites and permanent war with them or self-segregation is just not viable. Even Saudi Arabia, which teaches in its schools the worst forms of intolerance, xenophobia, supremacism and exclusivism, has to deal with all religious communities.

ISIS may be militarily defeated tomorrow and even go out of existence. But this will not solve the problem of Muslim radicalisation. If our madrasas and educational institutions continue to prepare the ground for self-segregation and militancy, expounding the current theology, mixed with narratives of victimhood and marginalisation, Islam will continue to be hobbled, Muslims will continue to struggle to fit in the way of life in contemporary world.

Moderate, progressive Muslims must urgently evolve and propagate an alternative theology of peace and pluralism, human rights and gender justice, consistent in all respects with the teachings of Islam, and suitable for contemporary and future societies, while refuting the current theology of violence and supremacism.

Unfortunately, as we have seen above, the task is not so easy.  Radicalisation has not just happened overnight. Jihadi theology has evolved over hundreds of years. Major theologians who have studied Islam independently have brought to us a political version of Islam, stripping the religion of all its spirituality.

While it is primarily the duty of Muslims to fight this ideological war within slam, this is no longer just a Muslim concern. The world too must confront Muslim scholars with the supremacism and extremism present in their theology and ask them to rethink.  Progressive Muslims should join the rest of the world to defeat extremism in current, generally accepted Islamic theology. Islam has all the required resources to evolve a theology of peace and pluralism suited for the present age if only we read our scriptures differently and correctly, in accordance with repeated Quranic advice to find the best meaning of verses.

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‘Children of the Stones’: The Day Palestine Was Reborn

When the first Intifada commenced in December 1987, I had just turned 15. At the cusp of manhood, I had entered my first year at the famed Khaled Ibn Al-Walid High School in the Nuseirat Refugee Camp.

Though future opportunities in a refugee camp under military occupation were restricted, my imagination had soared further than the confines of my family’s impoverished existence.

Life, Of Course, Had Other Plans.

My father’s rebellious past was overpowered by the daily degradation of life of want under a merciless occupation. My grandfather had recently died, along with the dream of ever going back to his village in Beit Daras, which was ethnically cleansed in 1948.

For me, and many of my generation, the Intifada was not a political event. It was an act of personal – as much as collective – liberation: the ability to articulate who we were at a time when all seemed lost. The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) languished in Tunisia after being forced to leave Lebanon in 1982. Arab governments seemed to have lost interest in Palestine altogether. Israel emerged triumphant and invincible.

And we – those living under protracted military occupation – felt completely abandoned.

I will never forget the day when I resolved my personal conflict and reclaimed my identity, along with my family’s honour. It was on the morning of December 9, 1987.

Israeli soldiers poured into our refugee camp, some on foot and others in small jeeps and large military vehicles. A battle was about to commence. Women, children and the elderly were urged to leave before the arrival of the army. Many young men also retreated. I was terrified, yet exhilarated.

I was no longer a middle school pupil, but a student at Khaled Ibn al-Walid, and thus could justify my flight. I picked up a stone, yet stood still. Some kids ran towards the soldiers, with their rocks and flags. The soldiers drew nearer. They looked scary and foreign.

When the kids began throwing their rocks in the direction of the army, my anxiety began to dissipate. I felt that I belonged there. I ran into the battle with my heavy schoolbag in one hand, and a stone in the other. “Allahu Akbar!”, “God is great!” – I shouted. I threw my first stone. I hit no target, for the rock fell just a short distance ahead of me. Yet, somehow, I felt liberated, no longer a negligible refugee standing in a long queue before a United Nations feeding centre, extending a hand for a dry falafel sandwich and half an egg.

Engulfed by my own rebellious feelings, I picked up another stone, and a third. I moved forward, even as bullets flew, even as my friends began falling all around me. I could finally articulate who I was and, for the first time, on my own terms.

My name is Ramzy, and I am the son of Mohammed, a freedom fighter from the Nuseirat Refugee Camp, and the grandson of a peasant who died of a broken heart and was buried beside the grave of my brother, a little boy who died because there was no medicine in the refugee camp’s UN clinic. My mother is Zarefah, a refugee who could not spell her name, whose illiteracy was compensated by a heart overflowing with love for her children, a woman who had the patience of a prophet. I am a free boy; in fact, I am a free man.

Jabaliya, Nuseirat, Palestine

When, on December 8, 1987, thousands took to the streets of Jabaliya Refugee Camp, the Gaza Strip’s largest and poorest camp, the timing and the location of their uprising was most fitting, rational and necessary. Earlier on that day, an Israeli truck had run over a row of cars carrying Palestinian labourers, killing four young men. For Jabaliya, as with the rest of Palestine, it was the last straw.

Responding to the chants and pleas of the Jabaliya mourners, the refugees in my camp marched to the Israeli military barracks, known as the “tents”, where hundreds of soldiers had tormented my camp’s residents for years.

In the morning of December 9, thousands of Nuseirat youth took to the streets and vowed to avenge the innocent blood of the Jabaliya victims of the previous day. They swung large flags made of silky fabric that swayed beautifully in Gaza’s salty air and, as the momentum grew and they became intoxicated by their own collective chants, they marched to the “tents” where the soldiers were uneasily perched on the tops of watchtowers, hiding behind their binoculars and automatic machine guns.

Within minutes, a war had started and a third generation of refugee-camp-born fellaheen (peasants) stood fearlessly against a well-equipped army that was visibly gripped by fear and confusion. The soldiers wounded many that day and several children were killed. Among deafening chants that freedom was coming, the remains of the dead were carried to the Nuseirat Martyrs Graveyard and laid to rest.

Within days, Gaza was the breeding ground for a real revolution that was self-propelled and unwavering. The chants of Palestinians in the Strip were answered in the West Bank, and echoed just as loudly in Palestinian towns, even those located in Israel.

The contagious energy was emblematic of children and young adults wanting to reclaim the identities of their ancestors, which had been horribly disfigured and divided between regions, countries and refugee camps.

Before the Intifada

But the Intifada cannot be understood without the specific events that led to the December 8 protests.

In 1984, an Israeli unity government was established with a seemingly peculiar leadership arrangement, with Yitzhak Shamir, of the Rightwing Likud Party, and Shimon Peres of the Labour Party, trading the post of Prime Minister. Yitzhak Rabin, notorious for his violent tactics, was appointed to the post of defence minister.

The individuals at the helm of the Israeli leadership constituted the worst possible combination from the point of view of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. While Shamir and Peres served the role of the hardliner and peace “dove” respectively before the international community, both men and their government presided over a legacy saturated with violence, illegal annexation of Palestinian land and settlement expansion.

Before the Intifada, acts of resistance were present, but sporadic. Many students in my high school who bravely faced the Israeli troops were affiliated or were supporters of leading PLO factions.

Fatah was becoming the most visible faction in Palestinian schools and universities. The Islamic Movement was divided between Al-Mujamma Al-Islami (The Islamic Centre) – which later morphed into Hamas – and the Islamic Jihad, a smaller but daring militant group.

The Intifada was born out of this political context, yet it eventually surpassed it. It was the first time in many years that the Palestinian people regained the initiative. It took everyone by surprise, including the PLO.

The Israeli Crackdown

After weeks of bloody clashes in which hundreds of youth fell dead or were wounded, the nature of the Intifada became clearer. On one hand, it was a popular struggle of civil disobedience, mass protests, commercial and labour strikes, refusal to pay taxes and so on. On the other hand, militant cells of refugee youth were beginning to organise and leave their mark as well.

The militancy of the Intifada did not become apparent until later, when the repression by the Shamir government grew more violent. Under the banner of the “Iron Fist” campaign, a new Israeli stratagem was devised, that of the “broken bones” policy. Once captured, youth had their hands and legs broken by soldiers in a systematic and heartless manner. In my neighbourhood, children with casts and crutches seemed to outnumber those without, at times.

Throughout the six years of the Intifada, military curfews were imposed nightly at 8:00 pm and were lifted the following morning, at 5:00 am. Sometimes, as a form of greater collective punishment, curfews would extend to imprison whole communities for days, weeks and even months.

As the people mobilised, factions attempted to regain the initiative. The Islamic Movement, which was already at an advanced stage of organisation, quickly mobilised, joining the Intifada under the acronym “Hamas” in a statement issued on December 14.

On the other hand, the United National Command of the Uprising (UNC) was a platform that united PLO-affiliated factions inside Palestine. The overbearing nature of the Fatah-led PLO in Tunisia was sharply contrasted with the UNC’s equitable allocation of decision-making powers amongst the PLO factions in the Occupied Territories.

Alas, Hamas and the UNC clashed. Their conflict transformed the Intifada in its later stages into a hub for factional rivalry.

Israel viewed the Intifada as an act of terror, launched, organised and manipulated by the PLO to extract political concessions from Israel. As a result, on April 16, 1988, a top Fatah leader, Abu Jihad, was assassinated by Israeli commandos in Tunis. The assassination was the beginning of several other high-profile assassinations of top PLO leaders who were seen as obstacles to the so-called “peace process”.

On May 18, 1989, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, the founder of the Hamas movement, was arrested in Gaza. He was tried in a well-publicised trial that lasted for a year. The image of a smiling quadriplegic man, confined to a rusty wheelchair, surrounded by armed soldiers, police and a horde of other frantic Israelis, was the perfect metaphor of the Intifada: outwardly vulnerable, yet somehow, empowering.

A Brief Moment of ‘Victory’

As Israel expanded its crackdowns, the US, following the Gulf War of 1990-91, tried to translate its perceived regional dominance into political gains. A “new world order” was upon us, US President, George H. W. Bush, then proclaimed. Palestinians, along with Arab delegations were corralled into Madrid for peace talks that started in October 1991. Angry Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir reeled against the Intifada, refusing to acknowledge Palestinian rights, or accept international law that had enshrined those rights.

But many Palestinians in the Occupied Territories perceived the conference as a victory for the Intifada. The refugees in my camp hung on to the words of the head of the Palestinian delegation, Dr Haidar Abd al-Shafi, as he articulated the Palestinian position:

“We, the people of Palestine, stand before you in the fullness of our pain, our pride, and our anticipation, for we have long harboured a yearning for peace and a dream of justice and freedom. For too long, the Palestinian people have gone unheeded, silenced, and denied our identity negated by political expediency, our rightful struggle against injustice maligned, and our present existence subsumed by the past tragedy of another people.”

All the men, who had gathered in our living room on that day, cried. Alas, that brief moment of “victory” turned into seemingly endless talk, while Israeli violent crackdowns on the Intifada continued.

The Intifada did not come to an abrupt end. It simply petered out. Factional rivalries, coupled with futile negotiations, only accentuated the many woes of the impoverished Palestinians who persisted for years, despite the ongoing military siege. Towards the end of the Intifada, factions gained the upper hand, and much of the violence was directed against Palestinians accused of collaborating with the Israeli army.

The Intifada ended with the rise of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, itself an outcome of secret “peace talks” between Israeli and PLO officials in Oslo. The people were duly suppressed, this time by Israel and the most corrupt element of the Palestinian leadership. A few Palestinians became rich, while others were pushed deeper into despair. The Occupation did not end, but was enhanced by a layer of “security coordination”, managed by Palestinians and Israeli army officers.

I left Gaza years ago. Since then, my refugee camp has experienced another Intifada, a decade-long siege and several wars. Thousands more died. The Martyrs Graveyard has been closed forever, for it has no capacity to receive any more victims.

Many Palestinians continue to wait for their next Intifada, not because Intifadas liberate the land, but because true popular uprisings offer another kind of liberation: a moment of collective honour, and another chance at hope.

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Donald Trump’s Recognition of Jerusalem: A Stab in the Heart of a Peace Process

An American President taking a pro-Israeli decision related to the Israel-Palestine conflict is no surprise. The U.S. has largely favoured Israel throughout the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories and East Jerusalem. It has offered protection to Israel in the UN Security Council, come to its aid in times of crises, and provided it with advanced weapons. The U.S. has even looked away when Israel was amassing nuclear weapons. In return, Israel has become America’s greatest ally in West Asia.

Despite this special relationship, previous American Presidents have been wary of recognising Israel’s claims over Jerusalem. Even after the U.S. Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, urging the Administration to relocate the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to the Holy City, American Presidents have deferred the decision endlessly given international public opinion and the political and moral sensitivity of the issue. It is this consensus that U.S. President Donald Trump has now broken by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Cutting off the Oxygen

Mr. Trump’s supporters claim he was acting on a long-made promise, and that Washington remains committed to the peace process irrespective of the Jerusalem move. They also say that Mr. Trump has just shown the world he is a tough decision-maker and can act decisively while brokering peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. But what these arguments conveniently forget is that Jerusalem is at the very heart of an Israeli-Palestinian solution. By endorsing Israel’s claims over the city, the American President has driven a knife into that heart. A President who promised the “ultimate deal” to resolve the conflict has effectively dealt a body blow to the peace process.

This is not diplomacy. If this is a calculated move as part of a diplomatic package, the U.S. would have held talks with both sides and extracted compromises, taking the peace process a step forward. If so, Mr. Trump would also have said which part of Jerusalem he was recognising as Israel’s seat of power and endorsed the Palestinians’ claim over East Jerusalem, including the Old City. Instead, Mr. Trump has taken a unilateral decision giving the largest concession to Israel, perhaps since the Oslo process, without getting any promises in return. His move will only strengthen the Israeli Right, which is dead opposed to ceding any inch of Jerusalem to a future Palestinian state.

Was Never Recognised

History is not on the side of the likes of Mr. Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Jerusalem has never been recognised as Israel’s capital by the international community. In the original UN General Assembly plan to partition Palestine and create independent Jewish and Arab states, Jerusalem was deemed an international city. The Zionists didn’t wait for the plan to be implemented by the UN. In 1948, they declared the state of Israel and in the ensuing Arab-Israeli war; they captured 23% more territories than even what the UN had proposed, including the western half of Jerusalem. Israel seized East Jerusalem in 1967 from Jordan, and later annexed it. Since then, Israel has been encouraging illegal settlements in the eastern parts of the city, with Palestinians being forced to live in their historical neighbourhoods.

The Israeli Right has always made claims over the whole of the city. In 1980, when the Likud government was in power, the Israeli Parliament passed a basic law, declaring Jerusalem “complete and united” as its capital. This move invoked sharp reaction from world powers, including the U.S. The UN Security Council (UNSC) declared the draft law “null and void” and urged member countries to withdraw their diplomatic missions from the Holy City. This is the reason all countries have their embassies in Tel Aviv despite West Jerusalem being Israel’s seat of power for decades. Israel defying international norms and UNSC resolutions is nothing new, but America publicly endorsing Israel’s illegal claims is unprecedented.

In an ideal world, had the U.S. been a neutral power broker, it should have put pressure on Israel to come forward and engage the Palestinians in talks. This is because on the Palestinian side, conditions for talks now look better. Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip, recently came up with a new political charter that signals a readiness to deal with Israel and accept the 1967 border for a future Palestinian state — a compromise which has been compared to the group’s rhetorical anti-Semitic claims in the past. Hamas and the Fatah, Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas’s party that rules parts of the West Bank, also reached a reconciliation agreement recently. This could have been used as an opening to break the logjam in the peace process. Israel’s history suggests that it will not agree to any compromise unless it is forced to do so. Over the years, it has continued its illegal settlements in the occupied territories despite repeated warnings from the international community. If it was really bothered about peace it would have frozen the settlements and agreed to having talks with the Palestinians.

American Nudges

The only country that can put effective pressure on Israel is the U.S. American Presidents have done that in the past without upsetting the U.S.-Israel alliance. Notable among them has been President Jimmy Carter who practically arm-twisted Israel’s right-wing Prime Minister Menachem Begin to join talks with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and even with the Palestinians (whose claim over the occupied territories was not even recognised by the Israeli Right those days). Mr. Carter’s attempts proved successful as Begin and Sadat finally signed the Camp David Agreement. President Bill Clinton also played a key role in the 2000 Camp David negotiations between Yasser Arafat and Israel’s Ehud Barak, which eventually failed to reach a deal. But since the collapse of the Second Camp David talks, American Presidents have largely looked away from the issue. President George Bush’s 2007 Annapolis Conference was no more than a photo op in the last days of his presidency. President Barack Obama’s focus was on the Iran deal, while his administration offered full support to Israel at the UN. And Mr. Trump is least interested in finding cues of peace on the Palestinian side and acting upon them by putting pressure on Israel, the occupying force, for compromises. In his world, what matters is America’s cultural and military alliance with Israel.

The real tragedy is the impact Mr. Trump’s decision will have on the Palestinian people. The hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, who live in the annexed East Jerusalem without even Israeli citizenship, hope to be free at some point in time. Likewise, the millions of Palestinians living in the occupied West Bank and the blockaded Gaza hope to see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. The U.S. has struck a blow against these hopes. First they lost their city and now are losing even their claims. This will only lead to their despair mounting. But if the history of Jerusalem states anything, it is that its disputes cannot be settled by force. During the Crusades, both Christians and Muslims captured the city using brutal force. The Ottomans ruled it for centuries only to have it lost to the British a century ago. The Jordanians and the Israelis split it among themselves for two decades after the Second World War. And, now, a millennium after the Crusades, the status of Jerusalem is still disputed. Mr. Trump’s move may be a big shot in the arm for the Israelis, but a final settlement is still afar.

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Religious and Theological Underpinning of Global Islamist Terror: Full Text of Speech at International Counter Terrorism Conference 2016 in Jaipur

Sultan Shahin speaking at International Counter-Terrorism Conference  at Jaipur

The ease and swiftness with which the so-called Islamic State and the self-declared khilafat of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has attracted over 30,000 Muslims from 100 countries around the globe in just one year has surprised many.  But this should not have come as a surprise to us in India. Muslim love for the idea of global Khilafat is well-known. From Indian subcontinent alone, less than a hundred years ago, at least 18,000 Muslims had left their homes, even government jobs and marched off to fight for the last Ottoman Khilafat. This was madness, pure and simple. Most ruined their lives and some died. But they are considered ghazis and martyrs. Important clerics including Maulana Abul Kalam Azad issued fatwas calling for Jihad or Hijrat (emigration) from British India, which was considered Darul Harb (Land of conflict, ruled by infidels), as a religious duty.

So, for a large section of Muslims the lure of a Khilafat that would rule the world, eliminate all other religions, particularly all forms of idolatry, establish the truth of Islam, is nothing new. When Baghdadi announced his khilafat, it was welcomed in many Muslim newspapers in India. An influential cleric from Nadwatul Ulama, went so far as to post a letter to the so-called Khalifa on his Facebook page, addressing him as Ameerul Momineen, spiritual leader of all Muslims. He faced no protest, not even from Nadwa or Darul uloom Deoband.

With the so-called Islamic State proudly broadcasting its monstrous brutalities and inhuman practices like sex slavery, the community is embarrassed and support is now muted. But this can only be described as hypocrisy.  India’s most popular Islamic preacher and Ahl-e-Hadithi televangelist Zakir Naik has been saying for years, that “Allah has made halal for Muslims sex with slaves and women captured in war.” Muslim religious leaders have never protested. But when ISIS takes these fatwas and Wahhabi/Salafi teachings to their logical conclusion, actually kidnaps and makes Yazidi, Christian and Shia women sex slaves, the community is embarrassed and some clerics start saying Islam has nothing to do with terrorism.

Of course, Islam has nothing to do with terrorism. It is a spiritual path to salvation, not a political ideology for dominating the world. Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) was a mystic who was eventually appointed a messenger of God. There are innumerable verses in the Quran that call for peace at all costs, even going to the extent of saying that murder of one innocent person amounts to genocide of humanity and protection given to one innocent amounts to saving humanity (Quran 5:32). The same is also true of narrations of Prophet’s supposed sayings, Ahadith, (pl. of Hadith). Prophet’s own conduct (Seerat) shows that he accepted peace even at the cost of justice and fairness for Muslims in the famous treaty of Hudaibiya. To avoid bloodshed in the Battle of the Trench (Ghazwah al-Khandaq, 627 CE), he secured the city of Medina behind a ditch he dug along with his companions around Medina. He declared a general Amnesty for all Meccans after conquering it without bloodshed (629 CE), when Meccans were apprehending a general massacre as was the prevailing custom of those times. So not only does Quran specifically forbid all violence against innocents and repeatedly warns against aggression, but the Prophet himself avoided violence as much as possible in the most trying times of Islam’s infancy.

It is true that madrasas and mosques do not overtly preach violence and terrorism. But it is also true that text books in madrasas do preach supremacism, xenophobia, exclusivism and intolerance.  Thus they do the groundwork for militant ideologies by instilling in their students a binary thinking of Muslim/Kafir as opposites who cannot co-exist. As a result, some Muslims self-segregate and alienate themselves from the mainstream. A global Muslim missionary organisation Tablighi Jamaat, for instance, which has up to 150 million adherents in over 200 countries now, focuses entirely on segregating Muslims from the mainstream, asking them to maintain a separate identity, and prohibiting them from following any customs they may have in common with the non-Muslim majority. This Wahhabi/Salafi organisation was recently banned from university campuses in Pakistani Punjab but faces no such restriction in India.

Indeed, a Muslim is bombarded from all sides with sermons calling for Jihad; a Jihad, which is shorn of all its spiritual content and used simply as a synonym for qital, warfare. Even historical fiction written by 20th century Urdu novelist Nasim Hejazi, for instance, can be taken as a call for Jihad, far more effective than any overt Jihadi literature. In most popular Urdu fairy tales, Dāstān-e-Amīr Hamzah, for instance, the central character is fighting with demons who do not believe in oneness of God and are thus kafir. The devotional poetry a Muslim listens to at Sufi shrines contain lines like the following: Aaj bhi darte hain kafir Haidari Talwar se,” meaning, even today the kafirs are afraid of the sword of Hazrat Ali, the fourth caliph. Even the first biographies of the Prophet written by Arabs called them “Maghazi Rasulullah,” meaning battle accounts of the Prophet. The first Muslims, the Arabs, could not celebrate his devotion to peace, moderation, Huqooqul Ibad (human rights) and mystical approach to religion.  They could only hail him as a hero presenting him as a great warrior which he was not. He barely lifted a sword once or twice, 14 years after prophethood, at the age of 54, purely in defence. The prayer a Muslim has been hearing week after week in every Friday sermon for 1400 years is for victory over kuffar (infidels), establishment of the true religion of Islam, dominance over the whole world, elimination of idolatry from the planet, and so on, all generating supremacism, exclusivism, xenophobia and intolerance.

The idea of a permanent confrontation with the kafir, thus, runs through our veins. In verses often quoted by militant ideologues, God assures Muslims in two places in Quran (8:12 and 3: 151) that “He will cast terror into the hearts of the Kuffars (Unbelievers).” This is a contextual verse, like some others, similarly militant and intolerant, revealed during the course of the existential wars waged by the Muslims in early Islam. Any rational Muslim would say today that these contextual war verses do not apply to us anymore. But you will not find even those moderate scholars seeking to refute terrorist ideologies saying that. In fact, the refutations go on to actually justify the core theology of terror and violence.

A hundred thousand copies of an Arabic book titled “Refuting ISIS” has recently been distributed in Syria and Iraq. It is also available online in English. The author Shaykh Muhammad Al-Yaqoubi is, of course, sincere in his refutation. But he too quotes from the same set of end-time prophesies, seeking to prove that Baghdadi and his clique are idiots and should be fought, thus giving credibility to these same series of millenarian prophesies. So what he actually ends up doing amounts to strengthening ISIS’ propaganda of the allegedly coming apocalypse. Unlike al-Qaeda, which did not talk so much about apocalypse, ISIS vision is largely apocalyptic. They base the justification for their war as being the prophesied end-times war. They sacrificed many men capturing a militarily insignificant town called Dabiq (which is also the name of their mouthpiece) because the end-times prophecies refer to a war in this town.

Apocalyptic prophesies are one of the chief tools used by ISIS to attract Muslim youth to be part of an end-time war. If the world is going to end in a few years’ time, with Islam conquering the world, as is prophesied, decimating all infidels, why not be on the winning side. This is an argument that appeals to many. So someone seeking to refute ISIS should not be strengthening their chief propaganda tool. But this cleric or any other cannot help but strengthen ISIS. All clerics believe in the same core theology as do the terrorists. These predictions come from Ahadith (purported sayings of the prophet, pl. of Hadith) and ulema (scholars) from all school of thought consider them akin to revelation. These end-time prophesies can only by questioned fruitfully by questioning the credibility of narrations that were collected up to 300 years after the demise of the Prophet and attributed to him, not by calling them akin to revelation.

Some of these prophesies also come from speculative readings of two allegorical verses in the Quran 4:159; 43:61. Muslims have been asked not to speculate about their meaning and leave them alone. But, of course, Muslims do, and the result is prophesied scenarios of apocalyptic wars.

Similarly, in its core theology even the 14,000-word fatwa issued recently (August 2015) by 120 scholars from around the world, agrees with the militant ideologies. Their “Open Letter to Al-Baghdadi” also calls Hadith akin to revelation, knowing full well that all justifications of killings of innocent civilians come from a hadith attributing to the Prophet permission for killing of innocents in an attack at Taif by the use of catapult (manjaniq): (Sahih Muslim 19:4321 & Sahih Bukhari 4: 52:256). This hadith is also used by al-Qaeda to justify use of weapons of mass destruction.

In point 16. Hudud (Punishment), the moderate fatwa establishes a general rule: “Hudud punishments (death for apostasy, etc.) are fixed in the Qur’an and Hadith and are unquestionably obligatory in Islamic Law.” Having accepted the basic premise of the Baghdadi tribe it goes on to criticise its implementation in the so-called Islamic State. But once moderate ulema have accepted the basic premise of Hudud (Punishments) based on some verses of Quran and seventh century Bedouin tribal Arab mores being “unquestionably obligatory in Islamic Law,” what difference does actually remain between moderation and extremism?

In point 20 of the fatwa, the moderate ulema seem to be justifying the destruction of idols and Sufi shrines, by talking of the supposed Islamic obligation to destroy and remove all manifestations of shirk (idolatry), only opposing the destruction of graves of the prophets and their companion.

In point 22 of the Open Letter, titled, The Caliphate, the moderate ulema again concur with the basic proposition of the Baghdadi clique: “There is agreement (ittifaq) among scholars that a caliphate is an obligation upon the Ummah. The Ummah has lacked a caliphate since 1924 CE.”

This moderate fatwa even expresses belief in the theory of abrogation, whereby terror ideologues debunk peaceful Meccan verses that came at the beginning of Islam.  Thus, like Sheikh Yaqoobi’s “Refuting ISIS” this fatwa too strengthens the terrorist ideology, while criticising its practice.

This is not surprising. The commonly accepted theology of most Muslims agrees with the following features of the Jihadist theology:

  1. It regards God as an implacable, anthropomorphic figure permanently at war with those who do not believe in His uniqueness, as against the Sufi or Vedantic concept of God as universal consciousness or universal intelligence radiating His grace from every atom in the universe;
  2. Quran as an uncreated aspect of God, a copy of the eternal Book lying in the Heavenly vault. Hence all its verses, in their literal meaning, have to be treated as an eternal guidance to Muslims without any reference to context;
  3. Ahadith or so-called sayings of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) as akin to revelation, even though they were collected two to three hundred years after the demise of the Prophet. This is what allows ISIS to justify civilian killings and sex with female war prisoners. It also helps ISIS draw an apocalyptic, end-time war scenario and attract Muslim youth to participate in what they are told is a final war to make Islam victorious in the world;
  4. Sharia laws as divine, even though they were first codified 120 years after God announced the completion of the religion in one of the last verses in Quran;
  5. Jihad in the sense of Qital (warfare) as the sixth pillar of Islam;
  6. 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, 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;
  7. Hijra (migration to Darul Islam – abode of Islam- from Darul Harab (Land of disbelief and conflict) as a religious duty and an act of devotion;
  8.    a caliphate is an obligation upon the Ummah (global Muslim community).

Twentieth century scholars like Syed Qutb (1906–1966) of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Abul A’la Maududi (1903–1979), of India and later Pakistan, who founded Jamaat-e-Islami, are considered the two fathers of modern Islamist terrorism or Jihadism. More contemporary ideologues who have contributed enormously to the Jihadist discourse are Abdullah Yusuf Azzam (1941-89) and Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi (Born: 1959), etc.

Many Muslim scholars would distance themselves from these militant scholars today. But the reason Jihadism is so influential and attractive to so many is that the Jihadist theology is based on the popular theology propounded by major classical Arab theologians like Ibn-e-Taimiya (1263-1328), and Mohammad Ibn-e Abdul Wahhab (1703-1792) or for that matter major Indian theologians like Mujaddid Alf-e-Saani Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindī ((1564 –1624) and Shah Waliullah Dehlavi (1703–1762).

For hundreds of years now, major Muslim theologians have been engaged in creating a coherent and comprehensive theology of supremacism, intolerance and violence in order to expand the Islamic reach. They have conclusively made the lower form of Jihad, i.e., warfare, compulsory for Muslims in place of the highest form of Jihad which calls for struggle against one’s own lower self. Luminaries of Islam have established a theology which basically declares that Islam must conquer the world and it is the religious duty of all Muslims to strive towards that goal and contribute to it in whatever way they can.

All these theologians present in essence a supremacist, exclusivist, xenophobic and intolerant view of Islam and wield enormous influence on our clergy today.

It is not possible to accept classical theologians and reject their modern militant offshoots just as it is not possible to reject Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and accept Zakir Naik simply because the latter is not actually having sex with sex slaves as Baghdadi is. Our radicalised youngsters can very well see the hypocrisy of those who on the one hand revere Taimiya, Wahhab, Sirhindi and Waliullah and on the other hand claim to oppose Qutb, Maududi, Azzam and Maqdisi and their followers like Osma bin Laden and Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi. No surprise that some of our educated, 21st century, internet generation youth choose to rather be honest terrorists than dishonest hypocrites like their parents, community leaders, politicians, madrasa teachers, mosque imams, intellectuals, etc. who keep saying Islam is a religion of peace while also professing belief in the core theology of Jihadism, equating it with Islam.

One of the key instructions of God was moderation in matters of religion (Quran: 4:171 and 5:80). This was repeated often by the Prophet “Beware of extremism in religion, for it destroyed those before you.” [Sahih al-Jami’ (nos. 1851 & 3248), M.N. al-Albani, no. 2680, and & al-Sahihah of M.N. al-Albani, no. 1283.]

But extremism has been endemic in Islam, present almost from the beginning of Islamic history. Muslims fought among themselves and quite vehemently even before the collection of Hadith which they now consider divine, and codification of Sharia which they consider their religious duty to impose on the world.

Muslims have still not found an antidote to militant verses in the Quran. Considering all verses of Quran as providing eternal guidance undermines the universality of essential, foundational, constitutive, verses that were revealed largely in the initial years of Islam in Mecca. We received very good advice from Pope Francis recently (September 2015) which is consistent with several verses in the Quran. Describing the holy Quran has as a “prophetic book of peace,” Pope Francis asked Muslims to seek “an adequate interpretation.” The Quran also asks Muslims repeatedly to reflect upon the verses and find their best meaning, as in Chapter 39: verse 55; 39: 18; 39: 55; 38: 29; 2: 121; 47: 24, etc.

Calling Hadith and Sharia divinely inspired and fundamental elements of Islamic faith is irrational.  Saying that it is a Muslim’s primary religious duty to help establish God’s sovereignty on earth and impose “divine” Sharia Laws on the globe is only a way to intensify extremism which goes against the basic tenets of Islam. The idea of Jihad against kuffar and hijrat (emigration) to the so-called Islamic State as a religious duty is preposterous at a time when millions of Arab Muslims are marching almost barefoot to Europe, the so-called Darul Harb, seeking refuge, a refuge that is denied to them by the so-called Darul Islam in the Arab world.

Muslims will just have to abandon the generally accepted current theology that leads to violence and supremacism. We will need to revisit all our literature, even popular fiction and romance, and explain to our youth that we are now living in a multicultural, multi-religious world where a binary thinking of Muslim/Kafir as opposites and permanent war with them or self-segregation is just not viable. Even Saudi Arabia, which teaches in its schools the worst forms of intolerance, xenophobia, supremacism and exclusivism, has to deal with all religious communities.

ISIS may be militarily defeated tomorrow and even go out of existence. But this will not solve the problem of Muslim radicalisation. If our madrasas and educational institutions continue to prepare the ground for self-segregation and militancy, expounding the current theology, mixed with narratives of victim hood and marginalisation, Islam will continue to be hobbled, Muslims will continue to struggle to fit in the way of life in contemporary world.

Moderate, progressive Muslims must urgently evolve and propagate an alternative theology of peace and pluralism, human rights and gender justice, consistent in all respects with the teachings of Islam, and suitable for contemporary and future societies, while refuting the current theology of violence and supremacism.

Unfortunately, as we have seen above, the task is not so easy.  Radicalisation has not just happened overnight. Jihadi theology has evolved over hundreds of years. Major theologians who have studied Islam independently have brought to us a political version of Islam, stripping the religion of all its spirituality.

While it is primarily the duty of Muslims to fight this ideological war within slam, this is no longer just a Muslim concern. The world too must confront Muslim scholars with the supremacism and extremism present in their theology and ask them to rethink.  Progressive Muslims should join the rest of the world to defeat extremism in current, generally accepted Islamic theology. Islam has all the required resources to evolve a theology of peace and pluralism suited for the present age if only we read our scriptures differently and correctly, in accordance with repeated Quranic advice to find the best meaning of verses.

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‘Make Revolutionary Changes in the Islamic Theology of Consensus to Fight Jihadism’: Sultan Shahin Asks Muslim Nations at UNHRC in Geneva

Mr. President,

Sixteen years after 9/11, the issue of Jihadi terrorism has become even more complex and widespread.

First, though Jihadism is a violent offshoot of Wahhabism and Salafism, the international community has allowed the fountainhead of Wahhabi/Salafi ideology to continue to spend tens of billions of dollars to Wahhabise the world Muslim community.

Second, we recently saw with horror, but without any protest from the international community, the sight of a UN-designated terrorist, with a ten-million-dollar bounty on his head, launch a political party and nominate another US-designated terrorist to contest democratic elections in Pakistan. Apparently, some countries can ignore UN directives with impunity.

Third, the Muslim community has failed to grasp that Jihadism spread so rapidly around the world because at its core it is not very different from the theology of consensus that informs the religious beliefs and practices of all Muslim sects. That is why Jihadis are not impressed when we Muslims either proclaim that Islam is a religion of peace and pluralism or when we try to wash our hands off Jihadism by claiming that it has nothing to do with Islam. If we Muslims want to live as honourable citizens in the 21st century’s globalised world, we must rethink our consensus theology in all its dimensions and make revolutionary changes to bring it in line with the needs of present times.

Let me elaborate a little on the similarities in the core theologies of Jihadism and mainstream Islam as well as suggest the contours of an alternative theology of peace and pluralism, inclusion and acceptance of diversity, respect for human rights and gender justice. What are the fundamental elements of theologies of all sects including Jihadism that are the same and what can be done about them. Let us discuss a few here briefly.

1.   Infallibility, universality and uncreatedness of all verses of Quran, regardless of the context in which some of these instructions came from God to guide the Prophet and his followers on matters that needed to be urgently taken care of then, but are no longer relevant in the vastly different circumstances today.

This belief is common to all sects and sub-sects of Islam today. There is a consensus around it. So Jihadis are not inventing a new theology if they say that those Muslims who do not follow the war-time verses of Quran literally by fighting the kuffar constantly or staying away from all non-Muslims in day-to-day matters are hypocritical, and that a good, honest Muslim is one who is perpetually engaged in offensive Jihad against non-Muslims. After all, this is what is taught in all religious schools or madrasas, regardless of the sect. We are told in our theological books that the only relationship between a Muslim and a non-Muslim is that of war, and that it is the religious duty of all Muslims to bring Islam to power in all corners of the world, either by persuasion or force.

A new theology would seek to break this consensus and try to convince Muslims that war-time verses of the Prophet’s time maybe important as a historical account of the near insurmountable difficulties the Prophet had to face to establish Islam but do not apply to us today in the 21st century. We cannot possibly be fighting similar wars. Muslims were fighting existential battles in the early seventh century. Islam was in its infancy and infants do need to be taken special care of. Now the seed that Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) planted in the inhospitable terrain of the Arabian desert has grown into a giant tree with branches across the world. There is no need for us to be fighting offensive Jihad “at least once a year” as Imam Ghazali advised in late 11th and early 12th century CE.

2.   There is a consensus among ulema (religious scholars) of all sects that Hadith narrations (the alleged sayings of the Prophet) are akin to revelation, even though these were collected up to 300 years after the demise of the Prophet and contradict many of the core teachings of the Quran, the exhortations of God whose messenger the Prophet was. This theology of consensus implies that the Prophet spent the better part of his prophetic career preaching against the messages revealed to him in the holy Quran.

What has actually happened is that in the 48th year of the demise of the Prophet, his entire family was massacred and reins of power taken over by scions of the inveterate enemies of Islam who had fought battles against the Prophet and joined Islam only after his victory at Mecca, in a clear bid to subvert Islam from within when they failed to destroy it from outside. But they had to rule Muslims for whom Quran was the only holy scripture, which they understood, as well as had mostly memorized and written down. To undermine Quran, and create a distance between Muslims and the Quran, they evolved over the coming decades and centuries two institutions that remain very powerful until today. One was Hadith, that was called akin to revelation, and the other was that of Ulema or clerics who were proclaimed to be of the status of heirs to the Prophet, much better able to explain religion to Muslims than they themselves could.

The new theology will have to bring the focus back to Quran, and seek to dislodge both Hadith and Ulema from their present position of pre-eminence. These institutions evolved in the era of dynastic, despotic rulers, called Khalifas. It was natural for them to look for scriptural justifications for their exploitative, tyrannical, imperialist, expansionist, and supremacist policies. Not able to find justification for their policies in the Quran, which essentially guided Muslims on a spiritual path to salvation, they naturally created another scripture and put that on the same pedestal as Quran. The ulema were also deployed to subvert the meaning of Quran’s verses of war and make contextual verses into universally applicable instructions for permanent war.

3.   Sharia Laws were first codified 120 years after the demise of the Prophet and have been changing since from time to time and place to place. It is only marginally based on Quran, most of it has been borrowed from pre-Islamic Arab practices. But the theology of consensus insists on calling it divine.

The new theology will go strictly by the spirit of Quran and allow Muslims to formulate their laws according to the needs of their time and place. Laws are and should remain dynamic and just.

4.   The theology of consensus propounds a Doctrine of Abrogation, whereby earlier Meccan verses preaching peace and pluralism, patience and perseverance, religious freedom for all, etc., have been abrogated by later Medinan verses of war, asking Muslims to fight, and talking about virtues and rewards of contributing to war efforts in the way of God.  It is said that the so-called sword verse (9: 5) alone has abrogated 114 verses of peace and pluralism revealed in early Islam at Mecca.

The new theology of peace should emphasise that the Meccan verses are the foundational and constitutive verses of Islam. They cannot be abrogated by any later verses of war. The Doctrine of Abrogation will need to be rejected in toto. It is the latter Medinan verses of war that have lost their relevance not the original Islam preaching peace and pluralism as revealed at Mecca.

5.   The concept of Caliphate has no basis in Quran, but our theology considers it almost mandatory. This consensus view needs to be corrected in the new theology.

6.   The theology of consensus is of the view that Muslims should migrate from Land of Conflict (Darul Harb) which is dominated by non-Muslims to Darul Islam (land of Islam). This has no basis in Quran. This is not even practical in contemporary world, though ulema keep using these terms. Even individuals have great difficulty getting visas to visit any country, these days, what to speak of millions of Muslims settling down in, say, Saudi Arabia, the pre-eminent Darul Islam. Saudis did not take even one Syrian refugee despite their horrible situation, though Germany (so-called Darul Harb) took a million Muslim refugees out of compassion for the suffering humanity. The new theology will have to reject such medieval ideas as completely irrelevant and un-Quranic.

Clearly Muslims have much hard work to do. We will need to bring about revolutionary changes in our theology to make it compatible with the holy Quran as well as the needs of modern times.

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