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Home > India > News > Columnists > Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

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Extremism and the misinterpretation of Islam

October 14, 2008

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The Quran says that Qabil, son of the first man Adam, killed his own brother Habil, due to some personal reason. After that, the Quran declares: 'On that account: We ordained for the Children of Israel that if anyone slew a person -- unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land -- it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if anyone saved a life it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people. Then although there came to them Our Messengers with Clear Signs, yet even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land'. (Surah al Maidah 32)

This suggests that killing innocents is completely forbidden according to God's law and that it is a heinous crime. However, human beings have always acted against and disobeyed this law. They have resorted to killing others for what they see as their own interests or out of revenge or, as now, and on an increasingly menacing scale, out of ideological reasons.

I wish to discuss this latter form of violence, or what can be called 'ideologically-driven killing'. By this I mean killing of innocent people, for which ideological justification is sought. This sort of violence completely overlooks the distinction between innocents and others and leads to indiscriminate killings. But because ideological justification is sought to be provided for these killings, it does not prick the conscience of those who engage in such violence. Their hypothetical ideology leads these people to believe that the violence that they perpetrate is for the cause of the truth.

A horrific instance of this sort of 'ideological violence' was that perpetrated by some communists in the early twentieth century. According to their understanding of the theory of dialectical materialism, the revolution that they sought could only come about through killing 'class enemies'. This led to the massacre of literally millions of people in different parts of the world.

A second, even more frightening form of 'ideological violence' was that which emerged in parts of the Muslim world in the first half of the twentieth century. Two Muslim parties were particularly responsible for developing and spreading this ideology: the Ikhwan ul-Muslimin in the Arab world and the Jamaat-e Islami elsewhere. A product of the peculiar ideology of the Ikhwan was the slogan, 'The Quran is our Constitution, and Jihad [in the sense of violent war] is our Path, and through this we will establish Islam throughout the world'. From Palestine to Afghanistan and from Chechenya to Bosnia, wherever violence was resorted to in the name of 'Islamic Jihad' it was all a product of this ideology.

Likewise, the Jamaat-e Islami developed the theory that all the systems prevailing in the world today are 'evil' (taghuti). It claimed that it was the duty of all Muslims to struggle to destroy these systems and to establish the 'Islamic system' in their place. It claimed that this work was so necessary that if by warning or admonition this did not happen, the followers of Islam should resort to violence to snatch the keys of power from the upholders of 'evil' and establish 'Islamic government' across the whole world. The violence that is happening in Pakistan and Kashmir in the name of Islam today is entirely a result of this fabricated ideology.

Before and after 9/11, the horrific violence that happened and is still happening in the name of Islam could be said to be directly or indirectly a result of these two self-proclaimed 'revolutionary' movements. The origin or basis of the wrong ideology of the founders of these movements lies in their being unable to understand the difference between a group or party (jamaat) and the State. They considered what is actually the responsibility of an established State or government to be the duty of the jamaat or group that they had founded.

According to Islam, the declaration and conduct of jihad, in the sense of qital or physical warfare, and the establishment of Islamic laws related to collective affairs is solely the responsibility of the State. It is completely forbidden in Islam for non-State actors to form parties in order to engage in struggles or movements for this purpose.

The limits or scope of a jamaat in Islam are illustrated in the following Quranic verse: 'Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: they are the ones to attain felicity' (Surah Al-e Imran: 104). In the Quran the word jamaat refers to a group and not to a political party.

According to the above-quoted Quranic verse, non-State actors can establish a jamaat only for two purposes. Firstly, for peaceful invitation to the good. And, secondly, using peaceful means, for guiding and correcting people. The former refers to conveying the message of IslamĀ  to non-Muslims, and by 'enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong' is meant the fulfilling of the duty of advising Muslims to walk on the right path. Other than this, forming jamaats for political agitation is forbidden. It is an impermissible and condemnable innovation which has no sanction in Islam.

The ideological perspective that the founders of the Ikhwan ul-Muslimin and the Jamaat-e Islami created themselves was against the shariah or divine Islamic law as well as against nature. And such an unnatural ideology inevitably begins with violence and ends in hypocrisy. As long as people are hypnotised by their own romantic ideas they remain so zealous in the cause of their supposed 'revolution' that they can even consider suicide-bombing as legitimate, wrongly giving it the name of martyrdom. But when the hard rock of reality forces their zeal to cool off, they resort to sheer hypocrisy: that is, at the intellectual level they continue to cling to their ideology, but in practical terms they fully adjust to reality in order to protect their own worldly interests.

Translated by Yoginder Sikand. This is a translation of the chapter titled Tashaddud Ka Islamisation in Maulana Wahiduddin Khan's Urdu book Aman-e Alam (Goodword Books, 2005), pp.95-97


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