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A new challenge to Muslim world

The challenge to the Muslim world’s stability presented by the Islamic State, earlier known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), has become quite serious over the past few days.

Baghdadi’s organisation comprising the breakaway extremist faction of Al Qaeda has made significant gains in Iraq. Following its capture of minor oil fields and demolition of quite a few heritage monuments it has seized control of the large dam on the Tigris and the international media is now warning of the possibility of a catastrophic flood.

These fears may appear exaggerated but the conflict in Syria continues, an incident has been reported on the border of Lebanon and according to an agency report, Saudi Arabia is strengthening its defences along the border with Iraq. The Arab fratricide is obviously taking a heavier toll than expected earlier.

The people of Pakistan should be concerned that the slogan of caliphate has spread to India. NewAgeIslam, a well-known online forum for debate on Muslim affairs, has disclosed a charter of demands presented by a leading Muslim scholar, Maulana Salman Husain Nadvi, urging Saudi Arabia to establish a caliphate.

The people of Pakistan should be concerned that the slogan of caliphate has spread to India
Maulana Nadvi is reported to have pleaded for a world Islamic army and argued against branding the religious militants as terrorists. Instead, these “sincere Muslim youth fighting for a noble cause” should be united in a confederation of jihadi organisations for worldwide action under the guidance of the ulema.

Maulana Nadvi is quoted as saying: “As for the issue of Qadianis, particularly Safavids [meaning Iran?] and those who abuse the sahaba [meaning Shias], we should not be afraid of them and we do not need to go to the US or Israel to ward off threats from them. Just recruit the Ahle-Sunnah youth from the Indian subcontinent [does that include Pakistan?] and form a powerful Muslim army of the Islamic world. After that there will be no need of the so-called army of the sick youth of the Gulf states.

If you are sincere towards the true faith, true path, Sunnah and for the protection of the true path of Islam, then simply make an appeal, a call. Five lakh youth from the Indian subcontinent will be provided.”

Maulana Nadvi is also quoted as saying: “Military training among the Muslim youth should be stressed. Every effort should be made to save them from freedom and social evils.”

Pakistani religious circles should not be unfamiliar with Maulana Nadvi. His grandfather, Syed Suleman Nadvi, a close associate of Shibli Naumani, was at one stage adviser to the Pakistan government. It is not easy to believe that Maulana Nadvi is unaware of the contradiction between his call for an all-powerful khalifa and the Quranic dictum that Muslims decide their matters through mutual consultation, or that he does not realise the consequences of his posturing for the Muslim world, the Indian Muslims in particular.

The logic of Maulana Nadvi’s letter, if it has been correctly reported, leads to the politics of religious exclusivism that has already caused the Muslims of the subcontinent colossal harm. Regardless of their reading of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) rise to power the best course for the Muslims of India, as indeed for Muslims anywhere else, is to adopt non-theocratic, inclusive political ideals.

Apart from the fear that Maulana Nadvi’s policy will exacerbate Shia-Sunni differences in India and elsewhere, the Indian Muslims’ relapse into communal politics, and revival of their suicidal tendency to look for succour beyond the national frontiers, will strengthen the rabid communalists in India’s majority community, especially among the BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh hawks, and further undermine the state’s secular assumptions. Any such development is bound to strengthen conservative and anti-democratic elements in Pakistan.

The need to repel the arguments of the new advocates of caliphate cannot be gainsaid. Unfortunately, the question of caliphate, its justification or otherwise, has not been seriously debated in Pakistan. The Muslims living in the Pakistan territories in the 1920s took the Khilafat agitation (1919-1924) perhaps a little more seriously than their co-religionists elsewhere in the subcontinent. They fought for the Turkish caliphate with more passion than reason and cursed the British for not heeding their prayers for saving the caliph though his own community had had enough of him.

The subject was discussed by Allama Iqbal in the last of his 1930 lectures, published under the title The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, and he defended the decision of the Turkish Grand National Assembly that the functions of the caliph could be performed by democratically elected representatives of the people.

Iqbal quoted Ibn Khaldun to argue that there was no unanimity among Islamic authorities on the idea of a universal caliphate; two other views were that caliphate was “merely a matter of expediency” and that there was “no need of such an institution”.

Allama Iqbal described Ibn Khaldun’s argument in favour of changes in the concept of caliphate as the first dim view of international Islam that was taking shape in the 20th century. The lecture was marred by some contradictions Iqbal did not notice but it did offer a memorable warning to Muslim scholars “that a false reverence for past history and its artificial resurrection constitute no remedy for a people’s decay”.

The point that needs to be grasped is that the upholders of liberal Islam, for which the subcontinent’s scholars used to enjoy a clear distinction, in both Pakistan and India, must equip themselves now to meet the challenge to peace, democratic development, gender justice and love of heritage the storm in Iraq and Syria is posing.

For all one knows, Baghdadi may have supporters in Pakistan too. This country is in no position to bear the cost, in lives and material resources, of an intra-religious conflict that is being extracted from the Arab family.
By I.A. Rehman

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