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Ram Jethmalani is a senior politician and eminent lawyer.

Islam needs a renaissance

The Prophet told his followers, ‘The ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of a martyr.’

ast Sunday, the International Council of Jurists held a seminar on international terrorism at the Convocation Hall of the University of Bombay. The seminar was well attended by several eminent judges, politicians, lawyers, teachers of law, students and members of the press corps. It was in every sense a very impressive gathering. Our most distinguished guest from outside India was the Honourable Chief Justice of Bangladesh, the respected Surendra Kumar Sinha. He initiated the discussion on the subject by his very lucid and memorable presentation, the full text of which is available on the internet. Nevertheless, I believe it is important to repeat some salient parts of it.

Chief Justice Sinha rightly pointed out that while condemnation of terrorist activities by the international community has been unanimous and unequivocal, the efforts taken so far to control or combat them have been marred by differences of approach and poor competence of the affected countries. It is no exaggeration that the horrific crimes of terrorism hold entire humanity as victims. Justice Sinha gave two sets of graphic and chilling illustrations of the day-to-day terrorism being witnessed in the world. First, the burning alive of Jordanian pilots, mass slaughter of Egyptian Christian workers, destruction of rare antiquities, and the terrorists' beastly practice of beheading, stoning, limb amputation and crucifixion of victims who fell under their control. His second illustration was of what happened in his own country on 17 August 2005. Five hundred bomb explosions occurred at 300 different locations, in 63 out of the total 64 districts of Bangladesh all within less than half-an-hour before midday. A terrorist organisation named Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) shamelessly claimed responsibility for the grotesque bombings and murders. The leaders of this bloody conspiracy were the two Rehman brothers, allegedly affiliated with Al Qaeda, along with another terrorist organisation, Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islam. It is to the credit of the investigating agencies of Bangladesh that the perpetrators were apprehended by March 2006 and equally creditworthy for the Bangladesh judiciary to have completed the trial in early 2007. The perpetrators were found guilty, sentenced and executed in the same year.

The Hon'ble Chief Justice completely won over the delegates with his declaration that his country, Bangladesh, has zero tolerance for such terrorists and acts of terrorism. And he certainly increased our love and respect for his country when he justly claimed that Bangladesh is a moderate and tolerant Muslim majority state. We were overjoyed to hear that Bangladesh supports and will continue to support a global war against terrorism. He showed his obvious contempt for human groups amongst whom such crimes flourish, where blood and human life is cheaper than bread.

While it is true that practice of terrorism is not confined to any particular region, society or religion, it cannot be denied that today, the peace and security of India is threatened by those who claim to be adherents of "pure" Islam, who believe that any other religion or faith must be destroyed, and that Islam must dominate the world. I can only state with regret that such a belief can only be labelled as blasphemous to Islam and a hideous insult to the Prophet. Even he would be shocked to learn of the claims and interpretations made by his self-acclaimed followers. The main responsibility for creating such criminals is not of God or any divine force, but of false teachers, mullahs and maulanas, who corrupt young minds with this satanic teaching.

I would like to remind all Muslim intellectuals that included in the Hadith is a famous pronouncement made by the Prophet Muhammad on his return from the battle of Tabuk, which marked the end of his military campaign against the polytheists: "We have returned from the lesser jihad (jihad kabeer); to the greater jihad (jihad akbari), (i.e. the struggle against the evil of one's soul)." This division of jihad came to be interpreted in Islam as meaning that the outer and less important physical struggle for Islam was over and had given way to the more important inner, moral struggle. The tragedy is that all terrorist organisations are dishonestly concealing this very significant Hadith from their followers. They wish to trap them in their megalomaniac dreams of ruling the world through the false bogey of Islam, and use them as slaves and foot soldiers for their nefarious crimes, well illustrated by the distinguished Chief Justice of Bangladesh.

I do not wish to give an extensive list of such enemies of world peace, but the most prominent ones are Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab born in 1703 in the town of Udainah in the desert country of Nejd situated in the Arabian peninsula, and Ibn Taymiyyah, born in Harran in modern day Turkey in 1263. Their misinterpretation of two verses from the Holy Quran (Chapter 2 verse 193; and Chapter 8, verse 39) is deliberately fanatical and false, degrading their own faith. It should always be remembered that Ibn Taymiyya with literalist, dogmatic, intolerant ideology was rightly condemned in his own lifetime. He was frequently in trouble with the religious authorities, was imprisoned on several occasions and branded a heretic. His theology has never found place in the Sunni mainstream, but it continued to attract adherents, of whom the most famous — until recent times — was the Arab named Muhammad ibn Ahd al-Wahhab, mentioned earlier. It is well-known that Wahhab had openly declared that all Mushrikeen have forfeited their right to exist on this planet. His definition of Mushrikeen was all non-believers, including Jews, Christians, Hindus, and oddly enough, Shias, their own brethren, with whom they had a squabble about the succession of Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet and martyr of Karbala, something that was a common feature in all medieval dynasties.

Here is an account of the Wahhabi treatment of the Shias, as reported by Charles Allen in God's Terrorists: The Wahhabi Cult and the Hidden Roots of Modern Jihad. "Way back in 1802, a Wahhabi raiding band led by the Saudi Emir's eldest son Saud ibn Saud attacked Karbala in modern-day Iraq, the most sacred shrine of the Shias, containing the tomb of their holiest saint, Hussain, grandson of the Prophet and son of Imam Ali. They pillaged the whole of it and plundered the Tomb of Hossein," wrote Lieutenant Francis Warden, "slaying in the course of the day, with circumstances of peculiar cruelty, above five thousand of the inhabitants. This event, which made a deep impression on the minds of the Turks, Arabs and Persians, was attributed to the guilty negligence of the Turkish Government, in failing to keep the Tomb of Hossein in a proper state of defence." Huge amounts of booty were seized, the emir-cum-imam taking the usual one-fifth for himself and sharing out the rest among his Wahhabi soldiery, a single share to every foot-soldier and a double share to every horseman.

Judging from the violent events exploding in the Muslim world — in Iraq, Syria, and now Yemen, with dangerous undercurrents from Iran and Saudi Arabia — clearly, this conflict is far from over. It appears to be spiralling more and more out of control, and no one seems to know how it will end.

India can only be proud that after having endured its own historical share of conquest, blood and bigotry, it opted to be a secular country, its secularism being a basic feature of its Constitution. I have explained and repeatedly written that India's secularism mandates a life wholly guided by reason and logic, but inspired wholly by love and compassion. Every scripture of any religion must debate rationally in the free market of ideas, with none claiming superiority of its scripture, merely because it is an article of absolute faith by them. No citizen of any religion can impose his faith or seek to justify it by what anyone may have said or done thousands of years ago, regardless of whether s/he happens to be a Hindu pandit, Jewish rabbi, Christian pontiff or a Muslim imam. Secularism is based on education and the scientific spirit. I have not known of any prophet in religious history, who was blessed with the knowledge that the earth revolved around the sun — they all believed the reverse. I don't think any prophet knew that disease is caused by germs and bacteria — they all believed that disease was caused by sin. Distinguished astronomers like Bruno were burnt by the inquisition court, and women with independent views were burnt at the stake, branded as witches. Darwin's theory of evolution of species could not be taught in many American schools up to the year 1925, because it was contrary to the Biblical version of creation, also accepted in Islam. I have written before and I wish to repeat that every scripture has two parts — the first, temporary, situated and relevant in the place and context of its origin, and the other eternal, immortal and universally applicable to humanity. I have written before and I wish to repeat that I am a great admirer of the Prophet of Islam, because he is the one Prophet who clearly told his followers, "When you walk in search of knowledge, you walk in the path of God; the ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of a martyr." As long as his followers adhered to this teaching of their Prophet, they were masters of the civilised world. When they forsook his teachings, burnt all books and read only the Quran, and that too not in its entirety, they became slaves of those whom they had educated. Muslims must recall the Islam of pristine grandeur because its current Wahhabi version badly needs a Renaissance.

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