In a video, Salim Benghalem, an Islamic State (IS) jihadist who is the main suspect in the attacks on Paris, calls his “brethren in faith” to fight the “kafirs” and “mushriks” (idolaters and infidels): “Kill them with knives, spit in their face as much as you can, be solitary wolves.” The Paris tragedy — regrettably the second this year where France’s people and values have been attacked by jihadist zealots — clearly shows how vicious the wanton killing of innocent civilians can be when inspired by a vicious ideology. Most notably, it is a reminder to call a spade a spade.
The IS, Al Shabaab, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, or any other extremist outfit for that matter is not just a law and order problem. They are all actively engaged in an ideological battle that has deep roots in history as well as theology. The fact is that the IS, which has ather proudly claimed responsibility for the Paris attacks, is made up of radicalised recruits believing in inhuman, brazenly anti-Islamic extremist dogmas and they are are now entering Europe with the Syrian refugees. The self-proclaimed “Caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s strategy goes much in the same way as that of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, theologian and founder of the Wahhabi movement in the 18th century. There is a clear parallel in their continued attempts to terrorise people and force them into submission. British scholar Karen Armstrong has rightly said that “the IS is neither typical nor mired in the distant past, because its roots are in Wahhabism, a form of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia that developed only in the 18th century.”
The Wahhabi ideologues’ writings and their Quranic commentaries are freely distributed in the Muslim world today, particularly in areas under the IS’ control, to attract gullible recruits. Baghdadi has said that “a generation of Muslim youths has been trained based on the forgotten doctrine of al-wala wal bara”, literally meaning loyalty with Muslims and disavowal against non-Muslims. This fatal theological term stems from the 18th century Islamist scholar Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s hardcore belief that “a Muslim cannot be a perfect Muslim (believer) until s/he shows hatred in words and actions against the non-Muslims (including non-Wahhabi Muslims, the Sufis, Shias etc)”.
The Wahhabi ideology spread outside the Arabian Peninsula after the fall of the Ottoman, creeping into many European and American countries. Regrettably, it did not even spare India, a country of the composite Rishi-Sufi tradition. Take Kashmir, for instance. For centuries, the Sufi culture won the hearts of both the Kashmiri Muslims and Hindus who lived in full synergy. But the Pakistani jihadist zealots installed their Wahhabi agenda there, misquoting the so-called militant Quranic verses and calling on Muslims to murder, maim and defeat the infidels.
The report of the directorate-general for external relations of European Union states: “It is clear that the risks posed by Wahhabi terrorism go far beyond the geographical scope of the Muslim world”.
The Paris attack was an infringement of the universal values that are embedded in Islam. Muslims set an example centuries ago by sheltering the Jews when Spain threw them out. They profess a faith that exhorts them to be compassionate towards the people of other faiths in particular. Sadly, when news of jihadists yelling “Allah-u-Akbar” while spraying innocent people with bullets is beamed across the world, and US President Barack Obama says that we need to gather more information on the shooters, the thought that stays with people is of Islamic terror. Emboldened by our continued oblivion to the ideological factor underpinning IS and other terrorist groups, they are now more active, spirited and brazen in their attacks, each assault scripted and executed as an open challenge to the world leaders engaged in fighting terror.
World leaders and governments must support France in these darkest of times. But why are they still turning a blind eye to the ideological factor, even though a considerable number of Islamic scholars, spiritual masters and heads of seminaries, including the top-most Islamic university, Al-Azhar in Cairo, have admitted the link between the IS’ terror and Wahabbism?
After the Paris massacre, there is substantial evidence of increase in Islamophobic sentiments and incidents such as stereotyping of Muslim beard and burqa, ban on mosques and Islamic seminaries. It’s a knee-jerk reaction born out of ignorance or disregard for a real solution.
Obviously, the IS is at war with all of humanity, including peace-loving Muslims. Muslims too have a role to play here. As long as our co-religionists keep claiming that their faith tells them to inflict harm on others, Islamophobia will continue unabated. In this situation, the mainstream, peace-loving Muslims need to stand with the people of Paris, and speak without wavering against the ideological root of ISIS. Terrorism will not end merely with our denouncement.
But it needs to be shown the courage of our conviction to reclaim Islam, a religion of spiritual and universal values, from the hate-driven, extremist distortions.
Religious extremists have existed as a fringe in almost all faiths. The anti-Semitics, the Ku Klux Klan may have disappeared, but the Buddhist killers of Rohingya Muslims, the Army of God, a network of violent Christianists that kill homosexuals, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a terrorist group in the Central African Republic, are very much active.
Their ideologues derive justification for killing, suicide-bombing, raping and maiming others from radical literature in their bid to establish their ungodly rule in the name of God. But their ferocious doctrines clearly unveil their false adherence to any faith tradition that enjoins good and forbids evil.
Clearly, the war on terror has miserably failed to combat a dangerous radical ideology of religio-fascism, xenophobia, intolerance and exclusivism — something that lures the gullible into mindless violence. Therefore, instead of a rash generalisation based on superficial knowledge of radical Islam, governments should try to understand and combat it on a deeper level. They need concrete action plans for rebutting and rooting out terror ideologies instead of targeting innocent Muslims and condemning an entire faith, tradition and culture.
The writer is an alim (classical Islamic scholar) and a Delhi-based writer. email@example.com
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