First Person | What Terrorism?

Dar-ul-Uloom needs to define Jihad instead

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

After dithering on the idea for a long time and grappling with semantics even longer, the Dar-ul-Uloom seminary in Deoband finally found the words to denounce terrorism in February this year. In the presence of a large number of Muslim scholars from all over India, the head of Dar-ul-Uloom, Maulana Marghoobur Rahman, said, “There is no place for terrorism in Islam”. Calling Islam a religion of love and peace, he described terrorism as a thoughtless act of violence against innocent people, whether committed by an individual, an institution or a government and is against the teachings of Islam.

Given the mildness of the statement, it was surprising how a big deal was made of this pronouncement. Analysts argued that though it was long overdue, the fact that Dar-ul-Uloom had finally condemned terrorism would be a big blow to the likes of al Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and other such groups which claim theological affiliation with the biggest Islamic seminary in South Asia (some insist it is the second most important in the world after al Azhar University of Egypt, as it has influenced in some way or the other maximum schools of Islamic thought). Many also said that this fatwa would discourage those who were being brain-washed in various madarassas, especially in Pakistan, from joining these terrorist groups.

Apparently, when these groups go out on recruitment drives to these madarassas, they carry the name of Dar-ul-Uloom as a reference letter. So now that it has officially been said that terrorism has no place in Islam, the fence-sitters will not fall prey to the exhortations of the recruiters and see through the ‘fake-ness’ of their reference letters.

Ironically, the religious leaders of various Muslims bodies who had attended the ‘historic’ meeting in February and threw their weight behind the fatwa felt differently as far as its reasons and import were concerned. According to them, they felt compelled to issue the fatwa because many non-Muslims were associating terrorism with Islam. So it was meant to clear these misconceptions. Moreover, in the last few years because of the convenience of arresting bearded and skull-capped Muslims in the aftermath of any terrorist attack, those who had even a passing connection with Deoband or its ancillary units had become particularly vulnerable to police actions. The pronouncement was also meant as a means to protect innocent Muslims from harassment and torture at the hands of the police.

Even if these artless Maulanas hadn’t said as much, it is clear that the significance of such a fatwa is extremely limited. Just as no Muslim in the world believes that Islam supports or condones terrorism, no terrorist thinks that he is committing an act of terror, which is why the famous line that ‘one man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist’. A person who picks up the gun or ties an explosive-laden belt around his body does so believing that his is a righteous path and his sacrifice will improve the lot of his people.

Though today, as the US flounders on its war on terrorism, it is being urged that no distinction should be made on the grounds of good or bad terrorists, the fact remains that barring very few groups, most of the so-called terrorists are waging political battles, even if they resort to what may be called acts of terror. Since they do not consider themselves terrorists, and neither do their supporters, how can the fatwa on terrorism deter them.

Now, if there was a fatwa on Jihad, it would have had a different impact altogether, because for Osama bin Laden and his ilk, the operative word is Jihad and not terrorism. And Jihad has a religious sanction. Instead of denouncing terrorism, had Dar-ul-Uloom held a high level discussion and debate on the concept of Jihad, both Akbar and Asghar, perhaps it would have been more useful. From time to time, sundry Muslim scholars have said that Jihad-e-Akbar (the struggle within, to ensure that one is a better human being) is a greater and nobler cause in comparison to Jihad-e-Asghar which is a violent one meant to be waged against the oppressors. Though very important, this is a benign distinction, which can easily be distorted by vested and clever people. Moreover, the concept of an oppressor is very vague, hence waging a violent Jihad does not require much convincing.

This is the reason why if Dar-ul-Uloom seriously wants to set the record straight, it needs to initiate a discussion on Jihad and the importance of distinguishing between the two kinds. Dar-ul-Uloom needs to clearly spell out what Jihad-e-Asghar means, under what circumstances, under whose command and against whom can it be waged. And most importantly, can killing on the sly or non-combatants be accepted as a form of Jihad? Not that most people do not know this, but if a stand against terrorism has to be taken, we might as well start from the root. And while they are at it, they might as well clarify that a fatwa is a mere opinion, not an order that can be enforced, so that a few analysts who are now mulling as to how the Deoband fatwa against terrorism can be enforced are saved the trouble.


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