Muslims in India are not a monolith


Many high officials, even in the intelligence establishment of the nation, are only partially aware of the various Islamic ideologies.

 Muslims in India are not a monolith-Understanding the nature of various Islamic tanzeems or Islamic religious ideologies precisely and then correctly interpreting them is a difficult task. This understanding can come only from access to true history of these tanzeems and its precise interpretation. Unfortunately, even the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has not done enough to encourage scholarship on this subject. The Left-oriented leadership that largely ruled India since 1947 had its own political-cum-ideological reasons for putting down such research. These two reasons, besides the sharp rise of vote bank politics in the country emanating from Gandhiji’s alleged appeasement of a section of pan-Islamic Muslims, are perhaps some of the main factors behind India’s Muslim problem today.

The right way of tackling the Muslim problem is through a four-pronged strategy for the four Sunni Muslim ideologies – ultra-Wahabis (who indulge in or justify terrorism overtly or covertly), the Wahabis (moderate Wahabi elements who are orthodox but are against terrorism), the Sufis, and the moderate Sufis, who have no connection with orthodox Sufi movements of Pakistan, called Dawat-e-Islami (orthodox Sufi tanzeems but not votaries of terrorism) – and who are the largest in number.

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The lack of this crucial knowledge about Islamic tanzeems, so necessary from the point of view of national security, in the wake of the rise of terrorism from ultra-Wahabism, is telling. Many high officials, even in the intelligence establishment of the nation, are only partially aware of this subject, an irony of sorts. The political parties with a claim to nationalist credentials like the BJP are woefully wanting in knowledge of the subject.

Two examples that prove the point in case of intelligence agencies and also Sangh Parivar

Two examples are suffice to point it out. In the first instance, an intelligence official I interacted with some time ago was unaware of the relationship between the Deoband school, its missionary wing Tabligh Jamat and their fellow tanzeem under the Wahabi umbrella called Ahle Hadis (which is followed by the Lashkar-e-Taiba and majority of Indian Mujahideen members). The officer seemed confused about the Deoband school because of its participation in the freedom movement though there is unimpeachable evidence to show that it joined hands with Gandhiji as part of its pan-Islamic strategy rather than a genuine concern for Indian nationalism. This can be gleaned from many well-documented statements of Jamat-e-Ulema-e-Hind (JUH) leader Ahmed Hussain Madani before independence when he strongly supported the Congress. Their pan-Islamism is also exposed by the late moderate Muslim leader Hamid Dalwaai in his book Muslim Politics in Secular India.

Moreover, the officer was also partially confused on how to interpret the moderate Sufi movement (not a single terrorist comes from among the Sufis today) because the main madrasa of the Sufi movement, the Barelvi Sharif in Uttar Pradesh, had supported the Pakistan movement just as the moderate Aga Khan did – both were swept away by the atmosphere that Muhammad Ali Jinnah had created through his communal rhetoric, which no doubt was based on the demands of the Muslims rather than on the radical interpretation of Islam.

In the second instance, when in 2011 the followers of the Sufi tanzeems came out in large numbers to participate in Prophet Muhammed’s birthday in both India and Pakistan, in what was a reaction to the ultra-Wahabi onslaught on the Sufis in Pakistan and Iraq in the form of bombings on Sufi shrines by ultra-Wahabi terrorists, a top BJP politician, who rightly saw it as a positive development for the future of multi-religious India, was however at a loss to convince senior leaders of the Sangh Parivar about its true purport.

The reason: instead of seeing it as a positive development, in which the moderates amongst the Sunni Muslims were grouping against the ultra-Wahabi onslaught, many among the Parivar leaders saw it as red signal in the form of general regrouping of the Muslims in the country. One of the reasons behind it was the Parivar leaders’ lack of even elementary knowledge about the beliefs that differentiate Sufis from the Wahabis. Sufis participate in the Prophet’s birthday while the Wahabis are dead against participating in it.

For example, Sufis believe in worship of Muslim saints while Wahabis oppose it, saying true Muslims should worship Amighty Allah directly (it’s called direct dialling in colloquial language, a term that signifies Wahabi belief) and that bringing in an intermediary between the believer and Allah in the form of a saint is an import from the Hindu concept of Guru Puja and therefore against the tenets of puritanical Islam.

Modi has more knowledge

The only BJP leader who was able to interpret the 2011 development correctly was the then Gujarat chief minister and today’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It was proved when, in 2012, he welcomed the moderate Pakistani cleric fighting ultra-Wahabism, Tahirul Qadri, when the latter visited Gujarat. Modi even provided him police security during his trip. Qadri, in turn, praised Modi. The dynamic cleric recently started an anti-ISIS curriculum in United Kingdom in an attempt to stop Muslim students of UK from straying into the ultra-Wahabi orbit – a move that has been greatly applauded.

Hindu radicals help Wahabism by their actions

Over and above this confused lot in the security establishment and the so-called nationalist political class, there is the class of Hindu fundamentalists which makes the task of securing national interest more difficult in such matters against the threat of ultra-Wahabis. This is because they paint all Muslims with the same brush. Their actions produced disastrous results in 2002 in Gujarat. The Muslims who allegedly burnt the train at Godhra killing 59 karsevaks were Wahabis but a vast majority who bore the burnt of the Hindu mob violence as a reaction were Sufi Muslims. This was fully exploited by both the moderate Wahabis and the ultra-Wahabis in different ways which my research and investigation amply proves.

First, the moderate Wahabi preachers used it to convert the frightened Sufi youth into Wahabism by holding out the threat of retribution by Almighty Allah for following a false brand of Islam permeated by saint-worship while the ultra-Wahabis used it to foment terrorism by showing the chilling footage of the Muslims killed during the riots by Hindu mobs to impressionable Wahabi youth. Importantly, a significant number of Wahabi Muslim youth caught for their involvement in terror acts after 2002 Gujarat riots said they were incensed by the 2002 footage shown to them and that it played a key role in converting them into terrorists.

The facts about the Sufis and Deobandis, which few are aware

Significantly, there is another factor that torpedoes this task of identifying the true nature of every Islamic tanzeem – the needle called Pakistan that often pricks honest attempts to interpret these tanzeems. It colours the behaviour of the moderate Sufis because of the fear of being dubbed as Pakistanis. Significantly, like Aga Khan, the biggest Sufi madrasa during the pre-independence period, the Barelvi Sharif, supported the demand for Pakistan. But its followers at that time were less than ten per cent of the Sufis in undivided India. Therefore, ideally only less than ten per cent of Indian Sufis can be held responsible for backing Pakistan.

But most Indian Sufi leaders live under the perpetual fear of being dubbed as Pakistanis despite the fact their moderate interpretations of Islamic theology are an asset to the Indian nation battling with radical Islamists. This feeling of fear of being dubbed as Pakistanis has made many Sufi leaders manufacture a series of false allegations against the Deobandis which dub them as agents of the British during the freedom struggle. The facts are totally different. A vast section of Deobandis participated in the freedom struggle while backing Congress but less due to their commitment to nationalist ideals and more as part of their pan-Islamic strategy.

The Sufi leaders dub the 19th century Wahabi heroes like Syed Ahmed Barelvi and his devoted follower Shah Ismail Dehlvi (both are great heroes in madrasas of Saudi Arabia) as British agents although the fact is that they had fought the British while Deobandis say they were freedom fighters since they fought with the British. But the real fact is that their fight had nothing to do with Indian nationalist ideals but everything to do with the resurrection of puritanical Islam.

To put it precisely, the actual position of the Sufis is that a vast majority of them don’t have to carry the blame of the Barelvi Sharif’s pre-1947 pro-Pakistan stand on their shoulders because at that time the direct following of the Barelvi Madrasa in India was within ten per cent of the total Sufi population. Even otherwise, the Barelvi Sharif’s stand should be seen as an aberration in today’s changing scenario when not a single terrorist in the world comes from amongst the Sufis. Moreover, even Aga Khan supported Jinnah then but today Aga Khan is never accused of being a Pakistani. The same should apply to the Sufis too.

There is a moderate section among Wahabis too and that is significant

My response to a question from an inquisitive Hindu student of Islam recently should put the record straight. He asked me whether the fanatical Aurangzeb and the Bijapuri general Afzal Khan, killed by Shivaji in an epic duel in 1659, were Sufis? My reply was: Interpretation of Islamic ideologies has undergone a total change after the growth of Taliban, Al-Qaeda and Islamic State (ISIS) from amongst the radical ultra-Wahabis. Today not a single terrorist comes from the Sufis and so all Sufis should be seen as moderates while amongst the Wahabis too there is moderate faction that has emerged in a big way and so we have to acomodate them too. The children killed in the Peshwar school bombing in 2014 by ultra-Wahabi terrorists of the Tehrik-e-Taliban had Wahabi children too among the over 140 dead.

Nationalist historians like Mazumdar and Sir Jadunath Sarkar felt stifled during the ministerial tenure of Abul Kalam Azad as he himself had Wahabi leanings

Significantly, the tenure of first education minister of India, Abul Kalam Azad, a leader of Wahabi leaning, long accused by a section of Indians of protecting Muslims interests and encouraging minoritysm within the Congress, hardly had any room for such research. It was a phase which saw the beginning of the sidelining of the works, from the arena of academics, of such eminent and dispassionate historians like RC Mazumdar and Sir Jadunath Sarkar, perhaps because they were scathing in their criticism of persecution of Hindus by Muslim rulers, particularly during the Sultanate period from 1193 to 1526 without being biased.

Mazumdar, in fact, joined freedom fighter and keen Sardar Patel follower KM Munshi’s Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and became the editor of its great history series titled History and Culture of the Indian people. This series today remains the most dispassionate historical account of India since the ancient period. Significantly, some senior Congress leaders at that time were more than aware of the dangers of Wahabism but had kept quiet apparently under Gandhian pressure for the sake of Hindu-Muslim unity. This is best illustrated by the description of Wahabism by India’s first president Rajendra Prasad in one of his works.

What is worrying is that those who are supposed to know about a subject that has a bearing on the security and social harmony of the nation are not aware even of the basics in many cases. For example, most of the Indian intelligence establishment is unaware of a 19th century Wahabi book called Taqwiat-ul-Iman which is virtually a manual to destroy syncretic practices or Ganga-Jumna Tehzeeb that bid Hindus and Muslims to gather in an example of shared culture. Written around 1920s by a Wahabi preacher Shaheed Ismail Dehlvi who was killed in a battle with Sikhs along with his preceptor, Sayed Ahmed Barelvi in 1831 in today’s Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, the book is taught in all Wahabi madrasas. Not just that, it is popular amongst the radical Wahabi clergy of Saudi Arabia too.

Understanding the nature of Islamic tanzeems is not very difficult. It is only that the knowledge and scholarship on the subject has never got encouragement after independence, not even from the so-called nationalist movements like the RSS. Will the Modi government create an atmosphere for such research for the future of the nation, particularly, for the sake of social harmony involving both Hindus and Muslims?



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