India News Online

October 31, 2008

Inteview: Jamaat-e Islami Amir on Terrorism in India

Filed under: Indian Muslims — indianewsonline @ 11:25 pm

By Yoginder Sikand              Muslim India

Syed Jalaluddin Umari * is the President (amir) of the Jamaat-e Islami Hind, one of the largest and most influential Islamic organizations in India . In this interview with Yoginder Sikand he talks about the recent wave of terror attacks in India , attacks on Muslims and on moves to set up a Muslim political party in the country.

Q: What do you have to say about the recent wave of bomb blasts across India , which the media and the intelligence agencies have sought to blame Muslims for?

A: Soon after the deadly state-sponsored anti-Muslim pogroms in Gujarat in 2002 there was a sort of lull in communal violence and disruptive acts, but now, over the last year or so, suddenly blasts are happening in various parts of the country, causing widespread death and destruction and indiscriminate arrests, mainly of Muslim youths. The state agencies, the police and the media have sought to blame Muslims for all these disruptive acts, but, as the recent revelations about the role of Hindutva groups in the Malegaon and Modassa incidents clearly shows, this accusation appears to have little merit. In the wake of blasts across India , scores of Muslims have been targeted, picked up by the police and tortured, and the law has not been allowed to take its proper course. All that we have, in the vast majority of cases, are confessions probably forcibly procured by the police from those arrested, and this cannot be adduced as proof in any court of law. Yet, the media takes these confessional statements extracted under duress as gospel truth and has been engaged in a concerted campaign to brand Muslims as terrorists.

Q: So, do you mean to say that Muslims might not be responsible for these various blasts, contrary to what the media and the intelligence agencies allege?

A: I am not saying that there might not be even a single Muslim who could engage in disruptive activities. But I strongly feel, and this some sections of the media are themselves now saying, that these blasts might have been perpetrated by fiercely anti-Muslim groups, by radical Hindutva outfits or their activists, who seek, along with the media and the intelligence agencies, to blame Muslims for them so that Islam and Muslims get a bad name. They want to thereby divide the people of India against each other, widen communal polarisation, create anti-Muslim hysteria and consolidate a Hindu vote-bank, particularly keeping in mind the coming elections. Anyone with a bit of commonsense must certainly wonder why Muslims would engage in such activities when they cause grave harm and damage to Muslims themselves, because after these blasts it is inevitably Muslims alone who are arrested or gunned down in fake encounters and who have to suffer increasing suspicion and hatred from other communities. And then several of these blasts have taken place in Muslim localities, even in mosques, dargahs and Muslim graveyards, where those killed and injured have been wholly Muslims. Why on earth would Muslims target their own people? Why are the police and the media not coming out in the open about the evidence of militant Hindutva groups and activists being involved in several terrorist attacks and bomb blasts? Why is this not being branded or described as terrorism?

I must also state here that all Indian Muslim organizations and notable leaders have openly and forcefully condemned all these disruptive acts, no matter who their perpetrators might be. These activities harm our country, kill innocent people, Hindus, Muslims and others, and do the most damage to Muslims, because it is Muslims who inevitably bear the brunt of the wrath of the police, the intelligence agencies and the media in the aftermath of these incidents even when they are not behind them.

We demand a proper and fair investigation into all such incidents. But is this being done? I regret to say it is not. Take the case of the recent killing of two Muslim youth in Batla House in New Delhi . Muslim as well as secular human rights organizations are raising serious questions about the police’s version of the story, and they are demanding a proper investigation of the incident. This is a purely democratic demand, but why is it that this is not conceded? Are the authorities afraid that such an investigation might reveal the police’s version to be false? To claim, as those who oppose this sort of investigation say, that this would result in the lowering of the morale of the police is completely bizarre.

Q: What, then, do you think is the way out?

A: We want the law to take its proper course. We want the legal process to be allowed to properly function. Unfortunately, however, this is not happening in scores of cases. Muslims are being arbitrarily arrested and branded, by the police, intelligence agencies and the media, as terrorists, though the courts as yet have not delivered any judgment. Our point is that if any persons, no matter what their religion, or if any organization, irrespective of whichever community it is associated with, are proved, after proper investigation, to be indeed involved in these blasts, they must be punished according to the law.

Q: What do you feel about the charges about the banned Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) being behind these blasts? After all, at one time, the SIMI was the youth wing of the Jamaat-e Islami.

A: It should be clear that SIMI was never a wing of the Jamaat. Jamaat has its own wing, the SIO (formed in 1982). In 1992, the Iqdam-e-Ummat conference was organized by SIMI in Mumbai. There the SIMI activists used intemperate language. Then the Jamaat-e Islami Hind decided that henceforth no Jamaat representative would attend any SIMI meetings. This was done to emphasize the Jamaat’s stand that the language used by Muslims must be proper and balanced. Prior to this, we had tried to make the SIMI realize that their immature approach was wrong, and under the circumstances it was unrealistic and impractical as well and not in accordance with the Islamic temperament.

However the ground reality is that even before the ban on the SIMI, its influence was rather limited. It was not the hugely influential movement that the media makes it out to be. Moreover as journalists such as Ajit Sahi of Tehelka have shown, no case of SIMI activists being involved in any illegal or disruptive acts has ever been proved in any court. If SIMI was really wedded to terrorism, as is being alleged, then why is it that when it was not banned it did not engage in such activities, and that after the ban, when its wings were clipped, its offices sealed, many of its activists arrested and others who had been associated with it closely watched by intelligence agencies, it was allegedly able to mastermind all these deadly blasts across the country? This question must be asked, but, of course, the media is not asking it.

Q: But surely the SIMI’s radical rhetoric was inflammatory and pernicious. Its call for armed jihad, its visceral hatred for and opposition to democracy, secularism and the concept of the nation-state and its appeal for establishing a Caliphate in India naturally made it seen by many Indians, including Muslims, as very dangerous. In this sense, it was akin to some extreme radical Islamist groups in the Arab world. What do you have to say about this sort of approach?

A: Any immature approach is of course wrong and completely impractical and, moreover, it is counter-productive. However, you must realize that much of the SIMI’s rhetoric was limited to raising slogans. Islamic movements across the world have increasingly begun to avoid empty rhetoric. They know that any immature action leads to harsh suppression. Islamic movements in various countries are clearly realizing that the only practical avenue before them is through peaceful mass movements which could engage in democratic politics and in elections to present their agenda and win public support. Well-known Islamic parties such as the Jamaat-e Islami of Pakistan and Bangladesh, the Ikhwan ul-Muslimin in Egypt, the Refah Party in Turkey and so on are routinely taking part in elections and seeking peaceful means to come to power. They de facto recognize the existing secular and democratic Constitutions, even though they may not be Islamic Constitutions. Seeking to gain public acceptance and support by participating in elections and using peaceful means is their method.

Q: So, are you suggesting that the radical approach of extremist groups such as Hizb ut Tahrir in the Arab world and Central Asia or the SIMI, which aimed to capture political power through violence to establish what they call an Islamic state, is wrong?

A: To shun peaceful mass movement and adopt coercion is entirely impractical and counter-productive, as I earlier mentioned. As I said, only through peaceful means one may seek to bring about the desired change. However your perception that SIMI aimed to capture power through violence is entirely wrong. Participating in democratic elections is certainly one possibility before the Islamic parties. It is a different matter that when in some countries an Islamic party wins the elections the West (which otherwise keeps harping about democracy) makes sure that such a party does not actually come to power. The instances of Turkey and Algeria can be seen in this context. But even if this happens, there is no practical alternative to the peaceful movement method. After all, how long can the West succeed in denying Muslim masses the regimes that they democratically wish to elect?

Q: In the wake of the terror attacks and bomb blasts across India and the growing hounding of Muslims, what political course would you personally and as head of the Jamaat-e Islami Hind suggest for the Indian Muslims to follow, especially with regard to the forthcoming Parliamentary elections?

A: I would advise Muslims to refrain from emotionalism and seek to struggle for their rights using all available peaceful and legal means. They must desist from any illegal or disruptive activity. In general, they should seek to create avenues of dialogue and build bridges with non-Muslims, including with the people in the media and in political field with genuine commitment to democracy and justice. The Jamaat, along with some other Muslim groups, has been trying to push a constructive agenda forward in the recent past. We have called a meeting that is to be convened soon of leaders of various political parties other than the Congress and BJP and social and human rights activists in Delhi to discuss such an agenda.

All this while, Muslims have been treated as a captive vote-bank of the Congress Party, but, as the ongoing repression of Muslims even in many Congress-ruled states shows, this party has done little for Muslims. In the wake of the disruptive acts and the consequent large-scale persecution of hapless Muslims, the Congress has taken no positive measures at all. It maintains a studious silence, for fear of losing Hindu votes to the BJP. It could have, if it had wanted to, prevented the targeting of Muslims, but it did not do so. Now it is making some feeble attempts to regain Muslim votes before the coming elections by talking of the Hindutva terrorists who are said to be behind the Malegaon and Modassa blasts, but all this while it has remained silent on the ongoing repression of Muslims. Because of this, many Muslims think that as far as Muslim issues are concerned there is little difference between the Congress and the BJP.

My advice to Muslims, and this is also what I think most Muslims would themselves do on their own, is that in states where there is a realistic alternative available to both the Congress and the BJP, Muslims should prefer this alternative, and where there is no such credible alternative they might consider the Congress. This would not be because of any great enthusiasm for that party’s record but simply a matter of compulsion.

Q: In this regard, what do you have to say about ongoing talk about setting up of a Muslim political party in India ? According to some sources, the Jamaat-e Islami Hind is also thinking of entering politics.

A: We feel that in today’s national and international context, particularly in the face of mounting anti-Islamic and anti-Muslim prejudice, when even legitimate grievances of Muslims are ignored, there is a pressing need for Muslims to make their presence felt in the political realm as well. This can take the shape of a lobby, an opinion-building group or a political party, and through this sort of effort Muslims might be able to talk more effectively with various political parties and present their views and concerns. As to the exact shape this effort will take, we do not really know for sure at the moment. It may well be in the form of a political party with its own agenda. It will work out how best to relate to other parties and to marginalized communities. I don’t think such a party may emerge before the coming Parliamentary elections early next year because the time left now is too short. I think that till then the Jamaat will continue with its present policy of seeking to present its views and concerns to various political parties. It will work for the cause of genuine democracy, for equal treatment by the state of all citizens, for social justice for all marginalized communities, such as Dalits, Christians, Sikhs as well as Muslims, and for countering communal fascism.

Q: All these years the Jamaat has stayed aloof from politics. How and why is it that now it wants to become actively politically involved?

A: It is not true to say that we have remained aloof from politics. We understand Islam to be a code of life, which talks about not only prayer and fasting but also about all social and collective affairs, including economics and politics. It is a question of how far existing conditions allow us to organize activities representing the collective aspects of Islam. In any case we have been always been open to change in the face of changing political and social conditions. We have always encouraged our members to seek to particularly interact with secular and democratic parties and convey the Jamaat’s views. In view of the mounting anti-Muslim prejudice and attacks on the community and of concerted efforts by powerful fascist groups to practically turn Muslims into second-class citizens by destroying their religious identity, Muslims need to be politically more active. This could take the form of a separate political party which the Jamaat might wish to help form.

Q: What sort of issues would this party take up?

A: As I said, we have not discussed this in detail so far, and it would take a while for things to finally crystallize. The main agenda for the party, if it comes into being, would be working for social justice and genuine democracy, not for Muslims alone but of all communities and sections who might be facing various forms of persecution. This party would not be associated with the Jamaat alone. In any case, the Jamaat would continue to engage in its primary work, of education, propagation and social change. We would like other Muslim groups and organizations to join the party if it comes into being, based on a common minimum agenda, although the Jamaat might have to play a leading role in establishing and guiding it.


* Maulana Syed Jalaluddin Umari, is an Islamic scholar, leader, thinker and reformer. He is a prolific writer and has written many books covering a wide range of Islamic topics.

He is the chief of Indian Islamic Movement, the Jamaat e-Islami Hind and heads a number of social, educational, religious academic and reformist institutions situated in different parts of the country.

An orator part excellence , he attracts large crowds at his Juma cermons and other public speeches.

Maulana’s topics are as versatile as his personality. But he is particularly considered an authority on Islamic perspective on Gender and family related issues.

October 28, 2008

Terror, Batla House and the Indian Police

Filed under: Indian Muslims — indianewsonline @ 2:50 pm


by K S Subramanian *, 27 October 2008        Muslim India

Reports on the anti-terror action by the ‘Special Cell’ of the Delhi Police in the Batla House area of Jamia Nagar, New Delhi, on September 19 are shocking indeed. The ‘Special Cell’ had come into adverse public notice on several occasions in the past. The serious human rights violations by the Cell in connection with the Parliament attack case in December 2001 are well known. The corrupt and high-handed head of the Cell, Rajbir Singh, was done to death not very long ago by one of his own victim-collaborators. Any operation by the ‘Special Cell’ would thus have to be viewed with some disbelief. In the present case, the puzzling, major question of how Inspector Sharma leading the team into the operation got killed has led to several contradictory explanations. The uncritical acceptance of the police version in the case by some sections of the media appears hasty and uncalled for.

There are better ways in which the ‘Special Cell’ could have achieved its purposes in the Batla House case. Nothing prevented it from surrounding the suspected premises and with the help of the local police station staff and the local people in the congested area, getting the inmates to come down and surrender to the police. This would have helped the police elicit valuable further intelligence on terrorist activities but also saved the life of Inspector Mohan Sharma and avoided injuries to others. On the face of it, the police action appears hasty, premature and botched. Highly skilled and professional training is required to carry out such operations delicately and successfully. The world has seen how the London Police not long ago shot dead a foreign national on suspicion of his being a terrorist in a public place and had to pay a heavy price for it when the police action turned out to be a mistake. This is despite the fact the London Police are far more professional than ours. Sophisticated training and respect for human life rather than keenness to obtain recognition and rewards are to be the objectives of police action in such cases.

That some blunders had occurred in the course of police action in Batla House is acknowledged by senior policemen in private. These can be placed on record only by a proper judicial probe. Saving the life of Inspector Sharma and those of the suspected terrorists was more important than desire for quick results. Following the operation, politicians, bent on vote-banks, have rushed to make a martyr out of the dead Inspector Mohan Sharma. They did not bother much about the families of the slain ‘terrorists’, their relatives and the extremely worried local population of their village Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, who live in inter-communal harmony.

One report hints at professional rivalry behind the clumsy operation conducted by the Delhi Police at Jamia Nagar. The operation is said to have been the outcome of a lead provided by the Mumbai Police, who had advised a watch on the suspected premises. However, the Delhi Police are said to have gone on an overdrive to carry out the ‘encounter’ even before the Mumbai Police could proceed further with their intelligence gathering. The Delhi Police’s attention-grabbing ‘encounter’ is said to have annoyed the Mumbai Police who felt compelled to release their own list of alleged ‘masterminds’ as against the one released by the Delhi Police!

The British had said that the Indian Police were ‘all but useless’ in the prevention of crime and ‘sadly inefficient’ in its detection. ‘Unscrupulous’ in the exercise of their authority, they had a ‘generalised reputation for corruption and oppression’. This assessment holds true today since the centralised paramilitary and repressive command structure of the Indian Police borrowed from the Irish colonial experience, has been retained intact in independent India. The author of the borrowed Irish model was Sir Charles Napier, then Governor of the Sind Province in undivided India. His name does not figure at all in the police reform discussions!

Not just the police structure but also the legal structure of India is colonial and repressive not in tune with the recent legislations relating to Panchayati Raj, human rights, Right to Information et al. The Indian Penal Code (IPC), the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), the Police Act and the Evidence Act put in place a legal framework and a police force equipped to maintain in India British rule by force. The IPC prioritises offences against the State and maintenance of public order. It begins consideration of traditional crime only from Section 299 in Chapter XVI onwards. The CrPC begins with the ‘arrest of persons’ and the ‘maintenance of public order and tranquillity’ before getting into criminal procedure with regard to investigation and trial of cases. The Police Act, despite its preamble, prioritises collection and communication of intelligence relating to public order and peace. The prevention and detection of crime is included among the duties of the police only in Section 23. The Act further provides for ‘punitive policing’ at the cost of the local people in the event of ‘disturbances’ and for the appointment of private persons as ‘special police officers’. Thus, structural reform of the police must go hand in hand with far reaching legal reforms.

Some police chiefs have held that the job of the officers of the elite Indian Police Service (the British called it the ‘Indian Police’, reserving the term ‘service’ only for the ‘Indian Civil Service’) is essentially to control, if not eliminate, the inherited oppressive conduct of the subordinate police and prevent them from misusing the law against the public. The District Magistrate, belonging to the ICS, was placed in firm command over the district Superintendent of Police belonging to the IP. While being posted in a North-Eastern State in the early 1970s, I came across a district police chief who was scrupulous in controlling the illegalities of the subordinate police to such an extent that the local press called him a ‘terror to the police’! A newly-appointed District Magistrate insisted on visiting him at his office rather than the other way round and in justification said that he had heard of the police being a ‘terror to the public’, but never of a police officer being a ‘terror to the police’!

The public and political outcry against the police action in the Batla House case, the discrepancies and contradictions in the police version of events surrounding the ‘encounter’, the puzzling death of Inspector Sharma, the findings of civil rights agencies on the event and so on have been clear. The revelation of many and contradictory names as ‘masterminds’ behind recent terrorist incidents by policemen in Delhi, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh has added to the public dismay. Some former policemen have said that the differences of opinion among policemen on this issue are due to professional rivalries, lack of proper communication, and the desire for publicity. None of them mentioned deficiencies in intelligence collection. Such deficiencies prevent intelligence officers, mostly policemen, from grappling with the nature and complexity of the problem of terrorism in India. Muslims are poorly represented in the Indian police. The Indian Police lack reliable sources of information from the Muslim communities. They lack the ability to penetrate and smash terrorist networks. Speculative, unreliable and contradictory information rules the roost. There is pervasive prejudice and suspicion of Muslims even in the higher reaches of the administrative structure. A former Secretary of the Union Home Ministry, the first ever Muslim to hold the post, once complained to me that the IB did not show its reports to him! He was the formal boss of the organisation! Police forces in large parts of India are heavily communalised and politicised. Politicisation of the police at its worst was seen during the religious terrorism against the minority community in Gujarat 2002, for which no one has been held politically accountable leave alone establishing criminal responsibility! Such lack of accountability and impunity is a potent source of retaliatory terrorism. With rare exceptions, the Hindu-dominated police tend to view the Muslim community as a whole as terrorist-inclined. Police officers in India are “preoccupied with politics, penetrated by politics and participate in it individually and collectively,” said David Bayley in 1983. The process has only worsened since then. The Union Home Ministry, in overall command of the police forces in India, has failed to introduce steps to depoliticise and humanise the Indian Police force.

Intelligence officers do their work in closed, secret organisations with hardly any public contact. They fail to develop a feel for the complexity of ground realities, which they view in simplified categories. Working with one-track minds, they focus wholly on loosely defined concepts such as ‘terrorism’ and ‘national security’. Their mindset is predisposed to magnification, exaggeration and simplification of perceived ‘security threats’ and to perceive them where they do not exist. When a fire accident took place in the Police Lines of a North-Eastern State, a senior officer just returned from a long stint in the claustrophobic environs of the IB in New Delhi was asked to look into incident. He produced a report which found an ‘international conspiracy’ behind the event, noting that the State had a porous border with a foreign country. It was, however, established later that the fire had been caused by a minor act of negligence on the part of the chief of the Police Lines!

With regard to the Naxalite movement, regarded as ‘terrorist’ in intelligence and police circles, it may be noted that the State Police and the Central IB (manned entirely by the police) are dominated by the cult of secrecy and their reports, often faulty and misleading, are not subjected to proper scrutiny. The Research and Policy Division (R&P) of the Union Home Ministry was set up by a former Union Home Secretary who was unhappy with ‘over-classification’. In its first report in 1969, the Division had stated that the Naxalite movement was as an outcome of agrarian tensions, which called for far-reaching agrarian reforms. The Division was wound up later. At present, the Ministry relies entirely on classified information provided by the IB and the State Police forces on Naxalite activities. These reports are not questioned within the Ministry. Any attempt to query them is frowned upon as a violation of security concerns. These reports are often biased, self-serving and misleading and contain factual inaccuracies.

A serious information gap has thus arisen in the Union Home Ministry with regard to the analysis of the Naxalite and other similar movements. A comparison of the information emanating from public sources on the Naxalite activities in, say, the Central Tribal Belt with the information produced by intelligence sources reveals a huge gap. Public sources focus on information from the victims of violence but intelligence sources focus on State security and stress police requirements in terms of fire power, mobility and manpower. Human security is lost sight of with the emphasis placed on law and order rather than on law and justice. Human rights violations and police brutality are overlooked or justified. This leads to further alienation of the government from the people, ironically lending credence to Naxalite theories on the nature of the Indian State!

A former Union Home Secretary had suggested the setting up of several multidisciplinary study and action teams of scholars, social activists and civil servants to go into conflict situations in different parts of the country and prepare policy papers. The suggestion was not taken seriously. The Ministry, which had a developmental role with regard to Dalits and adivasis and received special annual reports from State Governors on the security and safety of these deprived and marginalised communities, has now lost it and has become virtually a para-military agency. The Naxalite movement is now handled on military lines and the developmental approach downgraded. IB reports, while stressing Naxalite violence, fail to take note of the increasing violence against Dalits and adivasis, who are the backbone of the Naxalite movement. The displacement, disorganisation and destitution arising as a consequence of official development processes, which strengthen the Naxalite movement, are not addressed. Though a recent report on the development challenges in extremist-affected areas prepared by the Planning Commission interestingly adopts a developmental approach, it is likely that the Union Home Ministry will find it difficult to accept and change its prevailing repressive approach to the Naxalite movement.


About the Author: The author, a former member of the Indian Police Service and Director of the Research and Policy Division of the Union Home Ministry, is currently Visiting Professor in the Jamia Millia University, New Delhi. He is the author of Political Violence and the Police in India (Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2007).

October 20, 2008

Contextually Relevant Ijtihad and a Culture of Intellectual Criticism

By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

(Translated by Yoginder Sikand)

A religious scholar once dissented from his spiritual preceptor on a particular matter. Somebody rebuked him, saying that he had criticised his master. In reply, the scholar said, ‘I love my sheikh, but I love the truth even more’. This reply points to a very important truth—that when a dissenting opinion or a critique is articulated on a particular matter, even if this concerns the view of a particular person, it must not be seen as a personal attack on someone, but, rather, as an intellectual activity. This sort of criticism certainly involves a certain person, because without specifically mentioning this person and his views, criticism would simply be some languid expression of a certain counter view point, and then the basic objective of criticism would not be attained. Yet, it should not be regarded as a personal attack on that individual.

Criticism or the expression of dissenting views has always been a characteristic feature of Islamic history. The companions of the Prophet differed with each other on numerous occasions, and they generally openly expressed these differences. Similarly in the case of the first two generations of Muslims who succeeded the companions, as well as the commentators on the Hadith and the early ulema. They did not consider this as bad or unworthy, and nor did they try to stamp out criticism and differences. This was because they regarded all this from the point of view of principle, and not as a personal attack on anyone.

To coolly and dispassionately listen to criticism is proof that one is not immersed in a personality cult. It is evidence that what is important for one is a principle, not a particular person.   A true intellectual will accept the critique of an individual, including himself or someone whom he cherishes, but will not accept that a cherished principle be violated. This can only happen when the true spirit of religion is alive in a person. But when a community declines, people start blindly imitating certain supposed leaders and refuse to tolerate any criticism of them. They do not display the same zeal for defending principles as they do for defending these hallowed individuals. This is why they cannot tolerate criticism. And when they are faced with any criticism of these leaders of theirs they become enraged. This indicates that they are yet to reach the stage of the proper realisation of the Truth. They erroneously conflate some cherished individuals and their views with the Truth.

The Benefits of Criticism

To critique someone’s views is not to abuse him or to unnecessarily find fault with him. Rather, this sort of intellectual critique is a blessing. It opens new doors of knowledge and uncovers new aspects and dimensions of various issues. It leads to intellectual sharing between the critic and the person subject to critique, and this equally benefits both and helps expand their intellectual horizons. Genuine critique is actually an intellectual gift that is presented by the critic to the person whose views he critiques. This is why the second [Sunni] Caliph Umar Farooq asked for God to extend his mercy to those who presented him the gift of pointing out his faults.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that from childhood onwards I have always been in favour of criticism. And because of this I have always wanted that my friends should subject my views to intellectual critique. When a close companion of mine, Maulana Anis Luqman Nadwi, went to Arabia for the first time, he was asked by an Arab shaikh what work he did in India. He replied, ‘I am the critic of India’s greatest critic’. From this you can gauge how passionately I support intellectual criticism.

Intellectual exchange is the greatest experience that a true intellectual can have. In the process of intellectual criticism, a certain individual appears to be challenged, but, in actual fact, it is not this individual as such, but, rather, a certain issue that is the target or object of criticism. True intellectual criticism is actually a sort of discussion on a certain topic by two people even if it be in the context of discussing a particular person. That is why true intellectual criticism is not regarded as a personal attack on someone’s integrity, because it aims not an individual per se but, rather, at a view or set of views about a certain matter. And if the critique is proper and sound it enables a person to improve and to correct his or her stance.

Even if someone’s critique of the views of a certain person is not proper or sound, it can enable new facets of the issue under discussion to be uncovered. If a person whose views are critiqued is able to accept criticism, it can help advance his own intellect and think in a more creative way. It can enable him to express his own views in a more effective and convincing manner. In actual fact, intellectual criticism is always beneficial, even if the critique is not valid.

In this regard, let me cite a personal instance. In 1960, when I was in Lucknow, I met a certain non-Muslim scholar. He was an atheist. In the course of our conversation, he criticised the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). He also mockingly asked what difference it would make if the Prophet were to be removed from history. Undoubtedly, his words were very provocative. Had I got angry with him, all I could have done was to lose my temper and leave. But, by the grace of God, I maintained my emotional balance. Because of that, I was able to think about what had transpired in a positive manner, and then replied to him that if the Prophet were to be removed from history, mankind would be in the same position that it was in before the Prophet’s advent. Thereafter, this conversation and criticism forced me to ponder on the life of the Prophet, including on aspects of his life that had not been clear to me before. In this way, this scholar’s criticism became for me a means to discover dimensions of the Prophet’s life that I had not seriously thought of earlier. I started seriously studying the issue and a result of that was my book ‘Islam, the Creator of the Modern Age’. This is an example to show that if one listens to criticism and does not get agitated or angry and maintains one’s balance, it can prove of immense benefit.

Right and Wrong Criteria

The taqlidi approach leads to numerous difficulties and problems. Perhaps the biggest damage that it causes is that it makes people to seek to understand the truth not on the basis or the criterion of the truth itself but, rather, through some supposed learned elder of theirs. For those who strictly bide by taqlid, the views of such supposed learned elders become the criterion of truth and they are considered to be sources of emulation. They strictly refuse to listen to any person other than such supposed learned elders, no matter how valid that person’s argument may be. This was one of the major reasons why, in every age, prophets were rejected by people. The prophets appeared to the people whom they addressed as new individuals, as other than those elders whom they believed they should follow, and so they did not respect them. Furthermore, when the prophets critiqued the persons whom they held in high regard they grew even more agitated and were unwilling to listen to what they had to say.

The biggest difference between the ijtihadi and taqlidi mindset is that those who sternly abide by taqlid seek to understand the truth solely on the basis of the views of certain chosen elders of theirs, while those who stand by ijtihad seek to understand the truth on the basis of proofs, rather than on the basis of the views of certain personalities. This is why the former are bereft of the faith that is based on deep understanding and realisation (marifat), which is the highest form of faith. The font of such faith is self-discovery. Those with a taqlidi mindset do not freely use their intellect, and that is why they fail to recognise the sort of faith that is based on deep understanding and realisation.

The opposite is true for those with an ijtihadi mindset. The windows of the minds of such people are always open, and they are always ready to ponder and think freely. If anything appears to them as true, they immediately recognise and accept it.

The most important thing for human beings is to discern and realise the truth. To discover the truth is surely the greatest blessing that one can enjoy. But this great blessing can be had only by those with an ijtihadi mindset. Those who are lost in the darkness caused by taqlidi thought can never experience the truth that is based on genuine understanding.

Need for a Revolutionary Mindset

In his book Aqd al-Jayyad, Shah Waliullah (d.1762) discusses taqlid and ijtihad and writes in this regard that a mujtahid is one who possesses five forms of knowledge: that of the Book of God, of the Sunnah of the Prophet, of the sayings of the early ulema (including of the issues on which they were agreed and on which they dissented from each other), of the relevant languages and of [the principles of] analogy and derivation (istinbat). Now, the conditions that Shah Waliuallah (and other ulema) laid down for a mujtahid are in themselves correct, but these apply only to ‘restricted’ (muqayyad) ijtihad, and are inadequate for ijtihad which is not ‘restricted’.

Ijtihad is of two types. The first is the ‘ordinary’ (am) sort of ijtihad, and the other is ‘special’ (khas) ijtihad. By ‘ordinary’ ijtihad is meant that kind of ijtihad that is related to external conditions (ahwal-e zahiri). On the other hand, ‘special’ ijtihad is that sort of ijtihad that relates to underlying or non-apparent conditions (ahwal-e batini)—that is to say those conditions that are not visible externally but are present as a powerful undercurrent. The difference between the two can be expressed in another way, by saying that ‘ordinary’ ijtihad relates to external eyesight (basarat), whole ‘special’ ijtihad relates to insight (basirat).

For instance, for an issue such as whether one’s ablutions are valid if one is wearing factory-made socks and wipes them with one’s hands or if one’s ablutions are nullified if one takes an injection, a mujtahid can rely on the five forms of knowledge that Shah Waliuallah mentions. For this purpose, one can draw analogies from the opinions expressed by the earlier ulema on similar issues.

But for ‘special’ ijtihad, one needs another form of knowledge in addition to these five, and this is what is referred to in a Hadith report according to which it is binding on a wise person that he should have knowledge of his times. Thus, a mujtahid must have a deep understanding of his society and his age in order to engage in proper ijtihad, in addition to possessing the five forms of traditional knowledge mentioned above. And this additional knowledge can be acquired only through additional study and carefully pondering and reflecting on reality.

Islamic history is replete with examples of such forms of creative ijtihad. One such instance was that represented by the Treaty of Hudaibiyah. The terms of the treaty appeared, on the face of it, to be loaded against the Muslims, because this ten-year no-war pact was based on the acceptance of the terms set by their opponents. Because of this, many Companions of the Prophet found it difficult to accept the treaty, so much so that Umar Farooq labelled it as an insult. But the truth about the whole affair was revealed in the Quran, when it said, ‘For eHe   He [God] knew what ye knew not, and He granted besides this, a speedy victory’ (Surah al-Fatah, 27). This meant that the reality of the matter was different from what it appeared to be, the truth of which God knew and on the basis of which He instructed His Prophet to enter into this Treaty.

The Treaty, as I said, appeared to be based on the one-sided conditions of the Muslims’ opponents. But the underlying truth, which did not appear to those who could not fathom it, was that the treaty would do away with the state of war between Muslims and their opponents that had blocked interaction between them. It would enable them to meet and interact with each other, and would, thereby, promote an open dialogue between them. In the course of this, others would be able to recognise the beauties of Islam, and, finally, what the Quran refers to when it says ‘And thou dost see the people enter Allah’s Religion in crowds’ (Surah an-Nasr:2) would take place.

And this is precisely what happened. At the time of the Treaty of Hudaibiyah, Muslims numbered less than 1500, but, in the period of peace that followed after the Treaty, Islam rapidly spread, and in less than two years the number of Muslims grew to around 10,000, and Muslims acquired power without resorting to war.

The same sort of thing happened in the thirteenth century, when much of the Muslim world was overrun by the marauding Tartars. They destroyed many Muslim cities and put a violent end to the Abbasid Caliphate. Many Muslims at that time believed that the Tartars could never be defeated. But although the Tartars had powerful weapons of war, they lacked a suitable ideology or world-view. In the course of interacting with Muslims, they learned about Islam. Because they did not have any suitable ideology that could reply to it, they began converting en masse to Islam, and thus it was that, as the noted Orientalist scholar Philip K. Hitti put it, ‘The religion of Muslims […] conquered where their arms had failed’.

Now, turn to developments in later periods of history. Take the example of Shah Waliullah. In his time the Mughal Empire in India had started weakening and rapidly showing signs of completely collapsing. Shah Waliullah strove to strengthen this Muslim dynasty and sent off letters to various Muslim rulers asking them to wage wars with their enemies. He also advised the ruler of Kabul, Ahmad Shah Abdali, to invade India and vanquish the Sikhs and Marathas so that the Mughal Empire could be saved and strengthened.

This effort of Shah Waliullah is evidence of the fact that he looked only at the external conditions around him. He was totally unaware of the new flood of developments at the global level, in particular the stirrings of democracy that had begun making themselves felt. Shah Waliullah believed that he was the ‘Support of the Age’ (qaim uz-zaman), and his entire thought process operated in the framework set by the monarchical age. He had no idea what the coming age of democracy would mean. In the monarchical age a single man controls power, while democracy is based on the rule of the majority of the people. If Shah Waliuallah had properly studied and understood the changing times that he was faced with, he would have focussed all his energies on the propagation of the faith in order to win over the majority of people. And in this way, even if the Mughal Empire came to an end the Muslims would be able to maintain their power owing to being in the majority. However, Shah Waliullah was completely unaware of the revolutionary importance of dawah or inviting others to the faith. One indication of this is that his renowned book Hujjat Allah al-Balagha contains chapters on various issues and subjects but not even one on dawah.

Take also the example of Syed Jamaluddin Afghani (d.1897). By his time, the British and the French had established their political domination over most of the Muslim world. Syed Jamaluddin Afghani spent his entire life struggling to end this domination. His slogan was, ‘The East is for the People of the East’.  On the face of it, it appears that Western domination has now come to an end, for some sixty independent Muslim countries have appeared on the map of the world. However, in actual terms, conditions have not really changed, and Muslim communities are still compelled to live under the domination of Western powers. This shows that Syed Jamaluddin Afghani could only see the external aspects of conditions around him, and not the various underlying processes and forces. Accordingly, he saw British and French domination only in terms of their externally visible political control. This was a result of the West having acquired intellectual superiority in the fields of science and technology. But because of his medieval political mindset, Syed Jamaluddin Afghani could not properly appreciate this. Had he understood the importance of knowledge in the modern age, he might have overlooked foreign political domination as just a temporary thing and, instead, focussed his energies on the intellectual development of Muslims so that they could excel in this field. If he and his companions had abandoned the useless path of political jihad and, instead, taken to intellectual jihad, the history of Muslim countries today would have been very different.

These few examples should suffice to indicate that for ‘restricted’ ijtihad the traditional five disciplines that Shah Waliuallah and other ulema have outlined are adequate, but for ‘absolute’ (mutlaq) ijtihad one more condition is necessary—and that is a deep understanding of the conditions of the contemporary world. Without this there can be no effective ijtihad that can provide proper guidance to the community.
This is a translation of a portion of a chapter titled Taqlid Aur Ijtihad in Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s book Din-o-Shariat: Din-e Islam Ka Ek Fikri Muta’ala [Goodword Books, New Delhi, 2003, pp.240-50].
For more writings in English by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, see See also

October 19, 2008

India to launch it’s maiden unmanned moon voyage on Oct.22

Indo Asian News Service

With India’s unmanned mission to the moon, Chandrayaan-1 just days away, the sophisticated ground infrastructure for the mission is all in place and ready to receive the first signals from India’s maiden moon voyage.

This deep space network will also be used to digitally converse with all future Indian missions to moon, mars and beyond.

A dish antenna will keep track of India’s moon mission and will send and receive signals from Chandrayaan-1.

However, the signals would be very faint as the spacecraft will be nearly four lakh kilometres away.

The antenna weighs 60 tonnes but it can move so as to align itself with the space craft.

Rs 100 crore were spent on building the antenna and it will be used for all future missions. Scientists also say it won’t let them down.

“We are 100 per cent ready and sure that we will get signals and 200 per cent confidence is there,” said Ajit Kumar, a scientist at ISRO, Bangalore.

And it will all happen in Bylalu — a village outside Bangalore where India’s first deep space network station has been set up.

Right now, a potholed road leads to the village where 100 acres of land has been acquired for the project. Farmers have been given compensation but they want more from the government.

“ISRO has spent crores of rupees on this project and because of this project the name of our village became famous even in America. But if government has taken our land they should give us jobs,” said Rudrappa, a farmer.

The site will also house the data centre that will receive all data collected by Chandrayaan-1 over two years. The data will then be interpreted by scientists across the world who hope to get clues to how and when the moon evolved and whether it has water to sustain life.

More facts about the mission:

India’s maiden lunar mission, the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft that launches on October 22, will orbit about 100 km from the lunar surface for two years, performing remote sensing of the dark side or hidden portion of the moon to unravel its mysteries, scientists working on the project said.

About 500 space scientists are working round-the-clock to launch India’s maiden lunar mission next week.

The Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft will be launched on board the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) C11 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) at Sriharikota, about 90 km from Chennai and off the Bay of Bengal.

“Preparations are in full swing to send the Chandrayaan spacecraft on October 22 between 6.15 am and 6.35 am though 6.21 am is the most optimal time for lift-off, as moon is inclined 28 degrees towards earth at the equator,” SDSC director M C Dathan said at a preview of the historic launch.

With the northeast monsoon a week away from the proposed launch date and weather forecast till October 26 being ideal in terms of wind movement and clear skies, scientists of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) are striving to integrate the 1,380-kg spacecraft with the 316-tonne rocket, fitted with six strap-on motors for the D-Day.

The 45-metre tall, updated version PSLV is the trusted workhorse launch vehicle of the Indian space agency, with a record of 12 consecutive launches since 1994. 

The four-stage rocket is equipped with solid and liquid propellants that will fire the strap-on boosters to catapult Chandrayaan into the lunar orbit 18 days after the lift-off, on November 8.

“Though the launch window will be kept open October 22-26, the actual launch operation will commence October 17 (T-5) with formal countdown 50 hours before the lift-off, on October 20 at 4.30 am and the final countdown seconds before the rocket is fired by computers into the sky,” Dathan said.

As India’s first spacecraft mission beyond earth orbit, Chandrayaan is aimed at expanding our knowledge about earth’s only natural satellite – moon.

Orbiting about 100 km from the lunar surface, the spacecraft will perform remote sensing of moon for about two years using 11 scientific payloads, including five instruments designed and developed indigenously.

“Moon is the nearest celestial body to earth at a distance of 384,000 km. Formation and evolution of moon are central to understanding the solar system. Though there have been many manned and unmanned lunar explorations, Chandrayaan will be the first spacecraft to explore the dark side or hidden portion of moon and unravel the mystery behind,” SDSC deputy director MSN Prasad said at a demo of the lunar mission.

CHANDRAYAN -1 (Unmanned mission) Some facts :

Chandrayan-I is India’s first unmanned mission to the Moon. Here are some of the interesting facts about it.

# It is likely to be launched from Sriharikota in the third week of October.

# Chandrayan-I will be launched by ISRO’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, also called PSLV.

# It will carry out 11 experiments in about two years.

# The mission aims to explore the dark side of the Moon. It will also look for the traces of water on the earth’s only satellite. It will send high-resolution pictures, which will be received by ISRO’s deep space network at Bylalu, near Bangalore.

# Chandrayaan-I will scan large lunar craters that receive no sunlight and are believed to contain frozen water.

# The mission will help Indian scientists locate He-3, which has the potential to produce a large amount of energy. The scientists hope to transport it to the Earth to run nuclear plants.

# Though deep space tracking network is expensive, India has built the required infrastructure for it.

# Chandrayaan-I mission is supported by the US and Russia.

India facing the heat of global financial crisis

Filed under: Global financial crisis — indianewsonline @ 9:14 pm
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HYDERABAD: Facing the heat of the financial crisis that has hit the aviation sector, state-owned Air India on Thursday said it is considering a plan to give 3-5 years leave without pay to about 15,000 of its staff, but it would be voluntary action on the employees’ part.

“We are planning to offer leave without pay for three to five years. We can consider it for about 15,000 employees,” Air India CMD Raghu Menon said.

He, however, said those who take up the offer to go on leave would be taken back if they desire so at the same seniority and last drawn pay.

An official of National Aviation Company of India Ltd, the holding company of Air India, clarified that this was not tantamount to retrenchment as was being done by private carriers Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines.

Menon’s statement comes at a time when the country’s leading private carrier Jet Airways has laid off 1,900 jobs as the financial crunch in the aviation sector worsens.

An official of Air India, who did not want to be named, said that a proposal for leave without pay could be brought before the company’s board soon.

The government yesterday had, however, ruled out any job cuts in Air India with the civil aviation minister Praful Patel assuring employees that there were no plans to prune staff strength immediately.

“No…Air India is not going to have any job cuts. Certainly it (the aviation crisis) will affect the growth plans, it will affect the future employment opportunities which would have come the way of Air India in case the aviation industry was in a much better financial health,” Patel said.

“But as of now I do not have the luxury to say beyond the fact that those who are working for the Air India shall continue to do so and we shall not have any issue of people being laid off,” he said.

The 77-year-old state carrier, which initiated a fleet renewal programme three years ago and merged with its sister airline Indian last year, has proposed infusion of Rs 1,000-1,500 crore of equity capital.

It is also looking at soft loans of Rs 1,000 crore from government that can be repaid over a period of time.

According to industry experts the coming together of Jet and Kingfisher could further mount the problems for Air India.

Menon, however, disagreed with the views and said it would only lead to a reduction in competition. “There are a number of routes and there are a number of airlines. All the airlines will be evenly poised in the market,” he said.

Stop Violence against Christians in India

Filed under: Indian Minorities,Uncategorized — indianewsonline @ 9:06 pm
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Human Rights Watch

Anti-Christian Violence on the Rise in India ;  The New Report details politics behind extremist Hindu attacks

” Christians are the new scapegoat in India’s political battles. Without immediate and decisive action by the government, communal tensions will continue to be exploited for political and economic ends. ”

Smita Narula  

Researcher, Asia Division of Human Rights Watch 

(London, September 30, 1999) – The Indian government has failed to prevent increasing violence against Christians and is exploiting communal tensions for political ends, Human Rights Watch charged in a report released today. The 37-page report, Politics by Other Means: Attacks Against Christians in India, details violence against Christians in the months ahead of the country’s national parliamentary elections in September and October 1999, and in the months following electoral victory by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People’s Party, known as the BJP) in the state of Gujarat.

Attacks against Christians throughout the country have increased significantly since the BJP began its rule at the center in March 1998. They include the killings of priests, the raping of nuns, and the physical destruction of Christian institutions, schools, churches, colleges, and cemeteries. Thousands of Christians have also been forced to convert to Hinduism. The report concludes that as with attacks against Muslims in 1992 and 1993, attacks against Christians are part of a concerted campaign of right-wing Hindu organizations, collectively called the sangh parivar, to promote and exploit communal clashes to increase their political power-base. The movement is supported at the local level by militant groups who operate with impunity.  

“Christians are the new scapegoat in India’s political battles,” said Smita Narula, author of the report and researcher for the Asia division of Human Rights Watch. “Without immediate and decisive action by the government, communal tensions will continue to be exploited for political and economic ends.”  

The Hindu organizations most responsible for violence against Christians are the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council, VHP), the Bajrang Dal, and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Corps, RSS). According to a former RSS member, these groups cannot be divorced from the ruling BJP party: “There is no difference between the BJP and RSS. BJP is the body. RSS is the soul, and the Bajrang Dal is the hands for beating.”  

A majority of the reported incidents of violence against Christians in 1998 occurred in Gujarat, the same year that the BJP came to power in the state. In April 1999, Human Rights Watch visited the Dangs district in Gujarat, site of a ten-day spate of violent and premeditated attacks on Christian communities and institutions between December 25, 1998, and January 3, 1999. The report documents patterns there that are representative of attacks across India. These include the role of sangh parivar organizations and the local media in promoting anti-Christian propaganda, the exploitation of communal differences to mask political and economic motives underlying the attacks, local and state government complicity in the attacks, and the failure of the central government to meet its constitutional and international obligations to protect minorities.  

Jamuna Bhen, a thirty-year-old agricultural laborer in Dangs district, told Human Rights Watch, “The Hindus removed the ornamentation from our church on December 25 [1998]. They threatened us by saying that they will set the church house on fire. Then they started taking down the roof tiles…. There were one hundred to 200 people who came from other villages. They said, ‘We will burn everything.’ We begged them not to. We said, ‘Don’t do this,’ and said we will become Hindu.”  

In January 1999, Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons were trapped in their car and burned alive in the state of Orissa, reportedly by Dara Singh, a local leader of the extremist group Bajrang Dal. On the eve of India’s national parliamentary elections in September and October 1999, the situation for minorities in the state deteriorated significantly. In August 1999, Singh struck again, chopping off the arms of a Muslim trader before setting him on fire. One week later, Rev. Arul Doss was shot in the chest with an arrow and beaten to death by a group of unidentified assailants. The BJP charged the Congress-led state government with criminal negligence, while Congress sought to blame the incidents on the policies and activities of sangh parivar organizations. While communal tensions in the state were exploited by political parties on all sides, the main perpetrators of the attacks were still at large.  

In a pattern similar to the response to organized violence against lower castes, the tendency is for local officials under pressure to arrest a few members, but not the leaders, of the groups involved. The communities affected represent some of the poorest in the country and include Dalits (“untouchables”) and members of local tribal communities, many of whom convert to Christianity to escape abuses under India’s caste system. In many cases, Christian institutions and individuals targeted were singled out for their role in promoting health, literacy, and economic independence among Dalit and tribal community members. A vested interest in keeping these communities in a state of economic dependency is a motivating factor in anti-Christian violence and propaganda.  

Though eyewitnesses have identified politicians and local officials as participants in the attacks, the state administration and Hindu nationalist leaders continue to portray the incidents as actions instigated by minority communities. The chief minister of Gujarat and BJP spokesmen have even blamed the violence on an “international conspiracy” to defame the political party. The prime minister has called for a national debate on conversions, signaling tacit justification for the motives underlying the attacks. The central and state governments continue to ignore the recommendations of the National Commission for Minorities.  

Human Rights Watch called on the Indian government to meet its constitutional and international obligations to ensure that religious minorities may equally enjoy freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess, practice, propagate and adopt religion. In particular, Indian officials should commit to taking steps to prevent further violence and end impunity for campaigns of violence and prosecute both state and private actors responsible for the attacks.

Ijtihad, Freedom of Expression and Contemporary Politics

Filed under: Indian Muslims — indianewsonline @ 5:36 pm
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By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan

(Translated by Yoginder Sikand)

Muslims today suffer from a bizarre sense of loss. Perhaps no other community faces this sort of predicament to the same extent. They have failed to make use of the myriad opportunities provided by modernity. One of these valuable opportunities is freedom. The ideologues of the French Revolution claimed that man is born free but everywhere is in chains. This became the slogan of the modern world, and now freedom has been accepted as the basic right of every human being. Everyone has the right to adopt what he or she thinks is right and to act accordingly. There is only one limit to this unfettered freedom: in the exercise of one’s right one should not harm someone else, and in the pursuance of one’s objectives one should seek to use peaceful, not violent, means.

300 years ago, when America won freedom from England, an American man, so the story goes, rushed out into the street to celebrate. He swung his arms up in the air in glee and as he brought them down he hit the nose of a passerby. The latter was, naturally, enraged, and demanded an apology. The first man said to him, ‘Now America is free and so I can do what I want’. The passerby retorted, ‘Undoubtedly you are free, but your freedom ends where my nose begins’.

This story very succinctly expresses the modern concept of democracy. Modernity provides us with freedom but on the condition that the exercise of this freedom does not entail violence against others. Gandhi was aware of this principle and used it in the course of the Indian freedom movement. In 1857, Muslim leaders launched a violent movement to oust the British from India, and Muslim-led militant anti-British uprisings continued thereafter for sixty years. However, these efforts all failed. Then, in 1919, Gandhi took over the leadership of the anti-colonial movement and changed its tactics to that of non-violent struggle, and, finally, India became independent in 1947.

What was the cause of the different fates that these violent and non-violent movements met? One major reason was that the Muslim leaders referred to above were conditioned by a taqlidi mindset, blindly adhering to the prescriptions of the established corpus of fiqh, and so they knew of only one method of struggle—that of armed jihad. The books of medieval fiqh have no conception of peaceful struggle. They speak of just one method—that of violent struggle, because they were written in a period when the only form of power that people knew of was that of the sword. This is reflected in the Arabic saying, ‘War can be stopped by war’, and in the Persian phrase, ‘Coins are struck in the name of he who wields the sword’.

This militant mindset remains deeply ingrained among most Muslims even today. Hardly any Muslims are free of it. This belief is expressed in different forms. The mental framework which is based on medieval fiqh is so deeply entrenched that even many so-called modern Muslim thinkers were and are influenced by it. For instance, Syed Jamaluddin Afghani, Syed Qutb, Muhammad Iqbal, Syed Abul Ala Maududi, and so on. This is the single major cause for the sacrifices of our leaders all going to waste.

The efficacy of non-violent, as opposed to violent, methods in today’s world can be understood from an instance from Gandhi’s life. Gandhi joined the Indian freedom struggle in 1919. Prior to this, the movement was characterized by violent mobilization, and the British responded to this by counter-violence to quash it. Then, when Gandhi announced that the movement would abide by non-violence, the British were confounded, because they had no moral argument that they could use to suppress a non-violent freedom movement. It is said that in the wake of Gandhi’s announcement a British collector sent a telegram to his superior officials, saying, ‘Kindly wire instructions as to how to kill a tiger non-violently’.

An Anachronistic Approach

Because of their taqlidi mindset, present-day Muslim leaders and intellectuals display what can be called an anachronistic approach. The ulema of the past who they strictly follow, because of being wedded to the notion of taqlid, had no conception of peaceful methods or peaceful struggle. This conception was clearly evident in the Quran and Hadith, but to directly derive rules from the Quran and Hadith ijtihad was needed, but the medieval Muslims had already firmly closed the doors of ijtihad.

The Quran describes an eternal law in the following words: ‘such settlement is best’ (Surah al-Nisa, 128). This means that the method of adjustment, reconciliation and making peace is better than the confrontational approach. This clearly indicates the importance of non-violence as compared to violence. Likewise, according to a Hadith report, the Prophet is said to have declared that God gives softness that which he does not give to harshness. This clearly means that peaceful methods are more efficacious than violent ones. Thus, although the Quran and Hadith contain such explicit teachings in support of peaceful methods, modern-day Muslim leaders and intellectuals, owing to their taqlidi approach, failed to discern these teachings. Instead, they uselessly engaged in conflict and thought to themselves that they were, in this way, setting great examples of sacrifice and martyrdom.

This taqlidi mindset has caused considerable harm and destruction for Muslims themselves, without bringing them any gain whatsoever. If the Palestinians knew this they would not have unleashed a destructive and violent movement after 1948. Instead, using peaceful methods, they would have made use of the opportunities that were available to them. In that way, they could have gained that position of strength in Palestine that the Jews acquired in America by using peaceful means and taking advantage of the opportunities opened up by modernity. Likewise, if the Muslims of Kashmir had realized this they would not have resorted to violent struggle. Using peaceful means, they could have gained such an influential position in India that would have been a hundred times better for them than what the people of the so-called Azad Kashmir presently enjoy. In the same way, if Muslim leaders in various countries who are engaged in violent movements in order to capture political power had adopted peaceful means they could have transformed their countries in the direction of truly Islamic societies. But this they could not do, and by resorting to violence instead they caused massive destruction.

The way to win other people’s hearts is through promotion of close peaceful social interaction with them. In this way, one can influence others through their morals and personal example. It was this that drew the Qureish towards Islam in the wake of the treaty of Hudaibiyah. On the other hand, promoting conflict with others can only further reinforce their hatred and opposition. But only those with an ijtihadi mindset can truly appreciate this fact.

Criticism and Ijtihad

Criticism and taqlid are opposites of each other. Where taqlid reigns, there can be no criticism. Contrarily, where criticism is allowed, taqlid cannot reign. The matter with ijtihad is the opposite of this. Ijtihad requires criticism. Where criticism is not allowed, ijtihad cannot happen.

Criticism is not a bad thing per se. Rather, it is a means for intellectual development. Without criticism intellectual advancement is not possible. The choice before us is not one between criticism and the lack of it, but, rather, that between criticism and intellectual stagnation. If criticism is stopped our intellectual progress shall cease.

Ijtihad proceeds through discussion and exchange of views. Ijtihad is a process of moving from what is known to what is as yet unknown. When we are faced with some problems or issues that need to be answered and if we are free to express our views on it, naturally out of this exchange new aspects or dimensions of the issue will emerge before us. This leads to the clearing of doubt, and then to the emergence of a well-researched opinion or position on the issue, which is the objective of our intellectual quest. This intellectual activity is known as ijtihad.

Ijtihad appears, from both the ideological as well as practical points of view, to be an indispensible necessity of life. It is the means for the progress of human communities. A community that does not allow for ijtihad will cease to progress. Proper ijtihad, as mentioned earlier, cannot happen in the absence of the freedom to criticize. Only those can benefit from ijtihad who are able to take or accept criticism. Those who are unwilling or unable to accept criticism cannot benefit from it.

Let me cite two examples to illustrate my point. The battle of Badr took place in the second year of the Islamic century. The Prophet was then in Madinah, and he heard that the army of the Qureish was advancing on the town. Accordingly, he gathered his forces and moved in the direction from where the Qureish were coming. He and his companions halted at a place before Badr. Had they stayed on there they would have confronted the Qureish army at that spot. A companion of the Prophet, Hazrat Khabab bin Manzar, approached the Prophet and asked him if he had chosen to halt at that place because God had instructed him to do so or was it because he had decided this on his own. The Prophet replied that this was his own opinion. In response, Hazrat Khabab bin Manzar said that the place was not appropriate.

Now, this response might appear as a sort of criticism. However, the Prophet did not take this amiss, but simply asked Hazrat Khabab bin Manzar why he did not feel that the place was an appropriate one to halt at. In reply, this companion of the Prophet noted that there were several wells located between the Muslims and the Qureish army. If the Muslims halted at that spot, it would allow the Qureish to capture all these wells. He, therefore, suggested that they should move ahead till they had gone beyond all the wells and then make a halt. This would have cut off the water supply to the enemy army. Hearing this, the Prophet said that Hazrat Khabab bin Manzar’s advice was indeed good.

Now, this entire conversation between the Prophet and Hazrat Khabab bin Manzar was conducted in a very balanced way. In the end, the Prophet accepted Hazrat Khabab bin Manzar’s opinion and acted accordingly. And the Muslims won a decisive victory in the battle.

This example clearly indicates how important is the freedom of expression for arriving at a proper position or stance. It shows how, through exchanging different, even contradictory, views, new aspects and dimensions of problems can be highlighted, and how this is necessary to come to a proper decision on a particular matter. In fact, this is so invaluable that even if conflict of opinions becomes heated and aggressive it must be cheerfully accepted.

The Harm of Not Accepting Criticism

In 1831 Syed Ahmad Shahid Barelvi gathered an army of Muslims and launched a jihad against Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the Sikh ruler of Punjab. The two armies met at a place called Balakot, and in this battle Syed Ahmad and most of his companions were slain. And so this zealous jihad ended in complete failure.

Most of the men in Syed Ahmad Shahid Barelvi’s army were those who had taken baiat or the oath of spiritual allegiance to him. One of these men was Maulana Mir Mahbub Ali of Delhi, who was considered to be an accomplished Islamic scholar. He was part of the army of Syed Ahmad Shahid that was advancing to meet the forces of Ranjit Singh. When this army reached a place called Charsadda he asked Syed Ahmad on what basis he had declared jihad against the Sikhs. Syed Ahmad replied that he had done so on the basis of divine illumination (kashf) and dreams that he claimed to have seen. Maulana Mir Mahbub Ali responded that jihad could not be declared on these bases. He cited the Quran as mentioning about the need for conducting affairs by mutual consultation (al-Shura 38). He also added that the Prophet engaged in jihad on the basis of consulting his followers. Hence, he argued, Syed Ahmad should do the same, and that, before launching a jihad, must properly study the then prevailing conditions.

However, Syed Ahmad Shahid did not accept his advice. Instead, he accused him of creating hurdles in his path with his criticism. He told him that his role, as his follower, was to silently accept what he was told—to be, in fact, as silent as the mountain ahead of them. Maulana Mir Mahbub Ali then left Syed Ahmad’s army and returned to Delhi.

This incident is presented in some books [of Syed Ahmad Shahid’s supporters] as a case of Mir Mahbub Ali allegedly ‘going astray’. Maulana Syed Abdul Haye, former rector of the Nadwat ul-Ulema, Lucknow, wrote that Maulana Mir Mahbub Ali was a great Islamic scholar of his times, but that ‘the devil had put an evil suggestion in his heart’ and so he abandoned Syed Ahmad Shahid and returned to India.

However, the fact of the matter is that Syed Ahmad Shahid Barelvi did not consult others about the step that he was taking. He did not even investigate how far the reports that he had heard about the disrespect of the shariah [at the hands of the Sikhs] in Punjab were true. He did not even try to gauge the strength of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army and to find out how his untrained forces could battle it. Instead, he simply entered Ranjit Singh’s territory without even proper knowledge of its geographical conditions. Naturally, then, he and most of his companions were easily killed by Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army. And so his movement ended with a one-sided orgy of destruction that the Muslims had to face.

From this example one can discern how important it is for different, including conflicting, viewpoints to be able to be freely expressed in order to arrive at a proper position on collective affairs. People’s criticism should be heartily listened to, and only after free intellectual debate and discussion can efforts to reach a proper decision succeed. This, in turn, is related to the need for reviving ijtihad at the same time as it points to the hazards of remaining wedded to taqlid.


This is a translation of a portion of a chapter titled Taqlid Aur Ijtihad in Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s book Din-o-Shariat: Din-e Islam Ka Ek Fikri Muta’ala [Goodword Books, New Delhi, 2003, pp.228-240].

For more writings in English by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, see See also

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