Recently, Habib Ali al-Jifri, one of the most famous traditional Islamic clerics in the Arab world, came to Kerala to address a gathering of a thousand young Muslims. He told the audience that it’s the responsibility of traditional scholars to teach the ideas of peace inherent in Islam and to propagate the vision of interreligious harmony that Islam taught throughout its history. He asked the Muslim youth to read the famous Arabic book, Egyptian cleric Usama Alazhari’s Alhaqqulmubeen Firraddi ala Man Tala’aba Biddheen, which accounts for the real meaning of the verses on Jihad by the traditionally held pluralist interpretation (the same text has recently been translated into Malayalam by a Keralite Sunni scholar named, AP Abdulhakeem Azhari and published by the Read Press which is under the Sunni scholars’ organisation in Kerala). The religious instructions on how to get rid of the extremist voices that have crept into Islam in the course of time is rather effective even to counter the influence of the so-called Islamic State (IS) terrorists. And if followed closely, Aljifri claimed, Alazhari’s tenets could act effectively to thwart the threats of such extremist outfits, because a significant portion of Muslims is deeply religious.
For the harmonious tradition of religions, we need to carefully observe the way Muslims live and have lived in the past in many parts of the world, including Indonesia, where a third of the total Muslim population lives. They coexisted and lived with others harmoniously. This tradition of interreligious harmony and living with diversity were inherited in South Asia, where the Sufi saints spread the message of Islam. The famous seven Sufi saints were behind the propagation of Islam in Indonesia. In India, many Sufi networks such as that of Ajmer Qwaja are considered responsible for the past growth of Islam. These Sufis played a significant role in perpetuating this plural culture of Islam in these lands. And Saladin Ayubi, the famous Sufi military leader, allowed around 60,000 crusaders to return from the captivity, instead of being avenged for the deaths of thousands of Muslims. This tradition was inherited from the prophet of Islam. When he conquered the land of infidels who were constantly troubling him, he proclaimed, “You are today free, so you are permitted to go.”
Sheikh Zainudheen Makhdoom, one of most famous Sufi saints in Kerala, who lived in the 16th century AD, stood with the Hindu King against the exploitative rule of Portuguese colonialism. The important thing we could learn in this context is that it was beyond the Islamic Fiqhi (jurisprudential) instructions, because the Fiqh never made a provision of being with an infidel to fight against an army. But, this contextualised activism of this Sufi saint was copied from the life-experience of Prophet Muhammad himself. The Prophet had once said that even if the infidels had called him to settle a socially beneficial agreement, he would go for it. And this Sufi saint and other scholars in Kerala prayed for the Hindu King from their mosques. This activity can’t also directly be supported by the Islamic jurisprudence but it shows how the Islamic texts could be interpreted in a contextualized way in order to show their beautiful and pluralist tradition. Also, Muslims prayed for the King because he was a just King, who permitted everyone to practice their own religions in his multicultural local context.
The avoidable orthodoxy and extremist thoughts of some early Muslims unfortunately made them unaware of this beautiful tradition. And they misinterpreted the Islamic textual instructions without contextualizing the texts and considering their traditional explanations. This tradition in Islam never permitted any insurgent rebellion (or Hathmiyyathussidam, an imperative war against these infidels) against the ruler. For example, Shaikh Saeed Ramadan Albuthi, a famous traditional Muslim scholar, was killed by the belligerent rebels in Syria. The extremists mis-conceptualised the ‘Hakimiyyath (a term used by the traditional scholars to denote the misconception of extremist ideologues that every Muslim who can’t administer or legislate according to the Sharia laws is infidel), which perpetuates the bigger threat today by the extremist outfit of Islamic State. A particular quranic verse is taken out of context by the extremists. The verse states, “Those who are not judging as per the revelation of Allah are infidels.” This verse is lifted by the extremists to disapprove and render illegitimate even the political authority of Muslims in the Arab world by proclaiming them as infidels. However, the traditional interpretations of this verse imply that one could be called an infidel only when one judges by denying the validity of revelations. And this is not the only case but there are several other examples. According to the Islamic jurisprudence, if a person commits a bigger evil with denying its invalidity in Islam, he would become an infidel.
In the dark light of this ‘Hakimiyyath’, Syed Qutb and Muhammed Qutb worked out a case for the fundamentalist political Islamism with the instruments of Shirkuthavheed, Shirkulhakimiyyath (plurality in legislation) and other argumentative religious explanations. Following these misled discussions, they separated every geographical area into Dar-ul-Harb (a country where the Jihad is compulsory) and Dar-ul-Islam (these two concepts mostly related with the practical life of a Muslim) and made it impossible to live with believers in other religions. They declared Muslim rulers infidels and stamped ‘Jahiliyya’ upon the ruled. Moreover, they proclaimed the status of Dar-ul-Harb upon their Arab lands and called for a holy war to create an Islamic State, as evident in Swalih Siriyya’s book, Risalathu Eeman, which was inspired by the so-called grim Jihadi prospects of Syed Qutb. From this infamous tradition that internalised inner conflicts and Takfeerul-muslimeen (tendency to make the majority Muslims infidels), which had first appeared during the first century Hijri with the name of ‘Khawarijs’, about fifteen Islamist organisations, ranging from the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda to the deadliest and present extremist outfit of Islamic State, came into prominence.
Muhammad Ashraf Thachara Padikkal is currently a research intern at Madeenathunnor, Calicut, Kerala. He is an interviewer, writer and independent research fellow, specializing in the areas of Sufism, Islamic studies and cultural anthropology. He is also interested in tradition, philology and subaltern literature.