The Muslim world is currently witnessing two contradictory phenomena. On one side, a small number of extremist and terrorist organisations, justifying their heinous acts in the name of Islam, have been creating mayhem around the world. A systematic religious cleansing is taking place in several Muslim countries -- not only in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen that are racked by civil wars, but also in nearby Pakistan. Minority Christian and Yazidi populations are targeted. Their places of worship and heritage are being destroyed. Even minority Muslim sects, such as Shia and its sub-sects, are not spared. Such is the tide of intolerance generated by extremist organisations that many shrines in honour of widely revered Sufi saints belonging to the majority Sunni tradition have also been destroyed. The number of innocent Muslims killed in acts of Islamist terrorism runs into hundreds of thousands.
"The number of innocent Muslims killed in acts of Islamist terrorism runs into hundreds of thousands."
Until recently Al-Qaeda and its various affiliate organisations were the face of Islamist terrorism. In the past couple of years, a new entity --Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS -- is leading the so-called jihad. It is far more virulent and violent than Al-Qaeda. And unlike Al-Qaeda, ISIS aims at establishing a "pure" and territory-based Islamic State, first in a part of West Asia and subsequently expanding it to cover the whole globe.
The internationalist vision and goal of ISIS has motivated thousands of Muslim youth to join its 'jihad' in far-off lands. Many of them are from European nations, and they include white men and women newly converted to Islam. This has provoked political and government leaders in Europe to appeal to Muslim communities "to do more" to fight intolerance and terrorism in the name of Islam. For example, British Prime Minister David Cameron has warned that parts of the Muslim community "quietly condoning" ISIS are making it easier for it to recruit in British cities.
An answer to ISIS
Fortunately, there is also a counter-phenomenon. Some eminent Islamic scholars have proactively stood up to condemn Islamist extremism and terrorism, and they are doing so by invoking the true tenets of Islam. The most notable among them is Shaykh-ul-Islam Dr. Mohammed Tahir-ul-Qadri, a 64-year-old cleric and political leader from Pakistan. In 2010, he earned worldwide acclaim with his 600-page Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings, which illustrated, based on incontrovertible references in the Holy Quran and other Islamic texts, that Islam forbids terrorist acts, irrespective of whether the targets are non-Muslim or Muslim.
"The word Kharijite means those who, despite claiming to defend pure Islam, defected from the path of the Prophet... They waged wars against Islamic rulers, even using violence against women and children to achieve their goals."
On June 23, Dr Qadri took another bold step. He released, in London, a comprehensive 12-volume "Islamic Curriculum on Peace and Counter-Terrorism", saying, "We should combat the ideology of ISIS with a counter-narrative, to be taught in mosques, in Islamic seminaries, in schools, in madarassas, and also in state schools for Muslims and non-Muslims, so that distances between communities are removed, so that people unitedly fight extremists and terrorists, because everyone should understand that their acts have nothing to do with any faith, least of all Islam."
Four days later, I spoke to him telephonically from Mumbai. He was leaving for Pakistan the following day. "I am going to launch the counter-terrorism curriculum in Pakistan on July 29," he said to me. "I am keen on releasing it in India, too. Islam is a religion of peace and moderation, and this message should be strongly propagated from our subcontinent."
His office later sent me three sets of the curriculum. "One of them," he had told me, "should be sent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi." He said he would like the people and parliamentarians in India, cutting across religious and political lines, to support his initiative.
I have known Dr Qadri closely for the past few years. In 2013, I spent two days with him in Canada, where he had been staying for six years before returning to Pakistan last year to lead a democracy movement. Early last year, he was the main speaker, through a video broadcast from Canada, at the 'People's SAARC' conference in Mumbai organised jointly by the Observer Research Foundation and Minhaj-ul-Quran, a global platform founded by him. At his request, I wrote the introduction to the Indian editions (published last year by Rupa) of two of his books − Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings and The Supreme Jihad. The latter explains the true meaning of jihad, a seminal but widely misunderstood Islamic precept.
On June 26, scores of people were killed in gruesome terrorist attacks in Tunisia, France and Kuwait. ISIS quickly claimed responsibility for the attacks. "I condemn these brutal acts of terrorism," Dr. Qadri said to me. "Every Muslim leader and scholar should condemn such acts of criminality. Those who have committed such acts are enemies of Islam and enemies of humanity. We have to become vocal, sincere and loyal to the cause of peace and tolerance around the world."
Drawing copiously from references in the Holy Quran, Sunnah (sayings and deeds of Prophet Muhammad) and Hadith (anecdotes and teachings from his life), Dr. Qadri's curriculum demonstrates that the murderous acts of ISIS are specifically proscribed under Islam. "Islam says that those who attack and kill civilians − Muslims or non-Muslims − will go to hell. They will not even smell the fragrance of paradise."
"According to [Dr. Qadri], nation states begin to fight extremism and terrorism 'after the cancer has reached the fourth or the fifth stage... the disease has to be fought at its beginning; its root cause has to be tackled."
"Islam is a religion of peace," Dr. Qadri affirmed. "It extols human dignity, love and tolerance. The purpose of the new curriculum I have prepared is to counter the ideology of extremism and terrorism at its source. It is to contribute to the de-radicalisation of Muslim youth, who are confused, misguided and misled."
In his impassioned exposition of the counter-terrorism curriculum at the launch event in London (it is available on YouTube and MinhajTV), Dr. Qadri had said: "The greatest challenge to mankind is that of extremism and terrorism. Our world is now facing an assault by terrorists. Today they are working in the name of ISIS. Tomorrow, there can be another name. The basic challenge is the mentality and ideology, the terroristic theology that aims at creating hatred and narrow thinking, at dividing communities. This is not for the sake of faith, it is for the sake of expansion and power. This is a war of expansionism based on hate and violence. This is murdering innocent people in the name of God, and no faith on earth justifies it."
How does Dr. Qadri's curriculum help in countering the ideology of terrorism "at its source"? According to him, nation states begin to fight extremism and terrorism "after the cancer has reached the fourth or the fifth stage, when it is very difficult to cure it. Also, they adopt only the security strategy to fight it." According to him, "the disease has to be fought at its beginning; its root cause has to be tackled."
The root cause of Islamist extremism lies in the history of Islam itself. "This extremist ideology is not new," Dr. Qadri explains. "The Prophet of Islam had already clarified that this is a Kharijite ideology." The word Kharijite means those who, despite claiming to defend pure Islam, defected from the path of the Prophet and rebelled against the third and fourth caliphs, Uthman and Ali, in the 7th century. They waged wars against Islamic rulers, even using violence against women and children to achieve their goals. According to Dr. Qadri, "The Prophet of Islam had foreseen this phenomenon and condemned it in his time. He had warned: 'There will be people young in age, they will be brainwashed. They will be extremely violent, oppressive and bloodthirsty. They will be the most evil of the creation.' ISIS are the Kharijites of our age."
ISIS and other extremist organisations often justify their violent acts by drawing attention to unresolved political conflicts involving Western powers, as well as the corruption and poor socio-economic conditions in many Muslim countries. Dr. Qadri admits that "all these no doubt influence the young people and aggravate the situation". However, he avers that "this is not the root cause of extremism and terrorism; the root cause is the mindset, the terroristic ideology and misinterpreted theology."
ISIS has claimed that it is defending Islamic lands against the enemies of Islam. Dr. Qadri questions this claim emphatically and says: "Who has attacked Iraq and Syria? Who are they defending these lands against? There is no foreign invasion in these lands now. You claim to be Muslims, but you are cutting the throats of Muslims. You are dividing the Muslim community. You are bringing a bad name to Islam and to the Muslim community. You have no authority to declare jihad."
Dr. Qadri explains that "the Supreme Jihad (Al-Jihad ul-Akbar)" enjoins upon us to become better human beings through self-striving and constant struggle against oneself. "It is to begin the day by purifying one's mind of all thoughts of injustice against anyone. This is the jihad our young people should practice, not the jihad of ISIS. Perform your duties well, whether religious or secular. This is the best jihad. Serve the weak. Empower the deprived people. Empower the women. This is supreme jihad."
Dr. Qadri told me that the most important volume in the curriculum is titled Muhammad The Peacemaker. "Prophet Muhammad always preferred diplomacy over war. He never used war as a weapon of expansion. He achieved expansion through fraternisation, integration, education, reconciliation and through peace treaties. He established peace through forgiveness, mercy and moderation, and through charity and benevolence. The solution to all problems should be through peace. Prophet Muhammad repudiated war and violence as instruments of state policy. Peace for humanity is the true victory for all times to come."
"Dr. Qadri explains that 'the Supreme Jihad (Al-Jihad ul-Akbar)" enjoins upon us to become better human beings through self-striving and constant struggle against oneself.'"
Dr. Qadri's courageous counter-terrorism curriculum is proof that a new front has been opened against Islamist extremism, led by Muslims themselves. It is the duty of Muslims and non-Muslims alike to be united in strengthening this front. Parliaments around the world should endorse this initiative. The United Nations, which has passed numerous resolutions on global terrorism, should invite Dr. Qadri to present his views since he imparts a new dimension to the effective implementation of its counter-terrorism efforts. The Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO declares that "since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed". Dr. Qadri's curriculum undoubtedly helps in the construction of defences in the struggle against religiously inspired terrorism, one of the most potent threats to world peace today.
The author, chairman of the Observer Research Foundation Mumbai, was an aide to India's former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Author of Music Of The Spinning Wheel: Mahatma Gandhi's Manifesto for the Internet Age, he is actively involved in inter-faith dialogue for peace and harmony, and also in Track II dialogue for normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan. He welcomes comments at email@example.com.)