Jihad vs. the politically correct PDF Print E-mail
Sandhya Jain

Pioneer 13th July, 2004

Even as political correctness makes candid discussion about Islamic fundamentalism virtually impossible, concerned intellectuals the world over are cautiously determined to analyze the concept of jihad and its implications for non-Islamic societies. Ever alert to such dangers, Muslim organizations and their fellow travellers are trying to whitewash the term that noted journalist M.J. Akbar bluntly designated the "signature tune" of Islam.

Shrugging aside such candour, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) lamented the misuse (sic) of the holy word, claiming jihad has nothing to do with terror (Daily Excelsior, 27 June 2004). A recent television programme on history textbooks saw a student activist quibbling over the definition of jihad as declaration of war against non-Muslims, which indicates the extent to which evasion and negation have permeated the debate.

This is surprising as the Koran is fairly explicit and leaves little doubt about the meaning of its major tenets. Moreover, the ulema have always interpreted it literally, rather than mystically. The strain felt by the AIMPLB in reforming the community's divorce law is evidence of this penchant for literalism.

Hence, it is unfair for Muslims to seek refuge in obfuscation while the world struggles to cope with terrorist attacks, from which even Saudi Arabia is not exempt. Investigating why American Muslim converts readily embrace terrorism, Mr. Robert Spencer, director, Jihad Watch, points out that Koranic passages such as the 'Verse of the Sword' (Sura 9:5) are perceived by Muslims themselves as sanctifying violent jihad (3 June 2004). In 1991, Cairo's prestigious Al-Azhar University ruled that a manual on Islamic law, which called jihad "war against non-Muslims," conformed "to the practice and faith of the orthodox Sunni community."

This explains why radical Muslims all over the world insist they are not terrorists, but mujahideen (holy warriors engaged in jihad). Violent jihad, says Spencer, has been a constant theme of Islamic history, and though dormant in Europe for over three centuries, has never been rejected or discarded by Islamic theology. Buttressing this argument, former Director-General of Police R.K. Ohri, points to a saying attributed to the Prophet: "Paradise comes under the shade of swords." In a meticulously researched work, Long March of Islam, Mr. Ohri emphasizes that the tradition of jihad began with the Prophet, who approved more than eighty jihads in his lifetime and personally led more than twenty, known as 'Ghazwahs'. The term 'ghazi,' warrior who has killed in the service of the faith, is etymologically related to Ghazwah.

Jihad, Ohri contends, has a long history in India, and continues to be a contemporary reality. Apart from the innumerable jihads waged by successive invading armies, there have been at least three prominent jihads in the modern era. The first was in 1824, when Sayyid Ahmed incited the Yusufzai tribes for Targhib-ul-Jihad against the Sikh kingdom, where the azaan (summons to prayer) and cow slaughter were banned. Though many Muslims from present-day Uttar Pradesh heeded his call, Ahmed and his mujahideen were routed by the Sikh army.

A few years later, Sayyid Ahmed managed to seize the Peshawar valley. But his strict enforcement of Islamic law as interpreted by the puritanical Wahabi school, rapidly disillusioned the Pathan tribes. One night, while he was away with some devoted soldiers, they murdered all his followers. Sayyid Ahmed suffered another reverse while confronting the Sikh general, Hari Singh Nalwa. In 1830, he again faced the Sikhs in Hazara district, where he lost his life in the battle of Balakot.

After a quiescent phase, the Wahabis turned their ire against Britain for declaring war on Turkey in 1914, but all jihad-related activity between 1915 and 1919 failed to yield success. The second major jihad was called by the Khilafat Committee and other Muslim groups after the First World War, when the British and French armies captured Constantinople and abolished the Ottoman Caliphate. This jihad was also a flop. Called by Mohammad Ali, Shaukat Ali, Hasrat Mohani and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, it witnessed the ridiculous migration and ruin of around eighteen thousand Muslim families who sold their belongings for hijrat to Afghanistan, which was declared Dar ul Islam (land of the pure). But this jihad showed its nasty face in the Malabar, where thousands of Hindus were massacred, women outraged, temples desecrated and forced conversions made to Islam; the violence stopped only when British troops reached the area and restored order.

It is the third jihad that is the most evocative, and continues to cast a heavy shadow on our age. Declared by the All India Muslim League in 1946, it called for the creation of Pakistan. Calcutta (Kolkata) Mayor, Mohammed Usman, issued the "Munajat for Jihad," which, inter alia, stated: "We are starting a Jehad in Your Name in this very Month of Ramzan… enable us to establish the Kingdom of Islam in India…. The Muslims in China, Manchuria, Mongolia, Malaya, Java and Sumatra are all fighting for their freedom…."

This jihad was a resounding success, thanks in no small measure to H. S. Suhrawardy, Muslim League Minister in charge of Law and Order. Though Calcutta had a Hindu majority, the strategic transfer of Hindu police officers from key posts saw a veritable massacre of the population on 16 August 1946, which the League designated as 'Direct Action Day.' With Muslim police officers in charge of twenty-two police stations, and Anglo-Indians controlling the remaining two, the mob had a field day, with a complicit British bureaucracy failing to call the army till Hindus and Sikhs began to organize and fight back.

The most revelatory statement in the Direct Action Day jihad proclamation was the reference to the plight of Muslims in China, Mongolia, Malaya, Java, Sumatra as well as several Arab and African countries, which were fighting for freedom and the establishment of a "very strong Islamic kingdom in this world". The creation of Pakistan, Ohri asserts, was the first step in that direction, and the action is now visible in all countries mentioned in the "Munajat for Jihad" proclamation.

Unlike India's ostrich-like media, leading newspapers abroad are beginning to look sharply at Islam's close affinity with the culture of bombs and explosives. The New York Times is following the Manhattan trial of one Mohammed Junaid Babar, 29-year-old grandson of Pakistani immigrants, accused of aiding a plot to blow up British pubs, railway stations and restaurants. Pleading guilty in a sealed court, Babar said his grandfather imbued him with a strong sense of Muslim loyalty. In an interview broadcast by ITN Five News, Canada, some months after 9/11, he said: "I did grow up there, but that doesn't mean that my loyalty is with the Americans. My loyalty has always been, is and forever will be, with the Muslims" (New York Times, 17 June 2004). At the time of the interview, Babar had given up a lucrative $70,000-a-year job to go to Pakistan, where he was waiting to be smuggled into Afghanistan to fight American troops.

To conclude, jihad is an integral component of Islamic theology, the call for which can be given as and when expedient. Disregarding this reality under the pretext of political correctness not only facilitates Islamic radicals in accomplishing their goals, but also liberates the so-called moderates (read apologists) from the moral obligation to reject and oppose this violent doctrine.