People Call Us Terrorists?
By Professor Nazeer Ahmed
(Dr. Nazeer Ahmed is the Director of the American Institute of
Islamic History and Culture, located at 1160 Ridgemont Place, Concord,
CA 94521. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed is a thinker, author, writer, legislator and
an academician. Professionally he is an Engineer and holds several
Patents in Engineering. He is the author of several books; prominent
among them is "Islam in Global History." He can be reached by
believe that Allah is the Creator and Sustainer of all the worlds”, the
voice of the little Indonesian girl was sincere, almost pleading. “Our
Prophet was sent as mercy to all creation. We are a people who love
peace. Then, why do people call us terrorists?”
occasion was a recent visit to a pesentran (a village madrassah) on the
outskirts of Jakarta, Indonesia. The children had lovingly organized a
reception for a delegation of international scholars, ministers, princes
and dignitaries, assembled to discuss the issues of extremism and civil
society in modern Islam. In attendance also were observers from some of
the major NGOs and think tanks in Washington, DC.
It was a
serene, almost bucolic environment. The open reception area was
surrounded by tall palm trees. Tropical birds provided a counterpoint to
the hymns of the children. And then the serenity of the night was
shattered by a question that thrust up the raging conflicts of the
modern world into the consciousness of the little children as well as
the dignitaries who had gathered to come to terms with them.
background material for our readers, the pesentrans are residential
boarding schools in rural Indonesia and constitute the largest, private
system of education in the world. They are run by the Nahdatul Ulema in
Indonesia which has a membership of over forty million. More than a
million students attend the pesentrans and receive both religious and
science education. They are supported by private waqfs and local citizen
donations. The Nahda has shunned the trappings of political power
(although they do have political influence) and has studiously avoided
extremist ideologies in favor of a moderate, spiritual Islam. Focusing
on the poor, forgotten children from the rural backwaters of the vast
archipelago, the Nahda has built, maintained and managed an educational
infrastructure that is the object of envy of many a bungling,
non-performing bureaucrat of the world.
people call us terrorists? This is a question as complex as one wants to
make it or as simple as one is inclined to believe. But it is a question
that no thinking Muslim can sidestep.
confronted with this accusation, most Muslims go through a ritualistic
denial. Some become defensive. Others respond with passion. None of
these is an adequate response. A dispassionate self-examination in the
context of global fears on terrorism is yet to emerge in the Islamic
begin with some undeniable facts. On 9/11 America was attacked. There
were more than three thousand civilian casualties, of whom the
overwhelming majority was American. Most of the attackers were Saudi
nationals. The attack was brutal, premeditated and merciless.
has changed dramatically since 9/11. Freedoms around the world have
taken a beating in proportion to the rising fears of terrorism. The
t-word has been used by many governments to suppress dissent and silence
political opposition. There have been wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Positions have hardened. Substantial minorities in Western Europe view
Muslims with suspicion. According to a recent survey conducted by
Cornell University, fully 43 percent of all Americans favor curtailment
of the civil liberties for Muslims in America. In turn, a general
distrust of the West, and of the United States in particular, is taking
roots in Asia and Africa.
Muslims must accept some responsibility for this slide towards suspicion
and distrust. They remained silent even as the specter of extremism rose
like a dark colossus on the Islamic horizon. The platform was abandoned
to a small band of extremists who set the agenda for the debate and
controlled its outcome.
present a historical analysis of the slide towards extremism in the next
article. Here, we merely point out the need for a rigorous and honest
self-assessment of why extremist groups have surfaced in Muslim body
majority of the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack came from Saudi Arabia
cannot be overlooked in this self-assessment. A large number of
questions present themselves. To what extent is Wahhabism, the basis of
governance in Saudi Arabia, responsible for the emergence of a violent
social archetype? Is it the Wahhabi dogma, which packages religion into
neat little compartments of bida’, kufr, shirk and haram? Or, is
extremism a reaction to the cultural and political intrusion of the West
into the rest of the world? If Wahhabism is responsible for the rise of
extremism, then why has it spread into non-Arab Asia?
nineteenth century, as European dominance spread across Asia and Africa,
the thrust of reform movements was internal. It was considered
acceptable to wage jihad against fellow Muslims to rid the society of
what were thought to be un-Islamic practices. Uthman Dan Fuduye (d
1812), for instance, waged an incessant armed struggle against the
Muslims emirates of West Africa.
it was the so-called jihad waged by a reformer in the depths of the
Arabian desert that was to prove to be of long-term consequence to the
Islamic world. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, Shaikh Abdel
Wahab of Najd, fired by a zeal to reform the bedouins in the Arabian
desert, who he believed had lapsed into un-Islamic practices, waged a
jihad. Rejected by his neighbors, his fortunes improved when he married
into and formed an alliance with the Saudi ruling family. His raids into
neighboring territories brought him face to face with the Ottomans who
were the nominal rulers over Arabia. Mohammed Ali, the Ottoman viceroy
of Cairo, dispatched an army from Medina and contained the Wahhabis.
years later, the First World War saw the dissolution of the Ottoman
Empire. It was broken up and its pieces were swallowed up by the
European powers. One of the British objectives in the Great War was the
dissolution of the Khilafat or its movement away from Istanbul to a more
controllable location. When the Khilafat was dissolved by Turks
themselves (1924), the deck was clear for bolder political moves. Saudi
armies moved into Hijaz in 1925 and the cities of Mecca and Medina was
brought under Saudi control.
immediate Wahhabi onslaught on the historical edifice of traditional
Islam began. The graves of the Suhaba which had stood the test of time
for more than thirteen hundred years were leveled. The dome of the
Prophet’s mosque, and his very grave, were saved, from last minute
demolition, thanks to the protests from Muslims around the globe.
Arabia was a poor country at the time, dependant to a large extent on
income from the hajis and donations from rich Muslims such as the Nizam
of Hyderabad. The economic paradigm changed as the export of oil picked
up momentum after the Second World War. By 1960, thanks to its oil
largesse, Saudi Arabia was on the global stage, and its voice was heard
both in Washington land Moscow.
began a determined effort on the part of the Saudis to spread their
brand of Wahhabi Islam around the globe. Madrassahs and masjids alike,
too poor to sustain themselves, appeared in Riyadh and Jiddah, bowls in
hand. To their credit, the Saudis helped, pouring billions of dollars
into building the infrastructure of education and houses of worship
around the globe.
1960s, the Saudis have made substantial investments into madrasahs and
masjids around the globe. While the infusion of oil money did help in
the construction of the much needed infrastructure, the price paid was
the abandonment of the spiritual Islam that had grown over a thousand
years and its replacement by a largely ritualistic, puritanical Islam
emphasizing rigidity over flexibility, intolerant to the core, riding
roughshod over history and culture alike. Dissent was not tolerated.
Contempt for other religious traditions was openly expressed by word and
in print. The result was the creation of a religious edifice without
spirit, a body without soul. Into this spiritual vacuum, the extremists
walked in, hoisting their political agendas, creating mayhem around the
Muslims tolerated the rise of this dark colossus for almost fifty years.
Indeed, many were willing to sell their services to this historical
madness for pittance.
was not spared the reach of Wahhabism and its offshoots. The debate here
was not just between sufi and salafi. The debate was also between
moderate salafis and radical salafis. Generous funds flowed from the
Gulf to the New World to assist and co-opt selected masajid into havens
for radical salafis.
shifted in the 1990s. Successive Gulf wars have impoverished the nations
of the Middle East. Today, Saudi beggars are a common sight in the Gulf.
The rising armies of unemployed and unemployable youth provide fertile
recruiting grounds for the radical salafis.
explain a complex issue to a little girl in Indonesia was not easy. When
she asked why they call us terrorists, we simply said: they call us
terrorists because the rest of us did not speak up.