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The Anti Terror Fatwa: But Who Is Listening?

By Salil Kader

(June 4, 2008, Countercurrents) 

31st May 2008 was an important day for all those opposed to acts of terrorism being carried out around the world and which are wrongly attributed to Islam and its teachings. On a hot Saturday afternoon New Delhi ’s historic Ram Lila maidan witnessed a huge turnout (between 10,000-15,000) of Muslims at a peace-conference organised under the aegis of Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind and Darul Uloom, Deoband. This meeting was supported by other important organisations including All India Muslim Personal Law Board and the Nadwatul Ulama, Lucknow , and leaders of different faiths and sects. The aim of this anti-terrorism and peace conference was summed up by Darul-Uloom’s deputy rector Hazrat Maulana Qari Sayed Mohammed Usman, "Terrorism is the gravest crime as held by Quran and Islam. We are not prepared to tolerate terrorism in any form and we are ready to cooperate with all responsible people." The highlight of this meet however was a fatwa sought by the Jamiat leader and Member of Parliament, Maulana Mahmood Asad Madani and issued by the Darul Uloom, Deoband. This fatwa was against all forms of terrorism. The fatwa clearly stated, "Islam is a religion of peace and security. In its eyes, on any part over the surface of the earth spreading mischief, rioting, breach of peace, bloodshed, killing of innocent persons and plundering are the most inhuman crimes."

This conference and the fatwa issued are of great importance for more reasons than one. Deoband, arguably one of the most important Islamic centres of learning in the world after the Al Azhar University at Cairo , has been in the news for all the wrong reasons in the recent past. This is so because Deoband has been widely believed to be the motivating ideology behind many recognised terrorist groups like the Taliban, the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Harkat ul-Mujahideen. Interestingly, what many commentators and analysts researching the phenomenon of ‘Islamist terrorism’ failed to highlight was the fact that the world-renowned seminary never endorsed the Taliban or the brand of Islam that they tried to impose upon the hapless Afghans. The Princeton University Professor Muhammad Qasim Zaman records in his book ‘The Ulama in Contemporary Islam’ (Princeton University Press, New Jersey, 2002) that "the Deobandi ulama were never unanimously euphoric about the Taliban ... in terms of intellectual activity, too, there is a great gulf between the Deobandi Taliban and Deobandi scholars like Taqi Uthmani." (p.139-40).

This public denouncement of terrorism as anti-Islamic, coming soon after the February 2008 Deoband conference where a similar stand was taken sans the fatwa, also answers a question raised often from various quarters: ‘Why don’t Muslims condemn terrorism or do Muslims ever condemn terrorism?’ Though this question has been answered effectively several times at different fora, it somehow keeps coming back for revalidation. Probably those asking such questions never wait to listen to the answers and quickly pronounce the whole Muslim community guilty of not condemning acts of violence being carried out in the name of Islam.

The fact that various Muslim organisations came under one umbrella and unequivocally condemned terrorism as anti-Islamic was covered as front-page news in various Urdu dailies of India . But did the English language media do the same? The answer is N-O. I took a look at some leading English dailies on the 1st of June 2008. Sample this. The Hindustan Times ( Delhi edition) carried the news item on the 31st May conference on page 8. The Hindu ( Hyderabad edition) carried it on page 10. The Sunday Times of India (Delhi edition) has a small column reporting the same on its front page. The other editions (Mumbai and Hyderabad ) have it again on pages 7 or 8. This was the first time that an institution of Darul Uloom, Deoband’s importance, facilitated a rally of the size that assembled at the Ram Lila maidan, with the sole objective of denouncing and condemning terrorism in the name of Islam. Sadly it was cricket’s Indian Premier League that hogged front-page newsprint and not the path-breaking declaration, which was of utmost national and international importance. In my opinion, more than the patrons of the Urdu dailies, it was the readership of these English dailies that needed to be informed of the stand taken by thousands of Muslims that day at the Ram Lila maidan. Because more often than not it is this section of the society, which asks the questions like, ‘We know Islam doesn’t support terrorism, but why don’t Muslims openly condemn these dastardly acts?’ Muslims do condemn every act of terror in their individual or collective capacities. But who is listening? When the unified voice of over 10,000 Muslims got relegated to a few column spaces somewhere in the corner of our major English dailies, how do you think the voices of the common man in Lucknow , Ahmedabad or Hyderabad would reach different corners of the country?

The Deoband fatwa might do little to change the mindset of groups indulging in terrorist activities. Nonetheless, the fatwa might prove to be crucial in guiding scores of youngsters as it, in a way, gives a directive against taking the path of violence to achieve one’s goals. The fatwa will also go a long way in clearing fallacies about Islam in the minds of those influenced by the propaganda being carried out against the faith. The Deoband fatwa, in that sense, bridges a major gap and could prove to be a guiding star for the generations to come.


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