The Debate Around Islam And Violence by Sanjay Dixit

Sanjay Dixit

Sanjay Dixit is presently Principal Secretary, Ayush, Rajasthan.

Can radical Islam be confronted with armed forces, or is there a need to come up with a powerful counter narrative to deal with it? Our series on ‘The intellectual churn within Islam’ explores more such questions.

Part 1

Even as the ISIS, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab set new standards in brutality and inhuman behavior the intellectual foundations behind this phenomenon has not received adequate focus.

Many world leaders have opined that what the ISIS is doing are pure acts of terrorism and have nothing to do with religion. There are a number of intellectuals within the Islamic World, however, who differ.

We can look at these writings more objectively as most of these came before the ISIS phenomenon exploded.

Three of these intellectuals are more recent. Tarek Fatah has written “Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State” about 7 years back and “The Jew is Not My Enemy” recently. He is presently engaged in a work titled “The Hindu is Not My Enemy”. I also read “The Heretic” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali and “The God Who Hates” by Wafa Sultan.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Credits: AFP PHOTO MARTIN BUREAU)

The only thing common to the three is that they are, or were, Muslims. Otherwise they all come from different ethnicity and background.

Tarek Fatah is a Punjabi Muslim who emphasizes his Indian roots. Ayan Hirsi Ali is a black Somali woman and Wafa Sultan is a Syrian Arab woman.

Tarek Fatah remains a Muslim while the other two have given up Islam. All three have Fatwas against them and are under threat from fanatic Jihadis.

Tarek Fatah

I also looked around for a view on Islam being a religion of peace. This is usually the politically correct view, which the world leaders are quick to air whenever a ghastly crime is committed by any of the Jihadi groups around the world.

I must admit it was more difficult to find. Finally I found “Islam and Peace” by Maulana Wahiduddin Khan of India (as translated by Farida Khanam). It probably articulates the practice of overwhelming majority of Muslims in India, but is getting increasingly drowned in the narrative being propagated by hate merchants like Anjem Chaudhary of UK and the Wahhabis of all hues and shades owing their allegiance to the Salafi variant of Islam.

Hanafis are either getting sidelined or remain confined to the Indian sub-continent. Even within Hanafis, Pakistan is well on its way to radicalize its Deobandi followers. The Barelvis, meanwhile, are struggling to keep their narrative relevant in spite of being the majority among Muslims in Pakistan and being an overwhelming majority in India and Bangladesh.

The world and world leaders have to recognize this battle of narratives and realize that a Charlie Hebdo massacre or a systematic enslavement and organized rape of Yazidi women is borne out of a narrative which must be defeated on the intellectual plane.

Heavy weaponry and massive deployment of forces is not enough. It’s like tackling Malaria. You have to destroy the breeding ponds of larvae for total eradication even as medical treatment is given to those already affected by the parasite. Proper diagnosis is a sine qua non of treatment of a disease.

The fundamental problem seems to be the way different interpretations are ascribed to Islamic scriptures. Being a faith based religion in the nature of a complete social order; clerics wield a disproportionately large influence on the community.

They don’t seem to agree on anything. Some clerics go to the extent of laying down a law that no Muslim is permitted to make an independent interpretation of the various scriptures including The Qur’an.

Even The Qur’an has been compiled in a way that groups different verses on the basis of subjects. There is no chronological order on the basis of which the faithful may draw any independent conclusion.

Add to that the fact that all post-Quranic literature, which largely governs the social order, was compiled during the time of despotic rulers. Though Maulana Wahiduddin Khan would claim that these men of virtue compiled these books of religion in spite of the oppression they faced from the rulers, it defies comprehension.

Maulana Wahududdin Khan

How could it possibly happen in a monarchic structure of the Ummayads and Abbasids that religious instruction could go undetected? In fact, all the other three contend that scriptures were twisted to suit the requirement of the rulers to keep the population under their thrall.

Situation is further confounded by the various schisms, the most prominent being that between Sunnis and the Shi’ites over something as temporal as a dispute of succession. Add to that the 7 versions of Hadis and innumerable versions of the Sharia Law, one can see that both pious men and murderers quote from the same sources.

The Qur’an was revealed over 23 years. The Prophet passed away in 632 AD and the disputes began on the day The Prophet died. Tarek Fatah deals with this event in some detail in his “Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State”.

The biography of The Prophet, known as Sira or Seera, was written nearly 100 years afterwards. The Hadis or the Hadith were compiled between 200 to 400 years after His death, and the Sharia Law was written in the age of the Abbasids between 400 to 600 years after The Prophet passed away.

The most extreme interpretation of Islam was done by Abdul Wahhab (1703-92) with the full abetment and cooperation of the House of Saud. It was under his inspiration, soon after his death that the Sauds, ruler of Nejd province attacked Hejaz, the province of The Prophet and sacked Mecca.

Mecca remained under Saudi occupation from 1803 to 1813 till the Ottomans reclaimed it. Finally in 1925, Hejaz came under Saudi occupation. Saudis have demolished 95% of old buildings of Mecca and Medina, including many in which The Prophet lived. There is now a Wahhabi movement on to demolish the shrine housing the grave of The Prophet.

Tarek Fatah reckons that the Saudi regime is the most evil influence on Islam and has not only undone most of the moderate influences but is also an exporter of the extreme Jihadi narrative worldwide.

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, on the other hand contends that jihad is non-violent activism, and violent activism is termed as ‘qital’ in Islam.

One thing, however, is clear as crystal. If the fanatic jihadi narrative is not countered at the level of a counter-narrative, no amount of force would be able to defeat it comprehensively and bury it.

Force will only suppress the symptoms for a while before they re-emerge elsewhere. A counter-narrative alone will defeat the likes of ISIS, Boko Haram, and al-Shabaab at the level of the mind.

Part 2

There was nothing secular in what Aurangzeb did. Therefore the Aurangzeb narrative must be discussed and confronted, and not evaded on the grounds of hollow secular arguments. Renaming Aurangzeb Road as APJ Abdul Kalam Road only proves this Mughal emperor cannot escape public scrutiny 

While reading Gopal Krishna Gandhi’s argument against Aurangzeb being brought to life by this act of renaming Aurangzeb Road after APJ Abdul Kalam, he has fallen into the familiar bogey of the Indian brand of secularism.

What he is saying in effect is that while he completely agrees that Aurangzeb was evil, it is not advisable to discuss him in the open, as the debate would polarise the discourse. Besides, he contends that Aurangzeb’s actions or Aurangzebiyat should be disconnected from him. This is rather disingenuous.


So the murderer of his father, brothers, nephew, and sister; the oppressor of the Hindus for their faith, the man who would not honour his words upon Qur’an (Reference: Zaffarnama of Guru Gobind Singh), and who would apply Sharia law in a Hindu majority country, the man who ordered the Sufi saint Sarmad and Guru Tegh Bahdur beheaded, who destroyed the temples of Kashi, Mathura and Somnath to build mosques on the sites; should not be discussed as it brings his ghost alive much to the discomfiture of many who either want to avoid Aurangzeb’s Talibani narrative or secretly wish it to take root again.

People need to know that Guru Tegh Bahadur was executed after being found guilty of blasphemy under Islamic Law. How was he different from the Taliban or Al Qaeda, if not ISIS?

Much though I admire the erudition of Gopal Krishna Gandhi (He was in the Mussoorie Academy last year to deliver a lecture to the common group of Phase V and Foundation Course IAS and Civil Services officers), I find this timidity to tackle an extremist narrative head-on a typical weakness of liberal democratic countries.

It can be seen in Obama’s assertion when he says that what ISIS is doing is not Islam, whereas every follower of ISIS believes that they are doing exactly what is contained in the Islamic scriptures. Even Europe was living in this world of make-believe till Charlie Hebdo happened and they woke up with a rude shock.

India too has to counter the hate narrative contained within post-Quranic Islam with a counter narrative – not only of the syncretic values epitomised by APJ Abdul Kalam and Sarmad but also to emphasize the Indian spiritual thought which considers unquestioning belief the lowest form of spiritual calling, and even that Bhakti Yoga process or path is a completely non-violent one.

This blending of Bhakti Marg and Sufism is what Dara Shikoh (some Persian lovers would prefer it as Dara Shukoh but Dara Shikoh is what India at large knows him as) was attempting when Aurangzeb’s extremist Islam won – not in the heart of Indians or the battlefield of ideas but on the battlefield of war of succession.

For the first time, I am making public a letter written by Muhammad Akbar, the second son of Aurangzeb to Sawai Ram Singh of Jaipur. This is part of the documents and firmans kept preserved in the State Archives of Bikaner and form part of the extraordinary research of Dr. Mahendra Khadgawat, Director of that Institute. The original letter written in the style of a firmanis followed by its Hindi translation. Even his own son avers in this letter that Aurangzeb is biased against Hindus and his father’s actions portray his prejudice.

It is clear as crystal to any impartial observer that the only thing common between APJ Abdul Kalam and Aurangzeb was their love for playing Veena. Even these cultural activities were banned by Aurangzeb as he became more and more radicalised and gave up the more tolerant style of his predecessors.

He decided to bring in the extreme Arabic version of Islam into a country in which Muslims were in a considerable minority. Forced conversions, imposition of a religious tax on kaafirs (infidels or nonbelievers), destruction of holy sites, extreme forms of torture of adversaries all led to a collapse of authority and rebellions broke out everywhere.

He first tried to annex Rajput kingdoms, but that resulted in loss of authority in North India. Then Marathas and his own son, Akbar rose up in revolt and he had to spend last 26 years of his 49 year rule in the Deccan playing a game of roulette with the Marathas and Bahmani sultans. His foolhardy ventures ultimately paved the way for the end of Muslim rule and Sharia Law in India forever.

Even Pakistan hasn’t been able to bring full fledged Sharia Law of the Aurangzeb era.

So both the apologists for Aurangzeb, and those unwilling to confront his ghost have to just take a gulp and adjust to the new realities. The Aurangzeb narrative must be discussed, confronted and defeated. No use evading it on the grounds of a hollow secular argument.

There was  nothing secular in what Aurangzeb did nor is there anything secular in the ideology that he sought to impose on India. Kalam, on the other hand, is the very embodiment of India’s secular ethos in the Dara Shikoh mould.

Aurangzeb, therefore, is a ghost which India has to openly exorcise.  As the progenitor of Aurangzebiyat, he cannot escape scrutiny on the basis of some phoney differentiation. Aurangzeb and Aurangzebiyat are one. Three fourths has been done by renaming Aurangzeb Road as APJ Abdul Kalam Road, let the remaining one fourth be done by renaming Aurangzeb Lane as Dara Shikoh lane.

Part 3

I was in the middle of writing a series on the intellectual churn within Islam, reviewing four books which I had the occasion to read over the past few weeks. It was in the middle of this that the NDMC decided to rename Aurangzeb Road in N Delhi as Abdul Kalam Road. I thought it was something that would be welcomed whole-heartedly by all Indians. However, I found Gopal Krishna Gandhi making a quibbling distinction between Aurangzeb and Aurangzebiyat. I wrote a piece on this momentous decision, challenging the GK Gandhi argument. I was, however, surprised to find a chorus of support for Aurangzeb. Some of it was ignorant but a lot more was motivated, with phoney arguments, as if Aurangzeb was actually secular but was only carrying out his mission of an Emperor. One of the better pieces in defence of Aurangzeb was by Shoaib Daniyal writing in a web publication. He gives five reasons in his defence of Aurangzeb just being the child of his times, and not the evil ruler he is made out to be.

The first argument by Shoaib is that Aurangzeb actually was so beneficent that he built more temples than he destroyed. The bulwark of this argument of his rests on Richard Eaton. Ranged against Eaton, however, is a mountain of evidence. I wonder if Eaton ever went to the Bikaner archives where a host of evidence is available on Aurangzeb being exactly the kind of zealot that makes him a hated figure for most Indians. Eaton says that he destroyed only those temples which lay in territories opposed to him. This is complete hogwash. I had cited in my last blog a letter by his own son Md. Akbar who explicitly mentioned Aurangzeb’s anti-Hindu bias. I reproduce it here along with its Hindi translation.

Sanjay Dixit Islamism Scan 2   Sanjay Dixit Islamism Scan 1

I also find that Shoaib has quoted Jadunath Sarkar with approbation in support of his Jizya argument. However, what Jadunath Sarkar had to say about Aurangzeb’s zeal for temple destruction, as you can see, is totally different. In fact, it is as excoriating an indictment of Aurangzeb as anyone could possibly make. I would not put a Richard Eaton ahead of him, specifically because those schooled in religions of the Book have great problems comprehending the attitudes prevalent in the sub-continent. Shoaib has also ignored the most authentic book compiled by Sita Ram Goel which chronicles the destruction of Hindu temples by Islamic rulers in fair detail.

Shoaib’s other four arguments are dealt with even more easily. All one needs to do is to click and visit this exhibition mounted by FACT-India. Of the 45 exhibits on display, each one demolishes the arguments advanced by Shoaib. Each exhibit is like a speaking document. What is at display is that here was an Islamic jihadi warrior bent on establishing an Islamic theocracy in India, giving the majority population the status of zimmi, by indulging in signal destruction of their religious and teaching institutions. The argument about jizya and zakat is equally spurious as evidenced by clicking this comparison. Add to all this his brutalities towards Guru Tegh Bahadur, Shambhaji, Devi Chand and the like, and it becomes clear that the inspiration for Aurangzeb was not the exigency of statecraft, but a completely wanton, bigoted urge to spread Islam by sword.

I now move to rejoin the series I was writing on the intellectual churn within Islam. Though I was intending to take up the peace argument first, I have to revise my order of reviewing the books. I take up Wafa Sultan’s book “The God Who Hates” because her arguments seek to bare the mentality with which rulers like Aurangzeb are imbued. While reading her book a second time, I also chanced upon this video in which she debates the issue of Islam with one of the bigger hate merchants in the Arab World, Omar Al-Bakri. You can’t miss this video.

While a detailed review would be done in the next part of the series I would like to summarise what she seeks to contend. You must read her views in the context that she is an Arab who has given up Islam and who now lives in the USA. She has experienced the working of her former religion at its worst because it is in the Arab world that the most intolerant version of Islam is at work. She also contends that Muslims in other parts of the world are still largely peaceful because they do not understand the Arabic language and The Qur’an is not allowed to be translated in any other language. As an Arab, it puts her in a unique position to understand the violence contained within Islamic scriptures.

She holds the extreme view that all Islamic scriptures including The Qur’an preach violence against non-believers and women. The concept of justice is different for zimmies as they do not believe in Allah and cannot therefore claim the status that a Muslim enjoys. This is exactly what Omar Al-Bakri is saying in the above video. This is also the correct view according to the Wahhabi, and now increasingly Deobandi, version of Islam.

So the Aurangzeb Doctrine is actually the doctrine that the strict Arab legacy teaches its followers. One hardly needs to emphasise that it cannot work in India or anywhere else in the World. It does not even work in most places where Muslims are in majority; except with some notable exceptions like ISIS, and some Arab countries in the MENA area. Let Shoaib Daniyal reflect on what Wafa Sultan and Jadunath Sarkar have to say even as I examine Wafa Sultan’s book in greater detail – juxtaposed with or against the peace doctrine of Maulana Wahiduddin Ahmed in the next part of the series.

Credits: @drkiranvs for the jizya and zakat comparison, @aham1857 for the link to Jadunath Sarkar.

Part 4

Sanjay Dixit continues with his reflections on debates around Islam with this fourth piece in the series.

Two events concerning Saudi Arabia were highlighted during the past week or so. One was the infamous rape of Nepali women by a Saudi diplomat and the other was a video of servant being beaten that went viral. Adding to that was the  fatwa against AR Rahman, by a Barelvi outfit by the name of Reza Academy.

All these events brought into focus the role of Sharia among the Muslims worldwide, and in India. It was argued that neither the Saudi diplomat nor the employer beating his servant was guilty per Sharia, and that AR Rahman had committed apostasy, both of which stand in stark contrast to the law as we understand it in the civilised world.

ISIS armed men

As I was giving finishing touches to this article comes the evidence of callous Saudi neglect in the conduct of Hajj which has led to nearly a thousand deaths in a stampede, but has led to no accountability. We are not even considering the militant groups as their brutality is already well documented.

I have already written three articles in this series, two of which took into their sweep the role of Aurangzeb in promoting Islamic religious bigotry in India. We also discussed Wafa Sultan briefly. The other thinkers we have chosen for this series are Tarek Fatah, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan (Islam and Peace), Ayaan Hirsi Ali (The Heretic), and a new name – Maajid Nawaz, who wrote the very impressive “Radical” and his experience of turning away from militant Islam to an effort to promote a peaceful version of Islam in the world through

We were discussing Wafa Sultan in the previous issue. I recently saw her debating Anjem Chaudhary and Omar Bakri, who are the bulwark of Jihadi philosophy in the West. Anjem Chaudhary is particularly unabashed as he is more communicative with a greater command over English.

So he said something particularly appalling – “Our stand is simple. Non-Muslims are guilty of not having accepted Islam, so killing non-Muslims is legitimate according to Sharia”. Omar Bakri is equally forthright when he says, “If we come to your land and invite you to join Islam and you don’t do it, then we are at war with you till you submit.”

Wafa Sultan spares no punches in her book “The God Who Hates.” As an ex-Muslim who left Islam because of what she thought was a stifling and oppressive religion gives her unique credibility. She blames it on the teachings contained in the Sharia trilogy (the Qur’an, Sira and Hadis), and the emphasis on Arab culture and Arabic language.

According to her, most of what is contained in Sharia only legitimises an oppressive, racist Arab culture in the language of the Prophet. All the obnoxious customs of a tribal Bedoo culture have been sanctified in the Sharia. All except the Arab male has been given a secondary status, and the nature of the narrative has been given a divine origin and made immutable.

This has created fundamental problems. Wafa as well as Ayaan think that the empire of Umayyads and Abbasids made their closet cleric write up much of the text of Sharia and closed all the doors to the discussion in the 9th and 10th century. Tarek Fatah has given the complete historical perspective to this hardening of stance in his book “Chasing a Mirage: Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State”.

The thrust of the argument of the two ladies is on certain aspects of Islam which make Jihad the best form of service to Islam and make any disagreement or dissent punishable as blasphemy, and also make getting out of the religion being dubbed as apostasy and punishable by death.

Wafa Sultan calls Islam as “The Sealed Flask“, which doesn’t let a captive escape. Ayaan further calls the divine nature of the Qur’an and personal life of the Prophet a problem. She asserts that since Islam makes the Prophet as the ideal being, his later years in Medina spent more as a military commander and a political preacher make it problematic for many groups – Jews, Christians, other unbelievers, women, dissenters, free speech protagonists, anti-obscurantism activists.

They are all at grave risk. Not an ordinary risk, but the risk of life itself. When a religion punishes internal and external questioning as blasphemy and ordains all believers to carry out the punishment, it is not a small problem, but a threat to global peace.

There is also the group which tries to project Islam as a religion of peace. Maulan Wahiduddin Mohammed in the period up to 2000 and Maajid Nawaz in more recent times have tried to argue that Islam is a religion of peace. They have pointed out to the tradition of Sufism, and the fact that 90% of Muslims are peaceful.

Maulana Wahiduddin has written his own interpretation of the Qur’an and tried to explain the most offensive verses of the Qur’an with his own annotations. Maulana Wahiduddin has a practical aspect to advocating peace in Islam, and it’s the practical view of a proselytiser. According to him, Islam has grown only during peace, and not during the war.

He laments that the partition of India virtually brought the proselytisation activity in India to a halt. Thus, even his formula of peace is dictated by the concepts of Da’wa and Jihad, and the fact that these two can flourish better in a peaceful atmosphere. The good aspect with both the Maulana and Maajid is that they try and emphasize the most beneficent aspect of Islam and advocate violence to be eschewed.

The problem arises with the reading of the Islamic scriptures themselves. The violent sects like ISIS, Taliban, Al Shabaab, and Boko Haram read the Qur’an and Sharia in its literal Arab version. This version is full of violence and hatred towards minority groups and women.

It’s impossible for a youngster reading the Qur’an for the first time with the requisite belief system, to reconcile it with any of the peaceful intentions Maajid and Maulana advocate. It may be educative to watch a debate featuring Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Maajid Nawaz on the subject, “Is Islam is a religion of peace.” The debate started with 41% saying yes to the motion, 25% against and 34% undecided. In the end, the score was 36-55-9. So the problem is that it is easy to argue that Islam is a religion of peace till you start reading the Sharia trilogy. This is where Wafa and Ayaan argue that problem is not with the Muslims, but with Islam.

This is the dilemma the world faces, as also the moderate Muslims, who would still be about 90%. However, 10% of 1.5 billion is still 150 million humans. That’s a very very large absolute number which believe either actively or passively in violent Jihad. When indoctrinated with the kind of literalist exposition of the Qur’an which radical Islamists like Omar Bakri do in the above-linked debate, it becomes almost impossible for youth not to be swayed. That’s the reason I advocate a head-on confrontation with the narrative espoused by the Islamists or the Radicals.


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