DELHI, Oct 17 (bdnews24.com/Reuters)- The ideology of Islamic radicalism and its justification of related terrorism as 'jihad', which is predicated on a distorted interpretation of the tenets of Islam, received a major jolt from Indian Sunni clerics on Sunday in Moradabad, a small town in Uttar Pradesh.
Maulana Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kachochavi, general secretary of the All India Ulama and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB) which represents the majority of Sunni Muslims in India, denounced the hardline Wahabi interpretation of Islam espoused by Saudi Arabia.
Addressing his constituency of over 100,000 people at a 'maha-panchayat' (great congregation), the Maulana exhorted his flock to reject such distortion of the normative principles of Islam.
Bemoaning the fact that a small group of Muslims had given a bad name to their great religion, he added: "The time has come for us to come out and claim our rights. Let us take a pledge that we will never support Wahabi extremism -- not today, not tomorrow".
Since the tragedy of 9/11 that felled the Twin Towers and the more recent terror attack on Mumbai in November 2008, there has been considerable ferment in the Indian Muslim populace (estimated to be 138 million as per the 2001 census data) about the distorted ideology which has been justifying and nurturing such extremism.
As is often the case, the larger majority of Muslims the world over are law-abiding citizens who do not support the malignancy of Islamic extremism -- but have either been silent or invisible.
Thus, the unambiguous stand taken by the AIUMB which represents almost 80 percent of India's Sunni Muslims -- who in turn are the majority faction of Indian Muslims (the Shia, Ismaili and Ahmadiyya amongst others are estimated to be less than 30 million in all) -- is a very significant development in the ongoing contestation about the interpretation and practice of Islam.
The stand taken by AIUMB President Hazrat Syed Muhammad Ashraf Ashrafi and his colleagues was long overdue, for many Indian Muslims had warned of the dangers being posed by the spread of virulent Wahabi ideology in Indian madrasas, which received generous funding from Saudi sources. The control of madrasas and what they teach and propagate to impressionable minds has been a contentious issue in India for decades.
It is regrettable that the state in India has chosen to turn a blind eye to this malignant trend for short-term electoral considerations. Hence, many poisonous and anti-national ideologies and discourses have been swirling amongst the Indian Muslim constituency.
Calling for the creation of a Central Madrasa Board that would monitor these religious prep schools, Maulana Kachochavi asserted: "Right now, the madrasas are under the control of Wahabi-inspired organisations which run on Saudi money. The ideology they teach and spread is hardline Wahabism". The proposed Board, he added, would keep a watch on the flow of Saudi money into madrasa education in India.
India has been a model of relative tolerance, as far as the practice of Islam is concerned, for over a millennium and is currently home to as many as 150 million Indian Muslims. The factional diversity in India which has a mix of Sunni, Shia and other smaller sects is the envy of many Muslim nations and the syncretic culture that has evolved for centuries has withstood many challenges including the partition of 1947 and the more recent 2002 pogrom in Gujarat.
However, in recent years, the hardline Islamic factions that have an Arab-Wahabi texture to them have been gaining ground in India and many subtle changes have been evidenced. For instance, the common greeting in the sub-continent, 'salam-alekum' has gradually transmuted into 'khuda-hafiz' and has now become 'allah-hafiz'. The word 'khuda' has been dropped since it is of Persian origin and is also seen to be preferred by the Shia populace.
Predictably, women have become the target of such imposed conformity and the new advocacy of groups like the Tablighi is that a 'purdah' (veil) to cover the face is not enough -- young Muslim girls are now advised (firmly) -- to keep a 'purdah' on their voices. To be barely seen and remain submissively within the family fold, in a silent mode, is the prevailing Wahabi-derived prescription for the young Muslim girl -- a template that the Taliban and their adherents in Afghanistan and Pakistan ardently support.
The post 9/11 global challenge to quarantine and shrink terror predicated on a distortion of Islam cannot be won by military means alone. The greater war is that of resisting toxic interpretations of the Quran and insidious narratives that serve pernicious political ends.
The Maulanas in Moradabad have picked up the gauntlet. This denunciation of the distortion of Islam and the hijacking by the Wahabi school is to be globally commended and calls for many debates within the Muslim fold -- with women and girls being allowed to voice their opinions about what constitutes a gender equitable interpretation of Islam.