Doctrinal Claims of Militants: An Examination

Why there is rise of militancy in Muslim countries which are not under direct western occupation? This question is frequently been raised by well-meaning persons. People often also argue that there is justification for armed revolt against foreign occupation as in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir or Chechnya, but why then there is growth of militant groups in Muslim countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Bangladesh? Why such militant groups in Muslim countries target their own people, the co-citizens rather than those foreign powers that maintain and protect stooge agent governments in the Muslim countries? This needs an in-depth analysis.

Most of the Muslim countries are in truth run by non-representative governments not accountable to the people, autocrats and dictators. People in the Muslim countries live in hopeless conditions. Abject poverty, cronyism, corruption and misrule are inseparable part of life of the people of the Muslim World.

The prevailing conditions in the Muslim countries encourage dissatisfied small splinter Muslim groups to take up arms for they found that mainstream major Islamic groups have failed to come to power through electoral process. The militants thought that trying to resolve problems by armed revolt is the most easy and surest way to mitigate the heartbroken and miserable condition of their people. This is the rationale provided by most of the analysts for the rise of militant groups in the Muslim countries not under foreign occupation.

No doubt this is a very simplistic analysis and the issue of the growth of militancy needs further studies from different angles. In this article I shall discuss the growth of militancy
in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh and try to analyze by giving examples why apparently good Muslims took recourse to such deviant way which caused bloodshed of the innocent lives. I shall also fallback on the earlier history and discuss the mistakes committed by the Khawaarij during the time of Caliph Ali for the fact that the militants in our time are also trying to use (rather misuse) Islamic arguments in support of their activities.

The Khawaarij, very pious and righteous individuals outwardly and known for strict observance of obligatory duties of Islam, misinterpreted the verse of the Quran: Whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed are disbelievers (Kafirs) [5: 44]. Islamic scholars have differentiated between disbelief in action (Kufr Amali) and disbelief in heart (Kufr Qalbi). A Muslim may commit such wrong like drinking alcohol or may have been involved in fornication, stealing or lying etc. and thus be like a disbeliever in his outer actions but such acts in themselves do not automatically expel him from the ranks of the believing Muslims. It is wrong and indeed nonsensical to exclude people from the fold of Islam and Ummah simply because they have wronged themselves. In juristic (Fiqh) language, Kurf signifies the rejection and denial of Allah and His Messengers. Al Quran states: Anyone who denies Allah, His Angels, His Books, His Messengers, and the Day of Judgment, has indeed gone far astray [4: 136].

The distinction between disbelief in deed (Kufr Amali) and disbelief in heart (Kufr Qalbi) is a fundamental concept of great importance in Islam. The misunderstanding of this concept has led to destructive forms of sectarianism in the past as well as in the present. In fact the breaking away of the first sect from the main body of Islam was the direct outcome of this misunderstanding.

During the battle of Siffin between the supporters of Ali and Muaawiyah negotiations were held that led to a truce between warring parties. However some of the supporters of Ali broke away from his camp saying that negotiations, in their view, were not as per the Book of Allah, the Quran and declared both sides as disbelievers (Kafirs). Later the Khawaarij developed their own set of beliefs notable among which was the concept that anyone who committed a major sin becomes a real disbeliever (Kafir). They therefore concluded that the wealth and blood of such Muslims do not deserve protection from individual Muslim or groups and they could take any action against them. On the basis of this wrong interpretation the Khawaarij let loose a reign of terror on the then Muslim Ummah committing atrocities.

In eighties in Egypt a group of sincere Muslims headed by Muhammad Shukri formed Jamaah Al Takfir Wal Hijrah. They called upon the people to take oath of allegiance of their Imam Muhammad Shukri and took extreme position in interpreting the Hadith of Sahih Muslim “Whoever dies without making oath of allegiance (Bayah) of an Imam dies as those of the time of pre-Islamic days of ignorance (Jahiliyah)” to mean that those that die without making oath of allegiance to their Imam Muhammad Shukri died in a state of disbelief (Kufr). They also believed that those who were living and did not know about Muhammad Shukri were of doubtful faith (Iman), while those who knew him and did not make pledge were complete disbelievers (Kafir). Thus when Sheikh Muhammad Al Dhahabi, a distinguished Islamic scholar and a former Egyptian Minister for Endowments, wrote a pamphlet denouncing Jamaah Al Takfir Wal Hijrah and warned the people and mosque prayer leaders (Masjid Imams) of the heretic view of Muhammad Shukri and Jamaah Al Takfir Wal Hijrah, some of the followers of Muhammad Shukri kidnapped Sheikh Muhammad Al Dhahabi and executed him. As a result this group was banned by the Egyptian Government in 1978 and Muhammad Shukri and five of his leading followers were executed for killing Sheikh Muhammad Al Dhahabi.

Eminent Palestinian Islamic scholar Prof. Dr. Ismail Raji al Faruqi has rightly pointed out that excessiveness or inordinateness (Ghuluw) is one of the major problems of the Muslim Ummah [Prof. Dr. Ismail Raji al Faruqi, Al Tawhid: Its Implications for Thought and Life, IIIT, Virginia, USA, 1992, p xiii]. Renowned Islamic scholar of the present time Prof Dr. Yusuf al Qaradawi, Dean of the Faculty of Shariah and Islamic Studies, Qatar University equated Ghuluw as being synonymous with extremism, i.e., excessiveness in religion [Prof Dr. Yusuf al Qaradawi, Islamic Awakening between Rejection and Extremism, IIIT, Virginia, USA, 1991, p 49]. Introducing of the system of making oath of allegiance (Bayah) is likely to reinforce narrow-mindedness and extremism among the leadership or membership and eventually create a closed elitist group. Such a group once created becomes unable to benefit from knowledgeable non-members because non-members are branded as outsiders and thus untrustworthy [Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips, Tafseer Soorah Al-Hujuraat, Tawheed Publications, Riyadh, 1990, p 79].

Extremism reaches its utmost limit when a single group deprives all people of the right to safety and protection. This occurs when an extremist holds all people, except those in his group, to be kafir. It would be pertinent to mention here another incident of excessiveness. In 1980 a group of armed people seized Holy Kabah. The group started as a Hadith Study Circle comprising of the students of the Madina Islamic University. This Study Circle later emerged as Dawah Movement with chapters throughout Saudi Arabia to propagate the pristine teachings of Islam based on Quran and authentic Hadith. In time however the dichotomy between the Islamic ideals to which they were calling people and the realities of life in Saudi Arabia caused frustration among its members. Soon an extremist group split from the Movement as a reaction to the dichotomy between ideals and reality. This splinter group classified the Government of Saudi Arabia as non-Islamic for such thing among others that Saudi banking system operates under interest (riba) and therefore it is legitimate to declare war or fight against such a ruler. In support they quoted verse of the Quran: Give up what remains of your demand for usury … if you do not, take notice of war [2: 278-279]. They concluded that anyone who serves the Government of Saudi Arabia and receives salary from the state coffers were in a state of disbelief (Kufr). This group later under the leadership of Juhaymaan, a deserter of the Saudi Arabian National Guard and Muhammad ibn Abdillaah al Qahtaanee who had been unofficially banned from giving Friday Sermon during Jumah prayers due to the political overtones gathered weapons and occupied Holy Kabah and asked everyone to take afresh oath of allegiance (Bayah). The Saudi armed forces finally intervened and the insurgence was crushed. Muhammad ibn Abdillaah al Qahtaanee was killed during the operation of the Saudi armed forces to take control of the Holy Shrine. Later Juhaymaan was publicly beheaded. During the incident many innocent lives were lost.

The preceding incidents make it clear that a distinction has to be made between a Muslim doing acts usually associated with non-believers and a true non-believer (Kafir).

It is important to study Quran together with Hadith literature to arrive appropriate conclusion of the verse: And whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed are disbelievers (Kafirs) [5: 44] for Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, is reported to have said: The fornicator is not a believer while in the act of fornication, nor is the thief a true believer while stealing, nor is the wine drinker while drinking [Sahih Al Bukhari, Sahih Muslim and Sunan Abu Dawud]. Another narration of this Hadith states: Nor a murderer a believer while committing murder. That means belief has to be thrown off at least temporarily for these major sins to be committed, for such deeds can not be done in its presence. That is, those who sin enter a state of disbelief which varies in length depending on the gravity of the sin. When the evil deed is completed, faith returns if the offender feels sorrow and repents.

The Jama’atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and its chief Sheakh Abdur Rahman while killing two judges including one non-Muslim judge committed the same mistake as committed by religious heretics in Egypt and Saudi Arabia as explained earlier. JMB chief Sheakh Abdur Rahman like Imam Muhammad Shukri of Egypt, and Juhaymaan and Muhammad ibn Abdillaah al Qahtaanee of Saudi Arabia misinterpreted the verse of the Quran: Whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed are disbelievers (Kafirs) [5: 44]. JMB did not take into consideration the fact that in Bangladesh Islamic Law of Inheritance, the Islamic Law of Endowments, and Islamic Marriage and Divorce Law etc. Islamic Laws are in force. Muslim judges in Bangladesh cannot be termed Mushrik, one who associate partners with Allah as they decide in these issues on the basis of the Islamic Laws. We cannot term a Muslim country as Dar al Harb or Dar al Kufr if certain Laws of Islam are not observed.

Moreover we have before us the example Nagus, the Emperor of Abyssinia, who embraced Islam but did not rule as per Shariah as that would have threatened his Kingdom and Prophet Muhammad offered Salatul Janaza for him when the news of his death reached him. Prophet did not consider Nagus a disbeliever (Kafir) although he did not implement Shariah. From this it becomes clear that Muslims can rule without implementing Shariah if the circumstances are not in their favor or people are not ready for such reform or the situation is not healthy enough or conducive for such a transformation or change [Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi (eminent Tunisian Islamic scholar, leader of An Nahadah Party and now in exile in UK), The Participation of Islamists in a Non-Islamic Government in Azzam Tamimi ed Power-Sharing Islam, Liberty for Muslim World Publications, London, UK, 1993, pp 57-58. Also see Prof Dr. Yusuf al Qaradawi, Islamic Awakening between Rejection and Extremism, IIIT, Virginia, USA, 1991, pp137-138]. Here it would be pertinent to quote one of the earliest Islamic scholars. Ibn Abbas commenting the verse of the Quran: Whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed are disbelievers (Kafirs) [5: 44] said: It is not kufr which excludes a person from the fold of Islam, but it has an element of kufr in it, because the person who commits it does not deny Allah and the Last Day [Quoted in Prof Dr. Yusuf al Qaradawi’s book Islamic Awakening between Rejection and Extremism, IIIT, Virginia, USA, 1991, p 64].

It is also pertinent to note the most recent translation of the verse 5: 44 of the Quran. Earlier commentators of the Quran translated the verse 5:44 as: Whoever does not judge by what Allah has revealed are disbelievers (Kafirs) [5: 44]. The verse is now been translated as: And if any fail to judge by the light of what Allah has revealed, they are no better than wrongdoers [Prof Dr. Yusuf al Qaradawi, Islamic Awakening between Rejection and Extremism, IIIT, Virginia, USA, 1991, p 70]. Muhammad Asad in his monumental commentary of the Quran translated this verse: They who do not judge in accordance with what God has bestowed from on high are, indeed, deniers of the truth (5: 44) [Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Quran, Dar Al Andalus, Gibraltar, 1980, p 152]. The new translation of verse 5: 44 of the Quran is more appropriate as circumstances might exist or arise as in Abyssinia during Emperor Nagus where Muslims may not be able to implement Shariah.

Islam does not permit killing of persons for not observing certain provision of Islam. Once a movement has started killing in the name of Allah, it has embarked on a nihilistic course that denies the most fundamental religious values. Islamic Law does not permit killing of judges for not ruling as per Shariah. Islamic Shariah generally permits taking of life only for taking life. Moreover a non-Muslim judge cannot be killed for not ruling as per Shariah.

Some idealist daydreamers build castle in the air believing that they can blot out all forms of corruption and establish Islamic state and society overnight. In their opinion physical force is the only method which should be used to eradicate evil. They forget the guidance of Prophet Muhammad to Muslims to endure the injustices of the rulers lest this should create an even greater fitna and discord and lead to catastrophic results such as the shedding of Muslim blood, the loss of property and instability and without having achieved tangible result

Islam believes in a pluralistic society. Al Quran states: If Allah so willed, He could make you all one people [16: 93]. In Islam religious freedom is guaranteed. Al Quran states: There is no compulsion in religion [2:256]. In another verse Al Quran states: Let anyone who wishes to, believe, and let anyone who wishes to, disbelieve [18:29]. There is therefore no question of realizing Islam by violent means. #

10th November 2006