Vimarsha on 'Jihadist Threat to India – The Case for Islamic Reformation by an Indian Muslim'
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Given below is the text of the speech delivered by Tufail Ahmad, Director of South Asia Studies Project at the Washington D.C.-based Middle East Media Research Institute, on the occasion of the release of his book in New Delhi. The book, "Jihadist Threat to India – The Case for Islamic Reformation by an Indian Muslim", was released by the Minister of State for Home Shri Kiren Rijiju at the event hosted by the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), on March 31, 2016.

On the panel were (from Right to Left in the above image) Lt.-Gen. Ata Hasnain, the former Indian Army commander; Mr. Vikram Sood, the former
chief of Research & Analysis Wing (RAW); Mr. Kiren Rijiju, India's federal Minister of State for Home Affairs; General N.C. Vij, the former Indian Army chief and VIF Director; Tufail Ahmad (the author); and Mr. Sushant Sareen, the noted Pakistan affairs expert at the VIF.

The following text is a slightly longer version of Ahmad's speech:

I am thankful to General N.C. Vij and the Vivekananda International Foundation for hosting this event, and especially Mr. Sushant Sareen for stepping in at the right moment to do this. I am indebted to Hon'ble Minister of State for Home Shri Kiren Rijiju for giving us his precious time to release my book. My thanks are due for Lt.-Gen. Ata Hasnain and Mr. Vikram Sood. Sirs, we benefit from your ideas as you speak from TV, Twitter or Facebook.

My book is a collection of research papers and articles, a resource book on the ideological aspect of jihadism, or its soft version called Islamism. India currently faces two types of jihadism: one is the Pakistani state-backed jihadist threat that we can deal with militarily; the other is the self-radicalization of Muslim youths in favour of the Islamic State (ISIS), which is more complex and its end will depend on how and when ISIS is defeated in Syria and Iraq.

At King's College London, I wrote a thesis on: What will Constitute the End of the War on Terror? Sometimes wars end in a stalemate. For example, the Korean War did not have an outcome and threatens peace more than half a century later. Sometimes totally unrelated factors terminate wars decisively and quickly. For example, in Aceh, in Indonesia, militants abandoned jihad after the Tsunami of December 2004. In 1947, our elders thought they could give away a piece of our territory (i.e. creating Pakistan) to buy lasting peace, but despite such a sacrifice, a certain type of Pakistan-backed jihadism continues to torment us, especially in Kashmir.

I believe that terrorists cannot take over our streets, our cities, our governments. So, what is a security threat? How many terrorists are a threat: 10, 50, 100, or 1,000? In a country of 1.25 billion Indians, what figure should worry us? On 26/11, just ten Pakistani terrorists attacked Mumbai, harming India-Pakistan relations. On 9/11, it took just 19 hijackers plus their supporters to change the course of foreign policies of dozens of countries for long term. Sometimes, a single beheading like that of Daniel Pearl can strike at a nation's global image – and in a multi-religious country like India can cause communal tension. So, a security threat does not depend on numbers of terrorists; the threat is essentially rooted in the nature of terrorism itself.

So, what is the nature of the jihadist threat? The jihadist terrorism strikes at the roots of individual liberty, pluralism, women's rights and free speech, the defining characteristics of the Indian Republic. This results from a certain movement of ideas that began from Mecca in the 7th century as a result of which there are no Jews in Saudi Arabia, their original home; there are no Zoroastrians in Iran, originally their country; there are no Hindus in Multan, their home not long ago; there are no Hindus in Afghanistan; there are no Sikhs in Lahore, originally a Sikh metropolis. And after India's independence, there are almost no (Hindu) Pandits in Kashmir. This is the nature of the jihadist threat that we face today.

Speaking of this threat, I am not speaking of the large masses of Muslims. I think over how ideas coalesce into ideologies and take over minds. For example, it takes just a single Islamic cleric to shut up an entire village of Muslims. So, at issue is not the vast majority of Muslims, but the single Islamic cleric and his set of ideas, his ideology that is consequential on a mass scale. Some argue that a fatwa (Islamic decree) is merely an Islamic opinion but for the vast majority of devout Muslims, it is more effective than a court order; and as a promise to God, it impacts their lives.

But nowadays, it is fashionable to issue fatwas against Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and ISIS. Last year, two fashionable fatwas were issued in India. It is easy to issue a fatwa against ISIS and Al-Qaeda but no Islamic cleric issues a fatwa against the theological principles that feed jihadism. A real fatwa against jihad must declare: i) Shias are Muslims, ii) Ahmadis are Muslims, iii) Muslims will not be killed for apostasy, iv) a Muslim woman can be the head of the state, v) Prophet Muhammad can be criticized because he was a historical personality, and vi) non-Muslims can be the head of a Muslim nation.

Keep in mind: jihadists fear democracy. So, democracy is the antidote to jihadism and Islamism. Absolutely no Muslim country can today match the vast educational and economic opportunities or religious and political liberties that Indian democracy offers to Muslims. Stronger the Indian democracy is, the superior is our capability to fight jihadism. I think India must undertake some concrete steps:

India must enact a counter-radicalization law that addresses radicalization of innocent Muslim youths by both the militant groups and the peaceful religious organizations. Keep in mind that Barelvi clerics do not differ theologically from the Charlie Hebdo attackers of Paris.

India must introduce FBI-style sting operations. Such a measure will: a) offer protection to intelligence agents and security officials, b) ensure that evidence collected by them is admissible before courts, and c) prevent cases like encounters or custodial deaths.

India should set up a website on which all religious organizations must upload a quarterly report on their sources of income and details about their leaders. Mosques, madrassas, khanqahs (monasteries) and dargahs (Sufi shrines) must register with the government as NGOs and submit a report in view of Saudi and non-Saudi funding. They must obtain a PAN (permanent account number) card to ensure compliance.

The Indian government must stop endorsing Sufis of the Barelvi School. It antagonizes rival sects like Deobandis. Jihadists have come from the Sufi school too in the British colonial India. Sufis do not differ from Charlie Hebdo jihadists. Which Sufi opposes Triple Talaq or supports Muslim girls' equal share in parental property? Which Sufi will say that a Muslim woman, or a Hindu can be the head of the state?

The Indian government must take a firm position before the Supreme Court on the Common Civil Code. It is sad that in the Indian states of Kerala and Gujarat, High Court judges refer to the Koran in the case of Muslim issues. Judges can help Indian Muslims by citing the Constitution, not the Koran.

In India, police officers seem to be working for the political class, not for the people and the Constitution. (Hindu leader) Kamlesh Tiwari can be arrested under the National Security Act while Islamic clerics of Bijnor taunt the Rule of Law by openly offering 51 lakh rupees rewards for anyone who could behead Tiwari for blasphemy. Our policing encourages Islamists to think they are above the law. There is an urgent need for police reforms so that the law works without religious favour.

The Muslim minority syndrome resides in Hindu-Muslim conflicts and quota politics (i.e. demand for reservation in jobs and educational institutions in the name of religion). Indian politicians nurse the Muslim siege mentality because it sustains 'counterfeit secularism' (i.e. political correctness in India). To remove siege mentality, India can make quota politics redundant by adopting a policy of free books, free clothes and free schooling for children of all BPL (Below Poverty Level) card holders irrespective of religion and caste.

Since radicalization collides against civilization's motifs, India must introduce three textbooks from Grade 1 through 12: One on Indian classics and classical Indian thinkers; a second primer on the Indian Constitution's ideals; and a third primer containing good points from all religions. Education is a state subject but it is doable. Teaching history counters radicalization.

The cause of Islamic reformation in India, as elsewhere, is difficult but not impossible to achieve through government measures. The Koran and Hadiths (traditions of Prophet Muhammad) are not going to change in the next century. So, the fundamental question is: is there a way to introduce change among Indian Muslims? I think the Indian state must undertake the following measures:

a) Indian state must stop funding madrassas. Madrassas are not educational institutions. The very purpose of madrassas is to foster religious orthodoxies, not to educate children. Madrassas are movements of religious ideas. Madrassas are organized counter-liberty movements and are incompatible with the 21st century's ideas of individual rights, free speech and gender equality. The secular Indian state's funding of madrassas is unconstitutional.

b) Under the Right to Education Act, all children who are 6-to-14 years of age must be in proper schools, not in madrassas. A proper school means this: Students must achieve the same educational outcomes in mathematics and other material sciences which students in mainstream schools achieve. Unfortunately, the Indian state has abdicated its role of educating our children. It has not only abdicated its responsibility, it has allowed its role to be substituted by madrassas.

c) Madrassas capture the Muslim child's mind during the critical 6-14 years of age, an age when children are required to be protected by the Right to Education Act. For this age group, madrassas should be allowed to teach the Koran and Hadiths outside the school hours of the day, or after 14 years of age. By funding madrassas, the Indian state is funding Islam and its orthodoxies.

Counterfeit-secular Indian leaders defend madrassas in the name of religious freedom. But among all the fundamental rights, Article 25 of the Indian Constitution on the Right to Religion is the most inferior right, the weakest right. Article 25 carries two sub-clauses that make it an inferior right: '25 (1): [the Right to Religion is] Subject to public order, morality and health…' '25 (2) Nothing in this Article shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law…'

I am not saying that the Right to Religion does not exist. But, the Right to Religion is superseded by all other fundamental rights. Let me explain this: I have a fundamental right to eat, I have a fundamental right to drink and I have a fundamental right to breathe. But my fundamental right to breathe overrides my fundamental rights to eat and drink. The Supreme Court of India must grasp that the Right to Religion cannot be a fundamental right before 18 years. If you can't have sex before 18 years, if you can't vote before 18 years of age, you cannot have a fundamental right to religion before 18.

India's Hindu elite send their daughters to CBSE (excellent mainstream) schools and leave Muslim girls at the mercy of madrassas. You cannot walk away by arguing that change must come from within Muslims. This is not a valid argument because throughout history, social change has come essentially from outside, through interaction with foreign ideas, technologies, globalization and wars. By 2050, India will have the largest Muslim population, about 311 million. If we can ensure that Muslim kids in 6-14 age group go to schools, not madrassas, we can hope that at least 20% of Muslims will emerge as agents of social change in the next half a century.

For Islamic Reformation, let's ask this question: Is it possible that an entire generation of Muslim youths can abandon ideas inherited from clerics and their parents? History offers good lessons. In Germany and Italy, a generation of youths abandoned the beliefs of their parents about Nazism and Fascism. In India itself, an entire generation of Hindu youths abandoned their parents' beliefs about caste. Judaism and Christianity went through their own internal civil wars. Islam too is undergoing its internal war.

Jews and Christians have confined the Torah and the Bible to the personal sphere of life. In India itself, Hindus have abandoned Manusmriti. Islam is a young religion and there is hope that the Koran's impact can be limited to mosques. For Islamic Reformation to begin in India, it must begin in the age group 6-14 years. For Islamic Reformation to begin, I want that Indian government leaders come and tell me: We do not promise Sufism and 5% quota, but we will guarantee your daughter mathematics, economics and physics from Grade 1 through 12. Thank you.

Event Date 
March 31, 2016
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