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memri
October 18, 2017 No.
137

MEMRI Senior Fellow Tufail Ahmad At South Asian Sufi Conference: 'We Must Recognize That Peace And Reform Can Come About Without Recourse To Islam'

By: Tufail Ahmad*


The South Asian Sufi Conference was held in the tourist city of Jaipur, India.

Tufail Ahmad, senior fellow for the MEMRI Islamism and Counter-Radicalization Initiative, addressed the South Asian Sufi Festival, held on October 6-9, 2017 in Jaipur, also known as India's Pink City. Following is the text of his speech:

"I Write Mainly On Jihadi Security Threats To Civilization And The Need For Islamic Reformation And Have Therefore A View From Conflict... In This Four-Day Sufi Festival, There Are A Large Number Of People Who Have A View From Peace"

"I am thankful to the organizers – especially, to respected Ajeet Cour ji and Dr. Anand Kumar ji – for having me here. I was asked to speak on Islam's role in world peace. On February 16 this year, a suicide bomber attacked the shrine of Sufi mystic Lal Shahbaz Qalandar at Sehwan Sharif in Pakistan. That month, two Urdu dailies in India, Roznama Sahafat on February 9 and Roznama Khabrein on February 6, justified the demolition of mosques in the name of Islam, saying that Prophet Muhammad himself had ordered the demolition of a mosque, Masjid-e-Zarrar, built by the munafiqeen (literally: hypocrite Muslims, or dissenters) in Medina.

"I write mainly on jihadi security threats to civilization and the need for Islamic reformation, and have therefore a view from conflict. But I am aware that in this four-day Sufi festival, there are a large number of people who have a view from peace. There are nearly 200 speakers, dancers, artists, musicians and performers – including 94 poets from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and India.

"Languages bend to the force of history. Due to the Partition of India in 1947, the Urdu language lost its progressive character and fell into the hands of Islamic clerics in India; in Pakistan it became a language of colonialism for the (non-Urdu speaking) peoples of Sindh, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and other regions. But language, especially poetry, can also be a force for good.

"American poet Jorie Graham said, 'Poetry wants to be contagious, to be a contagion.' If we take this approach, poets can and do inspire a generation of Muslims and non-Muslims to be a force for good, a force for peace, a contagion for civilization. Taking a poet's view will be consistent with a Sufi's view of Islam being in harmony with diversities of the world, which is also consistent with the sociological fact that the bulk of Muslims across the world live peacefully."

"We Need To Explain What Islam Is – To Understand Why There Is Peace And Why There Is Jihadi Bloodshed"

"By this methodology, since most Muslims live peacefully, there would be no need to discuss Islam's role in world peace. This is a view from peace, an approach from peace, but it fails to explain why there is bloodshed in the name of Islam. And therefore, we need to explain what Islam is – to understand why there is peace and why there is jihadi bloodshed. This leads us to a second approach, a view from conflict, an approach from conflict.

"Ideas have consequences. Insofar as ideas have consequences, an understanding of Islam must account for all myths, beliefs, ideas, and practices that impact the lives of Muslims, whether or not they are approved. If an idea is consequential, it cannot be excluded from an understanding of Islam. In this view, Islam emerges as a movement of ideas – as a consequence of which there are no Jews in Saudi Arabia, no Zoroastrians in Iran, no Hindus in Balochistan, no Hindus in Pakistan; no Sikhs in Lahore, originally a Sikh metropolis; and no Hindus in Kashmir Valley."

"The View From Peace Fails To Explain Why There Is Jihadi Bloodshed, Why Non-Muslim Cultures Are Wiped Out By Islam... The View From Conflict Attributes The Causes Of Jihad To Islam And Fails To Explain Why Vast Number Of Muslims Live In Peace"

"So, the first approach, the view from peace, fails to explain why there is jihadi bloodshed, why non-Muslim cultures are wiped out by Islam. And the second approach, the view from conflict, attributes the causes of jihad to Islam and fails to explain why vast number of Muslims live in peace. Any conflict has two sets of causes: one, the fundamental, long-lasting causes; two, the short-term, associated causes. Modern jihad, beginning in Afghanistan and from Imam Khomeini's fatwa against Salman Rushdie, can be attributed to both Islam and the geopolitics of nation-states.

"The Pakistani terror group Jaish-e-Muhammad publishes the Urdu weekly Al-Qalam which is distributed openly throughout Pakistan. It quotes the Prophet Muhammad as saying: 'Jihad is obligatory upon you under every emir (leader), whether he be pious or fasiq (sinner).' We can define Islam as a movement of ideas, and Islamism as Islam's peaceful methodology, and jihadism as the weaponized version of Islamism. If you ask whether Islam is a religion of peace, the answer is yes. If you ask whether Islam is an extremist religion, the answer is still yes. My necessary argument is this: Any myth, belief, idea, or fact held in the name of Islam, even if false, has consequences."

"Currently, There Is A Theological Consensus That Favors Jihadism"

"Currently, there is a theological consensus that favors jihadism. Islamic clerics have issued fatwas (Islamic decrees) against Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and the Islamic State. But the same clerics do not issue a fatwa against the theological principles based on which these jihadi groups flourish. Islamic clerics do not say, for example, that Shias and Ahmadis are Muslims; that a Muslim woman can be the head of the state; that a non-Muslim can be the head of an Islamic state; that gays and lesbians have rights.

"There is therefore a need for an Islamic reformation against this theological consensus which Islamic clerics do not criticize. In 1517, the German monk Martin Luther wrote his 95 Theses, calling for reform in Christianity. In the 19th century, Hindu reformer Raja Ram Mohun Roy led a religious reform movement against sati (the practice of widow burning). After the war of 1857, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan established the Scientific Society and began an educational renaissance movement. Such reforms can add to Islam's role in world peace."

"Unfortunately, While Critics Of Christianity, Hinduism And Other Religions Are Called Reformers, The Critics Of Islam Are Dismissed As Islamophobes"

"Martin Luther, Raja Ram Mohun Roy and Sir Syed lived in a pre-democracy era. However, another reformer, Hamid Dalwai (1932-77), situated Islamic reform in the era of democracy, campaigned for individual liberty and against Islamic orthodoxies. While we need Luther-like reformers from among Islamic clerics to emerge, we must recognize that peace and reform can come about without recourse to Islam. Unfortunately, while critics of Christianity, Hinduism and other religions are called reformers, the critics of Islam are dismissed as Islamophobes, as recently noted by Taslima Nasreen, the Bangladeshi writer who now lives in exile in India."

"The Biggest Source Of Change Among Indian Muslims Is 'Peer Pressure' – i.e. When Hindu Girls Go To Schools, Muslim Parents Are Forced To Also Send Their Daughters To School"

"My understanding is that reform as an enabler of Islam's role in world peace can result from democracy, sports, education, politics, law and a two-year military service by all adults. In a recent conversation with me, former Indian minister Arif Mohammed Khan argued that the biggest source of change among Indian Muslims is 'peer pressure' – i.e. when Hindu girls go to schools, Muslim parents are forced to also send their daughters to school. From the Bollywood movie Dangal, we learn that sports such as women's wrestling (and cricket) can be sources of positive social change. In Afghanistan, Islamic reformation begins when you buy a bicycle for your five-year-old daughter. In Saudi Arabia, allowing women to drive cars can lead to Islamic reform."

"The World Today Needs Islamic Clerics Rooted In The Pre-Democracy Theological Consensus Of Islam To... Join Hands With The Critics Of Islam... To Evolve An Agenda Of Islamic Reformation For Modern Times"

"I would like to stress that the world today needs Islamic clerics rooted in the pre-democracy theological consensus of Islam to emerge and join hands with the critics of Islam, including with the so-called Islamophobes, to evolve an agenda of Islamic reformation for modern times. This joining of hands by Islamic clerics, activists and poets must be a big global conversation, aimed at nurturing a narrative to defeat jihadism and strengthen Muslims' role in world peace.

"In this process of global dialogue, this four-day South Asian Sufi Festival is perhaps the biggest platform for a meaningful conversation of its kind. Conversation is a tool. The Mexican poet and writer and Nobel laureate Octavio Paz served as a diplomat in New Delhi. In his book In One Earth, Four or Five Worlds, he wrote: 'I conceive of literature as a dialogue with the world.' What is dialogue? Octavio Paz noted: 'Dialogue is the opposite of the noise that denies us and the silence that ignores us.' Thank you!"