April 8, 2016 MEMRI Daily Brief No. 88

At Release Of His Book, MEMRI Scholar Outlines A Case For Islamic Reformation, Says: 'By Funding Madrassas, The Indian State Is Funding Islam And Its Orthodoxies'

April 8, 2016 | By Tufail Ahmad*
MEMRI Daily Brief No. 88

Given below is the text of the speech delivered by Tufail Ahmad, Director of the MEMRI South Asia Studies Project, 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 Indian Minister of State for Home Shri Kiren Rijiju, at the event hosted by the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), New Delhi, on March 31, 2016.

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

The following text is a slightly longer version of Tufail 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 to 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, a mere 10 Pakistani terrorists attacked Mumbai, damaging India-Pakistan relations. On 9/11, it took just 19 hijackers plus their supporters to create a long-term change in the course of the foreign policies of dozens of countries. 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 jihadi threat? Jihadi terrorism strikes at the roots of individual liberty, pluralism, women's rights, and free speech, which are 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; and there are no Sikhs in Lahore, originally a Sikh metropolis. And since India's independence, there are almost no (Hindu) Pandits in Kashmir. This is the nature of the jihadi 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 would declare [the following]: a) Shias are Muslims; 2) Ahmadis are Muslims; c) Muslims will not be killed for apostasy; d) a Muslim woman can be head of state; e) the Prophet Muhammad can be criticized because he was a historic figure; and f) non-Muslims can be head of a Muslim nation.

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

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

"2. 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.

"3. 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 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.

"4. India must stop endorsing the Sufis of the Barelvi School. It antagonizes rival sects like Deobandis. Jihadis came from the Sufi school in British colonial India as well. Sufis are no different from Charlie Hebdo jihadis. What Sufi opposes Triple Talaq [a Muslim man's ability to divorce his wife by repeating 'I divorce you' three times] or supports Muslim girls' equal share in parental property? What Sufi will say that a Muslim woman, or a Hindu, can be head of state?

"5. The Indian government must take a firm position before the Supreme Court on the Common Civil Code (giving equal rights to Muslim women at par with Hindu women). It is sad that in the Indian states of Kerala and Gujarat, the High Court judges refer to the Koran in cases of Muslim issues. Judges can help Indian Muslims by citing the Constitution, not the Koran.

"6. 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 beheading Tiwari for blasphemy. Our policing encourages Islamists to think that they are above the law. There is an urgent need for police reforms, so that the law will work without religious favor.

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

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

"9. 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 the 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.    The 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 aged 6-14 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 that 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 taken over by madrassas.

"c.    Madrassas capture the Muslim child's mind during the critical ages of 6-14 - the ages when children are protected by law 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 age 14. 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. By 2050, India will have the largest Muslim population, about 311 million. If we can ensure that Muslim children aged 6-14 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 [important and authoritative Hindu Law Book]. 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 with children aged 6-14. For Islamic Reformation to begin, I want the Indian government leaders to come and tell me: We do not promise Sufism and the 5% quota, but we will guarantee that your daughter [will learn] mathematics, economics, and physics from Grade 1 through 12.

"Thank you."


* Tufail Ahmad is Director of MEMRI's South Asia Studies Project.


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