Moderate Muslims must speak out in one voice’

 The following is an excerpt from a statement to the 22nd session of the UN Human Rights Council, Geneva, 25 February to 22nd March, 2013 (Agenda Item 3: Promotion and Protection of all Human Rights – civil, political, economic, social and cultural – including the right to development), made by Sultan Shahin, Editor of New Age Islam, on behalf of the World Environment and Resource Council:

Mr President,

A violent display of intolerance towards sectarian and religious minorities along with terrorism directed at non-Muslim neighbours continues to plague several Muslim countries. For instance, hundreds of Shias have been killed recently in Pakistan. Hindu girls continue to be abducted and forcibly converted to Islam. The Taliban’s war on girls’ education continues. The Indian city of Hyderabad was recently attacked. Despite a ban on his organization and a US $10 million bounty on his head, Hafiz Saeed continues to strut around the country and taunt the world.

Rights violations are reported from all over the Muslim world, from Indonesia to Tunisia. A fascist ideology is seeking to forcibly convert the world to its version of Islam. An intra-Islam clash of civilisations appears to be going on. Some Muslims are resisting a determined attempt to colonise their minds. From Bangladesh and India to Algeria,Mauritania and Mali, we can see Sufi ulema loudly denouncing Islamo-fascism, exclusivism, supremacism and jihadism.

But the mainstream moderate Muslim majority and their governments continue to remain largely silent onlookers. What message do we Muslims give to the world community by keeping quiet on such humiliation to Islam? Will the world community be wrong in deducing that all Muslims believe that the Taliban, the products of petrodollar-funded Deobandi-Wahhabi-Salafi madrasas, are correct in their understanding of Islam? That Islam does indeed stand for forcibly converting the world to its point of view? That Salafi-Wahhabism is the real Islam? That theTaliban truly represent the larger world Muslim community? And if that is the case, why should the fear of Islam not grow in the world? Why should we complain of Islamophobia?

Regardless of what interpretation of Islam a Muslim state follows, however, it should not be allowed to impose its ideology on its citizens.  It is incumbent on the world community to make sure that all signatories to the UN Charter and its various covenants implement its provisions in letter and spirit.

Mr  President, the courageous stance of moderates inAfricais the first good news emanating from that region after a long period of Wahhabi killings and destruction of mosques and Sufi shrines. Islamic fundamentalist Boko Haram’s killing spree used to be the main news coming out from that part of the continent. The newly-formed League of the Sahel Ulema, comprising sheikhs from Algeria, Mauritania and representatives of Sufi movements in Mali, have all come out to counter the ‘extremism and exaggeration creeping into religion, a monster created by extremist groups that claim to be engaged in jihad’. Officially established in Algeria, the league is reported to have focused its reformist efforts on schools, mosques, local radio stations and militant enclaves in order to put an end to violence perpetrated in the name of Islam.

Similarly a recent conference inIstanbulbrought together senior Afghan clerics and the world’s leading Islamic theologians to discuss suicide bombings, the targeting of civilians and the destruction of historical artefacts by Wahhabi militants. A detailed and strongly worded resolution reaffirmed Islam’s compatibility with universal human norms and called on religious institutions inAfghanistan,Pakistanand neighbouring countries to end all violence, including domestic violence. The document will be circulated to more than 160,000 mosques inAfghanistan. Hopefully some good will come out of it.

However, while some moderate Muslims, at least in a few countries, are speaking out against the growing Wahhabi-Salafi threat to world peace, unfortunately, they are not speaking in one voice. Some think that talking about Wahhabi extremism merely encourages sectarianism among Muslims. The anti-terrorism demonstrations organised by Indian Sufi Sheikhs and Ulema, for instance, was almost completely boycotted byIndia’s Muslim Press and then the organisers were criticised heavily for playing ‘divisive politics’.

‘Let us not encourage divisive sectarianism by indulging in it ourselves,’ said some moderate Muslim intellectuals, unmindful of the dangers of growing radicalisation of the larger Muslim community inIndia. What they do not seem to understand is that it is actually Salafi-Wahhabi extremists who are playing divisive politics, seeking to impose their version of Islam on Muslims worldwide. The Islamic sectarian ideology is promoted by massive infusion of petrodollars. It is seeking to colonise non-Arab Muslim minds, promoting medieval Arab desert customs as an inalienable part of Islam. This is not acceptable to many. The South Asian Muslims, for instance, are inheritors of thousands of years-old civilisations. These non-Arab peoples have their own customs and culture. They merely accepted the religion of Islam, which does not and should not include the desert Bedouin culture of seventh centuryArabiawith its wars and raids on rival tribes and clans and vicious vendettas.

Some other Muslim intellectuals have characterised the large number of anti-terrorism public meetings and rallies in Muslim countries, particularly India, as the community’s ijtemaii zillat (collective insult), as did Professor Akhtarul Wasey, head of the Department of Islamic Studies inDelhi’sJamiaMilliaIslamiaUniversity.

‘Too many conferences and rallies against terrorism will make Muslims feel guilty,’ he told The Times of India recently. Apparently Muslim intellectuals like him do not feel the community or religion is insulted by almost daily killings of sectarian and religious minorities, forcible conversions, war on education, oppression of women and other serious violations of human rights, all in the name of Islam, perpetrated by Muslims who have been brainwashed into believing that destroying places of worship and killing other Muslims gives them the status of martyrs, deserving a place of honour in Heaven.

Mr President, I would have thought that we Muslims would hang our collective heads in shame when so-called Islamist terrorist incidents take place rather than when Muslims speak out against terrorism. The moment of ijtemaii zillat (collective humiliation) for the Muslim community comes when Muslim minorities are killed for simply practising their understanding of Islam, when shrines of Sufi saints who spent a lifetime spreading Islam’s message of love and peace are bombed, when girls’ schools are destroyed, when girl children are attacked for wanting to pursue education, when Hindu girls are abducted and later forcibly converted to Islam and raped by so-called puritan Muslims. But apparently some Muslim intellectuals do not agree and would rather silence whatever meagre voices are being raised against terrorism in the name of Islam.