The first Quranic revelation allowing Muslims to fight came immediately after the Holy Prophet (PBUH) moved to Medina in 622. However, the permission was conditional and strictly restricted to self-defence. War was never to be used for the propagation of the faith. Its purpose was the defence of all religions otherwise “all monasteries and churches and synagogues and mosques… would surely have been destroyed ere now” (22-40). The same insistence on war has been maintained in every single verse of the Quran relating to war.
But, despite this, its doctrinaire emphasis on non-aggression has been obscured by the treacherous ideology of religion-motivated violence. According to the draft of the National Internal Security Policy 2013-2018 (quoted by some newspapers): “Some 13,721 terror incidents were reported in Pakistan during 2001-13, which are marginally less than those in Iraq. From 2001 to 2005, there were 523 terror incidents in Pakistan, but the number rose to 13,198 during 2007 to November 2013… Some 48,994 people were killed in the country, including 5,272 personnel of the law enforcement agencies, from 2001 to November 2013, with 17,642 of them having been killed in just three years from 2011 to 2013.”
The sharp rise in extremist violence around the country from 2007 coincides with the government’s belated decision to cleanse the Lal Masjid complex in Islamabad – which included the JamaiHafsa, the world’s largest seminary for women – of Al Qaeda inspired extremists who had terrorized the city. The spineless chief cleric of the mosque – Maulana Abdul Aziz – who has never hesitated in projecting himself as a religious scholar, abandoned hundreds of his associates to their fate and fled the scene disguised as a burqa-clad woman.
The Lal Masjid siege resulted, five months later, in the emergence of the TTP as an umbrella organization consisting of 13 militant groups under the command of BaitullahMehsud. He was declared as Pakistan’s enemy number one and the US obliged by killing him in a drone strike on August 5, 2009. By the time his successor, HakeemullahMehsud was eliminated in a similar manner on November 1, 2013, more than 40 extremist outfits had joined the TTP.
The TTP was outlawed by the previous government on August 25, 2008 for perfectly valid reasons. It was earlier that year that BaitullahMehsud met the Al Qaeda leader, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, in South Waziristan and an accord was reached to substantially increase the number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan. This is evident by the statistics (mentioned above) that have been established in the National Internal Security Policy 2013-2018.
In the TTP’s worldview good and evil are sharply defined. There are no grey areas. Those who do not conform must be put to death. Compassion and mercy have no place in the litany that is chanted in its temples of worship. Forgiveness is banished forever even though all religions through the ages have emphasized that “God’s house is the only house where sinners are welcome.” The Quran is far more emphatic about this and in two of its verses it states that “God has willed upon himself the law of mercy and grace” (6: 12 and 54).
But the creed of TTP and its affiliates is entirely different. Theirs is a religion of violence and is far removed from Islamic teachings and that is where their weakness is – their ideology is founded on falsehood. This is what the government has to expose because the war against terror will ultimately be fought and won in the ideological battlefield. All that is required is a clear understanding of three indispensable principles for the interpretation of the Quran.
The first is that its pronouncement cannot be taken out of context. The Quran stresses and scholars agree, that its injunctions are consistent and free of contradictions (4: 82, 39: 23). Its content can, therefore, only be correctly interpreted against the background of its entire text. The verses of the Holy Book on a particular subject, regardless of where they occur, explain and reinforce each other. The isolation of its passages invariably results in the misinterpretation of its fundamental principles.
The second is the absurd doctrine of abrogation which is anchored on a skewed interpretation of the verse, “Any message We annul or consign to oblivion. We replace it with a better one…” (2: 106). What is deliberately ignored is that the word ‘message’ (ayah) in this formulation relates to the earlier scriptures and this is obvious from the preceding verse which declares that the Jews and Christians will never accept any religion subsequent to their own. All that is stated here is that the Quran superseded the Bible. This was necessitated because of human manipulation in the text of the earlier scriptures as has been established by objective scholarship.
Furthermore, the verse was revealed in Mecca, i.e. in the first 13 years of the Prophet’s ministry, and all abrogation theologians concede that there was no annulment of any Quranic passage during that period.
But, by far the most powerful pronouncement against the concept is the Quran, itself: “And convey (to the world) whatever has been revealed to thee of thy sustainer’s writ. There is nothing that could alter His words…” (18: 27). It is on this passage that the great Quran-commentator Abu Muslim Al-Isfahani (868-934) based his rejection of the abrogation theory.
The third principle is the correct interpretation of the Quranic statement that it is a “divine writ containing messages that are clear in and by themselves” and “others that are allegorical” (3: 7). Several scholars believe that this is the ‘key-phrase’, which occurs only once in the Quran, for understanding its teachings. Astoundingly, the Holy Book itself predicts in the same verse that its allegorical references will be deliberately misconstrued.
Violent extremist groups have extracted and de-contextualized individual passages of the Quran, misinterpreted its allegorical verses and exploited the flawed doctrine of abrogation to justify suicide bombings and terrorist attacks. They have all, without exception, relied heavily on the pronouncement: “And so, when the sacred months are over, slay those who ascribe divinity to aught beside God wherever you may come upon them…” (9:5). Even though this verse pertains to an ongoing war, it is said to have annulled all the earlier injunctions that permitted fighting only in self-defence.
K.S. Sudharshan (1931-2012) the fifth head of India’s virulently anti-Muslim outfit,RashtriyaSwayamsevakSangh (RSS), cited this passage to portray Islam as a violent and an intolerant religion. Osama Bin Laden quoted the same verse for his fatwa of February 23, 1998 – three years before 9/11 – to proclaim that the killing of, “Americans and their allies – civilian and military – is an individual obligation incumbent upon every Muslim…”
This demonstrates the accord in mendacity between the RSS and Al-Qaeda as they both distort the same Quranic statement in an identical manner – one is dead-set on destroying the Muslims of India and the other is determined to assail the soul of Islam for the achievement of its political ambitions.
Al Qaeda and its affiliates such as the TTP are no less inspired by the writings of the Muslim fundamentalists of the twentieth century, the most influential of whom was SayyidQutb of Egypt (1906-1966) who saw modernity and western concepts as the enemies of Islam. In a letter shortly before his execution, he wrote that any society that obstructed Islam “becomes ipso facto part of the Dar al-Harb (abode of war). It should be combated even if one’s kith and kin, national group, capital ad commerce are to be found there.”
He was initially influenced by MaulanaMaudoodi (1903-1979) who believed that Islam was under assault from the non-Muslim world and sought to introduce jihad as its sixth pillar. But Qutb added a new dimension to what Karen Armstrong refers to as Maudoodi’s version of liberation theology by affirming that the enemy was also within the Islamic societies that were led by secular governments.
It is almost 50 years since Qutb’s execution but his thoughts live on. The TTP has sworn that it would continue its struggle till “the secular system” is pulverized. From its rubble an Islamic caliphate would be built.
The outfit has unfailingly justified its hideous track record of mass murder and destruction under the pretence that its only purpose is to impose Shariah on the country. The bluff needs to be called. The word Shariah (orShirah) signifies a way to the watering place because water is an indispensable element for all life and it is used in the Quran in the sense that it embodies a system of laws essential for the survival of any community in the social and spiritual sense.
The fundamental and unalterable principle of Islamic Law is that no duty (taklif) can be imposed on the individual without his being granted a corresponding right (haqq) which means that the state must fulfil its part of the social contract by providing economic and social security to all citizens.
Furthermore, the laws of Islam are simple and few. Of the Quran’s 6,247 verses only 30 pertain to penal and 70 to civil laws in order not to impose too great a burden on the believers as explained in the Holy Book itself (5: 101-102). As for the Sunnah, in several well-authenticated traditions of the Prophet (PBUH), Aishah repeatedly said that “his way of life was the Quran.” One wonders whether the hadood and blasphemy laws enacted by General ZiaulHaq or even the 2nd Amendment of the constitution would be able to withstand rigorous scrutiny in that light.
Soon after it was established in 1981, the Federal Shariat Court set about reviewing all statutes that had been in place since 1841 in order to determine whether any of them were in conflict with the injunctions of the Quran. Its findings were that none of the laws promulgated during the colonial era were repugnant to Islam and, surprisingly, “whatever few un-Islamic provisions were found were enacted after 1947 and not by the British.”
The hypocrisy of the TTP is thus laid bare. Its only objective is the capture of power which it disguises in fanciful Islamic formulations. But what is disquieting is that its fraudulent ideology has spread. This needs to be demolished.
If the government is at all serious about defeating terrorism, then this is the time to launch a relentless propaganda broadside against the severely flawed TTP/Al-Qaeda ideology. The ministries of religious affairs and information, which normally do not exist in established democracies should work in tandem to expose the distortions of Islam along the lines suggested in this paper. The rest is all about redressing the economics, social and political inequities that scar the face of Jinnah’s Pakistan.
TTP’s recent stance regarding a month long ceasefire and acceptance in engaging in talks with the government’s negotiating panel does not imply that there has been a radical change in their ideology or agenda. This is primarily a strategy to gain time to regroup and recoup its losses from the recent precision strikes by the Pakistan Air Force. In a few more weeks, when the snows of winter will have melted, it will be ready to resume its agenda of mass slaughter and destruction. The added bonus that this process of negotiations has yielded is that the TTP has acquired political legitimacy without having to pledge fealty to the constitution.
In addition, the ceasefire, itself, is meaningless as the TTP is a coalition of more than 40 odd terrorist groups. These affiliates and franchises operate independently and this, as an analyst has recently explained, not only serves as a force multiplier but also provides the TTP’s central Shura a mechanism for denying terrorist attacks whenever there is need.
What the leadership of the country does not understand is that the mere announcement of an unconditional termination of hostilities by the TTP is not enough. The sin qua non for the initiation of talks with the outfit is that it must first disarm. This is the requirement of Article 256 of the constitution which unequivocally confirms: “No private organisation capable of functioning as a military organisation shall be formed, and any such organization is illegal.” Talks with the TTP are, therefore, permissible only if it agrees upfront to abide by this provision of the constitution.
In a refreshingly perceptive article a scholar argued convincingly that all insurgencies end in three possible outcomes: (i) the grant of political autonomy like in East Timor, South Sudan and Palestine; (ii) assimilation into the political mainstream like in El Salvador, Nepal and Chechnya, and; (iii) the partial or complete defeat of the insurgents as in the case of the LTTE in Sri Lanka as well as the uprisings in East Punjab and Indian-occupied Kashmir.
The first and the second outcomes can only materialize in the unlikely event that the TTP accepts the constitution, disarms and relinquishes violence. The autonomy envisaged in the first scenario already exists in the tribal areas where the TTP and several of its affiliates are based. This is because article 247 of the constitution ousts the jurisdiction of the high court and the Supreme Court from FATA and confers legislative authority on the president.
But, nevertheless, the fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution are applicable to all citizens irrespective of where they reside. The state is, therefore, obliged to ensure that these rights are not infringed in the tribal regions. In other words, the power of the president to promulgate ordinances and regulations in respect of FATA are circumscribed inasmuch as these must not violate any of the inalienable rights assured by the constitution. This is what the TTP will have to respect.
What emerges is that till the TTP is either defeated or significantly weakened militarily, peace will not return to the country. But those at the helm think differently. The prime minister is convinced that it is only through talks that the militancy can be brought to an end. He would do well to remember the saying that “society often forgives the criminal; it never forgives the dreamer.”
(Some of the content in this comment has been derived from Mr. A.G. Noorani’s articles in previous issues of this publication).