By: Shujaat Ali Quadri
India is a land of Sufis and saints. Hindus and Muslims live in harmony here. Infact, Hindus in India revere sufi saints with as much devotion as Muslims do. One just needs to visit the shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti in Ajmer to witness how Hindus and Muslims throng in equal numbers to pay obeisance at the threshold of the grave of an 12th and 13th century mystic master. Sikhs, Christians and Buddhists also come to ask favours from Ghareeb Nawaz (colloquial name of Chishti that depicts him as benefactor of the poor). Besides common reverence at the Ajmer shrine, we can find innumerable stories of various communities finding common cause in India and living in perfect coexistence. However, the question is — why does this unity fall prey to Muslim extremism, or better called Wahhabism?
Wahhabism, which originally emanated from Nejd (a part of modern day Saudi Arabia), poses the gravest threat to the unified communal fabric of this multi-cultural country. Wahhabism is found as much in Riyadh as it is prevalent in Islamabad, Doha, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Istanbul, Washington and even in Delhi.
Maximum books on Islam have been written in India. In the last 100 years, the sufi branch of Sunni Muslims has produced lakhs of books that have given rise to a school of thought known as Sunna tul Wal Jamaaat or simply Sufism. Even in mainstream discourses in media and academics, this school of thought is called the ‘moderate Islam’.
The advent of Wahhabism in India took place after the failed 1857 Uprising against the British rule. When the colonial European powers failed to dismember the 700-year-old Ottoman Empire in Turkey and beyond, they roped in a desert dacoit group headed by Al Saud family to take on the Turkish rulers. Till then, these bandits used to loot the Hajis (pilgrims) to Mecca and Medina. However, Al Sauds were afraid of revolt of local tribes against them if they fought against Ottoman forces. To tide over this dilemma, the British advised Al Sauds to put the ideology of then famous cleric Abdul Wahab into popular utility. Al Sauds established seminaries (earlier day madarsas) to circulate Wahhab’s ideas that emphasise on literal and extremist explanation of Islam so that locals may join Al Sauds against Ottomons, who were then considered ‘soft, moderate or sufis) and thus, according to Wahhab, heretics that deserve to be ousted from power. When Indians, some of them clerics, went for Haj, they came into contact with such seminaries and returned home indoctrinated in Wahhabi ideas or Wahhabism.
Al Sauds kept fighting Ottomons for years. Then during the First World War, Ottomon Empire failed to withstand constant French, British and attacks from local tribes like Al Sauds. It collapsed. In India, the moderate Muslims in the leadership of Maulana Mohammed Ali Jauhar and Maulana Shaukat Ali launched a campaign historically known as Khilafat Movement to restore the Ottomon Caliphate or Empire. This movement was so significant that even Mahatma Gandhi joined it and led from the front. Gandhiji was aware that Wahhabism is as dangerous as British to the unity of India. Often, the word Khilafat is construed as opposition in popular parlance, but it’s a misnomer. Khilafat means caliphate or the rule of a caliph.
The first fatwa (an authoritative legal opinion of an Islamic jurist) against Wahhabism in the world came from Imam Ahmed Raza of Bareilly. Indian perhaps read the danger of this extremist ideology quite early. Unfortunately, Arabs fell for it. They were taught through Wahhabi seminaries that if they don’t listen to discourse of Abdul Wahhab, they would wriggle out of the fold of Islam and be considered kafir or infidels. This was the beginning of the fatwa politics of Wahhabism. It continues to this day in its most sartorial form when assassination of people is advocated through such fatwas. It has earned Islam the maximum infamy in recent time.
After quelling the 1857’s First War of India’s Independence, the British had realised that in order to rule India for long, they would have to devise two strategies. First, they would have to divide Hindus and Muslims along religious lines. Second, they would have to nurture an ideology among Muslims that would work against the community itself.
Meanwhile, after the fall of the Ottomon Empire, the British and French gave Hejaz (where Mecca and Medina are), Nejd and Rub al-Khali to the Al Saud family. All these areas came to be known as Saudi Arabia. Prophet Muhammad loved the name Hejaz and hence no ruler yet far dared to tamper with the name of the place. Even the ruling system in this place would run as per opinions of Muslims across the world. Mecca was called ‘the city of Allah’ and Medina as ‘the city of Muhammad’. Since, out of five essential duties of a Muslim, Haj is one, there was a uniform law in both cities, Mecca and Medina. But, Al Sauds showed their looting tendency and turned the Haj into a profitable business for their family. Every year, they make the pilgrimage 20% more costly. The Haj Committee of India too endorses this unreasonable increase, as most of the office-bearers of the committee are Wahhabis.
Besides usurping the monetary benefits from the Haj pilgrimage, the ruling Al Saud family has destroyed and demolished relics of the early Islamic period. All these relics had a great archeo-historical and religious value. Even though in recent years, especially after the arrival of the Narendra Modi government, the scourge of terrorism has withered to a large extent in India. However, the presence of Wahhabism-inspired militants in Kashmir and reports of two boys, one from Maharashtra and one from Karnataka, joining Islamic State of Syria and Iraq some years back are reasons enough that India has to keep a vigil on the existence and spread of Wahhabism in India. Shockingly, even the literature that propounds Wahhabi views is easily available in Islamic markets in our country. This is despite the fact it was in India that the largest anti-Wahhabi movement (Khilafat movement) was led by clerics and nationalists, defying brute British Raj.
Interestingly, Wahhabis comprise a miniscule 10% of around 20 crore Muslims in India. And this is despite the fact that the British germinated Wahhabi groups to foment division among Muslims after 1857 and kept such groups well nurtured till the very day they left India. But, even today, some boys are attracted to join extremist groups after being indoctrinated in Wahhabism, it means that the politicians and security agencies of our country are unaware of the working mechanism of Wahhabism.
Inefficiency and greed of the Indian officialdom to take on Wahhabism has damaged India a lot. In exchange for some quick money, Indian bureaucrats have handed over Muslim organisations like Sunni Wakf Board to Wahhabi Muslims. Through Wakf Board, these Wahhabis place their imams in mosques operated by the board. These imams later disseminate the poison in the minds of the young. Similarly, the board runs a number of madarsas in the country that also become breeding grounds of Wahhabism. Through their nexus with government machinery, these Wahhabis also peddle their men as part of various government schemes run for Muslims and organisations like Haj Committees. Being part of the government-linked bodies provides a sort of legal cover to the Wahhabi activists.
Woefully, successive governments have ignored the 90 per cent Indian Muslims, who are moderate, Sufis or Shias to run aforementioned institutions.
Today, the whole world has woken up to the menace of the Wahhabism. It’s being studied quite critically. Ramzan Kadyrov, Head of the Chechen Republic, is regarded as a leading campaigner against Wahhabism. Similarly, Al Azhar University, Cairo, the State of Kosovo, Gulen movement of Turkey and moderate Muslims in countries like Bangladesh, Syria, Indonesia and Sri Lanka are waging war against Wahhabism in their own ways.
In India, an outfit called Muslim Students Organisation of India is working on only this issue. It has been organising rallies, conferences and other activities to make people aware of the menace of militant and Wahhabi brand of Islam. Unfortunately, organisations like MSO have failed to gain the attention of government officials. It is continuously awakening the government machinery against the institutionalized Wahhabism and its dangers, but it has not found ample success.