Javed Anand


Behind the ugly reality there’s poetic justice. Osama bin Laden was finally bearded in the world’s most happening terror den: Pakistan. Osama is no more but who does not know that the cult of violence that he practiced and preached in Islam’s name is alive and kicking in Pakistan like nowhere else. This column, however, is about Osama’s unintended gift to post-9/11 Islam.


Step back just a decade and you’d think that Muslims engaged with the paradigm of “Islam and Modernity” were few and far between. The dominant voices in the world of 20th century Islam, especially the latter half, were those of Syed Abu Ala Maududi, founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami in the subcontinent; Syed Qutb, leading theologian of the Muslim Brotherhood; and Mohammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, who gave birth to Wahhabism, the rigid, intolerant Islam of Saudi Arabia.


Born and bred as a devout Wahhabi in Saudi Arabia, it was easy for Osama to embrace the shared belief of Maududi and Qutb that all man-made ideas and systems — pan-Arabism, democracy, socialism, communism — were bankrupt; that only Shariah law ruthlessly enforced by an Islamic state could restore divine order in the world. Thanks to an intermix of Wahhabism, Qutbism and Maududiat, what would otherwise have been an Afghan national liberation movement against the occupying Soviet forces in the 1980s turned into a laboratory of violent, global jihad. Osama was the most lethal product of this cross-fertilisation. And then there was 9/11, al-Qaeda’s own welcome message to the 21st century and the new millennium.


Call it Hegelian dialectics: thesis-antithesis-synthesis. Some among Muslims rejoiced over this “humiliation” of the only global superpower (so soon after the mujahids had facilitated the demise of the rival superpower).


Others insisted 9/11 was a mean CIA-Mossad conspiracy to fan Islamophobia. But saner members of the Ummah were horrified that such a monstrosity could be committed in the name of a faith that literally means peace. The poison that Osama and al-Qaeda injected into Islam found its antidote within Islam. Thank you, Hegel.


“Islam was hijacked on 9/11,” declared the American convert Sheikh Hamza Yusuf. The UK-based Ziauddin Sardar was as prompt in issuing “My fatwa on the fanatics.” With such opening salvo, the last decade saw an ever growing number of Muslim voices eager not only to reclaim their faith from the extremists, but also, in the words of Sardar, to “rebuild Islam, brick-by-brick”.


Though Osama has now been rendered inactive, the terror machine is yet to be dismantled, the theology of violent jihad yet to be pushed out of the marketplace of ideas. But there are reasons to nurture hope. You can today build a small personal library for yourself just with books titled Seeds of Terror, The Nuclear Jihadist, Terror in the Name of God, Sacred Rage, Talibanisation of Pakistan, Descent into Chaos and so on. But should you feel so inclined, you’ll need to multiply shelf-space several times over to add books and videos infused with the spirit of New Age Islam.


 A decade ago, the theologians of a tolerant, plural, gender-just, rights- and freedom-friendly, pro-democracy Islam were few in number. Today, not only is the tribe of their followers growing rapidly, but an ever-increasing number of Muslim men and women are also reading and interpreting the Quran and the Tradition of the Prophet in sync with modern sensibilities.


Sadly, we aren’t yet familiar with them in India. But they are important, influential names across much of the world. The US-based Shaikh Khaled Abou El Fadl, for example, is a strong proponent of human rights, a staunch advocate of gender equality and is amongst the most critical and powerful voices against puritan and Wahhabi Islam today. Then there is Hamza Yusuf, co-founder of Zaytuna College, Berkeley, US. Jordan’s Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre places him on its list of the top 50 most influential Muslims in the world. The magazine Egypt Today described him as a kind of theological rock star, “the Elvis Presley of western Muslims”.


Or, take Tariq Ramadan, the UK-based author of Radical   Reform. An online poll by Foreign Policy magazine in 2009 placed Ramadan on the 49th spot on a list of the world’s top 100 contemporary intellectuals. And let’s not forget Amina Wadud, Islamic feminist, imam, and author of Inside the Gender Jihad. In March 1995, she stirred up quite a storm in the Muslim world after leading a Friday prayer of over 100 male and female Muslims in New York.


In the first year of the 21st century, Osama stretched the dominant Islamic thought of the 20th century to its extreme. A decade later, there is a growing body of books, lectures and pages of the World Wide Web propounding an Islam that is at home with the modern world and vice versa. And in the last few months, such intellectuals and scholars have struck common ground with the masses on the streets of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain. Osama must have had many nightmares in his last days of hiding.


(The writer is general secretary of Muslims for Secular Democracy)


(<http://www.indianexpress.com/columnist/javedanand/> May, 04 2011)

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