Ulemas Join Pakistan's Fight against Terrorism
Weekly Pulse
December 18-24, 2009
An important antidote to religiously-motivated terrorism facing a country is when its religious community rises to the occasion and declares such terrorism religiously unlawful and morally unjustified. For years, Pakistan has been in the grip of a similar wave of terrorism being orchestrated by Taliban and its foreign and local terrorist affiliates. Yet there has been mysterious silence on the part of the country’s religious leaders in condemning terrorism. Not anymore. Recent weeks have seen Pakistani Ulemas, individually and collectively, declaring terrorism as un-Islamic.

This is the latest among a host of promising shifts the country has experienced during the course of 2009, including the public opinion turning against Taliban, the civilian government’s decision to own security operation against them Taliban, and the country’s army beginning a resolute military campaign against them. The sequence of these shifts was understandable: for the army could not be expected to undertake an operation and own it too; the civilian government could not own a military operation unless it was sure about the public support; and, in the absence of such support, the army’s operation and the government’s ownership of it ran the risk of accentuating domestic public opposition to the country’s fight against terrorism.

Yet, until recently, one major factor was relatively absent amid a worsening terrorist quagmire facing the country: Pakistani religious leadership’s consensual stand against Taliban’s practice of terrorism, including suicide bombing, in the name of religion. In the sequence of three afore-mentioned shifts, this factor should have constituted the first step, on the basis of which public opinion should have consequently shifted against Taliban, leading to the subsequent governmental ownership of security operation and the army’s lead role in undertaking it.

Fatwa on Suicide Bombing

Fortunately, the year 2009 seems to be concluding with this last of the promising shifts occurring in the country, as the worsening wave of terrorism is bringing together the Ulemas belonging to different schools of religious, including from sects that have often been in conflict with each other in the not-too-distant a past—and they are declaring the practice of suicide bombing by Taliban as un-Islamic—even terming the offering of prayer for the dead suicide bombers as haram, or not permissible under Islamic jurisprudence.

On December 13, after three days of deliberations, a joint meeting of Ittehad-e-Bain-ul-Muslimeen Committee and the Ulema Board presided over by Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, unanimously passed a historic resolution terming suicide bombings as un-Islamic. The resolution was tabled by Muttahida Ulema Board Chairman Sahibzada Fazal Karim. The meeting was attended by close to hundred Ulemas and Mashaikhs. The gathering pledged to maintain religious harmony in the country and expressed full support to the government in its efforts against terrorism.

The three-day deliberations of the religious scholars were moderated by Pakistan Muslim Leauge-N Punjab president Sardar Zulfiqar Khosa. Within days, Taliban reacted. On December 15, TTP undertook a devastating attack on the Khosa Market owned by the Khosa family in Dera Ghazi Khan, killing over 30 innocent people and injuring over 70 of them. The residence of the Khosa brothers, including Dost Muhammad Khosa, the provincial minister for local bodies, was adjacent to this market, but their families did not suffer any loss.

The Deadly Response

This a familiar pattern in Taliban terror spree. Whenever a religious personality alone or as part of a grouping considers suicide bombing or terrorist activity as un-Islamic, the price is quite often deadly. This time, a political leader who ventured to moderate a clerical event to discuss whether terrorism is religiously justified or not has faced the wrath of Taliban—and this explains Taliban’s resolve to undertake terrorism even if the wider Pakistani Muslim society considers it un-Islamic and the country’s religious leaders have started to develop consensus on the subject.

In October 2008, a gathering of the Muttehadda Ulema Council at Jamia Naeemia in Lahore, presided over by Maulana Dr Sarfraz Naeemi, a renowned leader of the country’s majority Sunni-Barelvi sect, issued a unanimous fatwa declaring suicide attacks in Pakistan as haram (unlawful) and najaez (unjustified) under Islam. In a country with a religiously conservative population traditionally known for sympathizing with the Taliban, this was a crucial and unprecedented development. The said fatwa was issued at a time when the public opinion in the country had not yet credibly shifted against Taliban. In June this year, Maulana Naeemi paid the price for issuing this fatwa, as a TTP suicide bomber killed k him and scores of other people who had just finished offering Friday prayers at the Jamia Naeemia mosque in Lahore.

However, the country’s Ulemas appear to be as resolute as the its government, security forces and people by and large appear to be: rather than being terrorized, they are coming forward to religiously de-legitimize Taliban-led terrorist insurgency. Two days after the important religious event organized by the provincial government in Punjab, the Muttehidda Qaumi Movement (MQM) organized a gathering of religious leaders in Karachi, which also declared suicide bombing as un-Islamic.

Importance of Fatwas

That the country’s religious community has now joined the fight against terrorism, and started interpreting religion to de-legitimize terrorism, constitute a crucially significant development for two reasons. First, the reason why public opinion, particularly in Pakistan and broadly in the Muslim world, remained either confused or sympathetic to the cause of al-Qaeda or other organizations justifying terrorism in the name of religion was that fatwas based on the sword verses of the Quran somehow dominated the Muslim world’s discourse on jihad.

The most popular of these fatwas has been the one issued by Osama bin Laden in 1998—“The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies, civilian and military, is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it…”

Since these fatwas represented the will of only a tiny minority of deviant Muslims subscribing to the philosophy of violent jihad, they had to be countered by fatwas grounded in the broader non-violent creed of jihad and representative of the majority Muslim will. While in other Muslim countries confronting terrorism, such as Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Egypt, such Fatwas were issued immediately after each spectacular terrorist activity undertaken by al-Qaeda and its regional and local affiliates; Pakistani Ulemas failed to emulate this trend.

A second reason why the religious leaders’ bid to de-legitimize terrorism in the name of religion is important in terms of shaping public opinion, is because people generally look to the religious leaders they follow in such matters. Civilian or military leaders may continue to issue statements after statements, declaring terrorism contrary to the tenants of Islam, but their impact on public opinion transformation will be limited as compared to just one fatwa for the purpose issued by a credible grouping of religious scholars.

Attack on Mosque

It was after the terrorist attack on the Parade Lane Mosque in Rawalpindi Cant earlier this month that the government’s campaign to seek Ulema’s support for the war on terrorism really gained momentum. On December 6, days after the Rawalpindi mosque attack, which took numerous innocent lives, including those of military officers, Interior Minister Rehman Malik traveled to Karachi and met the country’s top ulemas, Mufti Taqi Usmani and Mufti Rafi Usmani at their Dar-ul-Uloom in Korangi.

On the occasion, the Sindh government took the lead in organizing a gathering of religious scholars in Karachi. Dozens of Ulema representing various schools of thought attended the meeting, including Mufti Munib-u-Rehman, Allama Shah Turabul Haq Qadri, Mohammad Shahid Ghori, Mufti Mohammad Rafi Husni, Allama Ghulam Mohammad Sialvi, Haji Mohammad Hanif Tayyab, Mohammad Siddiq Rathore, Allama Qazi Ahmed Noorani, Tariq Mehboob, Allama Mohammad Akram-ul-Mustafa Azmi, Allama Liaquat Azhari and Qari Saleem Akhtar.

Just as the moot of religious scholars in Lahore did, the Karachi meeting termed terrorism un-Islamic, saying “the people involved in terrorism were the enemies of Islam, Pakistan, humanity and the whole nation.” The meeting offered prayers for religious scholars, armed forces personnel and others, who fell victim to terrorism and prayed for the early recovery of the injured. The participants were of the opinion that unity among all sections of society and the nation was needed to ensure internal and external security of the country and pull the country out of the present crisis. The meeting assured the armed forces that the whole nation was supporting them and considered their sacrifices with great regard.

Around the same time, the country’s two other top religious leaders, Allama Tahirul Qadri and Chairman of the Central Ruet-e-Hilal Committee Chairman, Mufti Muneebur Rehman issued a fatwa declaring suicide attacks and bomb blasts “un-Islamic.” While issuing his fatwa, Allama Qadri said, “Any armed struggle against an Islamic state fell in the domain of rebellion.” Surprisingly, a few days later, Qazi Hussain Ahmad of Jamaat-e-Islami also came forward and termed terrorism targeting civilians as un-Islamic.

This was an important development, since the Jamaat is the country’s largest political Islamist group and its discourse on the subject has been quite evasive in the past when it comes to condemning terrorism by Taliban and their affiliates in the country and elsewhere. The only person who refused to condemn terrorism by Taliban and join the country’s majority Ulema for the purpose is Maulana Fazalur Rehman of JUI. Being a founding figure in the Taliban movement, his reluctance for condemning their terror spree publicly is understandable. However, as religious consensus further builds in the country on the issue, and its fight against TTP and its allies makes headway, it will be difficult for the leftover of religious personalities like him to take a stand contrary to the majority Ulema community.

Promissing Trend

The important thing to understand and appreciate is that a governmental-led credible process is underway to discredit all those entities and individuals who undertake or support the killing of innocent people in the name of religion, thereby defaming the great faith of Islam and bringing disrepute to our great nation. Pakistan may have lagged behind in this great effort, as compared to several other Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Egypt. However, as stated before, it is never too late.

Alongside such promising trend, we must also start to emulate other useful efforts pertaining to the role of Ulema in defeating terrorists being made in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Indonesia. In these countries, the governments also involve the Ulema in influencing the mindset of terror suspects who are imprisoned. After staying in regular contact with these Ulemas, many of these terror suspects, including members of the al-Qaeda terror network, are said to have repented and recanted their terror deeds.

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