Outlaw takfir to curb jihadism

The general consensus among the Pakistani intelligentsia is that, notwithstanding the merits (or demerits) of the military operation up in the North-West, the state needs an ideological counterpart to Zarb-e-Azb in order to curb Islamist militancy. Eradicating jihadists won’t suffice in erasing terrorism; one would have to uproot the jihadist ideology and replace it with a moderate, inclusive, pluralistic substitute.

Now, the biggest stumbling block en route to this ideological transformation – now that we have finally identified jihadists as our enemy and jihadism as a problem – is our defensiveness vis-à-vis jihadism’s link to Islam. Instead of discussing how militant Islamism, judiciously or farcically, emanates from Islamic scriptures, we prefer burying our collective head in the sand and refuse to see, let alone address, the elephant in the room.

It is perfectly understandable that the majority of those believing in the same religious scriptures as the Taliban would be offended by the link between TTP’s terrorism and said scriptures. But when national, and arguably global, security is at stake, personal – or collective – sentiments should take the backseat and facts should be logically addressed.

The ideological superstructure of jihadism is based on one simple idea that is inherent to orthodox religion, one which many of us and our state institutions proudly manifest: religious superiority.

Any Islamic state that differentiates between a Muslim and a non-Muslim – which most of them do – becomes a breeding ground for jihadism.

Just like any club with perks, the jihadists narrow down the membership of the Muslim club as much as possible. This is called takfir – the act of a Muslim excommunicating another person or group. The act of takfir is the first and the most important step of jihadism, since jihad cannot be waged against Muslims.

When we – rightly – point out that most of the victims of Islamist terrorism are Muslims, we ignore the fact that the targets are usually apostatised by the jihadists before they are killed. We forget that the target of every Islamist attack, from the Peshawar school children to those praying inside the Shikarpur mosque, from Malala Yousafzai to Salmaan Taseer, first undergoes the process of takfir before being targeted.

The APS school children were excommunicated by the Taliban for being the offspring of ‘murtid Army officers’ who had been apostatised for ‘fighting the US war’. Malala Yousafzai was apostatised for praising ‘infidel leader Barack Obama’ and ‘conspiring against the Taliban’. Similarly most of the Pakistani citizens have been excommunicated for being party to the ‘infidel system’ of democracy and not fighting for an Islamic caliphate. This blitzkrieg of takfir ups the ante on the Muslim death count. The Taliban believe they’re purging Allah’s world off infidels.

In simple words when Muslims are killed by a randomly chosen attack on a market, the Taliban kill infidels, while we see Muslim dead bodies. When the Shia are massacred in imam bargahs the Taliban count infidel corpses while we (most of us, hopefully) count Muslim dead bodies. When Ahmadis are killed inside their ‘places of worship’ or their homes the Taliban massacre kafirs – and that’s where we agree with them.

While most of us might not condone killing ‘infidels’ like Christians, Hindus or Ahmadis, most of us do wholeheartedly believe in our (Muslim) superiority over them (non-Muslims). This sense of superiority is the corollary of the very idea that people following one ideology will be rewarded with Paradise and those rejecting it will suffer the wrath of eternal hell – an idea that forms the founding principle of every religious scripture.

The recently released ‘Persecution of Ahmadis in Pakistan 2014’ report highlights how 11 members of the community were killed for their faith, including Canadian-American cardiologist Dr Mehdi Ali Qamar, who was in Pakistan on a charity mission. The Gujranwala riots were the nadir of the persecution of the Ahmadis last year, who have been victimised by a barefaced religious apartheid in a country that has been jarred by religious extremism.

Our collective treatment of the Ahmaddiya community epitomises the takfiri tendencies inside all of us, and highlights how much we have in common with the Taliban, despite not taking up arms to eradicate ‘kufr’ ourselves. Furthermore, when one factors in the fact that in a 2014 Pew survey 41% Pakistanis said that Shias are not Muslim (60% called Ahmadis infidels), our bigotry is tragically evident.

This new ideology that we want to replace jihadism with can have no room for takfir. Outlawing takfir, a la Tunisia, despite the prevalence of bigotry would be the first step to countering jihadism. However, that would paradoxically start with Pakistan outlawing its Constitution.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution, where our democratically elected leaders played God to excommunicate the Ahmadis in 1974 has etched takfir in our jurisprudence, and set a precedent that is encouraging the likes of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) to clamour for the constitutional takfir of the Shia community as well.

When the ‘first democratically elected prime minister of Pakistan’ Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, the leader of a ‘secular and liberal’ party practices takfir from the highest executive position; when Shiaphobes like Azam Tariq and Ahmad Ludhianvi get elected to the Parliament and when Ordinance XX of Pakistan Penal Code bars a community from reading the Quran or ‘posing as Muslims’, do we still not realise how we have proliferated jihadism through the constitutionally sanctioned takfir?

The only difference between our Constitution and the Taliban is that the latter ‘finishes off the job’, while the former is ‘tolerant’ enough to let the ‘infidels’ live as sub-humans.

The importance of tracing and acknowledging the takfiri roots inside religious scriptures is not to encourage people to shun religion, but to highlight the pertinence of secularisation of a modern state’s Constitution. Whether it’s through the simple concept of heaven and hell or via the hate speech that jihadists propagate through the proverbial sword, religious text can be, and is, used to justify takfir, in turn allowing people (terrorists and legislators alike) to play God at the cost of other communities.

In 1953, Justice Muhammad Munir’s inquiry report highlighted how no two mullahs from different sects agreed on a common definition of a Muslim. Not much has changed in 2015. Let’s hope in 10 years’ time Muslims have a more pluralistic approach to not only incorporating different kinds of Muslims, but also a more inclusive approach towards non-Muslims as well, wherein discrimination in rights or liberties is judicially, and popularly, condemned.

Kunwar Khuldune Shahid is a former member of staffHe can be reached at khuldune.shahid@nation.com.pk. Follow him on Twitter

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt