A terrifying video of the stoning in Kunduz by Taliban last year in August was released by Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission last week. It once again reminded us of the horror that Taliban and other like-minded fanatics offer to the people of this country. Followed by criticism in local Afghan media, Taliban reacted in defense of the punishment. Taliban spokesman talking to media has said “anyone who knows about Islam knows that stoning is in Quran, and that it is Islamic law. There are people who call it inhuman, but in doing so they insult the Prophet. They want to bring foreign thinking to this country.”
These fanatics are the self-proclaimed authority for defining Sharia and Islamic jurisprudence. Majority of Taliban fighters or other militants are ignorant extremists most of whom cannot even read the holy Qur’an, but claim to be fighting the cause of defending it. These ignorant self-proclaimed holy warriors have distorted the entire teachings of Islam. The implementation and understanding of jurisprudence need deep study of the Sharia to become an scholarly authority, that do not exist among the cadres of militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The translation of the above Hadith can be understood totally out of context, if not studied with all conditions and aspects of when and under what circumstances such a sentence was uttered by Prophet Muhammad.
What is more destructive than the manipulation of jurisprudence by militants is the silence of majority of Muslim religious scholars in our region as well as Middle East. Militancy and extremism is not only a threat for the US and West. It has affected the Muslim world the most. Muslims have been the largest victims of violence by these radicals. The silence of majority Muslim scholars has not only provided these militants with a confidence of no ideological opposition from within Islam, but also they are self-satisfied with their fanatic justifications destroying the very roots of the entire religion.
There have been some known scholars opposing radical extremists. But they have escaped their countries and now living in exile. A recent example is the prominent religious scholar Javed Ghamidi in Pakistan. He opposed militancy and extremist ideas openly in TV shows and was threatened with a bomb attack on his house. Javed Ghamidi is a reformist liberal Muslim scholar now living in exile in Malaysia. He is a prominent scholar with deep knowledge of Sharia and Islamic jurisprudence who strongly oppose the extremists with his knowledge and reference from Qur’an and Hadith. But he was attacked and exiled. There have been many other scholars who opposed suicide bombing and extremism and were killed by Taliban. Javed Ghamidi left Pakistan despite the strong security forces and state protection, how would such scholars dare stay in a country like Afghanistan where Taliban can stone anyone to death in public. Though very few, in Pakistan they are lucky to have such scholars, even if in exile now. But what about Afghanistan? There is not a single prominent religious scholar with accepted authority who opposes extremism in public.
Nowadays the case of Sayed Musa, Afghan Christian convert in jail, is once again on headlines. After this NYT report, pressures are up in media on the Afghan Government to avoid the death penalty for him. The other day NATO Chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said,
“Let me stress that a sentence to death or any punishment for converting from one religion to the another is in strong contradiction with everything Nato stands for,”
The Dutch Foreign Minister has also called his Afghan counterpart to save the Christian convert. In Afghanistan, its not only the Taliban who have death punishment for adultery and apostasy, the state civic laws are no less harsh. Afghan Constitution assures “religious freedom” but forbids conversion from Islam to other religions and the punishment of apostasy is death, both in state law and Taliban Sharia. In case of liberal religious scholars challenging these views, it is the opposite situation. Some people give references of Dr. Zakir Naik’s comments in support of death punishment for apostasy. Below is the video link to Naik’s comment.
A Fanatic is the Bestseller in Afghanistan
Dr. Zakir Naik is a celebrity preacher in Afghanistan. He is the most watched religious scholar in the countries with the biggest Muslim populations. He has a defensive perspective toward the topics related to extremism, Taliban and Al-Qaeda. He has never condemned suicide bombing by Islamic radicals. Rather he thinks Osama Bin Ladin is not a terrorist. He runs the Peace TV, which is the most watched on cables in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, where Islamic militancy poses the worst threats. When I walk in the bookstores and bookstalls of Kabul, Mazar and other cities, the most seen books are translations of Zakir Naik’s speeches in local languages. His books are the bestsellers in Afghanistan. It is rooting the seeds of extremism, maybe not violent, in the minds of mass populations. And once these readings and teachings result in reaction of thoughts and actions, it becomes violent. One example is Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan arrested in the US in 2009 accused of planning suicide bombings on New York subway system. He was enchanted by Zakir Naik’s speeches. Many Afghan TV channels run the translated speeches of Naik, and DVDs are on sale in bazaars. Naik’s views on terrorism are very vague, in some speeches saying he opposes terrorism, but when it comes to groups like Al-Qaeda and Taliban, Naik says, as quoted by TIME,
“If he (Osama Bin Ladin) is fighting the enemies of Islam, I am for him. If he is terrorizing the terrorists, America, the biggest terrorist, I am with him. Every Muslim should be a terrorist. … A terrorist is a person who causes terror. The moment a robber sees a policeman he is terrified. A policeman is a terrorist for the robber. Similarly every Muslim should be a terrorist for the antisocial elements of society, such as thieves, dacoits and rapists. Whenever such an anti-social element sees a Muslim, he should be terrified. It is true that the word ‘terrorist’ is generally used for a person who causes terror among the common people. But a true Muslim should only be a terrorist to selective people i.e. anti-social elements, and not to the common innocent people. In fact a Muslim should be a source of peace for innocent people.”
Naik is not only a celebrity preacher in Afghanistan. Same is the case in Pakistan, where a larger population understands English and can watch his live speeches on Peace TV. In India, Zakir Naik was in the Indian Express list of “100 Most Powerful Indians in 2010“.
Due to his hypocrite views and hate-mongering, in June 2010 Zakir Naik was banned from entering the UK. Later the same month, he was banned from entering Canada. I hope the US and all European countries will follow the UK and Canada, and ban him forever due to his extremist views. The Government of Afghanistan must ensure that TV channels and publishing houses do not misuse the freedom of speech and press by promoting hate-mongers. The speeches of Zakir Naik has already produced a Najibullah Zazi, if it is run with such popularity and books as bestseller, the whole mass illiterate population of this country will become psycho-fanatics. The Government should ban his speeches, or monitor the TV channels and publishers to avoid contents that provoke violence and promote extremist thinking.
It is an extremely dangerous trend for our region that the liberal religious scholars are escaping in exile, and the radicals ones are becoming the celebrity best sellers. Today we are already witnessing the end of the peaceful Sufism from Central and South Asia. It was not the trend in our militancy-hit region before 70s. The religious extremism, regardless of its political aspects, took roots after the rise of Muslim Brotherhood in Middle East and the Iranian revolution in our neighborhood, but practically started in Afghanistan during the influx of Arab Jihadis against the Soviet Union. The Islam practiced in this region for centuries was not violent, but the Wahhabi ideology that came with Arab fighters of Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan has now spread radicalism like a cancer in the whole South and Central Asia. Zakir Naik is a militant with suit and tie, doing his Jihad through speeches in promoting hate and extremism. He is spreading the extreme Wahhabi thoughts in this region.
The Muslim scholars around the world should be most worried about Islamic extremism that is destroying the Muslim world from within. It is a tragedy that the silent majority scholars have kept mum, partly because most pretend to take it as a political war of the US and West, while the real victim of these extremists are the Muslims. We need a war within Islam, to be fought by reformist liberal Muslim religious scholars against the fanatic extremists in order to make this world peaceful for coexistence with people from all beliefs. Otherwise not only this whole region is doomed, but the religious extremism will put the entire Muslim world on fire, which is already burning within.