Want to Fight the Terrorist Enemy? Start With Allies Like Saudi Arabia
April 22, 2016
The Saudis claim they’re fighting terrorism, and to an extent they are, executing al Qaeda militants within their borders and sharing intelligence with the United States. But at best, that’s like Dr. Frankenstein in bleak pursuit of his monster after it’s already gone on a rampage. For decades, Saudi donors fomented Sunni extremism in places like Pakistan, where hundreds of Shias have died in attacks, and Afghanistan, where funding went to Deobandi seminaries that would later influence the Taliban. There’s a reason some Shias and other Muslim world minorities use the terms “Wahhabi” and “Sunni extremist” interchangeably. From their perspective, all IED-infested roads lead to Riyadh.
HERE’S a tale of two madressahs: one Deoband north of Delhi, the other in Akora Khattak, Pakistan.
Today in Deoband, at the madressah where it all began in 1866, the 4,000 students focus on religion. The institution was created to preserve a purist, back-to-basics interpretation of Islam and it has remained true to that purpose. Whenever the Indian government offers the madressah funds the clerics decline the money: they don’t want changes to the curriculum that would come with government funding.
In 2008, some 20,000 Deobandi clerics from around India agreed on a declaration condemning terrorism. And for good measure they threw in a pledge of loyalty to the Indian state. The seminary has even instructed all Muslim households to hoist the Indian flag over their homes each Independence Day. A recent fatwa said that while it would be wrong to worship the Indian motherland, it was permissible to love it.
That’s not to say that the Deoband seminary is a moderate institution. The madressah has specific departments dedicated to the rejection of Christianity, Judaism, even Shia Islam and Barelvism. Not to mention a whole postgraduate course dedicated to loathing Ahmadis.
To protect their faith, Deoband’s clerics have retreated into a citadel of literalist and exclusionary doctrine. Some of the students would like a little more mainstream teaching to improve their job prospects. But the institution prefers that its protégés study religion, graduate and then go on to propagate the Deobandi worldview by establishing new madressahs in India and around the world.
When students have been tempted to stray into militancy, the Indian state has been quick to lay down the law. For example, when the Kashmir insurgency was at its height, some of Deoband’s Kashmiri students flirted with using violence to advance their cause. The Indian state did not hesitate to give them long prison sentences. By all accounts the justice meted out to them was pretty rough and ready — but it served its purpose: today Kashmiri students in Deoband steer clear of politics.
I recently met a Kashmiri student in Deoband and asked him if he wanted Kashmiri independence.
“Yes,” he said.
“Would you fight for it?”
“No,” he replied. “I will go back to Kashmir only to teach the Quran.”
When I suggested that Kashmiri students in Pakistani Deobandi madressahs might be a little more assertive than that, he shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know anything about that,” he said.
Such quietist attitudes can also be found amongst some of Pakistan’s Deobandis. But there is also a militant strain of Pakistani Deobandism. Take, as perhaps the prime example, the Darul Uloom Haqqania in Akora Khattak.
In 1947, Sami ul Haq’s father, a cleric from Deoband who got stuck in Pakistan during Partition, started out with just eight pupils. Today, there are some 3,000 students. Sami ul Haq recently published a book in which he lays out his views on global affairs. These include the claims that the Afghan Taliban provided good government, that Osama bin Laden was an “ideal man” and that Al Qaeda never existed. He has said that if his students wish to take a break from their studies to fight alongside the Afghan Taliban, then it is not for him to stand in their way. He awarded Mullah Omar an honorary degree. And let’s not forget that key conspirators in the plot to assassinate Benazir Bhutto met in advance in Akora Khattak.
When it comes to militancy, then, Sami ul Haq’s Deobandism is very different to the Indian version. The question is why Pakistani Deobandism as represented by Akora Khattak has so quickly diverged from the attitudes prevalent in the mother institution in Deoband itself.
The answer lies in the contrasting attitudes and policies of the Indian and Pakistani states. Whereas the Indian state has controlled militancy in Deobandi institutions, the Pakistani state has done the opposite. As a senator for many years, Sami ul Haq can even be considered a member of the Pakistani establishment. He has always taken care to work with, rather than against, Pakistan’s deep state.
There are some signs that Delhi is becoming increasingly aware that the Pakistani strain of militant Deobandi Islam poses a threat to peace and security in South Asia as a whole. After years of forbidding foreigners to study at Deoband, the Indian authorities recently relaxed the rule and granted visas to some Afghan Deobandi students. Given a choice between having Afghans educated in Pakistan or India, Delhi has decided that the quietist madressah at Deoband is preferable to letting them be influenced by the politicised and sometimes militant Deobandi madressahs in Pakistan.
Deobandi militancy might look like a force that cannot be controlled. But India’s experience suggests that the degree of militancy espoused by some Deobandis is a function of state policy.
UK prison imams are free to spread hatred: Preachers found to be distributing extremist literature including homophobic and misogynistic leaflets
There was evidence that a large number of clerics were from the Deobandi sect, which traditionally promotes conservative anti-British ideology.
A website promoting the Deobandi movement says loyalty is owed only to the global brotherhood of Muslims while integration into British society is denounced.
The Deobandi sect was founded 150 years ago in south Asia and Deobandi seminaries produce 80 per cent of UK-trained Islamic clerics.
The movement takes its name from the town of Deoband in northern India, but has spread around the world thanks to the movement of populations.
Leaders in the sect tend to promote a conservative interpretation of Islam, although they have also spoken out against violent extremism in the past.
One Deobandi scholar, Masood Azhar, drew adoring crowds on a visit to Britain in the 1990s where he urged young people to ‘prepare for jihad’, and is now wanted for his involvement in a deadly attack on an Indian military base.
A website promoting the Deobandi sect says loyalty is owed only to the global brotherhood of Muslims while integration into British society is denounced.
It states that to befriend a non-Muslim risks pollution while those considering marrying a Christian or Jew are warned that their ‘repulsive qualities will filter into Muslim homes’.
It adds that a woman’s place is in the home and urges Muslims to reject unIslamic acts such as music, singing, dancing, watching television, playing chess, reading novels watching drama and watching football.
Of the 200 full time and part time Muslim chaplains, some of which are on salaries of up to £40,000, 70 per cent were taught in Deobandi institutions.
There was also evidence that imams from other sects felt marginalised and bullied by those their Deobandi colleagues.
Deobandi scholar accused of ‘preaching hatred towards non-Muslims’ toured mosques in 1993
Police probe Scottish mosque figures’ links to banned sectarian group
31 March 2016
SSP( Sipah e Sahaba , ASWJ) is part of the Deobandi movement, which espouses an orthodox interpretation of Islam and whose followers include the Taliban.
You can hear more about the BBC’s investigation into the Deobandi movement on Radio 4’s series “The Deobandis” which will be broadcast on Tuesday 5 and Tuesday 12 April at 09:00 BST.