WHEN violence is justified in the name of religion, it is best countered with the language of religion. Last Saturday, 31 prominent scholars from all Muslim schools of thought issued a unanimous fatwa condemning extremism and terrorism. Declaring the supporters of suicide bombing as traitors, the religious decree defined jihad as being the purview of the state and disallowed the use of force to compel obedience to Islamic laws. The fatwa came at the conclusion of a national seminar organised by the International Islamic University in Islamabad to discuss the reconstruction of Pakistani society in the light of the Madina Charter. This document, often described as the oldest written constitution in the world, places emphasis on — aside from various other issues — peaceful resolution of disputes between people of different faiths, and the right of non-Muslims to autonomy and freedom of religion.
Granted, the fatwa contains little that is original: the ulema have issued decrees along similar lines several times. There has been, in particular, a general consensus among them against suicide bombing — even if it has not always been unequivocal — in which they have also been targeted. For instance, in 2009, Mufti Sarfaraz Ahmed Naeemi paid with his life for his robust condemnation of suicide bombing in precisely such an attack. More recently, the JUI-F’s Maulana Ghafoor Haideri was injured when a suicide bomber struck his convoy, killing 27 people. The stance pertaining to jihad in the recently issued fatwa, however, is comparatively unusual. It harks back to the founder of Jamaat-i-Islami, Maulana Maudoodi, not to mention other religious scholars of yore, who held that only a state can declare jihad and no individual or group has the right to wage a private jihad of its own.
The eminently sensible, if obvious, assertions in the decree have been met with disapproval by Maulana Samiul Haq, who heads his own faction of the JUI. Known as the ‘father of the Taliban’ because his madressah in Akora Khattak, KP, is the alma mater of several senior Afghan Taliban — including their late leader Mullah Omar — the maulana has long been among the most strident supporters of militancy. Expressing concern over the fatwa, he contended that the rulers of the Muslim world were puppets of the West and could not therefore declare jihad against their masters. This is a perverse argument that has never lost currency among the ultra right and has been used to advocate armed struggle against the state. Certainly, resistance against the excesses of undemocratic or dictatorial regimes is morally justifiable, but its objective must be clear and violence should never be used to achieve it. Now, more than ever at this juncture, when various purveyors of violent extremism are creating mayhem in Pakistan and the region, it is important once again for religious leaders to reiterate the principles of peaceful coexistence.
Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2017