Head of the Delhi-based Centre for Peace and Spirituality, Maulana Wahiduddin Khan is among the foremost advocates at the global level of inter-religious dialogue and peaceful resolution of conflicts involving Muslims and others. In this Q & A session, he responds to queries about violent conflicts raging in much of the ‘Muslim world’
Q1. What is your instinctive reaction to all the terrible violence that is tearing apart West Asia and North Africa today—Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and so on?
A1. According to my perception, violence is condemnable in the absolute sense of the word. I don’t believe in the theory of ‘justified violence’. According to Islamic teachings, there is no justified violence. All cases of violence are wrong. No excuse whatsoever gives a person the license to kill other human beings. According to me, the only option before us is that of peace. War and violence are no options at all.
The story of contemporary conflicts in many Muslim countries begins from the nineteenth century as a reaction to what they called ‘colonial imperialism’. All the Muslim leaders began to speak and write against being under siege and becoming subject to zulm (oppression). They said that they had to fight their enemies. Under this negative leadership, Muslims began wars in the name of jihad. But they failed to achieve their goal. Then they developed another theory, according to which their failure was due to “inside enemies”. According to this notion, all secular people, including Muslim rulers, were “agents of Western powers”. Because of this thinking, they diverted their so-called jihad towards these “inside enemies”.
At present, in almost all Muslim countries Muslims are killing each other. According to their thinking, they are not killing Muslims, but, rather, “agents of the enemy’. They are so obsessed with this self-invented idea that they have forgotten the following Quranic verse that warns against this practice: “If anyone kills a believer deliberately, his reward shall be eternal Hell.” (4:93)
Q2. How do you account for this violence?
A2. Muslims are totally unaware of the present age. Due to this unawareness, they know of their so-called enemies, but they don’t know the enormous opportunities that the present age has opened up for them. By availing these opportunities, in terms of dawah (inviting people to the path of God) and material progress, they can rebuild their lost glory. But due to their unawareness, they are missing out on these opportunities. Also, they are wasting their resources and energy in useless fighting.
Q3. What role does Islam or wrong interpretations of Islam have to play in this violence?
A3. According to my analysis, the sole reason behind this phenomenon is a wrong interpretation of Islam, namely the political interpretation of Islam. The political interpretation of Islam has resulted in a violent interpretation of Islam. First, people started their mission through peaceful propagation of their theories, but they failed. Then, instead of reassessing their ideas, they turned violent. They wanted to gain through the sword what they failed to gain through the pen.
Q4. You have long been advocating that even in the face of grave provocations, Muslims must practice patience and abstain from violent reaction. But in Egypt, for instance, where it coup leaders, backed by Western powers, have massacred vast numbers of unarmed civilians, what do you think the right response should be? Or when the Syrian state is said to have killed many of its citizens, using chemical weapons?
A4. In the Quran (27:34), there is a clear-cut guidance for such situations. That is, before taking a step you have to assess its result. If you are in a position to bring about a positive result, you are allowed to take steps. Otherwise, you have to accept the existing situation. What is happening in Muslim countries is only the result of Muslims’ wrong policies. By ignoring the Quranic guidance, Muslims started confrontation with a party which they had no power to face. Now this other party is retaliating. So, Muslims are paying the price of their own wrong actions.
There is a verse in the Quran: As-sulh khair (4:128). It means that a positive result can only be achieved by following the peaceful method.
Q5. What impact on non-Muslims’ impressions about Islam and Muslims do you think this ongoing violence in many Muslim countries will have?
A5. The present Muslim policy is producing a counter-productive result. Non-Muslims have gathered the impression that Islam is a religion of violence. Muslims must correct this image. They must unilaterally stop all kinds of violence, otherwise they will be held responsible for the distorted image of Islam in the present age. Dawah possibilities have been naturally diminished due to this wrong impression regarding Islam.
Q6. You repeatedly stress the need to building bridges with people of other faiths. But when America and other Western powers back and arm Arab dictators who have no respect for the rights of their citizens and also when some such non-Muslim powers are engaging in violence in Muslim countries, what do you think the Muslim reaction should be?
A6. Whatever be the situation in Arab countries, it is the Arab rulers who are responsible. If there is little freedom in Arab countries, it is because this is in the political interest of Arab leaders. As far as arms are concerned, Arab rulers themselves purchase these arms and the West sells these to them. It is not a phenomenon of enmity, but a phenomenon of business. As far as the allegation of instigation of violence is concerned, it is completely wrong. No nation can go to war unless it itself wants to engage in war. The theory of instigation is completely wrong. No nation will engage in war simply by instigation from outside. Khalil Gibran has rightly said: “The leaf turns not yellow without the silent consent of the whole tree.” Khalil Gibran’s formula is applicable here as well.
Q7. What are your views about the Muslim Brotherhood, which was removed from power recently in Egypt? What are your views about its interpretation of Islam?
A7. The Muslim Brotherhood was a product of the political interpretation of Islam. Some of its leaders like Sayyid Qutb tried to interpret Islam in political terms. According to this theory, it was the Muslims’ goal to establish an Islamic government in the world. It was this theory that resulted in the movement called Al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun (‘Muslim Brotherhood’). According to my study and analysis, this interpretation of Islam is completely wrong. I have published several articles and books on this subject.
Q8. What do you think of the Muslim Brotherhood’s approach to the ‘Islamisation’ of society?
A8. This approach was elaborated in a famous book of Sayyid Qutb called al-Adalah al-Ijtimaiyyah fi al-Islam (Social Justice in Islam). I don’t agree with this concept. According to my study of the Quran and Sunnah, the goal of Muslims is Islamization of the individual, and not the Islamization of the society or the state.
Q9. What are your views about the deposed Egyptian leader Morsi and the military coup that has happened in Egypt?
A9. According to my knowledge, the blame goes to Dr Mohamed Morsi himself. Dr Morsi had himself admitted in his speech, delivered a few days before his deposition, on June 26, 2013: “Asabtu ahyanan wa akhtatu ahyanan ukhra” (‘Sometimes I was right in the actions I took, while sometimes I committed mistakes’). One of his mistakes was that in his first speech after being elected President, on June 24, 2012, he declared that the Egyptian revolution was not simply an Egyptian revolution (al-thawra al-misriyya), but that, in fact, it was a global revolution (al-thawra al-alamiyya). It was but natural that the adjacent Arab countries took this statement as a political threat for themselves. They developed an antagonistic attitude towards the “democratic” ruler of Egypt. And it is an open secret that the green signal for Dr Mohamed Morsi’s deposition was given by rulers of these adjacent countries.
Q10. What advice would you give Muslims, including Arab rulers, with regard to the current West Asian situation?
A10. It is not my job to advise the Arab rulers. They will, surely, act according to their political interest. No one can change their minds. As far as Muslims are concerned, I will give them the same advice which is mentioned in the Hadith. The Prophet of Islam has given a very clear advice to the Muslim ummah that they should never revolt against an established state. Due to this injunction, Muslim scholars have, by consensus, formulated the principle of khuruj being haram. That is, revolt against an established government is unlawful.
Q12. The Morsi-led regime in Egypt was the first democratically-elected regime in Egypt. Yet, the Egyptian military, along with tactic Western support, toppled the regime. Given this, do you think the protests against the toppling of the regime are legitimate or proper? What does the toppling of this democratically-elected Islamist government indicate about the West’s attitudes to democracy in the ‘Muslim world’? Is it that the West will not want real democracy in the ‘Muslim world’ because it fears that it would lead to Islamist parties coming to power? What does this mean for the possibilities of using the democratic path to bring Islam into the political sphere? Do you think the toppling of the Morsi regime and the repression and violence in Egypt after that might be very counter-productive in that it may lead to increasing anger and frustration in Islamist ranks, so that even those Islamist elements who had sought to use the democratic path may get totally disillusioned and, instead, take to terrorism?
A12. The toppling of the democratic regime of Egypt was the Egyptian army’s own decision. According to my analysis, Dr Mohamed Morsi and his advisors are themselves responsible for this situation. Apparently, they formed a democratic government. But perhaps they were unaware of the fact that in a democracy there are always two political groups: the ruling party and the opposition. In a democracy, the ruling party must know that it is not alone, and that there is also a strong opposition. In such a situation, the only agenda of the opposition is to strictly find out some mistake of the ruling party so that they can exploit it. Dr Morsi was elected for only a four-year term. The opposition naturally wanted to discover some mistake that the ruling party had committed so that they could use it against it. It is a fact that Dr Morsi committed some grave mistakes. For example, on November 22, 2012, Morsi issued a declaration purporting to protect the work of the Constituent Assembly drafting the new constitution from judicial interference. In effect, this declaration immunised his actions from any legal challenge. The move was exploited by the opposition. It gave them a chance to say that Morsi had usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt’s new Pharaoh. The army only exploited this situation that was created by Dr Morsi himself and got an opportunity to plunge into the government.
Q13. Almost always, whatever news we get from/of the ‘Muslim world’ is negative, mainly to do with horrendous violence. One hardly gets to hear positive news from this part of the world. And the situation in some of these ‘Muslim’ countries seems to be going from bad to worse, with increasing violence. In this context, what keeps you going? Someone else might have given up all hope and become disillusioned. But not you. For decades you have been writing against what you think are the blunders being committed by Muslims, and these blunders only seem to be getting worse. Still, you haven’t lost hope, and nor have you given all this up as a hopeless cause. How do you explain this tenacity?
A13. My endless hope is based on my realistic approach. I know that violence is part of every community, including the Muslim community. You can say that a certain violent culture is part of certain Muslim groups, but it isn’t part of Islam.
In the very first generation of Adam’s children, Cain killed Abel. Since that time, violence has continued throughout human history. In this situation, we have only one option, and that is to save ourselves from negative thinking. As far as human society, including Muslim society, is concerned, we can only advise and cannot give any compulsory commandments.
We are living in the age of the media today. The bulk of the media is not impelled by a moral mission. Rather, it is an industry, like other industries. It is the media’s job to sell news. People are more interested in sensational news, and due to this market demand, the media highlights only such news. It is this nature of the media that has created the image that Muslims are a violent community. There is a lot of positive news about Muslims, but the media, due to its nature, is not interested in highlighting this. It is only concerned with ‘hot news’, because this kind of reporting serves its interests.
But I don’t subscribe to the theory that the media is hostile towards Muslims. I am not negative towards the media, because what it does is not on account of enmity, but due to its business interests. I know that the media is not hostile towards Muslims. What the media does is only to serve its interests. In such a situation, I would advise the Muslims, rather than the media. My advice to Muslims is that they must
adopt the culture of self-restraint and refrain from creating sensational news. This is the only way for the Muslim community to save its image.
Muslims must keep patience in cases of what some term as ‘defamation’ of Islam. Muslims must bring an end to the useless ‘gun and bomb culture’. These things are against Islamic teachings. Islam never enjoins Muslims to be provoked by cases of what some allege to be ‘defamation’. Also, Islam is completely against the present kind of violence in many Muslim and other countries as there is no concept of “non-state actors” being allowed to take to arms in Islam.
I can only save myself. As far as the Muslim community is concerned, I can only give my advice. I have no power to change their practices.