Asharq al-Awsat

 This is a cross-post from Asharq al-Awsat, written by Mohammed Shafey

Pakistani religious scholar calls for adoption of counter-terrorism and counter-extremism curriculum in British schools and universities.

London: Mohammed Alshafey

Shaykh Muhammad Tahir ul Qadri, the Pakistani Islamic scholar who gave fatwas against terrorism and suicide bombing, has said he is not intimidated by the fear of retaliation from his enemies including any threat to his life.

Qadri, who is the founder of Minhaj ul Quran – an international organisation with tens of thousands of followers around the world – stated in a telephone interview with al-Sharq al-Awsat conducted just before a press conference held by him in London yesterday: “I don’t fear any person on the face of the Earth. I’m working to bridge the gulf between the Islamic world and the West and to remove hatred and all grounds of misunderstanding between the two. I want the world to understand that our Islam is one of moderation and that it calls to peace and love.”

He added that every Muslim in Britain ought to receive counter-extremism training in schools and universities, as a way of challenging attempted radicalisation.

Qadri clarified his thinking by saying that the National Curriculum should include the study of peace-building, counter-terrorism and counter-extremism as compulsory subjects for all Muslim pupils in the country and as optional subjects for others. He added: “The curriculum should include these matters, and peace ought to be discussed in the framework of peace studies, just as counter-extremism and counter-terrorism ought to be proper curriculum subjects.”

While the fatwas he issued five years ago in Britain – in the form of a six-hundred page book published in Arabic, English and Urdu – were against suicide bombing, the book being launched in London today, explained Qadri, was an assault on the views of ISIS, the enemies of humanity. In the book, Qadri calls for the adoption of a compulsory curriculum for Muslim pupils that challenges extremism and radical ideology. The arguments of this new anti-ISIS book, said Qadri, were taken from the Qur’an and the sayings of the Prophet; and he had invited thinkers, politicians, parliamentarians and UK police officers to the press conference in which he would call for extremist and terrorist ideology to be challenged in schools and universities.

Qadri’s call comes at a time when approximately seven hundred Britons have travelled to the Middle East in order to fight amongst the ranks of ISIS, with around half of them thought to have returned to the UK. It also coincides with the British Prime Minister David Cameron’s criticism of the Muslim community for “quietly condoning extremism” and his defence of the security services, which the families of some who have fled to Syria blamed for what happened. Cameron added that while the Muslim community must in the first instance take responsibility for dealing with this problem, the government may also take action in schools.

The Islamic authority Qadri described the leadership and foot soldiers of ISIS – who spread terror all around them with their decapitations and killing of innocent women and children – as “the Khawarij of this age and the dogs of Hell”, insisting that “they will never enter Paradise or even get a whiff of its fragrance”. The Pakistani born cleric added: “My life is in the hands of my Lord, I fear no-one… it is a matter of God’s will, if I am supposed to live, I will live, and if I not then I have no fear.”

Speaking on the phone from London just hours before his packed press-conference, the founder of the international organisation Minhaj al-Qur’an said: “My fatwa does apply to ISIS because they are cutting off people’s heads and killing Muslims and non-Muslims alike; they are neither defending Islam nor human life. They are slaughtering Muslims, spreading instability in the Muslim world and nurturing sectarianism in the Arab world. It’s clear that they’re giving Islam a bad name and crushing Muslim populations.” Re-iterating an earlier point, Qadri said that ISIS fighters “will never enter Paradise or get so much as a whiff of its fragrance, for they slaughter humans, demolish mosques and spread terror. None of these horrific actions leads to Paradise and each one of them is a sin that’s sufficient to send you to Hell.”

Speaking of suicide bombers, Qadri said: “They can’t claim that their suicide is an act of martyrdom so that people see them as heroes; they are only heroes of Hell. There is no way in which these actions of theirs can possibly be classified as jihad. Not only is Islam innocent of suicide bombings and all attacks on civilians, it considers those involved in them as outside the fold of the community – it considers them as unbelievers.” The Islamic authority describes ISIS as an old evil with a new name, basing his view on a famous saying of the Prophet: “There will appear in my community a group that reads the Qur’an. Your recitation will be like nothing compared to theirs, your prayers will be like nothing compared to theirs, your fasting will be like nothing compared to theirs. They will read the Qur’an and think it supports them but it will be against them. Their prayers will not go beyond their throats. They will leave the fold of Islam as an arrow leaves the bow.”

The large majority of young British Muslims have not yet been radicalised according to Qadri, and he believes they are much less likely to be after reading his fatwa. “You don’t become a terrorist overnight,” said Qadri, rather, “it’s a lengthy road from moderation to extremism and radicalisation, from mainstream moderate Islam to leaving the fold of the faith. And there are many people already on that road who haven’t yet turned to terrorism.” The fatwa issued by Qadri, which includes refutations of the terrorists’ religious justifications, comes at a time of increased terror attacks and suicide bombings in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Pakistan. Qadri expressed his hope that that his views will attract the attention of politicians and security services in Western countries.

The Islamic authority added “Some in the West think that there is violent extremism and non-violent extremism and that we should only fight the former, not the the latter. I have to say I disagree with this point of view. Extremism is extremism and there’s no scope for distinguishing between its violent and non-violent varieties because all extremism eventually leads to terrorism. Extremism is contrary to the teachings of Islam and the Prophet (peace be upon him), which are rooted in moderation. That’s why the Prophet (peace be upon him) described Islam as a religion of moderation and always called to moderation.”

For its part, the British counter-extremism think-tank, the Quilliam Foundation, said that Qadri’s fatwa “is probably the most comprehensive Islamic legal argument against extremism that anyone has made until now”.

In his telephone interview with al-Sharq al-Awsat, conducted in both Arabic and English, Qadri was keen to emphasise that his fatwa categorically rejects any excuse that is used to justify violence. Qadri continued: “Terrorism is terrorism, violence is violence. There is no place for either of them in Islamic teachings, and no possible justification or excuse or argument.” He emphasised that Islam is a religion of peace and tolerance and called upon Muslims to live up to this. While ISIS spreads hate, he said, Islam prohibits killing innocent non-Muslims and doesn’t allow fighting them even if their country is an abode of war (dar al-harb). There are, he said, no countries in the Muslim lands that than can be considered dar al-harb. In Qadri’s opinion, there are five types of abode: the abode of peace (dar al-salam), the abode of war (dar al-harb) – which some people call the abode of disbelief – the abode of reconciliation (dar al-sulh), the abode of covenant (dar al-ahd) and the abode of security (dar al-amn). Crucially, he said “You can’t classify any country as dar al-harb as long as Islamic teachings are practiced there, as long as the Friday prayer, the Eid prayer and the regular prayers are established there and people are permitted to fast and have the freedom to worship. So, you might have a non-Muslim country that gives you freedom of worship. A country like that is considered part of dar al-salam and dar al-amn. Dar al-ahd on the other hand refers to all those countries that fall under the jurisdiction of the United Nations.”

Shaykh Qadri had previously issued a fatwa, published at the time by al-Sharq al-Awsat and extending in its full version to 600 pages, in which he condemned terrorism and considered those engaging in terrorist acts as enemies of the faith. Now, he says the new wave of terrorism and extremism is causing an ever worsening decline in the peace and security of the world and that it is saddening that the terrorist acts committed by deviant groups such as ISIS and the Nusra Front are attributed to Islam when in reality they are un-Islamic. Worse, he says, “most clerics only condemn terrorist acts in an equivocal way”, whereas Minhaj ul Quran International not only condemns terrorist acts but also completely repudiates every manifestation of the terrorist phenomenon at all levels, because Islam calls towards peace and security.

In the text of the fatwa, Qadri states: “There is no room in Islamic teachings for terrorism or violence. Those who engage in terrorist acts, whether from ISIS or the Nusra Front, will never enter Paradise or get a whiff of its fragrance. These people, who cherry-pick from Islamic texts whatever matches their whims and justifies their horrific acts, thinking that they’re on the right path, are referred to by the Prophet’s saying: “There will appear from the East a group of people. They will recite the Quran but it will not go beyond their throats, they will leave the fold of Islam as an arrow leaves its bow.” He added that while he didn’t think his message would reach those radicals from ISIS and the Nusra Front who have already been brainwashed, there are hundreds and thousands of young people traversing the same road or susceptible to radicalisation who would listen to his fatwa.

According to Qadri, suicide assailants are considered outside the fold of Islam, and he hopes that terrorist groups and extremist organisations will no longer be able to exploit the youth after the latter read his fatwa, adding that “terrorist groups brainwash young people through their false theology and young people must keep their distance from all extremist activity”. Qadri has published over 500 books in law and jurisprudence, 25 of them (in Arabic, Urdu and English) devoted to challenging the terrorists and extremists who spread strife and instability in the world. They are Khawarij who are, according the the Prophetic saying, “the worst of my nation, who will be killed by the best of my nation” and “the worst of all creation, who will be killed by the best of all creation and those who are closest to God”. In his telephone interview from the London headquarters of Minhaj ul Quran, Qadri was clear that “terrorism has no place in Islam and there are no circumstances whatsoever in which it can be considered legitimate”. He expressed his sadness that some people seek to explain Islamic rulings – which actually call to peace, security, love and a comfortable life – according to their own whims and desires in order to realise their personal ends.

In Qadri’s view, “those who seek to impose by force an Islamic system on others belong to the Khawarij, a historical group in the time of the Caliph Ali that took up arms and engaged in a violent rebellion against the Islamic polity in the name of implementing God’s law”. Moreover, he adds, “The Khawarij of this age are the descendants of the Khawarij who appeared in the time of ‘Ali, based on their appearances and their actions. They fall under the scope of the saying of the Prophet (peace be upon him): ‘At the end of time there will appear a group of people, young in age, deficient in intellect, saying the best of words. But when they read the Quran it will not go beyond their throats. They will leave the fold of Islam as an arrow leaves its bow. Whoever comes across them should kill them and he shall be rewarded by God’.”

According to Qadri, Islam has laid down regulations for warfare that give full protection during hostilities to women, children and the old and make safe havens out of commercial centres, schools, hospitals and places of worship. “Islam does not permit the killing of innocent citizens whatever the cause may be. And it’s the duty of an Islamic polity to implement the system of justice and sanctions in its entirety, including bringing those who commit criminal acts to justice. No-one has the right to break the laws of the land” declared Qadri.

Turning to opponents of democracy, Qadri criticised them, saying that the Prophet (peace be upon him) himself introduced a democratic and consultative system of governance. Moreover, Qadri reminded Muslim governments that it is their national and religious duty to uproot terrorism, break all terrorist cells and persevere with military action until terrorist groups are entirely eradicated.

Shaykh Muhammad Tahir ul Qadri is the leader of Minhaj ul Quran, a Sufi movement that fights religious extremism from its dozens of centres spread throughout the United Kingdom. Shaykh Qadri was born in 1951. His father, Shaykh Farid ud Din Qadri Jilani, was amongst the most pre-eminent religious scholars of Pakistan. Qadri has occupied a number of academic posts in the course of his life and was also elected as a member of the Pakistani parliament in 2002, a position he resigned from shortly thereafter in protest at actions he considered anti-constitutional and anti-democratic.

Mohammed Alshafey

Journalist from Asharq al-Awsat

Click here to view the orignal article in Arabic.