Sunday, 8 January 2017

How the Jihadist Movements Thrived Ideologically Despite Their Militarily Defeat: Examples from Arab History

By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi

02 January 2017

As the New Year 2017 arrives, one of the most sought-after questions is: will the Islamic State—the chief jihadist cult in the current history— end in the near future?

The self-imposed caliphate of Abu Bakr Baghdadi has reportedly been cleared from its two major strongholds—Mosul and Raqqah. Syria is believed to have defeated the ISIS monsters after a bloody civil war. But one wonders how could it be considered an end to the ISIS sympathizers and scores of other violent jihadist cults over the world?

Even Barak Obama had to acknowledge that merely destroying the ISIS strongholds may not reduce the danger in the near future. While the ISIS fighters have been physically fought in Syria on a large scale, their ideological supporters and sympathizers are playing havoc across much of the world today.

2016 ended with the jihadists striking various peaceful parts of the world. Their attacks in Ankara, Zürich and Berlin were the most recent. In Ankara, Mevlüt Mert Altıntaş, a radical Islamist off-duty policeman assassinated Andrei Karlov, the Russian ambassador as he approached the podium to make a few words. In Zürich, a burst into a downtown Muslim gunman prayer center popular with Somali migrants and opened fire, shooting three worshippers. In Berlin, the pre-Christmas festivities were shattered by a semi-truck plowing into crowds gathered at the Christmas market in the heart of downtown. In most cases, the terrorists belonged to a normal background, but were later transformed into the jihadists or ISIS sympathisers. Researchers and analysts have identified various reasons and stimulus that catapult Muslims from being sane citizens to the mindless perpetrators of violence. But not many tend to go through the Islamic history to explore the deeper ideological underpinnings of the violent jihadism. The fact is that from Ankara to Zürich to Berlin, there is a significant role of ideological stimulus behind the nefarious spade of violent extremism.

A historical reading evidences that an intolerant jihadist narrative underpinned by the political Islamist ideologues has been at play in every age, not only today. The Kharijite movement—the first bloodthirsty incarnation of jihadsim— appeared in the early era of Islam in what is known today as Saudi Arabia. There is an endless list of the Prophet’s companions who were killed at the hands of the Kharijites who propounded the takfirist ideology. The Umayyad dynasty, the then Arabian government, sponsored the Kharijites. This was exactly what we call today as “state-sponsored terrorism”. But later, the Umayyads themselves destroyed the terror faction as it turned into a rebellious movement challenging the government. Much in the same way, the Saudi kingdom is fighting today the terror monsters of the ISIS who drive their ideological inspiration from Wahhabism, the state religion of the Saudi Arabia. Alastair Crooke, the author of “Resistance: The Essence of Islamic Revolution”, has candidly covered it in his article titled, “You can’t understand ISIS if you don’t know the history of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia”. (Source:

After the Kharijites, the movement of Ali bin Muhammad emerged from the same deserts of Arabia—Najd. The militants of his movement, allied with the slaves of Zanj, indulged in wanton killing, looting and vandalism. This movement is known in the Islamic history as “Zanj Rebellion”. Between 255 to 270 Hijri, they killed hundreds of thousands of people and destructed the city of Ublah and Basra in Iraq. Having slaughtered all men in these cities, they took their women as ‘sex slaves’. Many women of the elite classes were sold out and distributed among the men of the Zanj for 2 dirhams each. Noted Islamic historians like Tabari and Mas’udi have detailed in their books the grave devastation caused by the Zanj movement in the Arabia.

After the Kharijites and Zanj, the Qaramatian movement originated in the Arabian Peninsula. The followers of this movement started razing down the historical heritage and went to the extent of attacking the Ka’ba—the holiest Islamic site in Mecca. They destroyed several cities in Syria and Iraq, particularly Hama, Maratun Noman, Baalbek and Salmiya. Almost all inhabitants were brutally annihilated in these cities. According to Tabari, the Qaramatians resorted to the gruesome terror tools which were not introduced earlier. One of the Qaramatian leaders owned a slave who would slaughter only ‘deviant’ Muslims. The present Saudi Arabian regions of Qatif and Ahsa were the Qaramatian strongholds. Majority of the Najdi tribes in Arabia were followers and supporters of the Qaramatian movement. The terror culture of burning cities and razing historical sites was initiated by the Qaramatians. They were mentors of the Mughals and the Tatars in this violent strategy. According to many authoritative historians, Qaramatians were among the first to use suicide bombers as war tactic. Al-Nuwayri, noted Arabic scholar writes in his book, Nihayatul Arab (the ultimate ambition of the Arabs) that the Qaramatians were first to lure and train the youth for suicide attacks. Today, suicide bombing is the most common tactic of the ISIS, Boko Haram, Taliban and all other jihadist outfits.

In 18th century, the world's biggest radical jihadist movement sprang out of the Najdi tribe settled in the central region of Saudi Arabia.  Ibn Abdul Wahhab formed the bedrock of this global jihadist movement which later came to be known as “Wahhabism”. With its deep roots in the Kharijite ideology, Wahhabism was influenced by the extremist fatwas of Shaikh Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328). Ibn Abdul Wahhab, with the support of the Saudi Arabian ruler, Muhammad bin Saud, established the Wahhabi ideology as the state religion of the kingdom. This turned out to be the most extremist religious movement in the Islamic history. All Muslims who did not adhere to it were declared kuffar (disbelievers). Takfiri wars were waged against them. Other tribes of the Arabian Peninsula were fought as pagans and idolaters. Their lands were looted and women and properties were distributed as "maal e ghaneemat" (war booty), as the Arab historian Usman bin Bashar Najdi recounts in his book on the history of Wahabi movement “unwan al-majd fi tareekh al-najd”.

From 1745 to 1818, the Wahhabi movement waged the global jihad going berserk more than even the Kharijites in their atrocities, as the 18th century Arab scholar Shaykh Zaini Dahlan Makki, writes in his Arabic book “Al-Balad Al-Haram” (the sacred city). The aggression of the Wahhabi jihadists spread rapidly throughout the Muslim world, causing great distress among the common people. Given this, the governor of Egypt, Muhammad Ali Pasha sent his army to Saudi Arabia on the behest of the Ottoman Caliphate. After a long battle, the Egyptian forces defeated the Najdis and completely destroyed the capital of the first Saudi dynasty, Diriyah where the Wahhabi movement spearheaded. Thus, the Wahhabi jihadsim was militarily defeated to an extent, but it remained active on an ideological level to this day and age.

This glimpse from history clearly shows that the war on jihadism cannot be fought in a battlefield. It requires an entirely ideological onslaught. Just as the Wahhabism is flourishing today over the world despite its physical defeat several times, the ISIS will continue to lure many in the global Muslim societies, no matter it is cleared from Iraq and Syria. In order to defeat the ISIS, extremist religious thoughts need to be rebutted and hardcore philosophies have to be defeated. But this is too gigantic a task to achieve. It was neither done by the governor of Egypt nor by the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, soon after the return of the Egyptian forces which existed from 1821 to 1889, the second Saudi-Wahhabi nation state emerged with an ideology that resulted in the rise of many global jihadist movements including the ISIS.

It is interesting to note that the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan now claims to have “confirmed evidence” to prove that the US-led coalition supports ISIS and other terrorist groups in Syria. (Source: However, the U.S. has rebuffed Erdogan’s allegation stating that it did not create or support ISIS. “Assertions the US government is supporting Daesh are not true," the US Embassy in Ankara wrote, using the Arabic-language acronym for ISIS. (Source:

Whether Daesh or ISIS was created and supported by the US or Saudi Arabia is not difficult to see. While both the U.S. and Saudi governments have always castigated the Daesh as a terror outfit, researchers find that ISIS is running on the American weaponry and Saudi-Wahhabi ideology. Does the Turkish Islamist President have courage of conviction to expose the complete truth? Regrettably, all political Islamists like Erdogan propagate the half truth. But what they try to hide from the world is now an open secret. Karen Armstrong, author of the seminar work “Religion and the History of Violence” clearly points it out: “It [ISIS] is neither typical nor mired in the distant past, because its roots are in Wahhabism, a form of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia that developed only in the 18th century”.

Therefore, Armstrong aptly suggests that only Saudi Arabia which has already thwarted IS attempts to launch a series of attacks in the kingdom, may be the regional power capable of crushing the ISIS.

Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a scholar of Comparative Religion, Classical Arabic and Islamic sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies.

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Islam and the Environment: an Indian Muslim’s Perspective

By Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi
Recently, an international inter-faith movement on climate change has launched “the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change”. In this respect, a declaration signed and endorsed by eminent scholars and representatives of different faith traditions was released in August, 2015. The basic premise of this declaration will gladden the hearts of moderate, peace-loving, productive and eco-friendly Muslims, particularly in India. It beautifully states:
"We support the People's Pilgrimage in India and globally, and encourage everyone to take part in it. We support the call for 100% clean energy and this is in line with the Islamic Declaration on Climate Change (August 2015) that called on the people of all nations and their leaders to phase out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible in order to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, and to commit themselves to 100 % renewable energy and/or a zero emissions strategy as early as possible”..... “Human beings are created to serve the Lord of all beings, to work the greatest good we can for all the species, individuals, and generations of God’s creatures.....”
Every religion has its own purpose or plan of creation. However, each faith tradition affirms that this universe has been created by God for all beings to live together in full harmony and in a spiritual symbiosis. All religions exhort us to be grateful towards the bounties of nature that nourish and sustain us. However, modern science and technology seek to conquer and control them. In this terrible situation, people of all faith traditions should wake up to the call for the preservation of the environment that has been clearly given in their respective scriptures.
The holy Qur’an offers a completely integrated view of the Universe where human soul and the environment, mind and matter are all part of one living, conscious whole. Therefore, it exhorts man to live a balanced, moderate and an eco-friendly life without causing any harm to the Nature or Earth. It says it in so many words. For instance, "And do not commit abuse on the earth, spreading corruption." (Qur'an, 2:60) and again, “And do not desire corruption in the land. Indeed, God does not like corruptors." (Qur'an 28:77).
From the Qur’anic perspective, corruption on the earth is not confined to only political crimes such as frauds, theft, rape, illegal banking or other prevalent malpractices. Deforestation, toxic waste, pesticides, and cutting so many trees on the earth are also grave corruption and hence brazen violation of the true Islamic universal values. This corruption is rampant at all levels of public and social life in this age of consumerism and covetousness. It is indeed a matter of grave concern for the entire human kind.
Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and heir apparent of Queen Elizabeth II, once elaborated on how Islam and the environment are in full harmony. Addressing an enlightened gathering of the Oxford University, he beautifully said, "From what I know of the Qu’ran, again and again it describes the natural world as the handiwork of a unitary benevolent power. It very explicitly describes Nature as possessing an “intelligibility” and that there is no separation between Man and Nature....”
Clearly, there is an inseparable relation between the environment and our soul. It will be great if Muslims in particular and the wider world learn from the Holy Scriptures like the Qur'an to try to wage an eco-friendly jihad (noble effort). This will be the true jihad to please God and ensure easy entry to heaven, in the existing world, not to speak of the hereafter. Thus, we can taste the bliss of heaven on this planet before we chance upon the eternal paradise. 
Prophet Muhmmad (pbuh) left great traditions and glaring examples of being eco-friendly and going green in his life. He spent his entire life in an eco-friendly jihad, saving the humankind, caring for other creations, preserving the earth, planting trees and protecting the environment. Right from his young age, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was inclined towards the preservation of trees. When he was just 12, he travelled to Syria with his uncle and took shelter under a tree. Today, after more than 14 hundred years, the same tree is alive in the northern deserts of Jordan. This tree, which sheltered the Prophet, is the only living tree in hundreds of square miles of emptiness. It speaks so well of the Prophet’s utmost care for the preservation of the trees. He was keen on planting trees and exhorted his Companions too to keep it up. Therefore, he promised ample rewards and heavenly bliss for those who contribute to it. He said, “Whoever plants a tree and diligently looks after it until it matures and bears fruit is rewarded” (Musnad).
Thus, planting a tree is a Sadaqah Jariyah (continued charity) in Islam for the poor and the rich alike. Whenever a human being or even an animal shelters under the shade of a tree or relishes a fruit that it produces, the planter will be earning optimal rewards, even after his/her death. The above prophetic saying (Hadith), although there are many likes this, is sufficient to apprise us of the eco-friendly nature of Islam.
I would love to share more such beautiful prophetic traditions (Ahadith) that serve as gentle reminders for us to reflect on Islam as an environment-friendly faith. Theses traditions provide us with a complete code of life that exhorts to care for all the creations, protect the environment, conserve water, preserve the nature and safeguard the rights of all living beings, including the animals.
•        “If a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift (Sadaqah) for him.”  (Bukhari)
•        One day Prophet (saw) passed by Sa`d ibn Abi Waqas (r.a) while he was performing Wudu’. The Prophet (saw) asked Sa`d: “What is this wastage?” Sa`d replied: “Is there wastage in Wudu also?” The Prophet said, “Yes, even if you are at a flowing river.”(Ibn Majah)
•        Likening a believer with a growing tree, the Prophet (saw) said: "The example of a believer is that of a fresh tender plant; from whatever direction the wind comes, it bends it, but when the wind quietens down, the plant becomes straight again..." (Bukhari)
•        Considering tree-planting a renewable source of reward, he said: "If a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift (Sadaqah) for him." (Bukhari)
•        Reminding Muslims of how important it is to keep the environment sanitary to maintain the community, the Prophet stated: "Beware of the three acts that cause you to be cursed: First, relieving yourselves in shaded places (that people utilise), in a walkway or in a watering place……" – (Narrated by Mu`adh, Hasan)
•        Similarly, the Prophet (saw) gave paramount importance to street clean-ups, when he said: "Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity (Sadaqah)." (Narrated by Abu Dharr Al-Ghafari, Riyadh As Saliheen)
However, some Muslims seem unconcerned with the preservation of the Earth planet, assuming that this Dunya (world) is a temporary world that will be fated to doom and destruction at the end.  A Hadith (Prophetic saying) is often quoted to support this notion. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “I am in this world like a rider who halts in the shade of a tree for a short time, and after taking some rest, resumes his journey leaving the tree behind." [Ahmad, Tirmidhi]. The question is: does this Hadith tell us that this world is irrelevant, useless or worthless? If the world is like a tree in the desert under which we shelter for a period of time and then move on, then surely, we cannot intend to live under it forever. However, a tree is a resting place, offering shade to the travellers. Shade is one of the many benefits trees offer. Shade itself is referred to in another Hadith. Prophet (saw) described seven types of people who earn the most needed shade on the Day of Judgment. For the Prophet of Islam (pbuh), tree was not only a resting place, but also an infinite mercy of God that one should leave behind for others.  Shade is an actual expression of the mercy of Allah the Almighty. Hence, the parable of the Dunya (world) as a tree under which we stop to rest for a while does not imply that it is worthless.
Besides, Prophet (pbuh) and his companions also practically taught us how to protect the animals’ rights. They took special care of crippled animals, rescued strays and guarded birds’ nests of eggs. One of the Companions was named ‘Abu Huraira’ (father of kittens) because he was very fond of kittens. Prophet (pbuh) accorded great value to the animals in his bid to protect the ecological welfare system. Driven by his care and compassion for the animals, the Prophet himself narrated a story to his companions so they could drive inspiration from it:
"A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way; there he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself, "This dog is suffering from thirst as I did." So, he went down the well again, filled his shoe with water, held it with his mouth and watered the dog. Allah appreciated him for that deed and forgave him." The Companions said, "O Allah's Messenger! Is there a reward for us in serving the animals?" He replied: "There is a reward for serving any living being." (Bukhari)
 There is a pressing need to take a fresh look at all the related Qur’anic verses and the Prophetic traditions in an effort to find solutions to the increasing degradation of environment on this planet earth.  It is also of vital importance to revisit other references to explore the wisdom of our faith traditions finding ways to live in full harmony with the environment. After all, it is the moral responsibility of the adherents of all faith traditions to protect this earth and its climate in accordance with the teachings of our faith traditions. And if we don’t take serious steps today towards the preservation of the ecological balance, tomorrow our children will inherit an earth with depleted natural resources.

Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a classical Islamic scholar and English-Arabic-Urdu writer. He has graduated from a leading Islamic seminary of India, acquired Diploma in Qur'anic sciences and Certificate in Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies. After graduation in Arabic (Hons.), he has done his M. A. in Comparative Religions & Civilisations and a double M.A. in Islamic Studies from Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. Presently, he is pursuing his PhD in India Arab Culture Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.