Islamic unity key to defeat takfirism and sectarianism


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Syed Zafar Mehdi

For Muslims, the staggering fall from grace can largely be attributed to fragmentation in their ranks, exacerbated by the scourge of sectarianism fanned by divisive forces. The condition of Muslims today, in both the realms of spiritual and temporal, is appallingly poor.

Having ruled the world for eight to nine centuries, bringing people out of barbarism into civilization, abolishing idolatry and advocating monotheism, Muslims have gradually and worryingly slipped into an abyss of despondency and darkness. While the Holy Quran promises that the “honor, power and glory belongs to God and to His apostle and to the believers” (Surah Munafiqun), it also cautions that the “Almighty does not change the condition of a people until they change it themselves” (Surah Ar-Ra’ad).

How can we leap forward as a divided house, with so many warring groups baying for each other’s blood. How can we progress without clutching hands and pulling in the same direction as emphasized in the Holy Quran in unequivocal and unambiguous terms. “And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided” (Surah Aali Imran).

Even hardnosed European evangelists admit that the modern world was built on the scientific breakthroughs made by Muslim scholars at a time when the Europeans were struggling and stumbling. So what led to the decline and degeneration of Muslim Ummah?

In the words of Scott Gilmore, a social entrepreneur and writer, the easiest response is to say Muslims did this to themselves. “From the jungles of Sulawesi to the deserts of Libya, Muslims are killing Muslims at a rate that dwarfs the more highly publicized conflict with the West,” he says.

How can we progress without clutching hands and pulling in the same direction as emphasized in the Holy Quran in unequivocal terms. “And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided” (Surah Aali Imran)

At a time when the contemptible project of sectarianism and takfirism is being promoted by unscrupulous elements to create fissures in the Muslim Ummah, it has become essential for every conscientious Muslim to uphold the banner of unity and be the vocal advocate of truth and justice.

The enemies of Islam succeed not because they have superior ideas or moral high ground but because we are fragmented and vulnerable. Unless Muslims close ranks, bury the hatchet and develop mutual-understanding, they will continue to be afflicted with misery and despair.

Holy Quran reminds us: “Muhammad is Allah’s Apostle and those who are (truly) with him are firm and unyielding towards disbelievers, (yet) full of mercy towards one another (Surah Fatah).” This beautiful element of ‘mercy towards one another’ is what actually defines the essence of Muslim unity and brotherhood.

Takfirism – the phenomenon of declaring ‘others’ as heretics – has gained traction across the world today, engulfing many Muslim societies. It is a grand project spearheaded by forces that fear Muslim unity, because if Muslims band together the enemy wouldn’t have the temerity to bombard Muslim countries and exploit their rich resources.

What makes matters worse is the fact that some of us are willfully playing into the hands of enemies. Zionists, aided by the Western imperialist powers, have occupied Palestine because some Arab countries don’t wish to antagonize their friends in Tel Aviv. For them, petty political interests overshadow the larger interests of Muslim Ummah.

Takfirism is a grand project spearheaded by forces that fear Muslim unity, because if Muslims band together the enemy wouldn’t have the temerity to bombard Muslim countries and exploit their rich resources

Today, Muslims are being mercilessly killed in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan because our Arab-Muslim leadership is apparently sleeping with the enemy, aiding and abetting the genocide of Muslims. When innocent civilians are killed in Brussels or Berlin, whole world erupts in anger and fury; but when there is a massacre in Kabul, Quetta or Baghdad, only few odd voices speak out.

That is because they are united and we are divided. This divide-and-conquer strategy works well for our enemies.  The need of the hour is unity and rapprochement, and what better time to shun antagonism and embrace the spirit of camaraderie than the birth anniversary of our beloved Prophet (pbuh).

In mid-1980s, Ayatollah Rohullah Khomeini, the architect of the Islamic revolution in Iran, proposed an idea of ‘hafta e wahdat’ (week of unity and solidarity) in the month of Rabiul Awwal so that Muslims, cutting across sects, can come together to honor the memory of their Prophet (pbuh), who championed the cause of Islamic unity and tolerance all his life. “The origin of this question concerning Shia and Sunni, the one on one side and the other on the other side, is caused by ignorance and by the propaganda spread by enemies,” said Ayatollah Khomeini.

In 1990, a year after Ayatollah Khomeini’s death, The World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought was set up by his successor Ayatollah Syed Ali Khamenei, which organizes the International Islamic Unity Conference in Tehran every year to mark the birth anniversary of the Holy Prophet (pbuh). Last year, the theme of the conference was ‘The Muslim World’s Current Crises’ and more than 600 Muslim scholars from 70 countries were in attendance. In the final statement, the participants agreed that the crisis facing Muslim world today is due to disintegration of Islamic world and lack of trust amongst Islamic states. “This has led to division which has paved the way for penetration of enemies into Islamic communities in a bid to fuel clashes between Muslims,” it said.

In contemporary times, Ayatollah Khamenei and Ayatollah Sistani have played an instrumental role in forging Muslim unity and countering the vicious campaign to divide Muslims

Looking back, many Islamic luminaries made indefatigable efforts to bridge the chasm between Shias and Sunnis. Sheikh Mahmoud Shaltut, a legendary Islamic scholar who served as the grand Imam of Al-Azhar between 1958 and 1963, issued a famous fatwa (religious edict) in 1959 pertaining to the faith and beliefs of Shias, which continues to be a symbol of hope for those who advocate unity and proximity between the two schools of thought.

Ayatollah Syed Hussain Borojerdi, who was a leading Shia religious authority in 1950s, also worked untiringly to foster unity among Muslims and established close contact with Dar ul-Taqrib Center in Egypt. Other Islamic scholars who deserve a mention include Muslim Brotherhood founder Sheikh Hassan al-Banna, Egyptian scholar Sheikh Muhammad al-Ghazali, Iranian scholar Allameh Seyed Mohammad Hossein Tabatabaei, Iraqi cleric Ayatollah Syed Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr and Pakistani scholar Dr. Allama Mohammad Iqbal, Afghan ideologue Syed Jamaluddin Asadabadi to name to few.

In contemporary times, Ayatollah Khamenei and Ayatollah Sistani have played an instrumental role in forging Muslim unity and countering the vicious campaign to divide Muslims.

The efforts of Hassan al-Banna deserve a special mention. Abd al-Mutaal al-Jabri, a student of Hassan al-Banna, in his book Limatha Yuqitla Hasan (Why Hasan al-Banna was Assassinated), writes about the historic meeting between Hassan al-Banna and Ayatollah Kashani in Mecca in 1948, shortly before the former was assassinated. “If the life of this man (al-Banna) had been longer, it would have been possible to gain many benefits for this land, especially in the agreement between him and Ayatullah Kashani to uproot the discord between Sunnis and Shi’ites. They met each other in Hijaz in 1948. It appears that they conferred with each other and reached a basic understanding but Hasan al-Banna was quickly assassinated,” he writes.

That is what has happened throughout history. Those who have championed the cause of Islamic unity and brotherhood have paid the ultimate price, but the idea has lived on.

There is clearly more that unites us than what divides us. In his book Al-Muslimun Man Hum (The Muslims – Who are they?), author Samih Atif Zayn says the most important basis of differences lies in understanding the Holy Book, and both Sunnis and Shias have never disagreed on Holy Quran. “We must eradicate the sectarian spirit, full of hatred, and bar the road of those who spread rumors and quarrels in religion, until Muslims return to how they were before: one society, cooperative and friendly, rather than divided, separated and hating each other,” he writes, stressing the importance of brotherhood as mentioned in the Holy Quran: “Verily, this brotherhood of yours is a single brotherhood, and I am your Lord and Cherisher” (Surah Al-Anbiya).

So, it is binding on all the believers of Islam to collectively strive towards a common goal, lest they go astray. “Indeed, those who have divided their religion and become sects – you, (O Muhammad), are not (associated) with them in anything. Their affair is only (left) to Allah; He will inform them about what they used to do” (Surah Al-Anam).

The warning is clear for those who stoke the flames of sectarianism or aid the efforts in dividing Muslims into sects. And the warning is also for those who don’t advocate unity, amity, tolerance and brotherhood.

(First published in The Witness magazine)


Attack on Iran means Israel’s annihilation

Syed Zafar Mehdi

A ghastly joke that became viral in West in the run up to US invasion of Iraq in 2002 goes like this:

President Bush and his deputy Dick Cheney break into a Texas bar, packed with the crowd of uber-cool drinkers. Over a few cartons of country-made whiskey, they plan the invasion of Iraq, execution of Saddam Husain and seizing Iraq’s enormous oil reserves. To tap the mood of people, they cajole a young American boy sipping beer in the corner to join them for a drink.

“What do you think if we invade Iraq and grab their oil fields, considering that 30,000 Iraqi people and one odd American bicycle mechanic would pay the price of life?”, asks Bush.

The boy clasps the beer bottle tightly, takes a sip, and looks perturbed. After few moments he asks, “Why should an American bicycle mechanic have to die?”

Cheney thumps the table and smirks gleefully at Bush. “I told you no one would give a damn about the 30,000 Iraqis!

Ten years down the line, as the war-mongering and brinkmanship intensifies, coercive crippling sanctions continue, and the military confrontation in the Persian Gulf looks imminent, no one seems to give damn about 74 million Iranian lives either, half of whom are under the age of 30.

While Iran has been trying to engage the Western powers diplomatically, inviting international watchdogs to inspect the nuclear sites, the response from the other side has been utterly appalling. The peace overtures have been met with belligerent threats of unilateral preemptive military strike, harsh economic sanctions, and an oil embargo.

The ongoing saber-rattling is not exclusively Iran-Israel affair. Israel’s western allies are frantically working out the logistics to isolate Iran economically and politically. Both Obama and Natenyaho during their recent White House talks agreed that the military action is likely if the present sanctions fail to curb Tehran’s atomic ambitions. Tehran has always maintained that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes, and being a signatory of Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it has an unalienable right to enrich uranium to meet the energy needs.

As the drums of war beat louder, US Air Force chief has revealed that the war machinery is in place, but experts say the strike may be delayed until November elections in US. Israel however seems too keen to go for the kill with ‘surgical air strikes’ against ‘suspected Iranian nuclear facilities’ with GBU-28 ‘bunker-buster’ bombs.

Israel continues to view Iran as an existential threat, out to wipe them off the map. Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran has gradually become the most dreaded enemy of Israel, kind of a monster fed by Ayatullahs. The phenomenon of Iranophobia is furiously raging in Israel, primarily because, as one Israeli scholar notes, “Israel needs an existential threat”. The geo-political rivalry for regional dominance has also brought Israel and Iran at loggerheads. As Gary Sick, Professor at Columbia University and Iran-expert said in an interview recently, “Iran is a very strong rival to Israel in the Middle East.”

But why the grotesque double standards while dealing with both of countries? Why does Israel need to be the only nuclear-armed nation in the Middle East? Why no outrage over the breach of International laws by Israel? Why no action against it for making the mockery of United Nations resolutions? How is it allowed to occupy territories and oppress its population and deny them the most fundamental rights? Of course, with the blessings of Uncle Sam.

Iran has never attacked another country in its 200-year history. It did defend itself in the war against Iraq, which was supported by US, in 1980s. US intelligence officials and Middle East observers maintain that any sort of military adventurism against Iran will prove self-destructive for Israel. In every respect and analysis based on facts, Iran is not Iraq. U.S. Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr in an unclassified statement recently admitted that Iran will retaliate strongly if attacked. “Iran’s willingness to sponsor future attacks in the United States or against our interests abroad probably will be shaped by Tehran’s evaluation of the costs it bears for the plot…as well as Iranian leader’s perception of U.S. threats against the regime,” said Cooper. Forbes magazine warned that Iran attack would push US back into recession. “Be it war with Israel or a preemptive strike by U.S. air forces, the reality is that a sustained conflict with Iran would tip the U.S., and possibly much of the developed world, back into recession.” (Forbes, 24/2/2012)

Even as efforts are on to isolate Iran, support for them has been pouring in from many quarters. Russia has already warned against any adventurism that might set Mid-east on fire. China and Japan are also opposed to the idea of launching military attack on Iran. Pakistan has assured its support to Iran, in case the war breaks out. Many South American and African countries are also supporting Iran, so are the Arab countries like Syria, Lebanon and Iraq. In this situation, as a senior Iranian government official said recently, attack on Iran will only lead to annihilation of Israel.

In this election year, Obama administration wants to play it safe, as the horrors of Iraq war are still haunting them. Meanwhile the public opinion polls are clearly not in favour of military strike. A February 2012 CNN poll finds that only 17% of Americans favor a U.S. attack now, while 60% favor sanctions with no military attack now.  22% favor taking no action at all.  In a February Pew survey, 64% of Americans said that sanctions will not work. 58% said they would favor military action if it was the only way to prevent Iran from getting a bomb. 30% said they opposed a strike even if meant Iran got a nuclear weapon. “There is no question that Bush/Cheney/Obama have trashed the US Constitution, US statutory law, and international law. But Washington, having overthrown justice, has established that might is right,” wrote Paul Craig Roberts, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy, in Foreign Policy Journal, (January 25, 2012).

To prepare the ground for the unilateral preventive strike against Iran, Israel has been playing its cards well. Some interesting developments happened recently. The recent attack on Israeli diplomat’s car in New Delhi is still shrouded in mystery. While Israeli media, for lack of choice, blamed Iran, the whole operation seemed to be consistent with Israel’s “false flag” car bombing that does not injure the occupant but serves the broader strategic interests. Similar attacks were reported from Bangkok and Tbilisi, and all evidence points to the involvement of Israeli intelligence agencies.

As the scare-mongering, saber-rattling, and war rhetoric assumes terrifying proportions, Iran looks fully prepared to face any eventuality. Iran may have nothing to win but Israel has everything to lose.

Free Kazmi clamour gets bigger and louder


Syed Zafar Mehdi

The clamour for the release of journalist Mohammad Ahmad Kazmi, detained in connection with the recent attack on an Israeli diplomat’s car in New Delhi, is gaining momentum with each passing day. The relentless protests against his “unlawful” arrest by Delhi Police’s Special Cell have spread across the country. There have also been allegations of custodial torture and third-degree harassment levelled against police by the scribe’s family.

On Saturday March 17, hearing a petition filed by Kazmi’s family, Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Vinod Yadavslammed police officials and instructed them to wear their proper uniforms, with name tags, during interrogations – and asked them to maintain a register of those officers who questioned the journalist. Kazmi’s counsel asked the court to be allowed to be present during interrogations, so that he could ascertain who was questioning the suspect, and whether or not he was being subjected to harassment. His family has alleged that Israeli intelligence agencyMossad has questioned him, attempting to force him into a confession.

Originally from Dholri village in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, Kazmi moved to Delhi almost 20 years ago. He has worked in the media since the 1980s, with the Iran-based IRNA, the BBC, and UNI, besides being a regular columnist for Urdu language newspapers. He also covered the Iraq war, and, more recently, the political unrest in Syria.

The 50-year-old writer and broadcaster was picked up by police on March 7, while he was returning to his home in Jor Bagh from the India Islamic Cultural Centre on Lodhi Road. He has been accused of providing the “logistical support” to the main bombing suspects. The accused bombers, apparently Iranians, have already fled the country, police claim. Kazmi’s family, friends and colleagues have trashed the charges against him as baseless and manufactured. They say he has been framed, primarily because he is an outspoken critic of US and Israeli policy – and the government needs a scapegoat.

He is being held under the stringent provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, which allows him to be held for 20 days in police custody, which, according to legal experts, is grossly disproportionate in such a case – where police have yet to produce evidence against the accused.

Demonstrations, like this one in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, have been held across India [Zafar Mehdi]

Campaign intensifies

Meanwhile, supporters of the arrested scribe have intensified their campaign to press for his release. On March 9, the Delhi Union of Journalists held a press conference to show their support for the Press Information Bureau-accredited journalist.

“The DUJ cautions that Mr Kazmi must not be victimised, merely because he has worked for Iranian broadcasting and written for Persian newspapers,” said the uinion’s statement.

“The DUJ feels strongly that journalists must not be targeted because of their professional work, sources and connections.”

On March 10, The Asia-Pacific branch of theInternational Federation of Journalists, issued a statement to condemn Kazmi’s arrest: “With all respect for the legal process in India, the IFJ is concerned that Kazmi may have been identified for the arrest based on his political views, rather than solid evidence.”

Shabnam Hashmi, of Act Now for Harmony and Democracyasked: “Has Mr. Kazmi been picked up on tips provided by Israeli agencies? How credible can these inputs be, given Israel’s clear intent to condemn and implicate Iran as the source of the attack.”

The campaign broadens

On March 11, the Coordination Committee of Indian Muslims criticised police, saying the journalist had been arrested without evidence against him. “It is a matter of alarm that now a senior member of the Urdu journalist community has been arrested without any apparent evidence or proof,” said the committee.

The Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (Sahmat) also expressed its outrage at Kazmi’s arrest, and the harassment of another senior journalist, John Cherian. “Following the blatantly high-handed arrest of Kazmi, there was an attempt to enter the house of Cherian [on] Sunday on the specious plea of a hoax call. These independent journalists whose professional integrity is above reproach are being targeted to create a fear psychosis,” said a statement.

Joining the fray on the same day, a group of 71 high-profile personalities – including journalists, social activists, film-makers and writers – issued a joint statement condemning the arrest. “We fear that Mr Kazmi may be made a scapegoat to please an international lobby,” they said. “It is no secret that Israel held Iran culpable within minutes of the attack.”

The following day, March 12, the All-India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat (AIMMM) wrote an open letter to the home minister, the local governor and the police commissioner. “The Muslim community is pained to see that the at-random arrests of Muslim youth, which started a few weeks ago, are only continuing, and now the arrest of a person of Mr Kazmi’s stature points to a serious escalation, where even senior members of the community are not safe from arrest at the hands of the police on totally unproven and wild charges.”


There was a candle-lit vigil at India Gate on March 13 and a sit-in demonstration at Jantar Mantar on March 16, which saw the tremendous participation of people from a wide array of walks of life, blurring religious and ideological lines. A delegation of 13 Muslim MPs, led by Sultan Ahmad of the Trinamool Congress, also visited Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and urged him to ensure no injustice was carried out in the case.

Kazmi’s son Shauzab Kazmi, SQR Illyasi of Jamaat e Islami and I addressed a public meeting organised by the Democratic Students Union in Jawaharlal Nehru University on March 16. “Kazmi’s arrest does not come as a surprise, as it follows the well-known pattern of a minority witch-hunt by the Indian state,” said the DSU.

Kazmi’s son, Turab, is skipping his exams to help organise the fight for his father’s freedom [Zafar Mehdi]

Condemnations of Kazmi’s arrest have also come from the Communist Party of India and the Lok Janshati Party.

“Government has made the arrest without a proper probe,” said CPI General Secretary AB Bardhan. “This journalist dealt with the Palestine and Israel issue, what’s the harm in that? [This] is an attempt by the government to please Israel.”

There have been many solidarity marches, peaceful protests, sit-in demonstrations and press conferences held by Kazmi’s supporters across the country – including in Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Aligarh, Meerut, Lucknow, and even as far afield as the UK and Muscat.

“It is good to see people standing up and speaking out for my father, who has been framed on totally bogus charges,” said Kazmi’s 23-year-old son, Shauzab. He has been busy attending protests, giving press conferences, meeting lawyers, and looking after the family ever since his father’s arrest.

Meanwhile, his supporters have planned a huge demonstration outside the Indian parliament on March 26.

“We will spare no effort to prove his innocence, and I am pretty confident that the truth will prevail in the end,” his son Shauzab said.

Shauzab’s brother, Turab, has decided to skip his Class 12 board examinations this week to fight for his father’s freedom. The brothers are not alone in this fight for justice. Today, everyone here is Kazmi.