Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri: “Extremist interpretations are deviations from true Islamic teachings, which only emphasises peace and calmness.”
Interview with Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, scholar of Islamic theology and jurisprudence, on his new book.
DR MUHAMMAD TAHIR-UL-QADRI, more popular as Shaykh-ul-Islam, is one of the most renowned scholars of Islamic theology and jurisprudence from Pakistan. Formerly a Professor of Constitutional Law in the University of the Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan, he founded Minhaj-ul-Quran International, an organisation that teaches non-extremist Islam and is present in at least 55 countries. He was in New Delhi recently to launch his book, Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings. He has a huge following in the Islamic world and many have declared him the true leader of Islam. While talking to Frontline, he tried to explain the meanings of Islamic theology and how it is being misinterpreted across the world for political reasons. Belonging to the Barelvi sect, historically seen as opposed to the Deobandi and Wahabi schools, he says differences of opinion always existed in Islam but none of the schools ever taught the killing of non-combatants.
Congratulations on your new book. In recent times, many Muslim scholars have tried to interpret the meaning of jehad politically, but you have tried to rationalise its meaning religiously to suggest that there is no place for terrorism and suicide bombings in Islamic philosophy.
I find some people within the religious circles justifying terror activities to achieve their ulterior aims. So, I thought it was necessary to explain that terrorism has nothing to do with Islam, with the Quran, and with the Sunnah [habits, practices and teachings of the Prophet]. In order to establish that, it was necessary to look into the Hadith [Islamic law], Quranic commentaries and works of Islamic jurists followed by the Islamic Ummah [community]. Extremist interpretations are deviations from true Islamic teachings, which only emphasise peace and calmness.
For example, the words jehad and Shahadat [martyrdom] or the concept of fighting were never used in any of the Islamic literature as killing of non-combatant non-Muslims. None of these terms means killing women and children or old people, priests or sick people. You are not allowed to do these. You are not allowed to demolish temples or churches or synagogues and other places of worships. These words are used only in the context of a “just” war or a war where you are only defending yourself. These words are valid only if there are two armies fighting each other in a battlefield, as is mentioned in various religious sources.
A separate group cannot declare jehad, as is being seen now. This is not their prerogative, not their right. And even when there is a war between two armies or countries, Islamic teachings have put lots of restrictions. You are not allowed to kill women, children and other such groups as I have mentioned. You are not even allowed to kill non-Muslim traders and farmers as they sustain our economy. You are not even allowed to cut trees unnecessarily. These are prohibitions, which the Muslim Ummah knows. But a few terrorist organisations have led the world to believe that Islam is a violent religion, and I, through my book, wanted to clarify all these doubts by examining the religious texts and other sources. These organisations have misinterpreted the Quran by propagating that the killing of a Muslim is equivalent to the killing of the whole of mankind. Instead, the Quran has specifically said that the killing of a “human being”, not just a Muslim, is equivalent to the killing of the whole of mankind. The word Nafsan, meaning human being, is used throughout in the Quran.
Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri (left) being welcomed by leaders of the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, including its president and MP Asaduddin Owaisi (right), at the party’s 54th Foundation Day function in Hyderabad on March 3.
Most of the extremist organisations owe their allegiance to the Deobandi or the Wahabi theological schools. How does your book interpret their teachings?
I have interpreted the writings of all the great jurists belonging to all the Islamic schools of law in the world. If you talk of Deoband, I have devoted many pages in my book to talk about the Ulema [scholars] of the Deoband school. I have quoted scholars of the Wahabi, Salafi, Hanafi, Shiites, and all the other prominent schools. And none of them has disagreed with my point of view. I have not neglected a single school of law which is of academic concern in Islamic history.
Are you saying that it is the political agenda of organisations that has led to such construed understanding of Islamic law?
Not only political agenda or international agenda. There can be social and economic factors, local ideologies of governments, which may be responsible. Such violence, with its ideological understanding steeped in Islam, can also be an articulation of social and political frustration of people across the Muslim world. However, these political issues and religious understandings should not be intermingled. There can be democratic and peaceful ways to solve political problems. But it should be made amply clear that Islam and Islamic teachings do not allow killing of non-Muslims and even Muslims who are non-combatant. This is a prevailing phenomenon, which should not only be condemned but should be explained in the light of Quranic teachings.
You have argued in your book that terrorists are like the Kharijites, who appeared during the time of the messenger and formed a rebellious sect to fight against Muslims during the reign of Ali. You also say that Islamic scholars considered it a religious duty to fight and kill the Kharijites if they refused to renounce the violent doctrine. Could you elaborate on this aspect of Islamic history?
The theological school at Damascus had a political dispute with the fourth Khalifa, Ali. There was a battle. Ali had advocated arbitration between the two sides. It was then, when a few sentimental young people saw that the battle could be settled peacefully, they defected and raised the slogan of violence and took up arms. They formed a new group called the Kharijites, who believed in settling the issue through force. The Holy Prophet declared them as outside the ambit of Islam. I have tried to explain that violent means were not the ideas of our caliphs and our scholars but were, in fact, a deviation from Islamic principles. Violence has always been a Kharijite philosophy and of those who have political agendas. They believed that those who disagreed with them should be killed. Even in the present times, there are groups like these, though under different names.
In the present times, there is a positioning of modernism and its principles as a phenomenon that is against pre-modern religiosity. In this context, what do you have to say about theological states that believe in brutal punishments?
I would not like to comment on theological states and their functioning, but for me, there is no contest or contradiction between modern principles and Islamic theology. It depends on how you look at it. Islam is about restoring social order and dynamics. As I said, such brutalities are outcomes of only some people who misinterpret Islamic texts and have no knowledge of modern scientific principles.
Political interests have guided states, and the name of Islam is wrongly given to misguided decisions. In this context, dictatorships and monarchical rules have been there and improper decisions in the name of Islam are perpetuated to prolong those dictatorships and rules.
Monarchical rules are not patronised by Islamic teachings. Democratic decisions are the basic tenets of Islamic teachings. Therefore, the basic principles of Islam and modern requirements of society have no contradiction, in my opinion. The Quran and the Sunnah are wrongly used for political reasons.
The book talks about liberal principles in Islam. Can you also, then, talk about the space for dissent in Islamic history and how it was justified theologically?
The differences of opinion are accommodated right from the 14th century. The Quran says La-Iqra-Ai-Deen. There is no compulsion on anybody to embrace Islam. And at the same time, there is no compulsion within the deen of Islam. That is why you find differences of opinions in many schools of jurisprudence in Islam.
We have, in those schools, different verdicts for the same incidents in Islamic history which have been made because of different reasoning and different traditions. There is a universal framework, but within that there are different opinions. That is why different schools of jurisprudence were established. None of them, including the Shiite philosophy, has declared that kafirs [non-believers] are outside the ambit of Islam. They are also allowed to go for the Haj. The philosophy of Hadith-Ikhteda-Ummati-Rahmatul is stressed all the time. It means that the differences of opinion in good faith is mercy in the Ummah. It gives you alternatives, substitutes. In the last two years, young people have received this kind of understanding with great ease.
Finally, what is the history of fatwas?
The word fatwa originated in the Quran and the Sunnah. This word was commonly used during the days of the Holy Prophet and his companions as a governance tool. The problem with the word arose when some clerics, especially in South Asian countries, misused this word because of their personal prejudices. These clerics are to Islamic philosophy as quacks are to medicinal studies. Fatwa is a highly qualified juristic term. Qadis [judges] and muftis [lawyers] have used it constantly. Fatwa and Ifta are similar terms, which are used only in crucial judgments.