It's time the reformers declare jihad on the extremists hijacking their religion. It would be an act purely in self defense because the actions of a few are harming the majority who just want to live peacefully, according to the tenets of their faith. The concept of a higher jihad and a lower jihad are ingrained in every Muslim child's mind when he or she starts reading or reciting the holy book. The mullahs of the 80s used to emphasize the importance and preference of the former and give strict instructions against the last-resort decision of the latter. I studied under three such.
So what changed? How did the mullahs of the 90s and the millennium start advocating the lower one and completely forgot the higher one? I believe the trail leads to Saudi Arabia and the ill-fated alliance between Syed Qutb and the House of Saud, along with the striking of oil in the Gulf region. By the time the exported jihad reached India (with the exception of Kashmir with the ever helpful ISI), 9/11 had occurred. Today it's easy to trace the money trail or the bullet trail as is my personal quest and they all lead to the desert.
It's a mistake to think that non-Muslims are the only ones to see the cult of twisted interpretations by the mullahs and their frat boys. There have always been reformers and critics of Islam since its advent. Even dissenters who disagreed with the Prophet himself have been recorded. Now there are varying stories and hadith (sayings) about whether or not he embraced them, but it's an area for historians.
My interest would be now and the tradition of zanadiqa (heretics) since medieval Islam, not the 7th century where the records are obfuscated with the sands of time. Joseph Ernest Renan was a French expert of Middle East ancient languages and civilizations, philosopher, historian, and writer and he is quoted as having said:
"Muslims are the first victims of Islam. Many times I have observed in my travels in the Orient, that fanaticism comes from a small number of dangerous men who maintain the others in the practice of religion by terror. To liberate the Muslim from his religion is the best service that one can render him."
Now I do believe he went too far in dismissing a faith that is a source of comfort, solace, peace and humility for scores of Muslims and their observant co-citizens. This is not an apology for the various extremist strains, but an honest observation of a life lived among the believers. Widows, abandoned women, parents who lost their children, fathers with terminally sick children, brothers who are burdened with the norms of providing for siblings, and so many of the unsung heroes and heroines of middle class existence who believe they will be rewarded for their efforts if they just do it right according to the humane instructions of the text and sayings are such.
Of course, not all of the text or sayings are humane but this where the internal reasoning takes place among generations and we see slow but sure reforms emerging with the rising modernity. The age of marriage increasing, monogamy becoming the norm; number of kids reduced, girls being sent to English-medium, computer savvy institutes and even to other cities, alone for education, consent asked from young men and women before marriage, shedding of the shuttlecock burqas, and even the hijab/niqab and loosely adopting the sub-continental dupatta/chunni on the head or around the bosoms; women driving vehicles, women taking up male-dominated professions like engineering, aeronautics and even the police force. I could go on and on.
The things is, Muslims have been reformers for ages and within their own respective communities, there have been upstanding male patriarchs who have stood for fairness and rights of all. Maulana Wahidudin Khan and Asghar Ali Engineer come to mind (they are the forerunners for the Uniform Civil Code, UCC), though there are far more scattered across the Muslim world. I see videos of reformers and critics across the Muslim world from Indonesia to Saudi to Pakistan to Turkey, debating, challenging, discussing, talking about the need for reform or the various strains of extremism that need to be shed, some even subverting certain interpretations that are used to exploit the minorities.
But this is not enough. To challenge a battle cry, a counter battle cry is needed. This is not the 1940s when to counter fascism, an Allied coalition bombed fascism off Europe. This is the time to realise that bombing never destroys ideas. Only ideas can defeat bad ideas and right now the extremists strain in Islam is a bad idea. It would have been wiser to wait for the gradual reform that is always happening within communities daily, but people are dying and being killed brutally. The alliance of al Saud and Muhammed ibn abd al Wahhab has become a scourge which is threatening our very existence. It's time to declare jihad on this alliance.
Denounce the extremists whenever and wherever you can. Visit mosques that you feel are being used for extremist recruiting activities. My favourite video is an 80-year-old man in Britain going up to Anjem Choudhary (founder of the radical Islamist group Islam4UK, later proscribed under the UK's counter-terrorism laws), who was campaigning on the streets to bring sharia law into England, and screaming in his face that this was not Islam. The senior citizen is a true higher jihadist for me. Freedom of speech and assembly is one thing but remember the ‘takfiri’ ploy too: to use civil liberties of democratic countries to assemble and plot the destruction of those very countries. After all the ‘hashasins’ (Assassins) were masters of deception and deception has always been a part of Empire building and the establishment of theocracies.
If the Kashmiri mothers I know can resist sending their sons for this hate-filled, futile guerilla war backed by the ISI, despite the surrounding patriarchal pressure and danger of ostracism, then it shouldn't be difficult for an organised attempt at resistance to extremism on a large scale. We have always been reforming and resisting. It’s time to form an allied coalition of global proportions to counter extremism. But you need to take the daily reformers with you and not alienate them. So listen, observe, discuss, and denounce wherever and whenever you can. Which means supporting the reformers within the communities and not demonising them because it would be the politically correct thing to do so.