It was perhaps inevitable that the bombing of the madressa in Dasht-i-Arshi district of Kunduz province, Afghaniatan, should invite comparison with the Battle of Yamama. The bombing in Kunduz was part of the present-day slaughter of Muslims that seems to become a routine, as it came after a fresh round of killing of Palestinians in Gaza, and of youth in Indian-Held Kashmir by the Indian occupation forces. At the same time, the victims of the Kunduz bombing, mostly huffaz-e-Quran at their graduation ceremony, caused a peculiar horror, and raised inevitable comparison with the Battle of Yamama in 632, between the Muslims and the forces of the false prophet Musalaima Al-Kazzab, in which 800 huffaz were killed, of 1200 Muslims. It was no coincidence that this battle was followed by the Caliph Abu Bakr appointing a committee of Companions, headed by Hazrat Zaid bin Thabit, to compile an authoritative text of the Holy Quran. This text was given to the Caliph, who passed it on to his successor Umar ibn al-Khattab. It was this text that his successor, Usman ibn Affan promulgated; ensuring thereby that there would only be one text of the Quran throughout what was by then an extensive empire, stretching all the way across North Africa to the borders of the Chinese Empire.

The relationship between those who had memorized the Quran, and the text, was to remain close. For most of the centuries that intervened between either the Battle of Yamama or that first textual compilation, and the present day, the text of the Quran was transcribed by copyists, with printing coming much later. One of the great challenges all along, and even in this modern era of the printing press, was ensuring textual integrity. As other texts have shown, the chances of inadvertent changes are plentiful. One of the texts that have shown this has been the Bible. Admittedly an older book than the Quran, it has undergone many changes, many of which can be ascribed to the perpetuation of copyists’ errors rather than to any desire to change the text. The major difference has been that the Bible has no huffaz, the Quran has. There are occasional examples of people who have memorized the Bible, but there has been no tradition. Texts of the Quran are always counterchecked by huffaz, something which prevents textual corruption from occurring.

Apart from the crucial role in ensuring the textual accuracy of the Quran, madressas have made hifz the basis of their curriculum, with the result seen in Kunduz, that the graduating huffaz were all children at the threshold of their studies, which would have led to their becoming ulema. The dastarbandi ceremony was thus not really an end in itself, but merely a marker on the road towards becoming an aalim.

As the occasion was a public ceremony, families were also present. The attack thus not only took out the targeted Taliban commanders, but also women and children. Though responsibility has not been accepted by anyone, the strike may well have been executed by the Afghan air force. That too has been reformed by the USA after its occupation of the country, but it does not absolve the USA of all blame in the matter. It is either sheer malignity, or gross incompetence, that allowed such monumental ‘collateral damage’ to occur. There was no accurate body count available, but it seems that about 80 scholars and parents, all civilians, were killed. The Taliban deny that any of their commanders were killed.

The bombing provided yet another example, assuming one was needed, of an uncomfortable reality: there is a link between Islamic scholars and the Taliban. The reason for this is simple: the Taliban are not scholars, and have not set up a separate school of thought. They are followers of a school of thought themselves, and defer to the scholars of that school. The Taliban themselves include a number of scholars, and the leader has generally been a graduate of a madressa. Mullah Omar himself had not graduated, and was granted an honorary sanad from the madressa he had attended, the Darul Uloom at Akora Khattak. The madressas in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan have been the focus of attention, but the madressas on the Afghan side of the Durand Line are also as potent carriers of the Taliban ideology as them. One reason is that they hew closely to Islamic orthodoxy. Just as the Roman Catholic priesthood in South America developed a ‘liberation theology’ in the 1950s and 1960s, the Afghan ulema seem to have developed an anti-invasion stance, which is now anti-American.

But the little huffaz were not the only Muslims killed in a reminder of the bloody disputes that inflict the Muslim world. Palestinians in the Gaza Strip were being slaughtered by the Israeli occupation forces as they protested for the right of return. So far, 30 Palestinians have been killed in the two protests, the first seeing 21 killed, the next nine. The Israeli soldiers also injured thousands. The Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are asking for the right of return for themselves. They or their ancestors were driven out of their homes back in 1948, so that Israel could come into existence. Israel does not allow Palestinians who fled then to return.

The result has been the oldest refugee population in the world. They are rivalled by the Kashmiri people in terms of length of occupation, for India occupied what it could of the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, but it did not displace the local Kashmiri population. It is not that that has not been tried, but so far, the prohibition on non-Kashmiris buying and owning property in Kashmir remains. Instead, at least 17 young men were killed in ‘search and kill’ operations by Indian occupation forces at the beginning of the month.

There are three common threads in all this slaughter. The obvious one is that Muslims are being butchered. Then there is the backing for all three regimes, in varying degrees, of the USA. Then there is the fact that all four countries, Afghanistan, Israel, India and the USA, have regimes busy suppressing minorities. In Afghanistan, the Pashtuns are in a majority, but both the regime and the USA wants Hazaras in charge. In Israel, it is argued seriously that the right of return for Palestinians would lead to an Arab majority. The implication is that more than a century of Zionist effort to change the area’s demography has failed. India is now ruled by the BJP, which wants all Muslims ‘in their place’, not just Kashmiris, and not just Muslims, but Dalits too, as last week’s protests showed. Meanwhile, in the USA there has been a resumption of the killing of black men by white cops. This has happened under an administration which is so pro-Israel that it has announced the moving of its embassy to Jerusalem, and is also so pro-India, or rather pro-BJP, that its head declared a positive sentiment about its PM, Narendra Modi.

Meanwhile, the slaughter of Rohingya, Syrians (with yet another gas attack reported, killing more children), Iraqis, Yemenis and other assorted Muslims continues. Though no incident has caught media attention, those killed remain very dead indeed.


n          The writer is a veteran journalist and founding member as well as executive

editor of The Nation.