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by R. K. Ohri



"All of us belong to one God, one father, one religion".
— Prophet Muhammad

To comprehend the phenomenal growth of radical Islam during the last five decades, it is necessary to understand the theological structure of Islam, its societal ethos, cultural implications and the chequered history of Muslim conquests during the medieval times with special reference to the controversial doctrine of jihad.

Basic Tenets of Islam.

Islam is a vigorously intense religion, totally monotheistic in character and wholly uncompromising. As expounded in the Quran, it has five important constituents. First, the 'Shahada' which is a declaration of faith entailing the recitation of 'Kalma' thereby affirming belief in a single God, that is Allah, of whom Muhammad was the messenger. Second, the saying of prayers (i.e., Namaz) five times, every day. Third, 'Zakat' which means giving charity which should be equal to 2.5% of one's income. Fourth, fasting in the month of Ramadan, which in India is also called 'Roza'. And fifth, the 'Haj' which means going for pilgrimage to "Kaaba", at least once in lifetime, provided the faithful can afford it. It may be clarified that the combined body of Revelations from Allah which constitute the Quran (the Holy Book of Islam) appeared to the Prophet without a logical sequence over a period of twenty-three years of his prophetic career (609 to 632).(1) Therefore it does not discuss the religious tenets of Islam systematically or in accordance with its chapters due to which many theological concepts have been discussed at different places in different chapters. The Quran has 114 chapters and some six thousand verses. It is believed to have been revealed by Archangel Gabriel to prophet Muhammad for the first time when he was praying in the cave of Hira, near Mecca.

Prof. Akbar Muhammad of Binghamton University in New York explains that the fundamentals of Islam, popularly known as the "five pillars of Islam", are the "Shahada" which is an affirmation that there is no deity, except Allah, and that Muhammad is his prophet, his messenger. That constitutes the first pillar, or fundamental. The second pillar is prayer, i.e., salat; the third is the fasting, which is "sawm", or the fast of Ramadan; and the fourth pillar is the payment of a social tax called zakat by every Muslim. It is charity which is equal to 2.5 percent of what one has had, what one owned of certain kinds of wealth for a period of one year. The fifth pillar is the pilgrimage, the hajj. The pilgrimage has to be to the Kaaba - not to Mecca per se - but to the Kaaba, which is in Mecca. These are the five pillars or the five fundamentals of Islam.(2) According to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, an Islamic scholar and Imam of Masjid al-Farah, New York, the fundamental idea which defines a human being as a Muslim is the declaration of faith that there is a creator, God, whom Muslims call Allah, in Arabic - and that the creator is one and single. And this is reiterated by the declaration of faith, the shahada, whereby the faithful bear witness to the truth that there is no God but Allah, and that all Muslims are accountable to Allah for their actions.(3)

Then there are other things, secondary things like the rules of dress and the rules of behaviour and rules about what may be considered right or wrong. Most of these come from Islam's cultural norms and from secondary sources of Islamic jurisprudence. Unlike Christianity, Islam does not have a church, nor an ordained priesthood. However, in addition to the aforesaid five pillars, there are certain important theological concepts, intricately interwoven with the Islamic faith, without understanding which it would be difficult to comprehend the deep commitment of Muslims to their religion, and the causes of the current faultline conflicts in several countries.

The Hadith, the Sunna and the Sharia

In addition to the five pillars of Islam, there are three important components of Islamic theology. These are the Hadith; the Sunna and the Sharia. Strict observance of these is mandatory for every follower of the Prophet. Islam places on its followers the onus of conforming totally to Prophet Muhammad's ideal in their day to day lives. Every Muslim is required to follow what is known as the example of the Prophet, or the "sunna" of Muhammad. The word 'hadith means any report of something the Prophet either said, or did. That is hadith with a small "h". Hadith with a capital 'H' is a collection of all these reports.(4) Thus Hadith is a first hand record of the Prophet's doings and sayings which came to be known through His companions who were called "Sahabah" in Arabic. Total commitment to Hadith is mandatory for all Muslims because it consists of what the Prophet's companions had heard from His own mouth or what they had found the Prophet doing at a certain time. Among those companions the most important and well known was the Prophet's favourite wife, Ayesha, while the others were Abu Hurairah, Jabir, Anas bin Malik, Abu Sayeed and Abu Musa. The term "Sunna" refers to the normative practices of the prophet. Literally the word 'sunna' means the practice. In Islamic parlance it means the practice of the Prophet which is regarded as canonical and has the value of being equal to the injunctions ordained in the Quran. Islamic jurists have defined the general sunna of the Prophet Muhammad to mean every thing that he did or said. The source of the Sunna is the Hadith.

In other words, Hadith is a kind of report of the Sunna. All that Muhammad did, that is the practice of the prophet, namely certain class of His actions constitute the norms to be followed by the faithful. The Ahadith (plural of Hadith), which are regarded by the Sunnis (orthdox Muslims) to have canonical value, have been collected in six works which are called 'Sihah Sittah', which means "the six authentics". The Ahadith by Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim are believed to be the most authentic. The study of Ahadith is actually quite a fascinating and educative experience, because through the hadith one can become familiar with the nuances of Islamic history. While the Quran has a canonical value and is common to all Muslims, the Ahadith of the Shias are not the same as those of the Sunnis.

The "Sharia" is the term given to define the collectivity of laws that govern the lives of Muslims. The sharia has been derived both from the Quran and the Ahadith. Thus, sharia is the Quranic law; it constitutes the foundation of the Islamic faith. For instance, the Prophet prayed in a certain way - always facing the Kaaba. This has a sharia value which is compulsory for all Muslims to follow wherever they be. Islam is regarded by its followers as a system which covers every aspect of their lives. There is a belief that the sharia embodies all the specific laws mentioned in the Quran and those which were practised by the Prophet. In that sense the sharia may be regarded as the jurisprudence of the Islamic school of thought. So any law, anything said in the Quran or Hadith, is definitely sharia. It is considered as divinely legislated and everyone must follow it. Muslims believe that the Creator has laid down certain rules or legislated certain laws through the Quran and Ahadith for Muslims to follow under all circumstances. Yet if there are some issues about which a doubt arises, those should be decided preferably by the analogy of the Prophet's life, or resolved by the Islamic theologians through consensus. But as long as they do not conflict with the Quran and the Hadith of the Prophet, these are to be considered "Sharia".

The Concept of Ummah and Unique Bonding of Muslims.

'Ummah', also pronounced as umma, is the grand idea that binds Muslims all over the world into a common brotherhood or one single fraternity. Now, if we consider the concept of ummah, that is that all Muslims belong to one community, a nation, called the ummah - and this nation is extra-territorial in modern terminology, i.e., a Muslim could be in any country, say Finland or Greenland, and still belong to ummah, because he or she is a Muslim. From the point of view of Sharia, if a part of that ummah is attacked, then the entire ummah is responsible for the defence of that area and the Muslims living there. In other words, if the Palestinians are attacked, if the Iranians are attacked, if the Iraqis are attacked, indeed, if Muslims in the USA, are attacked, then Muslims elsewhere should come to the aid of those Muslims.(5) Imam Feisal further elaborates the concept: "So long as Muslims continue to be attacked - and they have been attacked throughout, for centuries, et cetera - then the fight continues." The struggle continues. That could be a justification for those who say, "wherever I attacked you and whatever Western interests I attack, are covered. I 'm doing this with the blessings of Sharia."(6)

Thus the concept of ummah has empowered Muslims with a unique system of bonding with their co-religionists even in the farthest corners of globe, across the oceans. That explains why nearly 600 Afghans led by Abu Sayyaf, all jihadis, left Pakistan almost ten years ago and have been fighting against the Christian government of Philippines, in the forests and swamps of southern islands of Mindnao and Sulu, shoulder to shoulder with the local Moro insurgents, i.e., the warriors of the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front). That also explains how and why thousands of Pakistanis, Saudis, Egyptians, Algerians, Sudanese, Somalis, Chechens, Uzbeks and Indonesians and volunteers from many more countries, totalling 42 in all (according to a head count made by the CIA at Guantanamo Naval Base), promptly responded to bin Laden's call to join the Afghan jihad and thousands remain holed up in Pak-occupied Kashmir to fight the so-called Hindu India.

There is no parallel example anywhere in the world of such unique and intense bonding between people speaking different languages and coming from far away diverse regions to constitute one single legion of militant soldiers as Muslims have. It is like a transnational corporation having more than one billion shareholders. For comprehending the phenomenon of unique bonding between Muslims, wherever they be, and the strong motivation for joining the holy war, which rules their hearts and heads, it is important to know the implications of being part of the ummah. The concept of ummah connotes that all Muslims across the world are united, have a common identity and are one single people belonging to the Nation of Islam, that is 'ummah'. It is perhaps for this reason that Louis Farrakhan calls the Black Muslims of America as 'the Nation of Islam". And this nation is an extra-territorial entity, namely the Islamic identity; it ignores national and transnational borders and places the Islamic fraternity above every other identity, including one's motherland. And Sharia enjoins on all Muslims the duty to join the battle and wage holy war or jihad, whenever any part of ummah is persecuted or attacked. "The west must understand", says Ahmed Suhelmi, an Islamic scholar at the University of Indonesia, "that the ummah is a unity that cannot be divided. It is like human body - if you hurt even the little finger the whole body feels the pain." "That certainly makes a potent crying".(7)

The concept of ummah constitutes the bedrock of the Pan-Islamic movement, because Islam does not recognize territorial affinities. Its affinities are social and religious and therefore extra-territorial. (8) In other words, a Muslim need not have any commitment to his motherland because he has another commitment, a higher commitment, that is his allegiance to the global Muslim fraternity called 'ummah'. A strange and disquieting aspect of this extra-territorial commitment is that, in preference to a call to defend their motherland, Muslims are entitled to seek the aid of a foreign Muslim power to make jihad a success, or if the foreign Muslim power intends to proclaim a jihad, help that foreign nation in making the jihadist mission successful.

Dr. Ambedkar has explained this aspect very lucidly by quoting from the deposition of Maulana Mahomed Ali, a well known Indian Khilafat activist having deep knowledge of Islamic law, when the latter was facing trial in a Sessions Court on charges of conspiracy and preaching sedition on the basis of a resolution passed by the Khilafat Conference on July 8, 1921, at Karachi in relation to a war waged by the Amir of Afghanistan against the British in 1919. The Maulana had exhorted the Muslims, including soldiers in the Indian army, not to join the fight against the Muslim Amir of Afghanistan. In his address to the jury in the Sessions Court Mahomed Ali had defended his stand by pointing out that the British government were apparently uninformed about the manner in which Islam guided all actions of Muslims including those which were considered as mundane. He asserted that Islam does not permit the believer to pronounce an adverse judgment against another believer without seeing a convincing proof that the latter had not taken up arms "in defence of their faith." Therefore, without adequate proof of the Amir's malice or madness, he did not want Indian soldiers, especially the Muslims, to join the war and attack Afghanistan. On the contrary, if the Amir of Afghanistan had no quarrel with India and her people and if he was motivated by the unrest which existed in Muslim countries to wage jihad in defence of the Khilafat and against wrongful occupation of the Jazirut-ul-Arab and the holy places, Islam does not permit them to take up arms against the Amir. In the event of jihad, the law of Islam requires that in the first place, no Muslim should render anyone any assistance against the Mujahideen; and in the second place if the Jihad approached the region where Muslims were living, every Musslaman in that region must join the Mujahideen and assist them to the best of his or her power. That was the clear and undisputed law of Islam, as amplified by Maulana Mahomed Ali in his court testimony about the call given by the Khilafat Committee to Muslim soldiers of the Indian army in relation to the 1919 war between the British and the Afghans.(9)

This is the basis of Pan-Islamism. It is this religious commitment which leads every Mussalman in India to say that he is a Muslim first and an Indian afterwards, as pointed out by Ambedkar.(10) The same extra-territorial philosophy of ummah was justified by Sir Aga Khan when he wrote: "This is a right and legitimate Pan-Islamism to which every sincere and believing Mahomedan belongs - that is, the theory of the spiritual brotherhood and unity of the children of the Prophet." (11)

A classic example of the unique bonding between Muslims, based on the concept of 'ummah', was witnessed during the recent Iraq war, "Operation Iraqi Freedom", when in an army camp in Kuwait on March 23, 2003, one U.S. soldier was killed and 15 were wounded because a Muslim American serviceman apparently angered by the war against Iraq rolled hand-grenades into their tents.(12) "He is a Muslim, and it seems he was just against war," said one U.S. military source, who did not wish to be identified. Another U.S. military source said that the assault appeared to be well-planned with the suspect first knocking out a generator that supplied electricity to the tents and then lobbing grenades.(13) Obviously that Muslim soldier of the U.S. army was gravely offended by the American attack on Iraq.This incident underlines the average Muslim's strong commitment to the concept of ummah, which for all practical purposes, is the life blood of Islamic unity.

Apart from being strongly enshrined in the sharia, the theological commitment to ummah has been regularly preached and propagated by clerics from the pulpits of mosques and stoutly supported by Islamic scholars. The core idea of ummah is to rally all Muslims across the world to rush to the succour of their co-religionists when they are under threat due to any reason and take up arms to defend them.

Thus when the U.S.A. attacked Afghanistan, it was a religious imperative in terms of the duty cast on all Muslims, members of the ummah, to rush to Afghanistan and help the Taliban. That was why 10,000 armed Pakistani militants rushed to Afghanistan to join the war against the U.S. in Kabul and Kunduz, and how several Muslims living in the U.K. decided to proceed to Afghanistan and Pakistan to join the ranks of jihadi warriors. It was the commitment to ummah which led hundreds and thousands of militant Muslim, fired by fundamentalist zeal, to join the fight against Russians in Afghanistan, and later on made them land in Chechenya and Bosnia - thousands came from distant Algeria and Tunisia in the west to Indonesia and Phillipines in the east, while some came even from the communist China. It is the same story in Jammu & Kashmir. Inspired by the religious bonding, terrorists from more than twenty countries have been participating in the so-called jihad in Kashmir which has taken a toll of more than 60,000 human lives during the last fifteen years. This unique bonding of Islamic fraternity has led to massive ethnic cleansing of Kashmir valley from where more than three hundred thousand Hindus (Kashmiri Pandits) have been driven out on pain of death.

To cite another instance of ethnic cleansing by jihadis we have just to recall the chain of bloody events in the Indonesian island of Sulawesi where the soldiers of Laskar-Jihad ravaged the countryside and killed thousands of Christians some three years ago. Similarly in the faraway Malaku islands of Indonesia, another battle ground between Muslims and Christians, "some 10,000 have died in the past four years, including thousands of women and children, some of them tortured and mutilated."(14) A similar call to defend ummah by waging jihad, this time against the America and the U.K. was repeated during the recent Iraq war and in response therto quite a few thousand self-styled Islamic warriors from a number of countries, mostly neighbouring Muslim states like Syria, Jordan and Yemen, and some even from far away European countries like France, started moving into Iraq, while many more queued up for enlistment as volunteers for joining jihad, even in countries far removed from Iraq, like Bangladesh and Indonesia.

Prof. Riaz Hassan, an Australia-based Islamic scholar, in an article on the subject, has expressed the hope that in the years to come the globalisation may lead to a reformulation of the concept of a single ummah. That could result in the emergence of multiple centres of Islam rather than the current one, based in Saudi Arabia, thereby leading to the recognition of a number of regional ummahs. The impact of colonialism and the emergence of nationalist movements which spearheaded the struggle against it, have also served to fragment the Islamic world into over 45 Muslim countries with competing economic and political interests.(15) He expressed the view that a decentred Muslim ummah would confer a kind of legitimacy on the regional ummahs and thus could cause them to chart their own social, political, economic and cultural goals for development along distinctive lines suitable to the regional history and temperament of their people.

He further argues that "in a globalising world diversity and cultural crossovers will become a matter of routine."(16) While admitting that a survey of the evolution of Islam in recent decades shows that ummah - a universal community based on shared Islamic faith and implementation of its law - has indeed become a greater reality in an ever-shrinking world, he is hopeful that globalisation may transform different Islamic countries and regions into autonomous cultural systems. But Prof. Hassan's wishful thinking is far removed from reality. Till date the overall impact of globalisation and rapid advancement of science and technology on the 'faithful' has been in the opposite direction. Globalisation has, in effect, brought the Muslims living in far away regions closer to each other, thereby making the ummah a more closely knit and better bonded entity.

Most Muslim countries and their population have always been suspicious of the process of globalization and Muslim clerics and scholars everywhere have been decrying and deriding it vehemently. They view globalization as a strategem for westernizing and corrupting the Islamic culture and enslaving the Muslim masses. Surprisingly Prof. Hassan has missed the important fact that the very idea of 'decentred' regional ummahs is antithetical to the basic precepts of Islam and any move in that uncharted direction will send alarm bells ringing across the Muslim world, especially among the clergy and the die-hard theologians. Islam as a religious faith has always been a grand monolith and globalization has already promoted greater unity and cohesion among various groups of Islamist terrorists and given fillip to the culture of Klashnikov and suicide bombing.

Frankly, today the unity of the followers of Prophet Muhammed has reached a stage where no attempt to divide the ummah on the basis of cultural diversity or economic interests can succeed. In fact, by virtue of the sheer size of the Muslim population and the vast stretch of the geographical land mass over which they are spread the concept of ummah appears to be far more organised and better bonded than the so-called unity of the western nations (mostly Christian countries practising secularism) or for that matter more closely knit than the mighty North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) - both of which almost fell apart during the recent Operation Iraqi Freedom'.

Some Islamic scholars feel that Imam Gazzali, a renowned scholar of the eleventh century, was responsible for making Islam a highly rigid and exclusivist religion, impervious to discourse and deliberations based on rationalism and philosophy. It may be mentioned that, at one time, a rationalist school of thought called 'Mutzalah' did come up in the Islamic society through the process of evolution. They were votaries of 'Ijtehad' which meant arriving at a consensus through discussions and deliberations. They believed in rationalism and logic and tried to confront the external challenges to Islamic beliefs from various religions and cultures by trying to answer their doubts and queries. The Mutzalah scholars had a solid faith in the rationalist approach to Islamic faith and societal needs, in a way to make them complementary to each other. They believed in explaining and defining Islamic beliefs, ethos and basic fundamentals by using logic and philosophy. But they happened to be in a hopeless minority and were over-ruled by the Ulema who resented the Mutzalah approach.

Ultimately the fundamentalist school (known as 'Isharah') managed to establish its supremacy. Their leitmotif was to accept the Quran and Sunnah as it is. They gave utmost importance to words and the construction of verses, totally neglecting the recondite aspects of the Quranic message. "Isharah deemed that the first group of Islam - that is Prophet Muhammad's companions' method, their strategy and way of living - must be followed in toto, by rejecting the scope for any changes to meet the needs of the society. They ruled out Ijtehad.(17) Ever since Imam Gazzali consolidated and standardised the Islamic beliefs and teachings of the Prophet in the eleventh century, no voice of dissent has been raised. Imam Gazzali brought together the whole gamut of the teachings of various schools and gave Muslim society a consolidated and standardized Islamic 'Fiqh' (that is, Islamic thought and philosophy). This led to unity amongst Muslims and ended the prevailing obfuscation. "Unfortunately, this consolidation and standardisation of Islamic teaching ended the dynamism and growth of Islamic thoughts and led to the phase of blind imitation and stagnation."(18)

Notes For Chapter 2

1. Suhas Majumdar, Jihad, the Islamic Doctrine of Permanent War, ch.1, p.10.

2. Akbar Muhammad, Associate Professor at Binghamton University, New York, Frontline -Muslims: major themes: Islamic beliefs, law and practice, May 9, 2002 -

3. Abdul Rauf, Imam, Masjid al-Farah, New York, Frontline: muslims: major themes: islamic beliefs, law and actices/PBS}.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Simon Elegant with reporting by Zamira Loebis, The Time, March 10, 2003.

8. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Pakistan or Partition of India, p. 290, ch. XII.

9. Ibid, pp.289-290. ch. XII.

10. Ibid, pp.289-290.

11. Ibid, p.291, Source: India in Transition, p.157.

12. A news item captioned Muslim U.S. Soldier kills at own camp, The Indian Express, New Delhi, March 24, 2003.

13. Ibid.

14. Simon Elegant. With reporting by Zamira Loebis/Jakarta, Bullies for Islam, Time, March 10, 2003, p. 34.

15. Riaz Hassan, Professor of Sociology at the Flinders University of South Australia, Globalisation's Challenge to Islam, Source: Yale Global Online (, a publication of the Yale Centre for the Study of Globalization, reprinted in The Asian Age, New Delhi, April 27, 2003.

16. Ibid.

17. M. Hanif Lakdawala, The Four Phases of Islamic Thought, Times of India, New Delhi, June 17 2003, p. 14.

18. Ibid.

Ram K. Ohri is a retired senior police officer of the Indian Police Service (IPS) and author of "Long March Of Islam: Future Imperfect" and "The Bell Tolls: Tomorrow's Truncated India." He serves as a consultant in counter-terrorism.

This is Chapter 2 of Mr. Ohri's book, "Long March Of Islam: Future Imperfect".

The Introduction and Chapter 1 were posted in the September-October 2009 issue of Think-Israel, available here. Subsequent chapters are serialized, one per issue.

The book was published by Manas Publications in New Delhi in 2004. Its ISBN # is 817049186X. It is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc.

Mr. Ohri writes that the book is "dedicated to my sweet grand daughters, Saloni and Jaisal and my soulmate, Pushpa."


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