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Lies, Duplicity and Deceit in the name of Allah

Tufail Ahmad writes on political Islam
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A special issue on ‘Islam and terrorism’ by Urdu magazine Haftroza Nai Duniya distorts facts, disfigures history and denies misdeeds

India's leading Urdu-language weekly newspaper Haftroza Nai Duniya has published a special issue on "Terrorism and Islam." Edited by journalist and former lawmaker Shahid Siddiqui, the weekly's special issue dated May 25-31 carries a series of exclusive articles devoted to the international debate surrounding the rise of jihadist organisations in the Islamic world. Since authors of the articles are not identified, it is reasonable to infer that the viewpoints pushed before the readers are shared by the editor, more so since the weekly is a family business. The Urdu weekly is widely read by Indian Muslims, especially in northern states of India.

Haftroza Nai Duniya argues that Islam did not spread by sword, though it uses at least four accompanying images in which a sword is shown as a weapon of glory, including one on the cover page. Worryingly, it goes on to justify the massacre of nearly a thousand Jews of Banu Quraiza on Prophet Muhammad's orders despite the fact the entire tribe had surrendered and desperately sent emissaries requesting safe passage and offering to leave behind their wealth. The unidentified author of an article on the subject justifies the siege of the entire community including women and children, saying: "Whenever the prophet laid siege to an entire population, all the population and people of the entire tribe were fully and practically participating in the war. This is the reason that an entire tribe was targeted. Madina's Jewish tribe of Banu Quraiza is an example of it."

The author states: "During the prophet's era, a time came when Muslims were forced to end the Jewish tribe of Banu Quraiza, and their members of fighting age were killed while some others were imprisoned and were enslaved and sold. This incident needles the Jews even today." One of the justifications provided by Haftroza Nai Duniya for the killings of the Banu Quraiza Jews is that Judaism's holy book Torah itself allowed for such punishments for violating bilateral pacts and – it goes on to argue – even in modern times the punishment for treason under any constitution is not less than death. While arguing that "Islam has ordered good treatment of slaves," the weekly justifies the taking of captives and selling them as slaves so that they could not gather again.

Various historical accounts indicate that about 900 Jews of Banu Quraiza were killed despite having surrendered. If such large-scale killings of surrendered persons are justified by an Indian journalist in modern times, any sane mind is left wondering if it is morally wrong for the Islamic State (ISIS) to massacre hundreds of Christians, Shias and members of the gay community in Iraq and Syria today. The Urdu weekly justifies the killings of Banu Quraiza Jews, saying: "Islam has not permitted the killing of any innocent person but has ordered harsh punishments for crimes whose purpose is that fitna (mischief) and conflict end from the land of Allah." In Islamic debate, fitna could include any non-Islamic practice that is not approved by Islam.

A key argument running throughout the weekly is that any wars involving Muslims in history have essentially been due to aggression by non-Muslims, notably by non-Muslims of Mecca in the times of Prophet Muhammad and now by non-Muslim America and its allies. In an article titled "The Islamic State's Massacres: After All Who is Mutilating the Character of Islam?" Haftroza Nai Duniya observes: "Who is mutilating the character of Islam? Who is stamping labels of terrorism on Muslims? Who is sowing the seeds of terrorism in the Islamic world? Who is causing the funeral of democracy in the Islamic world? Who has opened the game of terrorism from the Arab world to the North Africa? Who has given a new lease of life to Al-Qaeda? Who has nurtured the Islamic State? There are numerous such questions but there is only answer for them: America." Although the weekly says that all early Islamic wars were defensive in nature, it does however note that Prophet Muhammad planned the Khyber war in advance based on intelligence reports.

The article's unidentified author uses the most socially disparaging terms for America such as "dogla" and "dogli" which mean "double standards" literally but to the Urdu-speaking audiences they have extreme heinous connotation. "A dogla character, a dogli power and a dogla imperialism that has weaved such a dangerous web to destroy Islam and Muslims in the world that the Islamic world and Muslims themselves are seen as responsible for every destruction," the author observes about America whose president Barack Obama has gone out of his way to ask NASA to help scientists from Islamic countries and travelled to Cairo in 2009 to deliver a landmark speech at the city's Al-Azhar University, calling for a new beginning in America's relations with the Islamic world. But Haftroza Nai Duniya delivers this verdict: "The truth is that America has attempted to mutilate Islam and Muslims by naming terrorism as jihad and terrorists as jihadis."

If America is the sole reason for the rise of global jihad, especially Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, one wonders if it was America that was responsible for the assassinations of several Islamic caliphs in early Islam and the bloody Battle of Karbala in 680 CE. The weekly sees Hollywood and American television serials as a project of the US government. One article is titled: "The So-called 'Islamic Terrorism' has been Born from the Womb of American Imperialism – An organized conspiracy from Hollywood to television serials." Arguing that "Hollywood and television have played a big role in linking Islam and Muslims in the West to terrorism," it declares: "The most important question is whether this conspiracy is limited to Hollywood or represents the mentality of the film world, or is part of the (American) government's project to pave the path for its foreign policy because only after such character assassination [against Islam and Muslims] the Western powers display the determination for aggression in the world."

In one article titled "Pakistan has Bartered for Osama's Death" which is based on a highly contested recent report by U.S. journalist Seymour Hersh about the killing of Osama bin Laden, Haftroza Nai Duniya forwards several conspiracy theories involving America. One of these is: American soldiers cut Bin Laden's body into pieces and threw on the mountains of Afghanistan as they were returning from Abbottabad in May 2011. The U.S. has said that Bin Laden's body was given a burial at sea. The article moves on to another conspiracy theory arguing that the capture of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was a drama enacted by America. It says: "Saddam Hussein was not captured from any basement in Tikrit; rather a drama was enacted after his arrest in order to cause humiliation and disgrace that he was captured from (a hiding in) a basement."

A lead article in the magazine – titled "The Satanic Game to Defame Islam in the Name of Islamic Jihad" – forwards the following argument: "Islamic terrorism and Islam are opposite of each other. There is no concept of terrorism in Islam." It also observes the following about the jihadi threat to India: "Hindus and Muslims have been living here without any big confrontation but here too terrorism has spread its feet during the past two decades. Knowingly or unknowingly, India is also standing in a position where it is in the war against terrorism in the group of [allies of] America which is to a great extent the founder of the current terrorism." It notes that "a wave of fear" has spread among Indian Muslims after the Bharatiya Janata Party came to power in mid-2014 and "anti-Muslim activities" by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) grew.

In Urdu language, the following words are used sometimes interchangeably for terrorism involving Islam and Muslims: inteha pasandi for extremism, shiddat pasandi for militancy, dahshat gardi for terrorism and jihadi for jihadism. The lead article quotes some analysts and Islamic reformists such as Maulana Wahiduddin Khan but since Urdu journalists do not use quote marks, it is hard to differentiate who said what. However, Haftroza Nai Duniya makes the following observation as if to justify "Islamic militancy": "Militancy has two aspects. One meaning of Islamic militancy is to remain loyal to or to remain connected to the basic principles of the religion (of Islam). The current era is of religious freedom… If Islamic militancy is understood in its second meaning, in other words in the meaning of forcibly imposing it on others, then it is wrong." If one were to accept the first meaning of "Islamic militancy", it would mean that Muslims should follow their religion with militancy, a key principle followed by the ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

The article puts forward the following argument: If terrorism has spread, it has spread among Arabs, not in Islam. Shahid Siddiqui, the editor of Haftroza Nai Duniya, is introduced in the article as a "credible journalist and intellectual" who expresses sadness about the developments in the Islamic world but also expresses hope: "One day, Muslims will understand the web woven around them and will be able to confront it." The article argues that the experience of Islam in India has been harmonious due to the influence of Sufi mystics and Shahid Siddiqui is quoted as saying: "The day India is no longer secular, that day not only Muslims will be destroyed but the entire country will be destroyed." It goes on to dissociate Islam with the misdeeds of Muslim rulers who governed India and in Arab countries in the past, saying they were fighting to preserve their power and not propagate Islam.

The Urdu weekly has a number of special articles, including on Rohingya Muslims and one on the Koran's 24 verses on jihad in which jihad is defined as good for humanity, noting: "The Koran has indeed given the order for jihad, but its purpose is not to spread lawlessness in the world but to liberate humanity from lawlessness. Its purpose is not violence, but to end violence." It says jihad is essentially defensive. It argues that "jihad by sword", one of different types of jihad, is the duty of an Islamic state, not an individual but then goes on to justify it as just another war allowed by the UN in the event of the lives and property of Muslims being in the need of defending: "What if America's existence were in danger, will it not wage war?"

There also articles explaining how Islam is a religion of peace and Sufi mystics played a role in its propagation. In one of the articles, the magazine explores how Indian Muslims are peaceful. It notes: "Although hatred in the name of religion is common here and Muslims have also been complaining of unequal treatment to Muslims, such conditions are responsible for the growth of terrorism and secessionism. Despite this, the Muslims of India have proved to be peaceful." It adds: "Why is it that Muslims here are such peace-lovers? Mountains of atrocities are broken on them but they struggle against them peacefully. Muslim-killing riots are organized but Muslims are not ready to break up. Their mosque is demolished and is converted into an idol-worshipping place but against that too Muslims merely limit to fighting through courts. To the extent atrocities have been committed against the Muslims of India since independence (in 1947), if these were committed against any other nation, its youths would have embarked on terrorism and treaded the path of destruction."