Analysis: Seminary decree boost moderates

By KUSHAL JEENA, UPI Correspondent  |  Feb. 28, 2008 at 11:40 AM
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NEW DELHI, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- A recent decree by India's top Islamic seminary declaring terrorism anti-Islamic has not only come as a morale booster for moderates in the community, but also put on the defensive separatists and hardliners who were drawing religious and moral inspiration from 150-year-old Darul Uloom Deoband.

"It (decree) was much needed both in the international and domestic levels as somehow an organized and systematic campaign is on to paint the entire Muslim community as terrorists," said Zafar Agha, an expert in Muslim religious affairs.

Agha said the decree by the seminary in Deoband, which has served as a philosophical influence to the Taliban, describing terrorism as anti-Islamic would also bolster the arguments of Muslim moderates who have been battling the campaign by Hindu nationalists to link India's Muslim community with terrorism.

The Darul Uloom seminary located at Deoband, 475 kilometers from Lucknow, the capital of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, held an anti-terrorism conference Monday to discuss terrorism and attempts to link it with the Muslim community in India. Following elaborate discussions the influential Muslim religious leaders from all over India, the conference unanimously concluded that terrorism should be strongly denounced.

"We don't have any link or association with terrorism, terrorists, whatsoever. We reject terrorism in all its forms and manifestations. Terrorism is anti-Islamic," said Maulana Marghoob-ur-Rahman, the chief rector of Darul Uloom.

The seminary, which is regarded as influential across the Islamic world, has been under pressure from intellectuals and moderate leaders in the community to sever its softness toward the jihadi brand of Islam propagated by the Taliban and militant groups active in India's restive Jammu & Kashmir state.

The decree marks the first time India's top Muslim university has outright rejected terrorism. The seminary was until Sunday known as an advocate of hard-line Islam.

"The decree has come as a whiff of fresh air, at a time when the BJP and other outfits here had cornered Muslims in the name of fighting terrorism. The seminary's rejection of the killing of innocents in the name of Islam is commendable," said Iftikhar Gilani, a senior journalist at the Kashmir Times who is an expert in minority affairs.

The BJP refers to the Bharatiya Janata Party, India's main opposition that espouses Hindu nationalism.

He further added that the government needs to heed the appeal by Islamic seminaries not to harass innocent Muslim youths by arresting them under "false charges" to earn laurels for their officers.

The decree may help the United States in its fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Most Taliban were trained in Islamic seminaries in Pakistan that drew their inspiration from Darul Uloom Deoband.

Like other Muslim universities the world over, Darul Uloom was battling to find a definition of terrorism. It finally took a landmark decision that will pave the way for others to follow, said experts at the New Delhi-based International Islamic Center.

"This is the first time that a religious institution has so strongly condemned violence in the name of Islam," Maulana Marghoob-ur-Rahman said.

Experts are of the view the declaration would help reverse the trend of equating Islam with terrorism. It will be quite difficult for pro-extremists to challenge the decree as scholars and students coming from the Deoband seminary are held in high esteem in the community. Scholars, intellectuals and teachers at the university held considerable internal discussion before the pronouncement was made.

"This will not only take the wind out of the sails of those within the community who have chosen to interpret Islam to serve their own nefarious ends, but also fundamentalists within the Hindu fold who have always been quick to equate Islam with terror," said Syed Aziz Pasha, a lawmaker of the Communist Party of India.

The government, which has officially not reacted to the decree, unofficially said it is closely watching the reaction and fallouts from the fatwa. According to an Interior Ministry official, the government wants to wait as the Deobandis have decided to hold similar anti-terrorism conferences at the state level.

The decree has been largely welcomed by the Muslim community, but it has divided the community in Kashmir where separatists abound.

"Killing of noncombatants was a sin. Islam doesn't allow that. We all agree to it. The religious scholars have seen only one aspect of the problem and have been silent on the real problem of Kashmir," said Sheikh Abdul Aziz, the former chairman of Al Jihad, a separatist group active in the early 1990s.

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