Many Muslim political leaders viewed Arabization and Wahhabism as tools of political legitimization
Intelligence-driven kinetic means can only do so much. The acid test would be to prevent the recurrence of the monstrosity that surfaced on the Easter Sunday. A good part of that responsibility lies with the local Muslim community. Their contribution to the success of intelligence operations has so far been crucial. However, confronting the ideology that is at the heart of Islamic terrorism needs greater perseverance and introspection, because of all things, nihilistic Islamic terrorism is only a stone’s throw away from Wahhabism, an austere doctrinaire version of Islam.
Wahhabism is the ideological fountainhead of global Salafi Jihad. Local Muslim leaders have been silent observers, tacit supporters and active apologists of Wahhabism’s growing sway within their communities. Can they fight back the ideology which they have tolerated all too long is the big question.
In this second article of the two-part series, I argue the role of Muslims in countering extremism begins with renouncing the hold of Wahhabism in their communities.
Then he pleaded with them that the travel advisory on Sri Lanka be lifted. A well-intentioned, yet rather a premature request at a time as the locals themselves avoiding public places and sending their kids to schools
In another meeting with Muslim community leaders at his residence, the President vowed that “A few extremists cannot destroy peace and national harmony and vow to defeat them. (He also urged the public not to victimize the Muslim community for sins of a few)
There are competing claims as to how long it would take to defeat Islamic extremism. War winning former Army Commander Field Marshal Fonseka says it would take two years of concerted national strategy.
However, the President on his part is not being overly optimistic. The violent manifestation of Islamic extremism in Sri Lanka is still disorganized and has few willing stakeholders, and it is not a patch on the sophisticated terrorism of the LTTE that Sri Lankan security forces defeated conclusively. Sri Lanka can and will defeat and dismantle violent terrorist cells in the coming months.
However, that would solve only a part, though still the most pressing part, of the problem.
The bigger problem is the radicalization and Arabization of local Muslims through Wahhabism and Salafism, the austere and doctrinaire version of Islam based on the literal interpretation of the Quran and Hadith.
It aims to build a medieval Islamic Caliphate and spews contempt and hate at the followers of other religions. Wahhabism’s spread in Sri Lanka is accompanied by suffocating Arabized cultural and social norms which have resulted in the gradual alienation of local Muslims from the mainstream.
All that has been justified and propagated in the name of ‘True Islam’.
Muslims who self -alienated this way, planted date trees dotting the highways to make it look like the desert Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, send their Children to Wahhabi Madrasas (Instead of public schools) and called the attendees of moderate Sufi mosques as infidels. Their women retreated into Burkas. Their mosques, especially in the Muslim majority areas the East and Puttalam, openly preached hatred towards Jews, the West and India.
The violence that resurfaced on Easter Sunday is a product of an ideology that was tolerated by the Muslim elders and leaders, because, many would argue in private with their co-religionists, that it is ‘Real Islam’
Some of these activities were monitored by the intelligence apparatus and reported to the government. But, all of them shrugged these warning signs as ‘not our problem’ as long as hatred is not directed at home. Such complacency was proved to be a fatal miscalculation.
Religious, social, and State bodies that cater to Muslims were encroached by Wahhabis and apologists. Institutions such as the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama (ACJU), the foremost religious body of Islamic theologians are now dominated by Wahhabis. So is Department of Islamic Affairs, which has given approval for 190 new, mainly Wahhabi mosques in 2015, 50 in 2016, and 80 in 2017. That is, in addition to many hundreds of unregistered Wahhabi mosques.
All Ceylon Thawheed Jama’ath, its splinter group Sri Lanka Thawheed Jama’ath, and later National Thawheed Jama’ath are torchbearers of Wahhabi ideology.
They were all well financed by the Gulf countries, mainly by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, both of which are engaged in a State sanctioned project to spread Wahhabism globally.
Financial heft also allowed local Wahhabi groups to buy influence. Effectively, the Wahhabi narrative came to dominate and reshape the normative traditions of Sri Lankan Muslims.
Also, many Muslim political leaders viewed Arabization and Wahhabism as tools of political legitimization. The so-called Sharia Universities are the product of that understanding.
Tightening grasp of Wahhabism also made reforms exceedingly difficult. Take for instance the stalled efforts to reform discriminatory Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act.
A Report by a committee headed by Justice Saleem Marsoof on reforming the MMDA was handed over to the Ministry of Justice in January last year. Since then, All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, have opposed the reforms.
The Muslim political leadership sided with the ACJU. Reforms were effectively halted.
Another bizarre example would explain the ideological pathways of the type of people who dominate the social /cultural narrative of the local Muslims.
Last year, Muslim community representatives including members of the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, All Ceylon YMMA Conference, Centre for Islamic Studies and United Religions asked the Government to legalize Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
In their representation to the Parliamentary Committee on Women and Gender, the joint Muslim group observed:
“We wish to categorically state that the practice of female circumcision is an obligatory Islamic duty, that it confers numerous benefits” and urged no action is taken to ban FGM.
In short, the status quo in the Muslim society prior to the Easter Sunday attacks favoured Wahhabism at the expense of moderate Sufi Islam.
The extent of Wahhabi takeover is such that a substantial number of local Muslims renounced Sufi Islam of their forefathers and decried worship of Sufi Shrines.
It was that radicalizing impetus within the community that created monsters. It is politically convenient to blame Islamic State for ideological inspiration or claim ourselves as the victim of ‘global terrorism’.
But, in reality, much of this extremism is homegrown. A few locals who were inculcated with homegrown extremism graduated to become suicide bombers.
Then they shared the infamy of their mass murder with the Islamic State. Suicide terrorism was just a stone’s throw away from the virulent home bred extremism of Wahhabism.
Muslim elders, organizations and most of the so-called liberal elites lived in a state of denial all the while this extremism is making inroads and reshaping lives of local Muslims.
Most of them defended the growing spread of Wahhabism. Over -hyped claims of Islamophobia also made it hard to discuss the real threat and implications of Islamization/radicalization in a sensible way.
Several Muslim community organizations, including Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, Sufi Muslims of Kaththankudi and All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama reportedly alerted the Government Intelligence agencies and the Defence Secretary on violent preaching of terrorist ring leader Mohammed Zaharan Hashim.
They should be applauded for their contribution. However, how many of them have genuinely acted to counter the spread of Wahhabism and assorted non-violent extremism. (Probably the Muslim Council of Sri Lanka tried to be a moderating influence, but what about the ACJU and the Muslim political leadership?)
The violence that resurfaced on Easter Sunday is a product of an ideology that was tolerated by the Muslim elders and leaders, because, many would argue in private with their co-religionists, that it is ‘Real Islam’.
It is this ideological narrative that Muslim leaders should confront and defeat. Most of them were silent observers, tacit supporters or active apologists of Wahhabism.
They should now rally to reverse its hold, confront its ideological narrative, and expose and evict the holders of high offices, who have nurtured Wahhabism’s spread in the country. They should also restore the primacy of moderate Sri Lankan Islam.
They have helped the security forces arrest Islamic terrorists and are actively cooperating in the on-going military/intelligence operations. Still, they can better contribute to national security and communal harmony by tackling the monstrosity of an alien ideology that inspired terrorists. Only the local Muslim community can do that. All we can do is to rely on them.