English News

  • youtube
  • facebook
  • twitter

How Pakistan is now using fatwas to counter Jihadis along the Afghan border

Darul Uloom Haqqnia, a Deobandi seminary in Peshawar, has been infamous as 'the University of Jihad'. However, it may now play a role in issuing fatwas against violence in the name of Islam.

With the rise in militant attacks targeting military, civilian and clerics, the Pakistani establishment is rushing to the base from where the jihad or militancy originated – fatwas. And, reportedly, the establishment is also trying to persuade key seminaries in the country and leading religious personalities to help disseminate a discourse that any jihad against the state, its armed forces, its institutions and people will be fasad (evil disturbance and a grave sin).

Most of the jihad fatwas were issued in Pakistan when its army under late dictator Gen. Zia-ul-Haq was helping Afghan mujahideen against the Soviets. Mostly Deobandi clerics and seminaries took frontal positions in galvanising fatwas in favour of Afghan jihad. Following 9/11 when the Pakistan Army under Gen. Parvez Musharraf decided to side with Americans to oust Taliban from Afghanistan, the fatwa factory stopped working in the open, yet fatwa production continued unchecked and they only began to be circulated covertly, calling for jihad against Pakistan Army because of its support to invading infidels.

However, when the Pakistan Army started operations in the tribal areas and some of the madrasas were bombed and civilian casualties mounted, almost 100 clerics, belonging to both the Deobandi and Salafi branches, issued edicts justifying jihad against the Pakistan Army. As a result, suicide bombing made its debut in Pakistan and subsequent years saw continuous low-scale or high-target militant attacks in all major cities of Pakistan, and sometimes even in rural areas.

Clerics and religious figures that termed this jihad as terrorist madness and called for militants to mend their ways were maimed. One of the most notable among them was Maulana Sarfaraz Naeemi, a sufi cleric with family origins in Moradabad, UP, who was assassinated in a suicide attack in his madrasa Jamia Naeemia Lahore in Lahore in 2009.

Naeemi had said, “Those who commit suicide attacks for attaining paradise will go to hell, as they kill many innocent people”. His writings and speeches, according to reports, will be circulated to blunt the jihad narrative.

Another prominent scholar who came under attack is Javed Ahmad Ghamidi, who is reportedly based in Australia after he fled Pakistan following several attempts on his life and assassination of his liberal colleague Dr Muhammad Farooq Khan. Ghamidi continues to write and speak against violent ways adopted by religious outfits in Pakistan.

Ghamidi is the most popular and articulate Islamic scholar in South Asia today. His videos are circulated fervently and even institutions, social media handles linked to Pakistan Army have begun to circulate his lectures and question and answer sessions in bid to stop the jihadi ideology taking widespread roots in Pakistan again.

The wake-up call for the Pakistani establishment came when during the reign of former Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan, militant outfits like Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and now Al Qaeda-Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (Khorasan) hybrid groups intensified attacks inside Pakistan. After the Taliban’s comeback to power, Pakistan thought it would subside, but exactly the opposite happened. It continued even during the new dispensation of PM Shehbaz Sharif and a religious Army Chief Gen. Asim Munir.

On July 30, a religio-political gathering of Jamiat Ulema e Islam (Fazl) headed by cleric-politician Maulana Fazlur Rehman became target of suicide attack, leading to 44 deaths of its cadre, including local chief in Bajaur, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The attack, claimed by ISIL(K), took place after some of the clerics called for rollback of jihad against the Pakistani state as it is no longer an ally of the US and religious people are part of the coalition government. Clearly, this Deobandi appeal backfired as the Salafi (most of Al Qaeda and ISIL adherents belong to this sect) still considers Pakistan as a state ruled by people not following the true spirit of Islam. (It is critical to note the groups that have turned on the state are largely Deobandis or their offshoots and they commit most of the sectarian and communal attacks in Pakistan).

It didn’t alarm the Pakistani establishment alone, even the Taliban in Afghanistan took a cue and its spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid issued a clarification on a fatwa against jihad attributed to Taliban chief Sheikh Haibatullah Akhunzada.

Mujahid argued that it was actually issued by the Darul Ifta, which is a Taliban-run Institute of Islamic Jurisprudence.

“The document, a pamphlet which explains the subject of jihad, has been issued by the Dar al-Ifta of the Islamic Emirate. This is not an order; rather, it is a fatwa of the institute. This pamphlet has been handed over to the authorities to create awareness among mujahideen about jihad,” Mujahid told The Khorasan Diary, a portal devoted to the coverage of militancy in the Khorasan region.

The said fatwa by Taliban supreme leader was result of rigorous diplomacy and “arms-twisting” by the Pakistani Army to reign in the TTP. The Taliban, as reported by the Pakistani media, has agreed to “keep communicating’ with the TTP.

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Army has sought help from key seminaries which had been “bulwark” of ideological support of jihad, like Darul Uloom Haqqania and Jamia Binoria – both originally patterned on Deobandi thoughts. Besides, the Pakistani establishment is actively circulating a 2018 fatwa signed by 1800 scholars. It has been named Paigham-e-Pakistan and calls for shunning of extremism and asks youth to turn to “constructive adventurism”.

One of the most prominent Deobandi clerics, Mufti Taqi Usmani, specifically referring to the TTP in his fatwa, has stated that jihad and armed struggle against Pakistan is illegitimate and that Pakistan’s system of government is an Islamic one.

Apart from this, imams and Juma khutba readers in mosques have been advised to address the misinterpretation of jihad and need for mufahimat (rational approach) while understanding Islam. “Earlier, the Pakistani establishment had taken Islam towards Islamism, now they wish to take it from Islamism to ‘official Islam’,” a commentator in Pakistani media said.

Also Read: Bajaur carnage in Pakistan mirrors Islamic State’s all-out war on Deobandis