| Your (real) friends are (no less than) Allah, His Messenger, and the believers, those who establish regular prayers and pay Zakat and they bow down humbly (in worship). [Holy Quran 5.55]
Protection Of Civilians During Armed Conflicts
An Open Letter to Muslim Ulema and Intellectuals
Dear fellow Muslims of India,
It should give us satisfaction that Indian Muslims are not associated with any one of the international terrorist organisations, in spite of the fact that in independent India, they have been periodically subjected to organised violence, sometimes on genocidal scale. On occasions, some stray Muslim individuals have taken recourse to terrorist acts, in the wake of demolition of the Babri Masjid (1992) and Gujarat carnage 2002 which have been traced to their frustration and loss of hope to get justice from the system. However, it is again satisfying that none of these stray terrorist acts have ever enjoyed support from any religious or political Muslim organisation in the country. This course of sanity and moral rectitude followed by Indian Muslims owes much to your sustained efforts to inculcate in them the sense of values that has made them prefer forbearance to revenge.
However for reasons lying outside the control of Indian Muslims, terrorist acts have been committed in the country, especially in Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Jammu in which it is innocent civilians who have suffered loss of life and property. You have invariably condemned all such acts as being anti-humanistic as well as anti-Islamic. One such diabolical terrorist act of serial bombing took place in Delhi on 29 October, 2005, which took a toll of more than sixty innocent human lives and hundreds of injured persons and massive destruction of property. It is yet not certain which group organised the ghastly act. No Muslim militant group should be automatically held responsible for the act in Delhi, unless it is established by credible impartial inquiry, although circumstantial evidence does point to involvement of some Muslim groups.
There is weight in your opinion that the claim of the Indian Government’s agencies attributing each act of terrorism to specific individuals and organisations mostly Muslims should be treated as suspect, in view of its record of fixing post-haste responsibility under the policy direction of the Home Ministry, as well as by the record of false encounters and framing up of innocent people even in normal civilian situations.
It cannot, however, be denied that there are organised groups of Muslim militants, in Jammu and Kashmir who treat their struggle for freedom as Islamic Jihad and who feel that in the face of the Government of India’s betrayal of promises, they are justified in waging an armed struggle, for which they enjoy varying degrees and nature of official and unofficial support from the neighbouring country, which feels aggrieved by not only Indian unreasonableness over Kashmir, but which also bears a deep grudge against India for its role in its break-up in 1971.
We can rightly feel satisfied over principled Indian Muslim public position on these issues, characterised by moderation and realism. However, it cannot be denied that we as Indian Muslims have chosen to play a passive role not only on the sensitive political issue of Jammu and Kashmir and on the legitimacy of Islamic Jihad, but even on the un-Islamic mode of indiscriminate use of force wherein innocent civilians are targeted for barbaric killing and are subjected to other harms, whereas Islamic code like the modern humanitarian laws on armed hostilities require absolute protection to all non-combatant civilians, especially children, women, old and disabled persons and places of worship and worshippers.
It is time that we realised that periodic post-terrorist event condemnation like those in Delhi on 29 October is not enough. Our humanist-Islamic conscience should make us engage in a joint struggle to ensure absolute protection of life, dignity and freedom of un-involved civilians and civil activities during all hostilities.
We owe it to our conscience, to Islam and to fellow humans to prevent killing of innocent people in the name of Islamic Jihad. We must not continue seeking protection under the umbrella of blaming the media for associating Islam with Jihad. It is not media, but the militant Muslim groups worldwide that have adopted names based on Islam and early Islamic history (whereas groups in Northern Ireland or Sri Lanka or in India engaged in armed struggle have not adopted Christian or Hindu or other religious names and inspirational symbols), to carry out attacks in markets, hotels, trains, buses, offices and temples where un-involved innocent people, including Muslims, of all age groups get killed or maimed. For example, once in Jammu, some poor migrant workers from Bihar and Nepal were targeted for killing. Attack on Raghunath temple in Jammu is recent history.
Apart from the absolute Islamic unethicality of such ghastly deeds, what is the political or strategic advantage gained by militant groups from such acts? It is nil. On the contrary, such Jehadi terrorism has caused strengthening of the hands of hate speakers, revenge seekers and war mongers against Muslims and Islam in India and worldwide.
The situation calls for a joint declaration by all Indian Muslims organisations, ulema and intellectuals on the requirement of protection of civilians in all conflict situations. We may not blame any particular group for having committed specific terrorist acts in the past. We need not also question the legitimacy of use of force by those who consider it as a legitimate means for a cause, that in their eyes is just. Without going into the merits of the legitimacy and efficacy of use of force, we have to declare our commitment to avoidance of the undeserved suffering of the innocent and demand unambiguous assurance from those involved in armed militancy for the protection of civilians, in terms of the Islamic code on Jihad.
Such an Indian Muslim Declaration on Protection of Civilians should be followed by a similar joint declaration by religious leaders and intellectuals of Pakistan and Bangladesh, as Islamic code on this issue is not relative, depending on political exigencies. It is possible for Muslims of a country, not to accept the verdict on Jihad by Muslims of another country and get exempted from its applicability, but there cannot be any country-wise and situation-wise relativisation of the code, on conduct of hostilities. In a world divided by borders, Islamic ethico-legal position should be universal.
A process of intra-community consultation on the issue within each of the three countries and across borders needs to get underway through conferences and Internet. After each country Declaration, a joint Indo-Pak-Bangladesh Muslim Declaration on Use of Force and Protection of Civilians should be adopted. It should be followed by active campaign through all community forums to get these norms implemented.
My dear fellow Muslims, my exclusive address to you on terrorism should not give the impression that in my view killing and harming of innocent civilians is done by Muslim militants alone. On the contrary, State security forces have used lawful force against civilians in all situations, from Jammu and Kashmir to places like Hashimpura (Meerut) to terrorise Muslims.
Similarly, during all communal carnages, all those who suffer loss of life, property and dignity are innocent persons. Innocent people have been burnt alive in ‘riots’ from Jabalpur (1981) to Gujarat (2002) by organised militants. Hindu India is yet to come clean on the demolition of Babri Masjid and the widespread carnage that followed it-which was nothing but one manifestation of State-aided terrorism. It is time that Hindu religious leaders and intellectuals realised that a similar campaign on protection of civilians was required to be undertaken by them.
Inspite of this, it is my view that there is no justification in Islam for such retaliatory actions which result in killing and harming innocents. Indian Muslims, on the contrary, should come forward and play a pro-active role in joint mobilisation in the sub-continent in humanising use of force by bringing it under humanitarian law in all situations, which will be in keeping with the call of our conscience, as well as in consonance with the interest of all communities and people in the region.