Who is a Muslim?

Raza Habib Raja


Pakistan unfortunately is not a very tolerant country for minorities. We all know that Christian colonies have been attacked whenever a member of their faith was accused of blasphemy. Likewise, there have been forcible conversions in Sindh of some Hindus.

Yes, there is no doubt that minorities suffer a lot in Pakistan but there is a category (which has various sub-categories) which has suffered even more in Pakistan. This category is not a fixed category as the basis for inclusion in this category varies a lot. This is the category of Muslims who are assumed by some or majority to be Non-Muslims. In fact, literally everyone is potentially a member of this category in the eyes of some.

The biggest “crime” in Pakistan is to be what I call, “Non-Muslim” Muslims. So if you are an Ahmedi, Shiite, and even a believer in some Sufi Saint you will invariably be called Non-Muslim by some. However, that inclusion is not just a harmless thing as it has dire legal and more importantly even life threatening consequences.

After all, Pakistan is a country where right now Shiites are being massacred and Ahmedis are under constant threat despite the fact that the latter have already been declared as Non-Muslims. It seems that those who are considered as Non-Muslims have no right to call themselves as Muslims.

In my last article I had criticized the Second Amendment which declared Ahmedis as Non-Muslim. I got a lot of feedback, mostly from those who disagree with me. Their premise was that Ahmedis are not Muslims because they have different view about the finality of Prophet hood.

In my opinion, this business of trying to define or categorize is dangerous and has caused a lot of bloodshed in Pakistan and for that matter in other Muslim countries.

The most dangerous question to have been asked in the public sphere is: Who is a Muslim? Asking this question is dangerous and trying to define a Muslim is futile and would invariably lead to exclusion of many who do not belong to the sect of the person who is asking the question.

And yet this question is raised again and again. To some extent this has its roots in the very genesis of Pakistan. When you create a country for “Muslims” and moreover try to form a constitution in the light of Shariah, with clauses that actually prevent Non-Muslim to be the Head of the State, then perhaps defining a Muslim becomes inevitable.

It does not matter whether Jinnah was a secular or not, as the need for definition does not arise from his vision ( perceived or real) but the way the Pakistan movement was perceived by many. During late 1940s, due to complex interplay of various factors, a substantial number of people believed that Pakistan was going to be country for Muslims so that they could live their lives in accordance with Islam. This might have been a faulty perception as it had NOT been Jinnah’s intention to make Pakistan a theocratic state but many a times perception end up shaping the ultimate reality.

Although Jinnah was a secular, it was not his vision articulated in 11thAugust speechwhich was being projected in the streets as future shape of Pakistan. The Pakistan movement and its symbolism became somewhat exclusionary in essence. It was supposed to be a country for Muslims and therefore at least in the popular imagination those who were Non Muslims had to be excluded from at least some of the benefits.

No matter how hard you try, this perception could not be avoided. Even Jinnah fully anticipated this and hence made the famous 11th August speech as he fully understood the dangers. However, by that time perhaps it was too late as the wheel had already been set into motion and as I mentioned in one of my articles he did not live long enough.

Pakistan was not built around the concept of civic nationalism but of ethnic nationalism. The focal point of civic nationalism is the nation-state promoting the belief in a society united by the concept and importance of territoriality, citizenship, civic rights and legal codes transmitted to all members of the group.

On the other hand the focal point of ethnic nationality is not voluntary but by birth and native culture, considered an inherent characteristic defined by descent as opposed to choice. Yes, Pakistan had to cultivate civic nationalism after its creation, but the creation itself was based on ethnic nationalism where ethnicity was defined in terms of religion of birth.

These two concepts can actually become blurred in real life as a modern nation state grows in complexity. In Pakistan’s case the movement was based on ethnic nationalism defined in terms of Muslim identity. Here the complication is that whereas nationalism defined in terms of language and racial ethnicity is relatively less complicated ( though still enough complicated), nationalism defined in terms of religion is even more complicated particularly when the followers are divided into sharply conflicting sects.

The question, “Who is a Muslim” assumes importance because exclusion is going to be based on the definition. And since inclusion/exclusion is highly linked with state sanctioned benefits or lack thereof, this no longer remains a merely legal or constitutional question but has definite material effects. To declare some sect as Non-Muslim is one of the best ways to impact material harm. And when the question as who is a Muslim becomes important in the public domain then rival sects vie to get each other declared as Non-Muslim.

And such efforts can manifest themselves in violence. As I pointed out in my one of my articles that the main rationale behind anti-Ahmediya riots of 1953 and 1974 was the demand that they be declared as Non-Muslims. The widespread rioting stopped only when government of ZAB buckled under pressure and the constitution of Pakistan was amended to exclude Ahmedis from the definition of Muslims.

However, the misery of Ahmedis did not stop there. Once excluded from the “definition” of Muslims, they were subject to state sanctioned discrimination through draconian laws and ordinances. Moreover the declaration further solidified their image as heretics in the collective public imagination. It also emboldened all the hard core sectarian elements in the society that through violence they can force a government to concede.

Ahmedis were a small minority and due to the relative nascence of their sect, were not strong enough in the society. It is a far different case as far as Shiites are concerned. Though a minority, they are still sizeable in Pakistan and moreover are intertwined with Sunnis through intermarriages. My own family from the maternal side is a mixture of Shiites and Sunnis. In fact in some cases, husband is a Shiite and wife is a Sunni. It won’t be easy to pressurize the government into doing that.

Yet, the question- who is a Muslim- continues to cast its deadly shadow. There are militant Sunni organizations whose objective is to get the Shiites declared as non-Muslim and today the bloodbath unleashed by them is a tool to put pressure on the state. The message is clear: if you don’t declare them as apostle then we will inflict our verdict which is of death to the infidels.

As mentioned earlier that due to the very nature of Pakistan movement and its dynamics, the question is perhaps inevitable. It is the answer which is now being contested.

Should state define a Muslim? Here lies the biggest problem. The Justice Muni report which investigated the anti Ahmedi riots of 1953 noted:

“Keeping in view the several definitions given by the Ulema (clergy), need we make any comment except that no two learned divines are agreed on this fundamental. If we attempt our own definition as each learned divine has done and that definition differs from that given by all others, we unanimously go out of the fold of Islam. And if we adopt the definition given by any one of the Ulema, we remain Muslims according to the view of that scholar but kafirs (infidels) according to the definition of everyone else.”

And yet there will always be a pressure to define a Muslim. Perhaps the state and society should get it into their heads that it is futile to define a Muslim except in the following way: A Muslim is anyone who calls himself a Muslim.

  • Harun

    This article gives a clue, who is a true Muslim. It is written by Tufail Ahmed, who is hated by many Muslims, including some editors of PTH.

    Recently, I have been ridiculed and dismissed as a ‘sanghi’, as a Zionist and as an Islamophobe for arguing in my writings that Islamic clerics and Urdu journalists engender Islamist ideas and trap innocent Muslim youths in the web of jihadism. So, to defend me in the court of public opinion, I hereby present my advocate Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (1888-1958), the 20th century’s foremost Islamic scholar who was born in Mecca as a citizen of the Ottoman Caliphate and went on to become the free India’s first education minister.
    But first, let’s meet Abdul Hakim whose son Hafesuddin is among two dozen Keralite youths who left India to join the Islamic State (IS) in Syria this year. “My own son called me a kafir (infidel). Radicalism changed my son completely,” Hakim told a TV channel on 11 July. One day, the son texted: “(I will) get the jannat (heaven), here no tax, here Shari’a law only, nobody here catching me, very good place.” Hakim said: “He does not like me anymore. I don’t know why he doesn’t like me anymore.”
    The radicalisation of Hakim’s son is rooted in the practice of Islamic teachings.
    On 27 October, 1914, addressing a large Muslim gathering in Kolkata, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, the internationally known cleric of his era, reflected on what should be the relationship between a jihadi son and his family members.
    He said:
    “This biradri (community of Muslims) has been established by God…All relationships in the world can break down but this relationship can never be severed. It is possible a father turns against his son, not impossible that a mother separates her child from her lap, it is possible that one brother becomes the enemy of other brother…But the relationship that a Chinese Muslim has with an African Muslim, an Arab bedouin has with the Tatar shepherd, and which binds in one soul a neo-Muslim of India with the right-descendant Qureshi of Mecca, there is no power on earth to break it, to cut off this chain…”
    There are two points here: One, in Islam, only a member of the Quraishi clan can become a caliph – a theological point based on which the Islamic State rejected Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar as the caliph of Muslims and Indian Islamic scholar Mualana Salman Al-Husaini Al-Nadwi of Lucknow accepted IS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi as the caliph in 2014. Two, Maulana Azad was speaking at a time when the fall of the Ottoman Caliphate was in sight and his was a well-prepared, well-considered speech in support of global Islamism that led to thousands of Muslims leaving India to wage jihad in Turkey during the Khilafat Movement.
    Maulana Azad was a fiery speaker and an editor par excellence. His speech gives a detailed insight into how Islamic clerics radicalise Muslims through sermons in mosques and speeches in jalsas (religious congregations). Outlining a view of global Islamism, which he explicitly endorsed, Maulana Azad told the audience: “If even a grain of the soul of Islam is alive among its followers, then I should say that if a thorn gets stuck in a Turk’s sole in the battlefield of war, then I swear by the God of Islam, no Muslim of India can be a Muslim until he feels that prick in his heart instead of sole because the Millat-e-Islam (the global Muslim community) is a single body.”
    To inculcate the idea of global Islamism, Maulana Azad quoted Prophet Muhammad as saying: “One momin for another momin is like one brick assisting another brick in a wall.” The word momin means “faithful Muslim” but is sociologically understood in the Indian Subcontinent as an Islamic superman (Mard-e-Momin), popularised by the Islamist poet Muhammad Iqbal who stole the idea of superman from German thinker Friedrich Nietzsche. Then Maulana Azad quoted the Verse 29 of the Quran’s Chapter Al-Fatah which urges Muslims to be friendly between themselves and hard against kafirs (infidels). Maulana Azad translated the verse in following words: “[Be] extremely hard against kafirs but extremely sympathetic and kind among ourselves.”
    Maulana Azad accused Europe of inventing the bogus phrases like “the Eastern Problem” and “Pan Islamism” as “an extreme Satanic strategy” to divide the Muslim world, and lamented that Muslims were responding to it more like a scared “murder convict.”
    He said:
    “Then, if it is true that a sword is being sharpened to strike in the heart of Islam, then what hesitation that we be engaged in developing a shield. If the worship of Jesus has ancient enmity against the worship of God, and this is not a new Christian conspiracy, then the unity of brotherhood is not a new tactic of the followers of Tawheed (Islamic monotheism) to defend against the attack of polytheists.”
    It is often argued by moderates that Islam did not spread by sword. Nevertheless, the idea of the sword has been integral to clerics’ teachings. Pointing to the Ottomans who were waging jihad against Europe-backed Muslims in the Middle East, Maulana Azad said: “The last human sword of Islamic life is only in the hands of the Turks.” Quoting articles from European newspapers such as the Budapest Herald and the Times of London, he said: “Europe considers it the 20th century’s biggest service to civilisation to terminate 40 crore human souls, followers of Islam from anything called culture and civilisation.” Although he said that “Pan Islamism” did not exist outside the mental world of Europe, in the same breath he added: “Alas, there existed pan Islamism among Muslims today! A pan Islamism for which there is no need for some secret committee of Muslims of Turkey and England to give birth to but that which we have been invited to (by Islam) from day one.”
    It appears that a debate was underway at the time to upgrade the MAO College into a full-fledged Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), which happened ultimately in 1920. Speaking about the need for the “Muslim University,” Maulana Azad rejected territorial nationalism among Indian Muslims saying: “Remember, today, for Islam, for Muslims, any national or local movement cannot be fruitful.” He rejected nationalist movements of Egypt, Turkey, Algeria and India, saying: “In my beliefs, all of this is an act of magic by the presager-Satan who makes those asleep because it does not like those sleeping [ie Muslims] to rise up.” “The most important matter is that we have to build a university in Aligarh, have to collect Rs 30 lakh for this,” he said and described it as a kaaba of Aligarh. More importantly, he said: “The day the university is established, wahi (revelation, of Quranic verse 5:3) … will land on the roof of the Strachey Hall (of AMU).” In verse 5:3, Allah says: “This day I have perfected for you your religion…”
    Then, Maulana Azad made an astounding declaration before the Muslims of Kolkata, arguing that peace is useless and war is life. “Oh! dear brothers, remember that however rosy the idea of peace, compromise and rejection of murder and plunder in the world may be, but due to the bad luck of the world thus far the real power is the power of sword; and the source of life, the water of life is in the fountains and rivers of blood,” the religious scholar declared. He was clearer: “Today, if it is asked, where to search for life of nations and evidence of life, then its answer will not come from universities of education and arts, and ancient libraries… Rather, it will be found in the metalled (war) ships which line up the coast…”
    The word “peace” is frequently used by jihadi groups, but in their parlance it means the peace of Islam, which protects non-Muslims if they agree to live under that peace in lieu of jizya (tax on non-Muslims). Maulana Azad added: “That hand is pious in which the flag of compromise flutters, but only that hand can be alive which has the blood-soaked sword in its grip. This is the source of the life of (the global Muslim) nation, means of the establishment of justice…” He asked Muslims to bear in mind that at the time there was “only one sword in the defence of the religion of Allah” and that was in the hands of the falling Ottoman Caliph. He also criticised liberal Muslims who did not side with him in support of the Caliphate, saying that time has come to “discriminate between faith and kufr (non-belief)” and cited the Quranic verse 2:14: “These munafiqeen (hypocrites among Muslims), when they meet Muslims they say, we are Muslims. But when they visit alone their Satans (non-Muslims), then they say, we are with you by heart…”
    Towards the end of his speech, Maulana Azad was conscious of the gravity of the announcement he was about to make for jihad. “Oh! dear brothers, the matter whose announcement I do not fear, it’s strange if you would be scared of listening to it.” And then he declared: “I say that, on every momin who believes in Allah, his messenger (Prophet Muhammad) and his book (Quran), it is obligatory that he rise up today for jihad fi sabeelillah (jihad in the path of Allah).” And then Maulana Azad added: “The first jihad for it is the financial jihad and after it if there be any need is the jihad of body and life…” He argued that “Islam is a sale and purchase (between God and followers)” and added: “The day we accepted that we are Muslims, the same day we accepted that our lives stood sold for Islam. The meaning of Islam is to surrender our heads before the only God, and then it is upon him whether he puts it in the lap of friends or under the sword of enemies.”
    Maulana Azad justified the sacrifice of human lives for jihad by the citing the tradition of Prophet Abraham, who offered his son for sacrifice, an occasion marked every year by Muslims as Eid Al-Azha (the feast of sacrifice) by sacrificing animals. Like today’s jihadis, Maulana Azad asked Indian Muslims to preserve the Ottoman Caliphate “in their hearts as a pure religious relationship, to consider any government of the world that is its enemy as the enemy of Islam and the ones that were its friend as the friend of Islam because friendship and enmity were not for human purposes but only for the religion of Allah.”
    If you have been perplexed during past three years as to why Muslims from India and other nations are radicalised in favour of the Islamic State, Maulana Azad’s speech gives a clear insight into the historical Muslim mind. And he was not a ‘sanghi’, or a Zionist, or even an Islamophobe. Today, an estimated 30 Indian Muslims are fighting alongside the IS in Syria and more than 250 youths are under surveillance in India, while some Indians are also based in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the early 20th century when Maulana Azad was speaking, about 18,000 Muslims from India went to Turkey to wage jihad and women sent their jewelleries so that the Turks could continue jihad. We are much in a better shape today than a century ago.