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Islam vs. Islam

Islam vs. Islam

Author: Prafull Goradia
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: February 6, 2008

The assassination of Banazir Bhutto is yet another episode in the civil war between the comprehensive Islamists and the civil Muslims in Pakistan.

To the former, life is Islam first and Islam last. To the latter, there is more to life than the scriptures ordained; religion is only the lifeline between man and Allah.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah should be credited with indicating what a civil Muslim should be, in his famous speech to the Constituent Assembly at Karachi on August 11, 1947: "You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in the state of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed -- that has nothing to do with the business of the state".

Whether it is President Pervez Musharraf, or the military establishment or Mr Nawaz Sharif or the legatees of Benazir Bhutto, and all those who would like to lead a normal life, regardless of their political preference, should all be united in this conviction. The soldier, as distinct from the mujahid, falls on the side of the military establishment.

In Pakistan, however, there is a problem. The Baluch sepoy may be in sympathy with regional separatism, the Pathan or the Pushtoon soldier may be partly or wholly charmed by the Islamists, whether represented by Taliban or Al Qaeda. This means that the Pakistan Army is not all on the same side in the ongoing civil war.

Pakistan is in many ways the centre of the Muslim universe. There is Iran in the north-west, Arabia in the west, India to the south, Bangla-desh, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc, are in the east.

There are two faces of the Islam, the comprehensive and the civil so equably divided. The destiny of Islam hangs in balance on the dusty plains of West Punjab and on the hot sands of Sindh.

On the outcome will depend whether most Muslims of the world will have the opportunity to enjoy a free normal life or whether they will be condemned figuratively into the burqa.

However, this is not the first time that Islam has fought Islam. Within 50 years of the ascension of Prophet Mohammed, the first decisive intra-Islamic battle was fought -- on October 10, 680, on the plane of Karballa situated about 50 miles from Baghdad.

The Shias lost their entire holy family headed by Husain ibn-Ali and his brother, Hasan. The bloody clash at Karballa was the acme of a ruthless tussle between the sons of the fourth and the fifth Caliph.

Hazrat Ali was a cousin as well as son-in-law of Mohammed. He and his followers believed that the Caliph or the representative of the Prophet should necessarily be a blood descendant of Mohammed. Ali became the fourth Caliph, but unfortunately he was murdered in 661 AD.

Muawiyah was old but ambitious and persuaded Ali's son Husain to allow him to get the opportunity of being the successor. After him Husain would be the consensus choice. The situation was so manoeuvred that on the death of Muawiyah, his son Yazid was made the Caliph. Husain and his supporters could not forgive the breach of promise which eventually led to the fateful battle of Karballa. Those who remained faithful to the memory of Ali and Husain became the Shias, while others are called Sunnis.

The bad blood between the two denominations of Islam spews periodically whether on the streets of Lucknow or in the mosques of Pakistan.

Earlier Pakistan's ulema had displayed intolerance to the extent of expelling Ahmadiyas from the fold of Islam. The reason given was that the sect's founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmed (1839-1908) claimed to be the Mahdi or the expected messiah.

Since 2004, Iraq has witnessed the most violent clashes between the Shias and Sunnis since Karballa. Admittedly, for centuries, the area bristled with suppressed Shia frustration. Although they have been a majority whether around Baghdad or Basra, it was the Arab Sunnis who ruled all the way until Saddam Hussein was overthrown by US troops in 2003.


Neighbouring Iran, which is entirely Shia, was able to do little to help its Iraqi brethren. Iran is also oil rich and so is jealous of Saudi Arabia.

Apart from the Shia Sunni syndrome, the Arab Sheikhs or monarchs abhor an electoral Iran. Without a monarchy in place, Iran is potentially a radical state which could upset or overthrow the opulent status quo of West Asia.

The monarchies are about the only countries which appear stable or free from an Islam versus Islam conflict. Egypt is ruled by Nasserites who are bitterly opposed to the extremist Muslim Brotherhood.

In Algeria, there was a civil war which began in 1991 when Islamists attacked the Government forces. By 2002, when the fighting finally ended, two lakh lives had been lost. President Abdelaziz Boutaflika, elected in 1999, led the victory of the civil elements and the defeat of the Islamists.

Decades earlier, Turkey had witnessed a big blow to the orthodoxy at the hands of those Muslims who saw a future only in Europeanisation. Yet, 80 years later, it is not certain that Turkish politics will not be lured by Islamism.


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