Sunday 3 November 2013

Syria’s DAESH and the Emir of Peshawar

Balakot after the October 2005 earthquake (top).  Below is a DAESH poster
This is the weekly think piece penned in Arabic by Saudi mass media celebrity Jamal Khashoggi for pan-Arab daily al-Hayat
Balakot is a strange Pakistani town and the gateway to the Kaghan Valley.
The river Kunhar runs through the town, which is still a famous dwindling tourist destination in the region.
Balakot also falls within the Pakistani Taliban region where inhabitants have yet to reconcile with the Pakistani army. When they don’t attack a Pakistani army convoy, they suffice to torch a few pirated video movies in a shop.
The people of Balakot cherish Saudi Arabia, which helped rebuild their town when it was completely destroyed in the massive earthquake of October 8, 2005.
Syed Ahmad Shaheed (1786-1831), a Muslim activist from India against the Sikhs in the Punjab, is buried in the town.
He set up an Islamic state there in the 1830s that British Intelligence described at the time as being “Wahhabi.”
Syed Ahmad Shaheed was influenced by the teachings of Shah Waliullah (1703-1762), an Islamic reformer and founder of modern Islamic thought in India. He was credited with propagating the Madrassa (religious school) of Hadith (account of the Prophet’s deeds and sayings) and Tawhid (oneness of God).
Waliullah arrived in the Hijaz on a pilgrimage in 1724 and stayed there for eight years studying Hadith and Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence).
In Medina, he became a schoolmate of Sheikh Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab. The pair studied under Sheikh Muhammad Hayat al-Sindi, a prominent Muslim scholar, chancellor of al-Masjid al-Nabawi and Chief Justice of Medina, who instilled in them the principles of Tawhid (oneness of God), shunning fads, following the Salaf (first generation of Muslims, including the Prophet’s companions) and the establishment of God’s Sharia on earth through Da’wah (preaching of Islam) and Jihad.
Each returned to his country to change the course of history.
Waliullah’s disciples did not only spread the concept of monotheism in Islam, but they turned out to be a thorn in the side of the British for decades by preaching Jihad.
It seems British Intelligence officers in Basra and Bombay compared their respective reports and ended labeling followers of Waliullah and his disciple Syed Ahmad “Wahhabis” because they shared the adherence of their counterparts in the Arabian Peninsula to the purity of Islam and their passion for Jihad.
But great ideas are often trashed by overzealous followers lacking experience and wisdom.
After Syed Ahmad succeeded in turning the Pashtun tribes into Mujahideen, he endeared to them an Islam, which is unadulterated by fads and myths. He had them uphold Sharia instead of Pashtuwali, which the non-written ethical code and traditional lifestyle that the indigenous Pashtun people follow.
At the same time, he set up in that remote part of India an Islamic state after defeating the Sikhs and their army there. He thus entered Peshawar victorious in 1830 amid a warm welcome from its people and tribal elders.
Syed Ahmad did not stay there long.
After spending a few celebratory weeks, he appointed a deputy leader, Mullah Mazhar Ali, and retreated to his mountain stronghold among the Pashtun tribes. Inside two months, Mazhar Ali squandered all what Syed Ahmad achieved over a decade by antagonizing the Peshawar region’s population.
For several months in 1830, Syed Ahmad tried to conciliate established power hierarchies, but before the end of 1830 an organized uprising occurred and his close aides in Peshawar and plain villages were murdered and his Islamic movement retreated to the hills.
Syed Ahmad was killed in Balakot by the Sikh army in 1831.
Thus a genuine liberation and religious reform movement was defeated because of a few follies.
History always repeats itself.
Why this long story?
The reason is none other than the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” organization, better known by its Arabic acronym DAESH, and what it is doing to the Syrian revolution now passing through its darkest moments since its outbreak two-and-a-half years ago.
As soon as it joined the fray, DAESH looked down at all the other rebel organizations. It haughtily asked all of them to obey its Emir, Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, who insists on remaining incognito and never received a pledge of allegiance in a public place.
Let no one believe that DAESH’s use of the word “state” in the organization’s name or the designation of its leader as “Emir al-Mu’minin” (leader of the faithful) express a whim or a lust for power.
In effect, it is an abbreviation contrived by DAESH to win recognition of its juridical rule. In other words, a “victorious sect” is demanding the loyalty of every Muslim who is aware of its existence and is mindful of the designation of its Emir by its faithful.
Accordingly, the group’s argument goes, the Muslim should pay allegiance or obedience to DAESH or be sentenced to death as an alien breaking away from the congregation.
From Egypt to Syria, it is the season of Fatwas (or legal judgments) concerning Takfir (the practice of one Muslim declaring another an unbeliever) and murder.
While rebel commanders have been forced to accommodate DAESH on the ground, having been starved of cash and weapons, and now that people realize the alternative to DAESH is the Syrian regime, voices criticizing the group are growing louder by the day.
One preacher called DAESH fighters “outsiders” who needed to be eradicated before retractin, saying his words were taken out of context.
The preacher in question can’t be blamed. DAESH’s reach is long and rough. It also has links to hardliners living in our midst who often justify its actions and intimidate its critics.
Time is bound change all that. A few months ago the media was describing Jabhat al-Nusra as a prototype of extremism and an offshoot of al-Qaeda. Politicians were warning against it and the Americans were using it as a scarecrow not to arm the rebels.
Today, Jabhat al-Nusra looks like a guardian angel compared to DAESH.
Jabhat al-Nusa has even consolidated its relations with moderate Islamist rebel groups such as the Tawheed and Ahrar al-Sham brigades, which since their inception opposed suicide operations and the targeting of minorities.
It is only a matter of time before DAESH takes on these moderate Islamist organizations.
DAESH is akin to the Emir of Peshawar, who squandered years of hard work with his follies and Fatwas.
DAESH is the group that will bring nothing but ruin to Syria’s people and neighbors. It will bring nothing but ruin wherever it roosts, including Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, the sub-Saharan desert, Yemen and Somalia.
Could an apolitical religious summit bring together the Islamic nation’s God-fearing scholars to blackball DAESH and its Khawarij (outsiders) and rebuild the true moral code and religious law of Islam?

I doubt!