Jihãd and Religious Riot

An important question relating to the subject of jihãd is this: in mixed populations consisting of Muslims and non-Muslims alike, should this sanguinary creed not inevitably lead to religious riots? Certainly, the Koran furnishes us with verses which have the appearance of extremely provocative utterances aimed at rousing the Mussalmans to a state of murderous mob-fury. “Go forth light armed and heavy armed and strive with your wealth and your lives in the way of Allah,” says the Koran (9/41). A verse of this kind does look like being more in the nature of a rabble-rousing ejaculation than a proclamation of preplanned and premeditated warfare. “Slay the idolaters wherever you find them” (9/5) is again, to all appearances, a call to lawless violence rather than a general’s directive to draw the battle lines with discipline and forethought. Indeed, the whole group of the so-called Immunity Verses (9/1-12) of the Koran seems for all practical purposes to indicate a sort of abdication of the Islamic state’s responsibility for law and order by asking the Muslim masses to destroy the infidel population by whatever means available to them. A close examination of the context and consequences of the verses is, therefore, necessary to investigate the question of the relation of the doctrine of jihãd to religious riot.

As has been mentioned earlier, the Immunity Verses of Sûrah Taubah were issued in early 631 AD to inform the idolaters of Arabia that after the expiry of 4 months their religion would no longer be tolerated. As Mohammed Pickthall, the orthodox translator of the Koran, mentions in the introduction to this sûrah, these verses formed the “proclamation of Immunity from obligation toward the idolaters” and “signified the end of idolatry in Arabia”. But how was that end to be achieved? By “slaying the idolaters” indiscriminately, says the Koran; by “besieging them” and by “laying for each of them an ambush”. In other words, Allah does appear to have sanctioned, by these verses, religious riots on an unprecedented scale.

But did the Prophet so interpret them? The biographies do not narrate any large-scale riot following upon the issuance of these verses. It has to be remembered that the Prophet survived these injunctions by only about a year, and most of the time he was receiving delegations from the tribes of Arabia offering voluntary submission and voluntary adhesion to his creed. Information regarding forcible conversions during the period is scanty; and apart from the riot-mongering verses of the Koran mentioned above, we are not informed of any specific instance of religious riot actually taking place in pursuance of them. In the technical language of Islam, we should say that the riot-mongering verses did not in fact give rise to a body of Sunnah to illustrate them.

But indeed such Sunnah is not necessary. The Islamic concepts of Dãr-ul-Islam (territory of Islam) and Dãr-ul-harb (territory of war), which originated from the jihadic provisions of the Koran and the Hadis, seem to have grown out of this very dilemma. These concepts presuppose the extermination of Arabian idolaters by the power of the state, while in non-Arab Islamic states the practice is to spare the lives of idolaters on payment of the poll-tax. Such an arrangement dispenses with the need for religious riots in Islamic states for the simple reason that the state on its own does the work of conversion or refrains from it according to its own convenience. In these states, the populace is absolved from its duty of “slaying the infidels” indiscriminately.

By the same token, non-Islamic states with a large body of Muslim population must of necessity give rise to religious riots, if the Ulema declare these states to be Dãr-ul-harb. The Immunity Verses of the Koran must, in the nature of things, come into full play in such states. In this restricted sense at least, jihãd and religious riot are one.

Who would give the call for such riots ? It has been shown in the previous chapter that jihãd cannot start without the Imam pronouncing a call for it. It has also been pointed out that in Islamic states, the king is the person best qualified to pronounce such a call. But in Dãr-ul-harb such an Imam is obviously not available. So any person with the requisite Islamic qualifications can give the call for jihãd, and even the Imam who leads the congregation in Friday prayers can very well undertake the job. Needless to say, such a jihãd can hardly turn out to be anything but a species of religious riot.

To illustrate such jihãds, which should more properly be called jihãd-riots as distinct from a full-fledged jihãd, I should give some examples from India’s recent history. In such a case, historical examples of lesser Imams must replace the Prophet’s Sunnah if only because the Prophet’s career antedated the doctrine of Dãr-ul-harb.

(1) The first considerable religious riot in India under British rule was the so-called Mopla rebellion of 1921 which occurred in Malabar as an offshoot of the Khilafat Movement. The Moplas burst into unprecedented violence against the British, following upon the Khilafat Committee’s call for the same addressed to the believing population of Malabar. As it turned out, most of the casualties in this jihãd were Hindus rather than the British. Hundreds of Hindu women jumped into wells to save their honour, others being ravished and slaughtered with absolute indifference by blood-thirsty mujãhids. Hundreds of corpses of Hindu women as well as children were recovered from the wells after the end of the riots. The call for this jihãd had been pronounced by the Ali Brothers, Hasrat Mohani, and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. Mahatma Gandhi himself acknowledged these atrocities as part of Islam’s holy war. He referred to the mujãhids as “God-fearing Moplas” and said: “They were fighting for what they consider as religion and in a manner which they consider as religious.” Needless to say, such manner of fighting for such a cause is the essence of an Islamic jihãd. It should be mentioned that leaders like Azad gave the call for jihãd against the British rather than the Hindus, but it is not known how they intended to confine the war against a single class of infidels.

(2) The Great Calcutta Killing of 1946 was again the consequence of a call for jihãd, which in this case was pronounced by Mohammed Usman, the Mayor of Calcutta at that time. He put the call in black and white and addressed the mujãhids as follows:

“It was in this month of Ramzan that open war between Mussalmans and Kafirs started in full swing. It was in this month that we entered victorious into Mecca and wiped out the idolaters. By Allah’s will, the All India Muslim League has selected the selfsame month of Ramzan to start its jihãd for realising Pakistan.”1

(3) The holocaust in Noakhali in the same year (1946) was likewise intended as a full-fledged jihãd. The call in this case was pronounced by Gholam Sarwar, a Muslim M.L.A. from those parts. Gholam Sarwar’s call was not documented, but the report submitted by Judge Simpson clearly refers to “large-scale conversion of Hindus to Islam by application of force in village after village. In many instances, upon the refusal of the menfolk to embrace Islam, their women were kept confined and converted under duress.”2 All these of course were characteristic of a true jihãd.

This was not all. As in Calcutta, the Noakhali riots were characterised by the dishonouring of thousands of Hindu women. There were clear indications that these unfortunate women were looked upon as the mujãhids’ lawful plunder (ghanîmah). Baboo Rajendralal Roy, the President of Noakhali Bar Association, attempted to put up on his own some resistance to this jihãdThe outcome of this resistance has been described by a contemporary writer: “Rajenbaboo’s head was presented to Gholam Sarwar on a platter, and two of his lieutenants received as guerdon both of his young daughters (in their harem).”3

(4) The large-scale communal riots taking place in places like Aligarh, Bulandshahar and the like in December 1990, were all the handiwork of worshippers proceeding from mosques at the end of the Friday prayers. Most newspapers reported these riots, but none quoted the call given by the Imams.

(5) Almost all Hindus have in recent years been evicted from the Kashmir Valley as a result of jihãd. This particular jihãd has been authorised and financed by Pakistan and other Islamic countries. Clinton’s America is the latest addition to the names of countries actively promoting this jihãd. Of course, America has not called it a jihãd but declared its support of the mujãhids in the name of Human Rights, which means the same.

(6) The large-scale arson of December 1992 occurring in Islamic Bangladesh in the wake of the demolition of the Babri structure at Ayodhya was characterised by gangrapes of thousands of Hindu girls, assaults on Hindu temples, and widespread loot and violence. It had all the marks of a full-fledged jihãd.

All these examples go to show that riots on many occasions break out in the name of jihãd. I have mentioned Indian examples alone, but similar examples can no doubt be cited from most countries with a substantial Muslim population. It is a moot point whether such jihãd-riots satisfy all the scriptural requirements of an unadulterated Jihãd fi Sabilillah (jihãd in the way of Allah). But there is little doubt that jihãd-riots do take place. If a country with a sizeable Muslim population neglects the possibility of their incidence, it does so at its own peril. In India, for example, the ever-increasing uncertainty in Hindu-Muslim relations can be set down to our long-standing failure in taking a clear stand on the subject of riots inspired by the psychology of jihãd endemic in the Muslim community. Before taking up this topic, I should give a summary of the discussion spread out in the foregoing chapters.


1 Translated from the Bengali original cited in R.C. Majumdar, Bãñglãdesher Itihãsa, Volume IV.

2 Ibid.

3 Benoy Bhushan Ghosh, Dvijãtitattva O Bãñgãli, p. 68.

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