the ugly reality, there is poetic justice. Osama bin Laden was finally
bearded in the world’s most ‘happening’ terror den: Pakistan. Osama is
no more but who does not know that the cult of violence that he
practised and preached in Islam’s name is alive and kicking in
Pakistan as nowhere else? This article however is about Osama’s
unintended gift to post-9/11 Islam.
Step back just a decade and you’d think that Muslims
engaged with the ‘Islam and Modernity’ paradigm were few and far
between. The dominant voices in the world of 20th century Islam,
especially its latter half, were those of Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi
(founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami on the Indian subcontinent), Sayyid
Qutb (leading theologian of the Egypt-born Muslim Brotherhood) and
Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (who gave birth to Wahhabism, the rigid,
intolerant Islam of Saudi Arabia).
Born and bred as a devout Wahhabi in Saudi Arabia, it
was easy for Osama to embrace the shared belief of Maududi and Qutb
that all man-made ideas and systems – pan-Arabism, democracy,
socialism, communism – were bankrupt: only Shariah law, ruthlessly
enforced by an Islamic state, could restore divine order in the world.
Thanks to an intermixture of Wahhabism, Qutbism and Maududism, what
would otherwise have been an Afghan national liberation movement
against the occupying Soviet forces in the 1980s turned into a
laboratory of violent, global jihad. Osama was the most lethal product
of this cross-fertilisation. And then there was 9/11, al-Qaeda’s own
welcome message to the 21st century and the new millennium.
Call it the Hegelian dialectic:
thesis-antithesis-synthesis. Some Muslims rejoiced over this
“humiliation” of the only global superpower (so soon after the
mujahids had facilitated the demise of the rival superpower). Others
insisted that 9/11 was a mean CIA-Mossad conspiracy to fan
Islamophobia. But saner members of the ummah were horrified that such
a monstrosity could be committed in the name of a faith that literally
means peace. The poison that Osama and al-Qaeda injected into Islam
found its antidote within Islam. Thank you, Hegel.
“Islam was hijacked on 9/11”, declared the American
convert Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. The UK-based scholar Ziauddin Sardar was
as prompt in issuing his ‘fatwa against the fanatics’. With such
opening salvos, the last decade has seen an ever growing number of
Muslim voices eager not only to reclaim their faith from the
extremists but also, in the words of Sardar, to “rebuild Islam brick
Though Osama has now been rendered inactive, the
terror machine is yet to be dismantled, the theology of violent jihad
is yet to be pushed out of the marketplace of ideas. But there are
reasons to nurture hope. You can today build a small personal library
just with books entitled Seeds of Terror, The Nuclear
Jihadist, Terror in the Name of God, Sacred Rage,
Talibanisation of Pakistan, Descent into Chaos and so on.
But should you feel so inclined, you will need to multiply shelf space
several times over to add the books and videos infused with the spirit
of a New Age Islam.
A decade ago the theologians of a tolerant, plural,
gender-just, rights and freedom-friendly, pro-democracy Islam were few
in number. Today not only is their tribe growing rapidly but an ever
increasing number of Muslims, both men and women, are reading and
interpreting the Koran and the traditions of the prophet in sync with
Sadly, we in India aren’t familiar with them yet. But
they are important, influential names across much of the world. The
US-based Dr Khaled Abou El Fadl, for example, is a strong proponent of
human rights, a staunch advocate of gender equality and is among the
most critical and powerful voices against puritan and Wahhabi Islam
today. Then there is Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, co-founder of Zaytuna College
in Berkeley, California. Jordan’s Royal Islamic Strategic Studies
Centre includes him in its list of the top 50 most influential Muslims
in the world. The magazine Egypt Today described him as a kind
of theological rock star, “the Elvis Presley of western Muslims”.
Or take Tariq Ramadan, the UK-based author of
Radical Reform. An online poll by the American Foreign Policy
magazine in 2009 placed Ramadan at the 49th spot in a list of the
world’s top 100 contemporary intellectuals. And let’s not forget Amina
Wadud, Islamic feminist, imam and author of Inside the Gender Jihad.
In March 2005 she stirred up quite a storm in the Muslim world after
leading a Friday prayer for over 100 male and female Muslims in New
In the first year of the 21st century Osama stretched
the dominant Islamic thought of the 20th century to its extreme. A
decade later, there is a growing body of books, lectures and the World
Wide Web propounding an Islam that is at home with the modern world
and vice versa. And in the last few months such intellectuals and
scholars have struck common ground with the masses on the streets of
Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain…
Osama must have had many a nightmare during his last
days of hiding.