Message to literalists: You are a minority

Published: April 5, 2011

Sunni Muslims shout slogans during a protest in Karachi against the suicide bomb attacks on a shrine in Dera Ghazi Khan district. PHOTO: AFP

The Pakistani Taliban’s suicide bombers attacked the shrine of Syed Ahmad Sakhi Sarwar in Dera Ghazi Khan district, killing 50 people. The dead include children, women, the elderly and handicapped.

Self-destructing suicide bombers who kill innocent people show that they are against the Islamic ideology of saving humanity from self-destruction.

Taliban’s confused ideology

The Taliban (including Wahabis, Salafis and all Muslims who kill other Muslims) cast a shadow on their status as Muslims.

The classical scholar Hasan alBasri calls Muslims who kill other Muslims “the grave sinners”, whereas Wasil ibn Ata called such Muslims neither “believers” nor “non-believers”. Ironically, the predecessor of all the literalists declared them “kafirs” (non-believers).

The suicide bombers of the shrine of Syed Ahmad Sakhi Sarwar will be considered kafirs by the literalists – paradoxically the same group they committed this wicked act for.

Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for all the attacks on sufi shrines in Pakistan that have taken place in the last 18 months and killed hundreds of people.

Literalists like Wahabis are well known for their enmity against sufis and shias. Their acts of violence are not sufficiently condemned by masses to elicit total rejection of their ideology.

Portraying an extremist Islam

Wahabi-ism portrays Islam as a universal, abstract, homogenous and changeless faith; a faith having only one literal interpretation without any historic context.

The west has also constructed Islam as a Unitarian, abstract, homogenous and changeless faith having only one literal interpretation without any historic context.

Muslim authoritarian regimes have also enforced or attempted to enforce and project a similar view of Islam and Muslims, overlooking diversity to oppress its people and harass them from demanding human rights enshrined in the UN charter.

Edward Said and Talal Asad have shown how the west has constructed Muslims devoid of sectarian, cultural, ethnic, historic and geo-political diversity “to make that (Islamic) world vulnerable to military aggression”.

Edward Said also condemned the practice of the Arab elite who internalised the US and British orientalists’ ideas of Arabic culture. (Edward W Said, Islam Through Western Eyes, The Nation)

The spread of fundamentalism and extremism emerged after colonialism with the support of the west to guard against communism.

The war in Afghanistan helped Saudi Arabia to spread its Wahabi ideology all around the poor Muslim nations including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia.

One kind of Islam?

Wahabis built the image of Islam with $100 billion over decades, erasing all other representations of Muslim communities.

After 9/11, representations of all Muslims as fundamentalist became dominant in the west. Although 15 out of 19 hijackers were Arabs and alQaeda’s leadership is also Arab, the west did not acknowledge this attack coming from a puritan Wahabi sect of Saudi Arabia alone. Instead, they construed this attack as one coming from the entire Muslim community.

Wahabis succeeded in painting all Muslims as themselves, expunging the 98 per cent of the rest of Muslims and dominating the narrative of Muslim community.

Such representation and construction of Islam and Muslims is highly problematic as it fails to include the majority of Muslims belonging to diverse races, nationalities, ethnicities, and sects. Salafis and Wahabis constitute less than a few per cent of total the Muslim population and for this reason, they cannot represent Muslim majority.

Salafis and Wahabis completely reject shiism and Sufism, discarding a sizeable majority of Muslims from the fold of Islam.

Muslim countries display diversity in their political and constitutional situations. For example, Turkey is a completely secular state that implements only man made rules in their country, whereas Pakistan is an Islamic republic but has a man made constitution and does not enforce Sharia code in society. Saudi Arabia and Iran are Islamic states with their specific brand of Sharia implemented in their countries. Sharia is also understood and applied differently by Muslim communities belonging to numerous sects.

Salafi and Wahabi construction of Islam and Muslims do not account for the Muslim majority who remain silent and erased from the collective consciousness of the west and the rest. Violent attacks on innocent Pakistani citizens are on the rise. Media analyst Malik Rashid writes:

This spring and summer we will see more savage acts as terrorists are pressured in their hometowns by Afghan-Pakistan border. They are trying to incite popular unrest using book burning by Pastor Jones while fleeing cowardly, leaving their trapped and fallen comrades behind.

We need to condemn literalists in the strongest terms possible. We should send them a clear message that they will only be considered a part of the 1.57 billion diverse Muslim community if they learn to live with the 98 per cent of non-literalist Muslims.


Dr Shams Hamid

Analysis and intellectual discourse from Toronto based Research Fellow at the Centre of Critical Qualitative Health Research, University of Toronto

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Disco Molvi

    Whoa! Sweet! Now beware the rants of Saudi-philes and Taliban apologists.Recommend

  • S.haque

    Excuse me!! “Pakistan does not enforce sharial law in the society”
    So why do women get half share in the property, why do we have the sickening Qisas and diyat qanoon.. why are people getting killed in the name of so called blasphemy and why is still the women’s testimony considered half??? And you think we still dont have sharia in this country!!Recommend

  • Anusha

    we already fight against eachother.. its easier for then to make us go against eachother.. unity is the best way to fight them!Recommend

  • Shams Hamid

    @S.haque: Thank you for your comment and for stating that Pakistani constitution contains many sharia codes. I know that Pakistani constitution states that no law in contradiction with Islam will be permitted in Pakistan; and Pakistan has civil and criminal courts along with Federal Sharia courts. Pakistan had even enacted hudood ordinance in 1979 as part of Zia’s Islamization plan that was revised in 2006.

    However, I am comparing the implementation of sharia and the diversity of its interpretation within Muslim countries ranging from Saudi Arab and Iran through Pakistan and Egypt to Turkey and Azerbaijan. Saudi Arabia employs one of the strictest interpretations of sharia. Women are not allowed to drive, are under the guardianship of male relatives at all times, and must be completely covered in public. Recommend

  • Nabeel

    Dear writer! Alhumdulillah I am a salfi (ahl-e-hadees) muslim & I and almost all salfis (at least whom i know) are against these attacks. Killing of innocents is not allowed in Islam whether they are believers or non-believers. If Paki Talib are doing so, then they are extremely wrong & misguided.
    In my opinion Paki Talibs heads are playing in the hands of US & other. Because muslims don’t do what they are doing.
    I totally disagree with your article, infect it is unrealistic & far from truth.Recommend

  • Shams Hamid

    Dear Nabeel it is good to know that you and all the other Salafis you know are against these attacks. However, I would request you to please read up this article following this link:

  • Tilsim

    Dr Hamid, I think the fault lies with the way religion is understood in Pakistan. It’s not about minority or majority. Whilst the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis may not be Wahabis, a significant minority are influenced by Deobandis. Deobandis do condemn certain Islamic practices in their quest for a pure, narrowly defined Islam. Deobandism and Wahabism share this pure Islam obsession. They are just being literal to the texts as commonly understood. Whilst killing innocents is clearly not allowed in Islam, the unfortunate thing is that these people first do not regard other muslims as innocent and for certain crimes as they see them against the religion, they justify killing as a ticket to heaven. It’s not about fairness or tolerance for these people, it’s about right and wrong. The Barelvis are no different either. Look at the way they celebrated Salman Taseer’s murder and no maulvi could be found to lead his prayers. Worse, look at how parliament behaved.

    Frankly the West has little to with it now. They feel more threatened by terrorists than we do, as proven by the measures they have taken to identify and isolate terrorists. They would be delighted if we felt as threatened as they did and took active steps to fight these killers, not only with bullets but with doctrine too.

    For my part, I hear lots of righteous condemnation but little doctrinal pushback from mainstream muslims. Only a few institutional fatwas come to mind but see very few efforts at grass roots level. That said, even righteous condemnation is markedly missing from the religious parties in Pakistan who simply deflect the issue by pointing a finger at the West as the perpetrators.

    Let me ask you, how many times does the Mullah at the local mosque at Jumaah namaz point his finger at religious deviants? How often does he condemn violence perpetrated by Muslims in the name of Islam? Hardly ever. Is this because certain doctrine is not a settled matter in the majority of Muslims’ minds? Whilst I appreciate you pointing a finger at Wahabi doctrine, please consider this in your future articles because it has far reaching consequences. It’s not just the minority that has a problem – it’s the mainstream that seems confused because it is is not launching an effective counter.

    At the core, having a strong sense of fairness is essential to Islam. If that is lost, all is lost. Is there a strong allegiance to fairness amongst the mainstream Muslims of Pakistan in 2011? If not, why is that so? Violence may be a particular trait of the Wahabi/Salafis as exemplified by the Taliban but it’s not just the fault of the Wahabis.Recommend

  • Ibrahim Sajid Malick

    Dr. Shams Hamid – this is an excellent analysis. As Jeremy Walton has written elsewhere, contemporary discussions of Islam seem to begin and end with the relationship between Islam and politics—both anti-Islamic pundits and critics of Islamophobia vigorously assert that the mechanics and kinetics of this relationship are central to the evaluation of Islam today. A nexus of paranoia, fear, ignorance, and old-fashioned bigotry typically animates arguments on one side, while those on the other tend toward the polemics and apologetics of subaltern critique. Both camps, however, assume that discussions of Islam necessarily traverse and trouble the domain of the political. This exclusive emphasis on the political marks the difference between Islamphobia à la mode and the older Orientalist discourses of Edward Said’s interrogation: unlike today’s Islamophobia, classical Orientalism constituted a total romance of the East that subsumed political, aesthetic, religious, and cultural forms. In contrast, contemporary Euro-American public debate about Islam evinces what I call the compulsion of the political.”Recommend

  • Hasan

    Oh how much sectarian discussions amuse meRecommend

  • Pramilla

    Dr. Hamid:

    Excellent reference to historical scholarship on the issue. And indeed part of the reason that western narratives on Islam refer almost exclusively to Wahabism is because they are dictated by a political agenda that requires the construction of the “other”. The “other” must look act, talk, walk, and think as differently from the west as possible. The reason is very simple. It is much easier to go to war with people who are constructed as irrational, uncivilized, backward, savages. It is the same process that was used 500 years ago when colonial conquests first began. But I agree that it is highly unlikely that these terrorists were motivated by any real religious passion. Money maybe, but its hard to believe that a true follower of muslim faith would commit such an act at a religious site. Remember these shrines have been worshipped for hundreds of years by followers of all faiths and sects. They are product of the culture and history of the region. Those who would destroy them are not people from the same soil.Recommend

  • http://- VoK


    Blockquote> The classical scholar Hasan alBasri calls Muslims who kill other Muslims “the grave sinners”, whereas Wasil ibn Ata called such Muslims neither “believers” nor “non-believers”. Ironically, the predecessor of all the literalists declared them “kafirs” (non-believers).Blockquote


    hey genius, they do not believe the others to be muslims and THAT is where the justification comes from.Recommend

  • literalist

    Message to Dr Shams Hamid;

    You got your math wrong.Recommend

  • Bilal

    Dear Writer,

    Do you think the reason of such increased attacks is a militant monopoly of a particular sect (Deoband)? If these attacks are avenged in similar way, the Deobandi intelligentsia might make their militant to calm down. Recommend

  • Shams Hamid

    @VoK: You are absolutely right. Literalists discard the 98% Muslims from Islam. They need to understand that it is impossible to disregard 98% Muslims, they are a minority and they have to learn to live with it. They are intolerant and majority has tolerated them for too long, it is about time we say no to their violence and defend ourselves.

    Sufis have been the most tolerant and compassionate among all other groups of Muslims and they attack them for all the wrong reasons. Al-Mansoor Hallaj said not to ask anyone of his religion because we all come from the roots of the same tree and asking this tears us apart. Recommend

  • Shams Hamid

    @VoK: You are absolutely right. Literalists discard the 98% Muslims from Islam. They need to understand that it is impossible to disregard 98% Muslims, they are a minority and they have to learn to live with it. They are intolerant and majority has tolerated them for too long, it is about time we say no to their violence and defend ourselves.

    Sufis have been the most tolerant and compassionate among all other groups of Muslims and literalists attack them for all the wrong reasons. Al-Mansoor Hallaj said not to ask anyone of his religion because we all come from the roots of the same tree and asking this tears us apart.

    @Pramilla: US used authoritarian regimes of Muslim countries to fight against communism/USSR. After the dissolution of USSR US interests in authoritarian regimes of Muslim countries changed and for that reason these authoritarian regimes had to resort to terrorism to pressurize US and the west to keep supporting their regimes and staying engaged with these regimes. Recommend

  • Shams Hamid

    Following is a very enlightening analysis of Malik Rashid of the current political relationship of the Authoritarian regimes of muslim countries with their own population, the US and the rest of the west:

    It is a political war that rulers of Muslim countries, belonging to various Islamic-sects, indulge in. Pakistan’s army officers serve in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia or Kuwait. Pakistan’s nuclear bomb is the pride of all Muslims. A return to glory, i.e. the colonial Muslim empire is advertised as the objective. It is described as implementation of sharia by Taliban like fundamentalists, imposed as Arab racism over Chad by Gaddafi or Janjaweed militia over Sudan, or genocide by Pakistan army in Baluchistan.

    The importance of human rights and the will of the governed is conveniently ignored in the guise of various explanations of Islam ranging from Wahabi to Shia. The ruling elite is warring against gender equality and democratic rights of their own people and blame the ‘West’ or modernity for invoking challenge to their status. The event of 9/11, the presence of Osama-bin-Laden in Afghanistan, immediate sacking of the ISI chief Gen. Mahmood Ahmed on US insistence, and unanimous popularity of a violent rhetoric against USA in the whole Muslim world, are not disconnected. It is not a singular grievance of Pakistan being left alone after the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, but all the US backed tyrants of the Muslim world found themselves exposed and scared when their usefulness was lost after the end of cold war.

    There are many participants belonging to different Muslim nations and Islamic faiths who converge in their rejection of human rights and democracy, and they blame US and NATO to distract their own suffering people from claiming rights. (Not that US or NATO soldiers did not commit war crimes, and we see soldiers being prosecuted in their respective countries).

    US was responsible for removing Musaddaq of Iran during the cold war but they have no need for their friendly despots anymore. Zainul Abedin Ali and Mubarak are gone. Gaddafi and Ali Saleh are on the way out. Kicking dictators out of power does not assure democratic victory. Fascism of the majority or the power of military could pose threat to freedoms. It is the freedom of the 99% Muslim men and women that is at stake. Religion-Faith-belief, that claimed to be the cornerstone of civilization has turned into a deadly weight, crushing its adherents. Recommend

  • Shams Hamid

    @Bilal: Dear Bilal you have raised a very interesting conclusion from my article that I am suggesting a violent response of the literalists’ violent attacks on innocent people. First off all I am not suggesting violent action, I am recommending a most strongly worded message to the terrorists that their violence casts a shadow on the status of their faith; and their act instead of making them martyrs is making them “mass murderers”, “grave sinners”, and according to their own interpretations even “Kafirs”. Recommend

  • shiv kumar

    Hello,if after approx 1400 years of islam arriving in this world you are saying it is not properly understood then i am am afraid you are doing something basically wrong. How can it be that nobody understands islam except the mullahs. The fact is that shariah is the goal of islam and in koran it is written to be enforced violently all over the world. you cannot live in harmony with jews, with christians, with pagans etc. after converting or killing them and making them dhimmis you cannot live with each other( other muslim sects). violence begets violence. love begets love.Recommend

  • Bilal

    @ Dear Writer
    Definitely it’s not your conclusion and instead my thinking. Being a member of a Barelvi religious organization, I believe that the non militant approach of our leaders is one reason that innocents at shrine and mosques are being killed. I wanted to just have your view that a counter militant force may control the situation or there would be just more violence?Recommend

  • hassan

    Condemnation of literalists alone is not enough; there has to be large-scale de-indoctrination to remove the poison from the minds of all muslims so that they learn to avoid falling into the trap laid by the literalists.

    As everyone knows, the majority of people in Pakistan steadfastly believe the following:

    That 9/11 was done by US/Israel/Bilderberg to bring bad name to Muslim world.
    That Mumbai attack was done Indians themselves to bring bad name to their glorious Land of the Pure.
    That the attack on Sri Lankan cricketers was done RAW to destabilise the enormous growth of their country.
    That all the suicide attacks happening in Pak are done by RAW/Mossad/CIA agents.
    Amir,Butt, and Asif are innocent and BCCI and English board conspired to trap these young men so that Pakistan cannot become the No 1 cricket team.
    That US is solely responsible for all the ills of their country.

    It is this popular narrative that dominates the religious and political discourse in the country. This narrative clouds the interpretation of Holy Book as well.
    So, naturally, the literalists are winning, because their interpretation finds resonance with people – majority of the population of Pakistan – who subscribe to the above views.Recommend

  • Ahmed Aziz

    Excellent analysis Dr Hamid. I would like to add that nobody has the right to force a religious or any ideology on someone. Everybody thinks that they are the best and the purest of all religions. Christians, Muslims, Jews, whoever. This is not a scientific analysis. So the best and the IMPOSSIBLE solution is that we all just mind our own business. But, we as Muslims have this itchiness in our feet to spread the WORD and sadly, by any means necessary.

    I would like to say to the literalist, wahabis, whoever please mind your own business, leave the women to decide what they want, leave the Dervish Sufis to dance, leave the people who go to shrines and leave everyone alone and let them practice whatever they want. You literalists do not have monopoly over religion, nobody has. I will worship whoever I want (or not worship) however I want – Just mind your own business. Recommend

  • Shams Hamid

    @Shiv: Peace is the goal of Islam. Compassion and love of all is the call of all the spiritual masters or all sufis of Islam. However, like other religions, Islam also has an organized and/or political aspect, which yearns for political power. Majority of muslims do not participate in the political side of Islam, rather they stick to the individual Islamic faith and collective cultural practices that vary from region to region.

    @hassan: I agree that Pakistani regimes have attempted to indoctrinate Pakistanis and Pakistani curriculum, texts and media will have to re-instate the history to root out the state propaganda.

    @Ahmed Aziz: Who will disagree with you. I am totally in agreement with you view. You should worship whoever you want (or not worship), and however you want.Recommend

  • Tasneem Chowdhrey

    I read an analysis by someone, somewhere: The media attention to the acts of few is overshadowing the practice of millions. Media in its zeal to earn advertisement revenues keep flashing such acts as BREAKING NEWS to keep teh viewers glued to thier respective channels. In turn this out of proportion projection serves the purpose of these groups more then the act they committ. First step could be MEDIA BOUYCOT of such acts!!!!!!!!!!Recommend

  • John

    Islam never originated as a theological split as every other religion. Islam claims Abrahamic traditions but advocates violence against Jews from day one. Christians were partly spared as long as they obey by the Islamic rules, within certain limits. Let us not talk about Hindus here.

    Everyone in the world who does not believe in Islam and it’s messenger are Infidels and no one can leave Islam, and the advice of the messenger of Islam is to kill the apostate. Once born into Islamic family or embrace the faith, one have no option but only to be in Islamic faith until death.

    Women are worth only 1/4 of their word, and worth only 1/2 the inheritance of male as per Islamic theology.

    Muslim men can marry infidel women, but infidel men can not marry Muslim women.

    All the above are universal fundamental belief in Islam regardless of sects (literalists or contextualists)

    The so called contextual islamists realize the incompatibility of this belief system and try to ignore certain aspects of sharia and by acknowledging other belief systems. In so doing, the contextualists become moderates.

    Unfortunately,by acknowledging other belief system of god, contextual islamists now violate the core of Islam, Allah is one and only god, and now contextualists become apostates.

    The contextualists are actually trying to introduce theology into Islamic teaching. Unfortunately, Islamic scripture and the words and deeds of it’s messenger are infallible. Any contextual theologian violates this rule.

    Literalists fully understand the Islamic belief. Contextualists ignore certain core beliefs of Islam.

    Simply put, Literalists are true islamists whereas contextualists are apostates, who now become infidels.

    This is the conflict.

    Hope this gets published. Please do not quote Quran or Hadith in rebuttal as I have studied them all. (Pls ignore type error)Recommend

  • Abu Hamza

    Leave Pakistan, paradise of grave worshipers. Recommend

  • Shams Hamid

    @John: Thanks for your interact. I must say that like everything else Muslim community is also evolving and trying to adapt to the politically, economically, culturally, morally, religiously and technologically changing world. In last 30 years world’s newly acquired advanced technology has totally changed all aspects of life. World’s population has reached almost 7 billion of which 1.57 billions are muslim. We now live in a global community where failure and success of any part affects the success and failure of the whole. Muslim community has lagged behind in socio-political development and it must catch up to survive the changes otherwise the consequences will be critical not only for muslim community but for the entire global community. We need to understand the problems of literacy, poverty, and lack of human rights including women rights and facing 1.57 billion muslim community and find solutions to overcome them. Theological, philosophical, political, economical and all other discussions need to share this goal, any other strategy will not only fail the muslim community but the entire human community.Recommend

  • Shams Hamid

    @Tasneem Chowdhrey: I think media cannot avoid broadcasting such horrific acts because they are newsworthy. And while these news keep the militants in public view it also displays their violence against innocent people to everyone turning this publicity into negative publicity. However, media can air more condemnations of these acts from all sectors of society. And media can also emphasize the stories of the victims. I agree with you though that medias role become questionable when they do not resist turning murders like Mumtaz Qadri into heroes. We must not allow anyone to spin and fictionalize our history turning murderers into heroes. Recommend

  • mohsin

    i m neither a scholar nor any ortodox muslim bt i hav learnt one thng abt islam…its a religion ov heart n conscience teaches to do just gud thngs whre no 1 wud get hurt frm any 1 even an animal….evry1 is free to do his/her prayers in da wa dey wish….no 1 is master of islam to call others kafirz …………..n we all kno btr (if we thnk wdout any religious favour) who r dese extremists n aftr whum
    (mr ZIA) in ds cntry dere startd declaring kafirz .kilashinkof culture n many more social crimes…..Recommend

  • Shams Hamid

    @mohsin: In Urdu we have a proverb “Jitnay muNh utni baataiN” that could be roughly translated, as “there are just as many interpretations as many interpreters”. Any debate on any subject including ours verifies this proverb. Myth of cultural homogeneity of Muslim community must be busted. Muslims belong to different ethnic groups with different customs, conventions and traditions. Muslims are not only ethnically diverse, they are nationally different also like Punjabi-Pakistani muslims or Punjabi-Indian muslims. Culture is the way we deal with the challenges of life and cultural diversity enables muslim community to deal with life challenges in multiple ways.Recommend