By M D Nalapat
The number of Wahhabis in India is far below than in Indonesia, or in Pakistan.
Since the Al Saud family, which is in control of the country named after them, opened the money tap to Wahhabi institutions and personages in 1979, this school of thought has established its dominance within the theological sphere. In the process, it has replaced more inclusivist schools of thought and worship in institutions patronised by the Sunni Muslim community across the globe. Over the years, the type of theological literature available to more than a billion believers across the world has undergone a transformation. Whereas till 1979, almost all such literature commonly accessed highlighted the moderation and conciliatory spirit that is inherent in the very word “Islam”, by 1989 (when the Soviet Union lost the Afghanistan war to Pakistan-supported Wahhabi irregulars) that situation was reversed, with extreme and regressive tracts becoming commonplace, even while the earlier tracts disappeared from circulation. Place of worship after place of worship, religious institution after religious institution, was either newly built or existing ones taken over by those who pledge allegiance to the Wahhabi interpretation of theology. Not coincidentally, this process was facilitated by the hundreds of billions of US dollars lavished on the Wahhabi International by donors in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE and multiple other countries, including the US and the UK. Interestingly, because of the military alliance between the US and the Wahhabi irregulars fighting in Afghanistan, intelligence agencies in Washington, London and other capitals spent considerable amounts of money producing tracts and textbooks that endorsed and glorified the Wahhabi worldview. It took the terrorist outrage of 9/11 sixteen years ago to make at least some minds in those capitals wonder if it was wise to show such munificence to what has always been a deadly foe of the civilisational values of the democracies, albeit one skilled in forming tactical alliances with western powers that result in a boost to Wahhabi reach and capability.
The largest Muslim communities in the world are in Indonesia and India, and Wahhabi groups have sought to make that particular school of thought as dominant in these two moderate countries as they are in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and such other states. Wahhabism has made considerable headway in Indonesia, so much so that organisations that were previously anchored to the syncretic traditions of that country are being taken over by more exclusivist groups. The process of “radicalisation creep” received a boost in 2002 from the separation of East Timor from Indonesia, a split that was agreed to by that country’s leadership in much the same way as India’s leaders acquiesced in the 1947 Partition. The vivisection created a perception within the Muslim majority that if Christians formed a majority in any part of the archipelago, they would want to separate from Jakarta. Should the Hindu-majority island of Bali go the way of East Timor later, that would both be a consequence of the steady growth of Wahhabi influence in Indonesia, as well as a trigger for even faster development of that theology in what would be left of Indonesia after such a split. As yet, the moderates who truly represent the true ethos of Islam are still in control of Indonesia, but they are under siege and their future is uncertain. Fortunately, India is in a relatively better position, the Muslim community in our country being robustly committed to secular values and to inclusivist modes of thought and action. Although there does exist a growing number of followers in India of Abd-el-Wahab (1703-1792), the founder of the school of thought named after him, as yet that number is far below that found in Indonesia and exponentially less than in Pakistan since Zia-ul-Haq was in charge three decades and more ago. In Pakistan, Wahhabism is in the ascendant, while the moderates are close to irrelevance. However, in India a similar effort is being challenged by a host of individuals and institutions, visible, for example, in the support, especially among Muslim women, for the call to abolish the system of Triple Talaq as practised in India.
An institution that for over a century has played a lead role in the battle against extremism and exclusivism is the dargah of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer. Wahhabi groups have long chafed at the moderate message of the dargah and its titular head, Dewan Sahib Sayid Zainul Abedin, who is the descendant (across 22 generations) of “Garib Nawaz” himself. The Dewan Sahib has braved the wrath and worse of fanatics in holding to the message of peace that is at the core of Islam. But now his theological foes have struck, with his own brother Alauddin Alimi seeking to replace him and in effect, condemn the Dewan Sahib to death by labelling him an apostate to the Muslim faith. Why? Because Syed Zainul Abedin called for the voluntary eschewing of beef by the Muslim community as a gesture of fellowship towards those who abstain from consumption of bovine flesh. The Dewan Sahib also condemned India’s Triple Talaq practice as being contrary to the tenets of the Muslim faith. This call for moderation and communal harmony was enough for Alimi and his backers to seek to grab the seat of the Sajjadanashin, which by the rights established by tradition would go to son Naseeruddin Chisti after the passing away of Sayid Zainul Abedin. The contest that is taking place at the Ajmer dargah is of relevance to the whole of India, for the substitution of the present Sajjadanashin by an individual who does not share his peace-loving values would mark a grievous defeat for modern and moderate Muslims across India, indeed across the world. Alauddin Alimi must not succeed. The dargah should not go the way of so many other institutions in India and be lost to voices that both preach and practise inter-communal harmony. The Ajmer dargah must continue to remain the foremost example in India of the moderate and inclusivist traditions of a great faith.