The Wahhabi were founded by Abd al-Wahab (1703-1791) who claimed that the teachings of Mohammed had been corrupted by decadent influences. He argued that the faith should return to the purity of the Islam of the first two centuries. After his expulsion from Medina Wahab formed a relationship with the Saud tribe. The Saud's went onto conquer Arabia. By 1811 they had established control and created a capital in Riyadh. Wahhabism became the favoured version of Islam. The Saudi reign was challenged by the Ottoman Empire on two occasions. The last was made famous by the film Lawrence of Arabia. This was to mark the beginning of a strange friendship between the West and Islamic fundamentalism. The British formed an alliance with the Saudi's to defeat the common enemy, Ottoman Turkey. The result was the restoration of the Saudi dynasty in Riyadh and the re-establishment of the Wahhabi sect.
However, not all is well in the relationship between the Saud royal family and Wahhabi clerics. Wahhabism is puritan in outlook and shuns the ostentatious display of wealth. As oil money began to spoil and corrupt the royal family Wahhabi clerics began to declaim the corrupting influence of the West. There is now deep division within the Saudi society between the supporters of religious orthodoxy and the supporters of a more pro-western stance.
The Deobandi are named after a Muslim seminary founded in the Indian city of Deoband in 1866. This sect arose largely in response to the perceived corruption caused by the influence of Hindu syncretism and Sufi mysticism. They were also violently opposed to British rule. Like the Wahhabi it seeks to return to a purer version of Islam. For this reason the Deobandi are sometimes incorrectly referred to as Wahhabi.
When Pakistan and India split during the partition Deobandi radicals became influential in Pakistani politics. It is the Deobandi who founded the madrassas, the religious schools that were the source of the Taliban, Taliban simply means 'student'.
The important point to remember is that both of these sects arose as a reaction to the belief that Islam had been corrupted by outside forces, and they arose before oil had been discovered in the Middle East.
As mentioned the Saud royal family are the patrons of Wahhabi sect. The Wahhabi sect has had a powerful influence throughout the Islamic world. Many rich Saudi's regard it as their religious duty to support the efforts of the clerics. This has included the private and public funding of a network of charitable organisations. These organisations helped fund Deobandi madrassas in Pakistan and helped fund Bashir's school in Indonesia. A proportion of this money has also helped fund Osama bin Laden's activities, pursued in the name of Wahhabi religious zealotry.
The common Muslims of the subcontinent have been moderate and the general body of both Sunnis and Shiites has lived in peace. Not so long ago people following the Sunni doctrine used to be seen atop rooftops witnessing Ashura processions. At some places, they also used to set up water dispensers for the mourners. Despite their doctrinal differences, the common Muslim did not consider others heretics or apostates. These are now things of the past.
The Saudi influence in Pakistan and the adoption of extremist demands has led to the unhindered growth of extremism. The country started depending on Saudi Arabia for financial assistance and even involved it in its political matters. The dependence of Pakistan on Saudi aid had a price tag about which the common Pakistani had no idea. The price tag was the total freedom to the Salafi doctrine to set up their religious schools or madrassas without any government oversight over the syllabi. That resulted in the exponential growth of this doctrine, which had a comparatively inclusive strain of Sunnis as a majority. It was conveniently forgotten by those allowing them uncontrolled growth that the Salafis had no tolerance for dissent and had all but wiped out any dissenting doctrine from areas under their political dominance. General Zia’s active support for this doctrine forced Iran to involve itself to assist the Shiites fight the onslaught on them and this made things more complex. Sectarian killing started in his era as a result of operations by militant organisations he let form and the country has since suffered. While in the past there has been some retaliatory activity by the aggrieved, it is fortunate that they have concluded retaliation to be self-consuming, and in the recent past, sense has prevailed and their reaction has so far remained restrained and civil.
The majority of students from madrassas where the dissident is taught is a heretic and thus deserving death have become the backbone of extremism in Pakistan. When terrorist outfits began operating in this part of the world, these very people sympathised with their activities and offered them political support. When subsequent to the terror attacks on the US, Pakistan started its war on terror, it did not concurrently start the prerequisite of zero tolerance for extremism that was necessary for a successful campaign against terror. The covert political support for terror outfits has, therefore, succeeded in dividing the public reaction to acts of terror, as is evident from the Malala incident where a section of society was made to smell a conspiracy, thus making the reaction weak.
February 22 marked the day when Maulana Haq Nawaz Jhangvi, the founder of the infamous Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), and the ideological godfather of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) — the radical group that has accepted responsibility for the recent killings of the Hazara Shiite minorities in Quetta — was assassinated by suspected Shiite militants in 1990. As the nation mourned the sad events of February 16, 2013, when the Hazaras were attacked yet again in Quetta and more than 90 innocent lives were lost, a twitter post stated, “Ghar ghar Jhangvi utthe ga, Tum jitne Jhangvi maro gay” (A [Haq Nawaz] Jhangvi will emerge from every home, how many Jhangvis will you assassinate?). The twitter message further stated that February 22 was to be remembered as ‘a grand event of the martyrdom’ of Maulana Jhangvi. The message clearly showed that Pakistan’s problem of religious intolerance.
Based on a strict Deobandi interpretation of Islam, the discourse of the LeJ, i.e. ‘the army of [Maulana] Jhangvi’, revolves largely around the themes of purity and purgation, being especially critical of Shiite views. A central aspect of it is takfir, i.e. declaring members of any Muslim group to be infidels, casting them outside the fold of Islam, and at times, going up to the extent of pronouncing them ‘wajib-ul-qatl’ (deserving of death). This then gets connected to the concept of jihad having become obligatory to put the specific group to death. In June 2011, the LeJ issued a pamphlet against the Hazaras in Balochistan in which all these themes were vividly visible. Words like ‘kafir’ (infidel), ‘naapak’ (impure, unclean) and ‘Pakistan is the land of the pure [only]’ clearly showed the worldview of the LeJ vis-à-vis the Hazara Shiites. The pamphlet announced that the Hazaras would be targeted and killed by the LeJ.
An interesting, and much revealing couplet in a poetic tribute to an anti-Shiite activist published by Sipah-e-Sahaba reads, “He became a devotee of the Companions [of the Prophet (sallallahu alehi wassalam)], and took a ticket to paradise.” In a complex struggle involving religion, history, territory, identity and politics, Pakistan battles against her Frankenstein’s monster of religious intolerance and militancy through largely superficial, negligent and hypocritical measures. Sadly, in a society where tickets to heaven, and hell, are easily available, innocent people will keep on dying at the hands of the violent, self-appointed, soldiers of God. It seems that the monster is here to stay.
The war against terrorism, which is actually the war for preserving the soul of Pakistan, cannot be won unless there is zero tolerance for the cancer of extremism that is consuming us. Doing this requires a catharsis by all institutions that wield power so that mistakes made in the past are identified and corrective action initiated with the single purpose of recreating Jinnah’s vision. The constitution grants to the people freedom of religion under Article 20 (a), which guarantees that “subject to law, public order and morality every citizen shall have the right to profess, practise and propagate his religion”, and guarantees equal protection to all people under Article 25 (1). These rights have only been selectively granted. This has resulted in extremism getting further strengthened. Dialogue between people of differing faiths has been killed and people have been left at the mercy of extremists. The reversal of extremism requires that Articles 20 (a) and 25 (1) are implemented in letter and spirit so that the people learn to live in a world where differing faiths co-exist and form the habit of logical discourse. Under no compulsion should the fundamental rights of citizens of any faith be made hostage to expediency. Additionally, hate speech should be strictly monitored. Giving Takfiri edicts and teaching them at madrassas must be banned and offenders punished. Police has a presence in all settled areas and know fully well the places where such words are spoken. They should be made to do their work and the menace tackled at its source. The security apparatus should be made to understand that extremism is the country’s worst enemy and made to act accordingly. They need to realise there is nothing like a ‘good’ extremist.
It is no more a matter of Pakistan’s image. The survival of the country is at stake. Any delay in implementing the policy of zero tolerance for extremism will cost Pakistan heavily and God forbid may force some to take action that may be suicidal for it.