But, contrary to our Quranic image, look what has become of us. We are a nation in ruins. From Iraq to Syria and further down to Lebanon, from posh urban centers in Pakistan to the rugged hills of Afghanistan, and from the devastated lands of Libya and Egypt to the Arab centre of Yemen, Muslims are pitted against fellow Muslims. Imagine the chaos! Muslims are bombing Muslims. The entire central land of Islam has turned into a battleground where the Ummah of the last Prophet is on a suicide spree.
Brothers and Sisters!
Today we are facing an Islamic meltdown. The Muslim world is being depopulated at an alarming rate. According to a conservative estimate, in the 1991 Iraq war alone, ‘more than 80,000 tons of explosives dropped by coalition forces killed around 100,000 Iraqi soldiers and 350,000 innocent civilians. And in the aftermath of the bombing, another 111, 000 people died due to shortage of medicine, of whom 70,000 were children under 15’. The economic sanction that followed the war, according to UNICEF documentation, resulted into the death of over half a million children. In 2003, Iraq again became a battleground resulting into the deaths of 650,000 humans by June 2006, according to a survey published in Lancet. According to an OBR survey of Iraq war casualties, in just 4 years, from 2003 to 2007, more than a million people died. This is just about Iraq, a country of 30 million people. A civil war has gripped the neighboring Syria where some 250,000 people have perished so far, according to a UN report. As many as 11 million had to leave their homes, of whom 4 million seeking refuge in the neighboring countries. According to some rights group estimation, some 10 million people inside Syria do not have enough to eat. Imagine the scale of devastation! A country of 22 million people, with 11 million displaced, 4 million fled to neighboring countries and 10 million, who remain within, are starving. Muslims killing Muslims, with the help of foreign weapons and advisors, has become such a huge and established industry that today we have specific organizations devoted to counting our dead bodies. One such organization is Iraq Body Count that updates its website on a daily basis. Iraq and Syria are in total ruins. Taliban and other sectarian groups have wreaked havoc in Pakistan. Afghanistan, which lost 1.5 million Muslims during the Afghan Jihad, has become a gaping wound. Now, an all-out war is raging in Yemen. All indications lead to the conclusion that the flames of war may soon engulf the entire region. Here again Muslims are on both sides of the conflict; Zaidi Shias locked in a battle with their Sunni brothers.
One might say that it is oversimplification to look at the entire conflict in Shia-Sunni paradigm, and that there are other more complex factors involved. But those aware of what is going on in the minds of young defenders on both sides of the conflict cannot deny that a mad sectarian frenzy lies at the heart of the conflict. Shia youth coming from far-off places to defend the Shrine of Syeda Zainab at the outskirts of Damascus are doing it as a religious obligation. Similarly, when Salafi jihadis bulldozed the tomb of Shaikh Ahmad Al-Refaei, they did so with full religious conviction. The Late Ayatollah Khomeini who championed the cause of the Islamic unity, who wanted to do away with the man-made Shia and Sunni identity and who vociferously claimed to be the upholder of La Shia La Sunnia, Islamiya Islamiya, painfully realized in his later years that the 8 year Iran-Iraq war, in which more than a million Muslims on both sides lost their lives, had eventually reduced Iran into a defender of the Shia faith, rather than Islam. Today, we talk of the looming Shia crescent, the increasing dominance of nuclear Iran; and the Sunni world is made to believe that the emergence of a nuclear Iran will be tantamount to a slap in the face of Sunni Islam.
Make no mistake! It is our internal contradictions that allow others to occupy our lands, grab our resources, dishonor our women, kill our children, and depopulate our towns. They hire us for our own destruction. Call it Sunni al-Qaeda or Shia Hezbollah, or be they Taliban or Da’esh, Jaish al-Mahdi or Sipah-e-Sahaba. Weird mercenaries we Muslims are, who can be hired to kill our own sons and daughters. This is sheer madness, cannibalism of the worst kind.
Brothers and Sisters!
Today we are locked in the deadliest and the bloodiest internecine conflict of our history. Never before in our 1400 year long history did we ever have so highly sophisticated weapons, and at such a large scale, at our disposal to commit a collective suicide. Never before did the self-hating preachers enjoy the privilege of running hate shops on the internet or of streaming out venom and filth on the YouTube. Dear fellow Muslims! If we do not come back to our senses, the sectarian cannibalism will blot out our existence.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen!
The rise and fall of a nation is no big deal. God replacing a nation with another is a routine matter [وَلَوْلَا دَفْعُ اللَّهِ النَّاسَ بَعْضَهُمْ بِبَعْضٍ]. But, extinction of the Muslim Ummah is no ordinary concern. They are the upholders of the last message of God to humanity. Simply put, they are the continuing legacy of all the prophets and seers, and by virtue of being deputies of the last Prophet they have been entrusted with the task of leading history till end times. It is because of our ejection from the seat of authority and guidance that the world is in such disarray. And our ejection took place because contrary to the Quranic exhortationsوَاعْتَصِمُوا بِحَبْلِ اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا ۚ ‘and hold fast the covenant of God together and do not get divided’, we preferred to look the other way. And so did God almighty, as our covenant with God was broken. God raised us as one nation: وَإِنَّ هَٰذِهِ أُمَّتُكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً. He chose to call us Muslims: هُوَ سَمّٰکُمُ الْمُسْلِمِينَ, yet we kept on violating the covenant. Giving in to sectarian loyalties, we acquired un-Godly identities. We preferred, even blasphemously, to call ourselves Sunni and Shia, Isma’ili and Ibadi, Sufi and Salafi, Deobandi and Bareilvi and so on. And on and on and on …. The sentence is painfully long. The agony that we are in today is God’s judgment on us Who had very clearly warned us: إِنَّ الَّذِينَ فَرَّقُوا دِينَهُمْ وَكَانُوا شِيَعًا لَسْتَ مِنْهُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ ۚ إِنَّمَا أَمْرُهُمْ إِلَى اللَّهِ ثُمَّ يُنَبِّئُهُمْ بِمَا كَانُوا يَفْعَلُونَ i.e., ‘Verily, as for those who have broken the unity of their faith and have become sects – you have nothing to do with them (O Prophet). Behold, their case rests with God: and in time He will make them understand what they were doing.’
O You Muslims!
To get back to the seat of glory and guidance and to deserve God’s abounding Mercy once again, we need to get rid of false identities and return to the fold of original Islam, the fold of one Ummah. Today, the Muslim mind is terribly confused. A vast gap exists between what the Quran enjoins and what our sectarian preachers and cult leaders preach. The crisis in the Middle-East and elsewhere, where the Muslim is pitted against fellow Muslim, is a manifestation of the crisis in the Muslim mind. We know of the Sykes-Picot treaty, a secret deal that fragmented the world of Islam into many nation states leaving no room for any future unification of the Ummah, but we are not aware of, or at least not sensitive to, the many ideological, fiqhi and maslaki Sykes-Picots that have taken firm roots in the course of time; which have become sacrosanct, hence rendered any future unification of the Ummah impossible. It is time to declare that we reject all Sykes-Picots plots, be they political or ideological, and wrought by veteran enemies or naïve (or crafty) well-wishers.
A new beginning cannot be made unless we muster enough courage to reopen the Book of God and let God’s voice speak direct to us without any human mediation. Remember! Islam is a gift of God to humanity. It is our collective heritage. If it gets blurred or adulterated, it must be everybody’s concern. We cannot leave it to any group of specialists or a band of clerics to tell us what God really wants from us. In Islam everybody is his own pope. Our Prophet came to liberate us from the shackles of clergy: وَيَضَعُ عَنْهُمْ إِصْرَهُمْ وَالْأَغْلَالَ الَّتِي كَانَتْ عَلَيْهِمْ ۚ
The two-day conclave at Aligarh which brings together some of the best minds from various sectarian affiliations is mainly intended to be an avenue for collective introspection. The conference is a befitting tribute to our beloved founder of the university who always used his head for hard thinking and rarely as a cap-stand. To quote Iqbal: “he was the first Indian Muslim who felt the need of a fresh orientation of Islam and worked for it. We may differ from his religious views, but there can be no denying the fact that his sensitive soul was the first to react to the modern age. The extreme conservatism of Indian Muslims which had lost its hold on the realities of life failed to see the real meaning of the religious attitude of Syed Ahmad Khan.”
Ladies and Gentlemen!
I hope you won’t miss the symbolic significance of this historic seat of learning, a traditional abode for vibrant, dynamic and creative thinking in Islam, which is witnessing now an all-out revival under the visionary leadership of our vice-chancellor, Gen. Shah, to whom goes the credit for making this university number one in just two years’ time. With new roads and newer pavements, he has already fixed potholes on the ground, and if this conference is able to fix potholes in our minds, the all-out Aligarh renaissance would be achieved.
As the convener of this high profile conference, it is my duty to make your stay comfortable and productive. I’m humbled by the huge and overwhelming response. Some six hundred people from across the world are here to take part in collective thinking. Around 200 of them have come from various Indian cities, and 20 of them from abroad; they have travelled all the way from Cairo, Islamabad, Kuala Lumpur, London, Paris, Moscow, Maryland, Atlanta, Washington DC and other cities around the world. We warmly welcome our guests, especially foreign dignitaries, to the traditional Aligarh hospitality. It is modest, very basic and at times even challenging, but hopefully productive. I pray to Allah that He makes this conference a great success!
Āmīn ya Rabbul Ālamīn!