Thursday, October 6th, 2022 02:47:37

Internal Struggle Of Islam

Updated: March 28, 2015 11:31 am

In last some years Islamic terrorism has been perpetrating havoc on Islamic and non-Islamic world, making it a global phenomenon. Terrorist attacks are taking place almost on daily basis. Recently Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP) released Global Terrorism Index 2014, which demonstrated that terrorism has become a global phenomenon with Islamic terrorism dominating it

Islam is called religion of peace, but irony is that so much hatred, violence and terrorism is being done in the name of Islam that it has become difficult to associate Islam with peace. Islam, right from its inception, was against kafirs or non-believers, but nowadays circumstances have changed so much that Islam is in danger due to Muslims themselves. Muslims are becoming thirsty of blood of Muslims. There is really a three-way civil war underway throughout the Islamic world. The three inter-related conflicts are: 1) Sunni vs Shia; 2) Sufi vs Wahhabi; and 3) sub nationalities vs nationality.

“The entire Muslim world is, as it was, standing atop an explosive, ready to get provoked at the slightest reason. Practically, all Muslims are living like time-bombs, which ignite at the slightest reason. The only difference is that while some Muslims express themselves in hateful speeches and writings, others do so in terms of acts of violence,” says Maulana Wahiuddin, a reputed Islamic scholar.

15_Page_2In last some years, Islamic terrorism has been perpetrating havoc on Islamic and non-Islamic world, making it a global phenomenon. Terrorist attacks are taking place almost on daily basis. Recently, Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP) released Global Terrorism Index 2014, which demonstrated that terrorism has become a global phenomenon with Islamic terrorism dominating it. The most important finding of GTI is that 82 per cent of all terrorism occurred in just five countries of the world—Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria. What is the common thread binding these five nations? Islam. The majority of claimed deaths from terrorist attacks—66 percent in 2013—are claimed only by Islamic terrorist organisations—ISIS, Boko Haram, the Taliban and al-Qaeda and its affiliates. Variations of religious ideologies based on extreme interpretations of Wahhabi Islam are the key commonality. But there are not only these four Islamic terrorist organisations, world is flooded with Islamic terrorist organisations with a diverse hue which numbered almost hundred—Shia terrorist organisations, Sunni terrorist orgainsation and Sufi terrorist organisations (Naqshbandi army). It will not be an exaggeration to say that Islamic terrorist groups are responsible for 80 to 85 per cent terrorist incidents. Usually, it is said that there is not a correlation between religion and terrorism, but these days Islamic terror groups have established monopoly over terrorist activities and mostly innocent Muslims are becoming victims of their violence.

Wahhabi terrorists are killing people, mostly Muslims and on the other hand Wahhabi movement is devouring multiculturalism of Islam. Though Islam is also called religion of equality because it does not discriminate between Muslims, harsh reality is that Islam has stated 72 firaquas with different identities. Their relations are no more cordial but of bloody enmity. The main culprit of this situation is Wahhabism, a fundamentalist ideology, which opposes diversity of Islam and wants uniformity and adherence to the basics of Islam. This pitted Wahhabis against the rest, mainly Sufis, a relatively moderate face of Islam.

The relationship between Wahhabis and Sufis is of confrontation. Wahhabism is associated with literalist, strict and fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. It is also linked with the Wahhabi jihadism which advocates violent jihad against civilians. Sufism is linked with the use of prayer, music, dance and the teachings of Sufi masters—who may serve as an mediator between God and humans. The Wahhabis have been antagonistic to Sufi practices, arguing that Sufism is incompatible with true Islam. Relations between the two branches of Sunni Islam can be called of adversary with battle lines drawn in every Muslim country and even in countries like India.


Following a huge price hike of oil in the 70s, Saudi Arabia acquired large wealth from oil exports. It began to spend tens of billions of dollars throughout the Islamic world to promote its own brand of Islam— known as Wahabbi Islam—by funding local Wahhabi mosques, madrasas and propagandists. This funding put Sufi brotherhoods in danger of existence in the 80s. But they survived and revived themselves in twenty-first century to challenge Wahhabi fundamentalists, who were destroying a number of Sufi mosques and shrines.

For hardcore Islamic fundamentalists like the Wahhabis and the Taliban—the Sufis are lethal enemies, who draw on un-Islamic practices. Sufi traditions have been inclusive and assimilate local traditions from music to dance, which of course makes them more attractive to local population. People organise processions, they seek healing miracles, and women are welcome among the crowds. This Sufi open-mindedness contrasts with the much harsher views of Wahhabism. Wahabbis believe in a more temporal form of Islam. In Mecca and Medina—the two holy cities of Islam—they have destroyed numerous monuments associated with the Prophet, his family and his companions.

Wahhabism is becoming a global phenomenon but the majority of Muslims are not Wahhabis. Most Muslims are still connected with Sufi traditions in some way or the other. Unlike the Wahhabis, the Sufis are not well-organised, combative and economically resourceful.

Hostility between the Sufis and Wahhabis dates back to the very beginning of Wahhabism itself in the 18th century when it emerged as the opponent of any type of revisionism in Islam. Wahhabis considered Sufism a degenerate form of Islam and urged a return to the basics of Islam, as opposed to the ‘traditions’ that had accrued over the centuries. When Islamists rise to power, Sufis are persecuted, but where Sufis remain in the ascendant, it is the radical Islamist groups who must fight to survive.

The ideological struggle between them often turns violent. Sudan’s Islamist government attacked the Sufi population of the country, but following the complaints by Sufis, the government announced a ban on Ansar al-Sunnah clerics preaching in public areas. Several “Sufi domes and shrines” have also been destroyed in Sudan.

In Iraq, suicide bombers target Sufi shrines. In Libya, Wahhabis destroyed a Sufi shrine and library in Zliten and attacked the Shaba mosque in Tripoli, which contained the graves of venerated Sufi saints. In Tunisia, 39 Sufi shrines were destroyed or desecrated during and after 2011 revolution. The Sufi sects had accused the Wahhabi organisations of burning the tomb.

Traditionally, Islam in Somalia has followed moderate Sufism. Wahhabism has arrived in Somalia in recent decades via the influence of students educated at Islamic universities in Saudi Arabia and migrant workers returning from Saudi. Extreme versions of Salafism such as al-Shabab and earlier Hizbul Islam have used force to impose their version of Islamism. Under areas of al-Shabab rule in Somali, Sufi ceremonies were banned and shrines destroyed. Sufism has been a part of the fabric of Muslim life in Indian sub-continent for centuries. Wahhabi Islam is a more recent addition, having been introduced into Pakistan from “Arab-Afghans” mujahideen, who were fighting Soviet occupiers in the early 1980s. They found common agendas and support from Deobandi movement. In Pakistan, the dynamic between Sufi Muslims and fundamentalists has lately entered an especially intense phase with the proliferation of militant groups.

There are hundreds of shrines of Sufi saints spread across the cities and countryside of Pakistan. From March 2005 to 2010, 209 people were killed in 29 attacks on Sufi shrines. In 2010, bomb attacks escalated, detonating in the presence of thousands of worshipers, and in the nation’s largest cities, such as Karachi and Lahore.

For seven centuries Sufism has been part of social life of Kashmir. Now Wahhabism is making “deep inroads into it. Since 2000, “Wahhabi preachers” have spread across Kashmir and that movement of Islam has grown rapidly. Some 700 well patronised mosques and 150 schools have been built in Kashmir by the “religious and welfare organisation”, Jamiat Ahle Hadith, funded primarily by Saudi sources. This construction is part of $35-billion programme to the building of mosques and madrasas in South Asia.

Another civil war is being fought in the Muslim world mainly in Midle East, Persian gulf and some South-Asian countries between Shia-Sunni enmity, which has already devoured more than half million lives. The divide between the Sunni and Shiite branches of Islam is as old as Islam, but today it does not only divides but creates enmity. Muslims are the worst enemy of Muslims. Although the origin of the Sunni-Shia split was violent, for centuries they lived peacefully together as good neighbour in different countries. In modern times, their enmity became so intense and widespread, splitting Muslim world in Sunni and Shia camp, brutally fighting each other. Civil wars in Syria and Iraq are examples of the bloody enmity between Shias and Sunnis. Now it is spilling over to other countries also. Whichever country Shias are in majority, they repress Sunnis and Sunnis also behave in the same way with Shias, in nations dominated by them. In the most recent instance of their enmity, Yemen’s Shiite-Houthis rebels complete their power grab of the nation where an al-Qaeda terrorist offshoot flourishes. The Houthis action would stimulate conflict between the Houthis—a Shiite minority sect representing a third of Yemen’s population—and the overwhelmingly Sunni in the rest of the country.

“For Shiites, the Sunni rule has been like living under apartheid,” says Vali Nasr author of The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future. Many Sunni rulers forbade Shia ceremonies especially the selfflegellation during Ashura. Even in secular ruler Saddam Hussein`s rule, Ashura was banned, and resumed only after his downfall in 2003.

Iraq has been the epicentre of Shia-Sunni conflict due to its demographic structure. It has 98 per cent Muslim people out of which 65 per cent are Shia and 32 per cent Sunni. Despite being a Shia majority nation, for centuries it was ruled by Sunni ruler and that created animosity. The Shia suffered under post-colonial Iraqi governments since 1932, erupting into rebellions of 1935 sand 1936. Saddam Hussein was the last Sunni ruler. After the defeat of Saddam, a Sunni ruler of Iraq, in 1991 Gulf War, Shias saw a chance to revolt against him but Saddam was able to crush it. According to TIME magazine, by some estimates, more than 300,000 Shias were killed and many were buried in mass graves. In 2003, after the American occupation of Iraq, Shia and Sunni fought a sectarian war for political domination of Iraq which killed nearly two lakh people. Syria`s case is just opposite, there civil war there was fought because three-fourth of the population is Sunni, but the ruler Bashar al-Assad is a Shia, who are just 12 per cent of population and all Shias backed Assad. Like other Arab countries, pro-democracy movement started in Syria but did not succeed and turned into a three-year-long civil war between Shia and Sunni militias. Iran, Hozabullah militia, Russia and Iraq supported Assad. On the other hand, Saudi Arab, the USA, ISIS, al-Qaeda fought against him. The three-year-long civil war claimed life of more than a lakh people and one third citizens were forced to flee to other countries.


Transformation from peaceful coexistence to bloody rivalry was caused by some political and economic developments. Shia revival all over the world after Iranian Islamic revolution was one of the main reasons behind it, which changed traditional equations of the Muslim world. It transformed Shias from a meek neighbour of Sunnis to a sworn enemy. Sunnis could never stomach this change. Another significant development was the establishment of Shia government in Iraq after many centuries of rule by minority Sunnis. This resulted in confrontation between Shias and Sunnis in many countries like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Bahrain, Saudi Arab. Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeni had dreamt of becaming the leader of Muslims, and thus challenged Saudi supremacy in the Muslim world. It fueled Iran-led Shia extremism and Saudi-led Sunni extremism. Once Arab-Isareal conflict was the main conflict of Middle East but now Shia-Sunni conflict has substituted it.

Globally, Sunnis make up the majority (87-90 per cent) of Muslims and that Shiites (10-13 per cent) form a small minority. But in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Peninsula, Sunnis comprise 36 per cent of the overall population, whereas Shiites make up 60 per cent. Irony of the situation is that in many nations of the region like Iraq, Bahrain, Kuwait, where Shias are in majority, they are ruled by Sunni ruler. On the other hand, Syria is the Sunni-majority country ruled by a Shia family. This created tension because majority community wants to be the ruler of the nation. The small Persian Gulf state of Bahrain has a Shia majority but is ruled by Sunni family. Shia discontent has exploded in recent years with demonstrations and low-key violence for full fledged democracy in March 2013, which took toll of many people.

The Shia-Sunni rivalry also fuelled sectarian violence in non-Arab nations like Afganistan and Pakistan. In Afganistan, emergence of Sunni Taliban sharpened age-old enmity between Sunni Pakhatuns and Shia Hazaras. After the victory the Taliban aimed to cleanse the north Afganistan of Shias. At Mazar city 5000-6000 Shia were killed. Along the route of Taliban advance similar massacres of Uzbeks and Tajik Shia took place. Pakistan also witnessed serious Shia-Sunni discord with 80 per cent of Muslim population being Sunni, with 20 per cent being Shia. In last two decades more than 6000-7000 Shias died in sectarian violence unleashed by al-Qaeda working with local sectarian groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan, which like to kill what they perceive as Shia apostates. Iran has been funding Shia militant groups such as Sipah-e- Muhammad Pakistan in tit-for-tat attacks on each other. Maximum violent attacks take place in Punjab and country’s commercial and financial capital, Karachi. There have also been conflagrations in the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Gilgit Baltistan. Sunni groups demand the expulsion of all Shias from Pakistan and proclaim them non-Muslims like Ahmediya. They targeted Shia in their holy places especially during times of communal prayer.

Iran is unique in the Muslim world because its population is overwhelmingly Shia. They constitute 92 per cent of the population. Members of Sunni groups in Iran, however, have been active in what the authorities describe as terrorist activities. Balochi Sunnis continue to declare the Shias Kafirs. These Sunni groups have been involved in violent activities in Iran and have waged terrorist attacks on civilian centres. While Shia make up roughly 15 per cent of Saudi Arabia’s population, they form majority of the eastern province of Hasa—where much of the petroleum industry is based. 70 per cent of its oil lies in the Shia-majority region on the Gulf shore. This made the Saudi royal family paranoid about the possibility that these Shias, abetted by Iran would secede and take the oilfields with them. Shias, face discrimination in employment as well as limitations on religious practices, and the traditional Shia mourning procession of Ashura is discouraged. They suffer systematic social and religious discrimination.


Today, Sunni and Shiite rivalry pervades the whole Gulf region, and will decide direction of Middle East. Sunnis fear “Shia crescent” (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon) spreading across the region. But Shias are not satisfied with it. As Iranian president said he envisioned not crescent but full moon. Reality is that Shias are organising themselves around Iran and Sunnis around Saudi Arab. Interference of these powers can make any dispute a bloody war. These days Sunni nations Iran is making atom bomb so Saudi Arab also wants to make it. First Pakistan made Islamic atom bomb and Iran and Saudi Arabia want Shia and Sunni atom bombs respectively. If Shia and Sunni powers get hold of atom bomb then the world would became a dangerous place to live in.

Many Islamic countries are witnessing intense and long-drawn struggle of subnationalities. Right from the inception of Pakistan, movement for independence of Baluchistan is proving headche for each government. But Independent Baluch movement is not the only a problem for Pakistan but also for Iran and Afganistan because Baluch also resides in these countries and wants a separate nation of all Baluch area of different coutries like Baluch Kurds of Turkey. Iran, Iraq, Syria are fighting for separate Kurdistan. Sometimes there struggles turn violent and in many Muslim countries the Ahmadiyas have been considered non-Muslim and are subjected to persecution as they do not regard the Prophet Muhammad to be the final Prophet. In Bangladesh, many Muslim groups have demanded that Ahmadiya should be declared non-Muslims. They have become a persecuted group, targeted by protests and acts of violence. Majority of Muslims of Indonesia hold that it should be banned outright. More than two million Ahmadis live in Pakistan. It is the only state to have officially declared the Ahmadiyas non-Muslims and their freedom of religion has been curtailed by a series of measures.

This violent struggle of different sects and sub-sects demolishes the myth that Islam is a uniform religion connected by brotherhood. Actually their differences are more fierce. The entire Muslim world is, as it was, standing atop an explosive, ready to get provoked at the slightest reason.

By Satish Pednakar

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