Saudi Tabligh ban shows ‘apolitical’ fundamentalism is still fundamentalism
The Saudi ban on Tablighi Jamaat, on the grounds that it misleads Muslims and opens âthe doors to terrorism, even if they claim to the contraryâ, is interesting. It’s like the pot calling the black kettle. Saudi Arabia is home to Wahhabi / Salafi Islam, the strictest and most fundamentalist form of Islam, while the Tabligh is a movement to tell Muslims to stick to the purity of their religion. faith, including its five fundamental pillars – chahada, declaration of faith, salah (pray), zakat (charity), saw (fasting during Ramzan), and Haj (the pilgrimage to Mecca).
While the Tabligh claims to be apolitical, the point is that Islam is more political than most other religions. The prophet certainly made no effort to separate his religious identity as the founder of the faith from his political and military management of the new community. The Prophet largely failed as a preacher in Mecca, but that changed once he filled his preaching with political and military foundations in Medina. Thus, any organization that claims to be apolitical cannot escape the reality that those who follow the fundamentals, and in particular accept the life and actions of the Prophet as guiding principles, ultimately cannot remain apolitical.
The Deoband Seminary and Tablighi Jamaat in India have strongly denied the Saudi Tabligh’s link to terrorism, but the point is that fundamentalisms of any kind, even peaceful, cannot ultimately lead to peace.
Let’s start with the five pillars of Islam that the Tabligh emphasizes. The first pillar, the chahada, is simple and straightforward. He says that “There is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet.” This statement is absolutist, and not just about those who believe in Islam. This implies that those who do not believe, or who only partially believe, cannot be Muslims. This was the problem the pre-Islamic tribal religions of Mecca had with the Prophet’s version of the new faith. Allah existed before the Prophet, but once the Prophet entered the scene, all previous religions had to disappear. When the Prophet returned triumphantly from Medina to Mecca, he had all the ancient idols and forms of faith destroyed. the chahada (belief in a specific god) is not problematic when it is an individual who believes in it; it becomes problematic when it becomes a group belief and no deviation is possible. He ultimately opposes one community to another, the mom (true believer) against the kafir. And in the Koran, the kafir is not just a non-believer (as we have polished and nastics in dharmic systems), but someone whose destruction Allah himself will seek.
The second pillar, prayer, is unquestionable as long as it concerns the individual in private spaces. But the requirement of prayer sometimes becomes an imposition on others in mixed societies, when calls to prayer (azaan) echo through loudspeakers and the Friday requirement for congregational worship involves taking over public spaces for the religious needs of a community. No one would have a problem with the second pillar if it was practiced in private spaces (houses, mosques, etc.), but this pillar is erected right in the middle of a public space. Even airports are now looking to create places for namaz.
Likewise, the third pillar – charity – is a laudable goal, but only if it is to help the poor. Once zakat is used to preach and proselytize, it is no longer a question of practicing one’s faith. These are predatory conceptions of the beliefs of others.
The two pillars that no one can have a problem with are fasting and Haj. These pillars do not impact anyone outside of the real Muslim world and therefore are not of concern in a multi-religious society. It is the first three pillars, where faith intersects with public life, that pose a problem.
However, the Tabligh is not limited to educating Muslims on the Five Pillars. It is also a missionary movement, which can include conversions. He believes in the suppression of syncretic practices among Muslims practicing their faith in mixed societies. The effort to eliminate “shirk” and “kufr” involves making the faith a Puritan religion, which ultimately leads to extremism and separation from the larger society in which the faith operates.
The simple truth is that there is no such thing as a pure faith (or a race or ethnicity, for that matter). All ideas and all peoples have mingled and borrowed and lent their practices from one another. Trying to suppress syncretic practices is therefore an extreme form of exclusivity which can ultimately only lead to social conflicts. Because it converts a simple difference between two communities into an insurmountable ditch which effectively opposes the others. Terrorism is one of the possible consequences of desycretization and exclusivity.
The Saudi ban on Tabligh is hypocritical because it is not much different from the Wahhabism it has funded for half a century, but it highlights the problems we face with religious fundamentalism. Peaceful fundamentalism does not exist.