Indians hope killings will end after Muslim clerics declare fatwa against terrorism

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 June, 2008, 12:00am

A fatwa against terrorism by the most influential Muslim seminary in India has sparked a debate over whether it could prove effective in isolating extremist elements within the 140-million-strong minority.

Clerics from the Darul Uloom Deoband, a 150-year-old institution that influences thousands of Islamic schools, recently declared that 'Islam rejects all kinds of unjust violence, breach of peace, bloodshed, murder and plunder'.

Security analyst Maroof Raza said: 'Denunciations from Islamic institutions in other parts of the world have been more muted and superficial. This is the only one from such an authoritative seminary and with the support of thousands of clerics.'

A string of terrorist attacks in cities have been attributed to Muslim extremist groups. Muslims have either been thrown on the defensive or outraged at police rounding up of suspects indiscriminately.

Many extremists are young men who seek revenge for the Gujarat massacre of 2002, when Hindu mobs murdered more than 2,000 Muslims. No one has been punished for the massacre in a state ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

The latest attack, in Jaipur, last month which killed 65 people, left many Muslims wondering how they could distance themselves from extremists.

It is a familiar question. Following the creation of Pakistan in 1947, Indian Muslims often felt compelled to prove their loyalty to the nation.

Since the attacks, they have felt under pressure to prove they are not terrorists or sympathisers.

'We are a beleaguered community. I think the Deobandis felt under pressure from Hindu groups to issue the fatwa to protect Muslims from being labelled as terrorists,' said historian Mushirul Hassan.

The fatwa was broadly welcomed by Muslims but divisions were apparent on whether it could achieve any concrete effect. 'It will have great impact. If anyone plans violence now, he knows that top theologians have drawn a line in the sand. They have said violence is haram [forbidden] and people will think twice before going against that,' said computer scientist Khalid Ali.

But for Asaduddin Owaisi, a Muslim MP from Hyderabad, the fatwa alone is insufficient to stop extremism. In reference to the Gujarat massacres, Mr Owaisi said: 'It can only be effective if you also give Muslims justice and if you stop the police discriminating against them just because they are Muslims.'

The fatwa, along with the Jaipur blasts, has triggered a wider movement against terrorism.

In the country's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, thousands of imams have pledged to deliver an anti-terrorism message during Friday prayers.

Imams are hugely influential in moulding opinion and behaviour.