Almost everyone seems to want a piece of Tahirul Qadri — the establishment to use him to derail the democratic process and most political parties that are partnering with him for a mix of political and strategic reasons. The establishment-produced parties like the PML-Q want Qadri to fulfil the objective of countering the PML-N in Punjab. But then there are others like the MQM who want him for a host of reasons such as tapping into the imagined Barelvi support base of the MQM to gain advantage in elections but also to subvert the Taliban influence, particularly in Karachi where it is a problem for the MQM.
Tahirul Qadri’s capacity is both imagined and overblown. The Barelvi vote does not follow closed-group dynamics, which means that it is not likely that all Barelvis will join the Sunni Tehreek or vote for whoever is favoured by Qadri. Furthermore, its financial capacity is also exaggerated. This is borne by the fact that thus far, one of the biggest gripes of Barelvi mullahs was that their madrassas and mosques were being forcibly occupied by Deobandis (more than Ahle Hadith and Salafis) as they had greater money to spend. So far, Maulana Fazl Kareem, a Faisalabad-based Barelvi cleric, represented some form of consolidated Barelvi ideological interests but he could not make a huge dent because he never got truly handpicked by any external or internal establishment nor did he have the benefit of financial resources. Therefore, it is kind of sudden and strange to see Barelvis come into money. Anyone asking for Qadri’s accountability is not wrong, though it is equally important to have accountability across the board. It makes for good advertisement when Qadri claims that he received funding from followers from around the world but that in itself means nothing. As for huge public support, let us not forget that agencies can easily put processions together. For example, there were millions that came out on the street against Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh all paid for by the American CIA during the 1960s.
Referring to why different political parties are suddenly following Qadri, the MQM has other reasons as well such as neutralising the Taliban in urban Sindh. In Karachi, the party, for instance, has a severe problem of the growing influence of the Sipah-e-Sahaba/the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and the Jaish-e-Mohammad. According to a Police Special Branch report, some of the ‘under watch’ seminaries are concentrated in Mohajir areas as well, such as Baldia, Nazimabad, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Jamshed Town, Orangi, Gadap, and others. The Rohingya and Bengali populations in Mohajir-dominated areas are quite inclined towards jihadism and Deobandi ideology. This means that while the MQM may still hope for election victory, it is not as strong as it may hope to be when it comes to social and strategic-political issues. It has little influence on stopping the killing of Shias. The party can also not take the risk of taking on the Deobandi/Ahle-Hadith ideological groups head on. On the other hand, it hopes to minimise the ideological influence through partnering with Tahirul Qadri. The anti-corruption drive may be nothing else but a ploy to use politics to counter the popular jihad narrative.
This, however, raises an important question about whether Qadri can influence the jihadi discourse especially through his 600-page Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide bombing. Comprising 18 chapters, the fatwa tends to offer a new theory of rebellion and state response to this phenomenon in a Muslim state and society. Even though Tahirul Qadri stated in the Lahore jalsa that he would support people in their agitation against the drones, the fact is that he has condemned all terrorists to death in his fatwa. He considers modern-day terrorists as Kharijis, a group of people that, according to Qadri, existed since the time of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) and created fitna (chaos) in society and thus should be eliminated at all costs. There is no forgiveness for the Kharijis or modern-day terrorists in Qadri’s work, which may make his partnership with Imran Khan rather questionable as the PTI wants to talk to, not kill, the Taliban.
The legal-theological opinion by Qadri creates an impression that there is a consensus in Islam on the Khariji which did not exist in Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) time but came about during the reign of the Fourth Caliph Hazrat Ali (RA) and challenged his authority. The fatwa indeed is historical and manipulates the opinion of many earlier jurists to establish its thesis regarding the legality of the use of force by non-state actors in an Islamic state. For instance, the author has used Ibn Taymiyyah, one of the most prominent Islamic scholars of the Hanbali school of thought who has driven the thinking of the Taliban, at least five times without any reference to the scholar’s core argument. Indeed, this is to create an impression of a consensus which is not the case. The problem with this approach is that a strong counterargument cannot be constructed without engaging with the argument first.
The fact that Tahirul Qadri has misguided in the past, for example, about an assassination attempt on him, may not help in convincing hard core Takfiris or even Deobandis who are fed on an equally manipulative work by others such as Masood Azhar’s three-volume justification of jihad, which, in turn, is styled on a research thesis of a modern Saudi scholar.
What Qadri condemns as terrorism and Azhar applauds as jihad is actually an undecided debate in Islam on the legality of the state and rebellion. Historically, the entire debate revolves around efforts by jurists to make history and politics consistent with theology, thus creating a highly technical and symbolic discourse on the subject. The debate anchors on two particular verses from the Holy Quran on rebellion. The complexity arose because of the involvement of many of the Holy Prophet’s (pbuh) close associates in rebellion on its discourse. Contrary to Ibn Taymiyyah’s support of rebellion against an illegitimate Islamic state, Qadri does not allow any form of rebellion to an extent.
Considering the very thin line in the fatwa between licit and illicit rebellion, one wonders how Qadri will justify his own rebellion against the political system.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 3rd, 2013.
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