Why the Real War Is Inside Islam
Shiites against Sunnis, and Sunnis in conflict with each other: totalitarians against mystics. The enemies are not only the Christians. The analysis of a great Muslim expert: Khaled Fouad Allam
by Sandro Magister
ROMA, April 19, 2007 – Five months after Benedict XVI's voyage to Turkey, and fourteen months after the killing of the Catholic priest Andrea Santoro in a church in Trabzon, three Presbyterian Christians have had their throats slit in the Turkish city of Malatya, guilty of printing Bibles at their little publishing house.
The news over the past few months has brought to light that the enemies against which radical Islam rages are indeed Christians, the West and Israel, but even before these the Muslim regimes judged as traitors and apostates.
On Benedict XVI’s calandar for May 4 is an audience with Mohammad Khatami, president of Iran from 1997 to 2005.
Khatami is generally classified among the “moderate” proponents of Shiite Islam. He will take part in in a conference in Rome, which will be held at the Pontifical Gregorian University on the theme: “Intercultural dialogue, a challenge for peace.” The political model to which he adheres is, however, the one established by the religious revolution of Khomeini, who is certainly not a “moderate.”
In Shiite Islam, the revolutionary currents of the Khomeini stamp – in Iran, in Iraq, and in Lebanon with Hezbollah – are mainly opposed by the “quietist” tendency that takes its inspiration from the highest authority over the Iraqi holy places in Najaf and Kerbala, the grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, according to whom political power should be exercised, not by religious leaders, but by democratically elected laypeople.
In Iraq, the conflict between the two tendencies is not only theoretical, but also political and military. And it culminates in the deepest, most incurable conflict that for centuries has divided the entire Muslim world between Shiites and Sunnis.
Moreover, there is war even in the Sunni camp. Almost all of the latest suicide attacks undertaken by Al Qaeda and by related terrorist groups have struck Muslim countries, and made Muslim victims.
In Afghanistan, the kidnapping of the Italian reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo, his driver, and his interpreter ended with the freeing of the first of these and the killing of the other two, both of them Muslim.
The reasons why are explained in the following commentary. It was released on April 11, 2007, in “la Repubblica,” the important Italian newspaper for which Mastrogiacomo is a reporter. The author, Khaled Fouad Allam, an observant Muslim of Algerian origin, an Italian citizen and professor at the universities of Trieste and Urbino, is a great expert on Islamic history and thought, and was among the very first to express appreciation for the lecture Benedict XVI gave in Regensburg.
A totalitarian Islam
by Khaled Fouad Allam
What is so special about Afghanistan, apart from the country’s strategic position, that makes the fracture within Islam so deep there? Why was Al Qaeda born there, and not somewhere else, apart from the circumstances that permitted it to develop?
The fracture line that traverses Afghan Islam permits one to understand why, for example, between the Italian reporter Daniele Mastrogiacomo and his young Afghan interpreter, Adjmal Nashqbandi, both kidnapped last March, the former was set free, while the latter was assassinated.
The interpreter’s family name reveals an entire world: a world that has contributed to the formation of Islam, from Afghanistan to central Asia.
In the Islamic world, the family name (nisba) is generally formed beginning with the place of origin of the tribe or religious group to which the family belongs. In the case of Nashqbandi, the origin is in Nashqbandiya, one of the most important religious confraternities of central Asia, founded by Mohammed Barahuddin Nashqbandi (1318-1389), which has its spiritual center in the city of Bukhara, but is spread all over Asia, all the way to the Caucasus.
Its followers profess a Sufi, and therefore mystical, form of Islam, sometimes referred to as esoteric or parallel, a peaceful and tolerant Islam, in complete antithesis to the Islam professed and imposed by the Taliban. The Taliban has produced a subversive form of Wahhabism, which in my view does not fall within the definition of “Islamic fascism,” but rather embodies a third generation form of totalitarianism.
The neural center of the war within Islam is located precisely upon that boundary line between an open and liberal form of Islam and a totalitarian Islam.
In the abduction of Daniele Mastrogiacomo and his intepreter, Adjmal Nashqbandi, it is probably the origin of the latter that favored the tragic outcome of the affair: for the Taliban, the Sufi world represents the adversary par excellence, to be fought and eliminated, precisely because mystical Islam contains the alternative to political Islam.
Daniele Mastrogiacomo’s account of his imprisonment is, perhaps, one of the first scientific observations of the mental universe of the Taliban. The ritual contraposition of pure and impure – which is translated, for example, into the rule against touching the food or objects of a Westerner – is indicative not only of a religious attitude, but also of a political order based upon a dichotomy between good and evil: Islam counterposed against the West, the caliphate or emirate against democracy, men against women. It should be recalled that the Taliban regime defined Afghanistan as an emirate.
The Taliban is the product of the contemporary fracture between an absolutist Islam and an open Islam.
They have found in Arab Wahhabism of the Qur’anic school of Deoband, founded in New Delhi at the end of the 1800’s, their ideological point of departure. They then made this the ideology of the Pashtun, over 12 million persons divided between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Why were the Pashtun, and not another tribe, made the bearers of Wahhabism in that area? Because they are the only tribe in that place that boasts an Arab genealogy: Wazir, one of their ancestors who gives the name to the Pakistani province of Waziristan, was from the Arabian peninsula. Wahhabism, born in the 1700’s in an Arab context, has functioned as a unifying force for many of these tribes. Al Qaeda understood well that the phenomenon of the Taliban could become a political experiment, a laboratory from which political Islam could draw, in order to bring the entire Muslim world along with it.
The battle taking place in Afghanistan is, therefore, a battle of meaning, and the fate of much of the Muslim world depends on its outcome.
But Afghanistan cannot be seen solely through the prism of the Pashtun and the Taliban, because it is something else, as the name of origin of the hapless Adjman Nashqbandi reveals. Not far from Herat is the tomb of Abdullah Ansari, one of the greatest Afghan mystics, who wrote in the eleventh century: “O my God! What have you done here for your friends? Whoever seeks You finds You, but until he sees You, he does not recognize them.”