The Future of Afghanistan
Few can deny that religious extremism and violence carried out in the name of Islam has caused immense suffering to the people of Afghanistan. Therefore, to promote peace in Afghanistan, the international community needs to take steps to defeat this ideology of religious bigotry and intolerance.
It must ensure that all Afghans, irrespective of the religion they follow, are treated equally and are given equal rights. It needs to be stressed here that Afghanistan is not inherently extremist. The country has a tradition of liberal, peaceful Sufi Islam, which needs to be reclaimed and revived.
Afghanistan, like any other Muslim country, and secular nations like India with a sizable population of Muslims, is a land of Sufis but when the Afghan state collapsed in 1979 the government's social management institutions for cultural and religious guidance also crumbled with it, leaving no room for the system to determine what is permissible what is not. With its border becoming insecure and porous after the collapse, numerous alien Islamic ideologies were imported into the country and the most radical among them was Saudi Arabia's infamous (Wahhabi) Islam, recently "upgraded" to be called "Salafism," which was never traditionally practiced in Afghan society. These foreign ideologies found a fertile ground in the vacuum created after the ouster of local authorities from the Afghan state.
It needs to be mentioned that Sufi saints have played a critical role in the history of the Afghan people. They have been integral in shaping their beliefs and guided them in all the affairs of life as education, culture, social values, health care and community behavior. They have helped the Afghans become the large-hearted and valiant people that they are. But over three decades of influence by retrogressive and bigoted ideologies have pushed Afghanistan's Sufi traditions of tolerance to the margins.
The barbaric terror attacks of September 11, the numerous terror strikes in India and Pakistan and the hijacking of an Indian plane to Qandahar brought infamy to a people who were always known for their integrity and commitment to the great Islamic values of love, compassion, brotherhood and tolerance. The Buddhas of Bamiyan were symbolic of Afghan history. They were constructed by locals but destroyed under the outrageous influence of a fanatical ideology that was completely alien to the country.
This extreme ideology needs to be condemned in the strongest of terms. It is based on complete intolerance for any culture other than Talibaniyat. What is worse is that the peddlers of this ideology have imposed it using extreme brute force. The most grievous victims of this fanatical brutality were those who were most vulnerable: women, religious and ethnic minorities. Even the rock carvings of the Buddhas at Bamiyan weren't spared. Leave alone preserving the Buddhas out of tolerance for another religion, even their artistic value and beauty was lost on these savages.
This intolerance and beastly destructive ideology was exported to Afghanistan through students of seminaries of its immediate neighborhood who all of a sudden pounced on the war torn country and took control of two-thirds of its land. This was the starting point of a highly destructive phase, the ghastly products of which are now compelling us to think over the issue of global Islamic cooperation for a peaceful future of Afghanistan.
No doubt after decades of devastation and death, the reconstruction process will require development, enrichment of the land, technological advancement and progress in education. The support of the international community is crucial for all this. But we must not lose sight of the need for freeing Afghanistan from the stranglehold of religious extremism. This is of paramount importance in helping Afghans discover their true identity and realise their complete potential.
The 35 years of struggle, war, aggression and fanatical vandalism have made Afghans see their country as nothing but a land of destruction.
But there is still hope.
Afghanistan can reemerge from the ashes like a phoenix and claim its rightful place in the world if it frees itself from the destructive ideology that has devastated their land, coerced its people, destroyed its culture and defaced its identity.
To assess the situation in detail we will have to see that six fundamentals are examined in proper productive manner. They are:
(3) Waqf i.e. Endowments
(6) Aid and charity
EDUCATION AND CURRICULUM
This is very essential to restore Afghan society under a solid, well defined and neatly constructed time-bound agenda to ensure that the overall education system comes to rescue of the people of Afghanistan, right from primary to university level. To begin with we should secure subsidized or preferably free compulsory quality modern education to children of the country five years and older, and with special emphasis upon the curriculum which must not misguide them. Here I would mean to say that on all level of education it must be ensured that the younger generation is provided with true basic education of Islam along with modern subjects like science, mathematics, business and I.T., etc so that these children can be able to face the challenges of emerging worldwide knowledge economy.
The subject of theology is to be essentially liberated from extreme influences which were imposed very brutally in Afghanistan during the past 18 years resulting in turmoil and total anarchy and finally graduating into terror.
The school books must be compiled by any designated authority overseeing the subject globally and led and manned by clerics and scholars of Sufi ideology. It is worth mentioning that these authorities can be coordinated through a nodal institution based in Turkey with branches in Islamic nations as well as in India.
It is essential that books written by or on the Sufis and lives and works of Godly/saintly Muslims are part of curriculum. Research in universities should be conducted on subjects which insist on the true peace-loving and tolerant character of Islam.
Education provided in a more decent and disciplined way to the young Muslims all over the world, including in Afghanistan, can be a harbinger of new, more responsible and worldly but religious thought process among the Muslims which has been destroyed by a known extreme ideology around the world promoting radicals and fanatics, totally against the teachings and character of the Islam.
Here in this august house scholars and intellectuals appreciate the idea of making the world a better living place for all faiths and for that it is necessary to eliminate the hijacking of media, control of seminaries, issuance of contradictory edicts by the extremist elements who are engaged in destroying the basic roots of the Islam and bringing disgrace to the religion always regarded as greatly compassionate by all other faiths.
The reforms in basic teachings and school books and streamlining of the syllabus in all the educational institutions can be made mandatory under a 20-year program to ensure the next generation is not haunted by the ideology (of radicals and fanatics and extremists) which was established some two decades ago by people disguised as wise men and clerics who gathered under the banner of socio-religious change and then graduated to politics, government, and harboring terror groups on the soil of Afghanistan.
Let Turkey be requested to host an international umbrella organization of well meaning scholars and intellectuals who dedicate themselves to the cause of framing a responsible curriculum which works to create and choose true topics and books for all the institutions of Islamic studies all over the world.
We would further suggest that monitoring centers be established in Asia with India in the lead as it is the most appropriate country in this continent to carry on this important task without any interference from any powerful government or military supported organization. India will be able to deliver this message in a more powerful and free and frank manner without any prejudice and shall be well positioned to give feedback about the exercise in more effective manner.
It needs to be mentioned here that India is hosting the best Islamic traditions on its land with less interference by hostile powers out to destroy the social fabric and revered traditions. The Sufi Sunni culture in India is present in its original form since its inception and people of all faiths have long history of regard for the saintly Islamic personalities and their spiritual centers. Though, of late, some attempts have emerged to damage this but the traditions are in themselves so strong that in-built resistance comes forward to save it from bad, manufactured and imposed influences. Now with a view to lend more strength to these values and practices an international configuration is welcome and can be a tribute to India which is a more peaceful, prospering, secular, democratic nation and guarantees space for all and has carried its composite culture undiluted during these years of global turmoil, while experiencing terror more than some of her western counterparts. Do I need to mention a known, but seldom acknowledged fact? Indian Muslims under Sufi influence have been able to conduct themselves with dignity as can be established through the fact that the Guantánamo Bay internment center had nobody with an address originating in India, in contrast with the names of any of the thousands of prisoners arrested in Afghanistan during the intervention of the allied forces.
Afghanistan needs to reorganize its social order through Sufi cultural centers which may be established all over the world, with a special focus on Asia and a central position for India as a land of Sufi saints acceptable to almost all the sections of the society, and the home of the second-largest Muslim concentration in the world.
All India Ulema and Mashaikh Board (AIUMB), a leading body for more than 80 percent of the Muslims of India pledges in this gathering of scholars of international repute to take up the cause earnestly, because now it has become incumbent upon all the true, serious but silent majority of Muslims to stand for their religion, culture, identity and self respect to guarantee global peace with overall development.
Let me be clear that the reforms in the education system will require more than creating true Islamic school teaching content. It will require more to achieve the required results and for this organizers will have to take care of the literature being distributed among the people especially students, which may enlighten them about the contributions of all those great Godly souls who incorporated an Islamic way of life into the beings of general Muslims and made them realize the benefit of being good humans.
Great works in languages like Persian, Arabic and other regional languages must be translated into all the major languages of the world including English to incorporate the value system Islam strives to enshrine in the individuals.
Once done in a decent manner this extraordinary task of reforms in curriculum will take care of the judiciary and legal decisions will regain their respectable place in the lives of Muslims of Afghanistan.
My contentions remain, as earlier, that properties endowed by the Muslims must be used to satisfy the will of the endower. This is no place to define the waqf but it is an essential part of efforts to restore normal life in war-torn Afghanistan I would like to be clear that inalienable religious endowments in Islamic law, typically donating a building or plot of land or even cash for Muslim religious or charitable purposes, are waqf properties and they need to be handled according to the will and wish of the donor and Afghanistan can benefit a lot from this.
To create a sense of belonging to the religion, its sacred places, respected signs, revered personalities and enlightening events and also to incorporate a sense of being a part of international community, Afghans must be allowed to perform Hajj according to the real Islamic sprit and according to what they profess and practice. No such practice or innovation must be thrust upon them by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which goes against the practices and profession of Afghans, because the sacred places of Hejaz, are not personal properties of any king or any nation, but are centers of reverence for all the faithful Muslims worldwide.
To create a sense of true pride in the minds of young Afghans an international program should be initiated to arrange educational visits of all the revered sites of Islam so that they can feel the true spirit of the great religion. This may be local in nature, provincial, national and also international.
To name a few, we can start with destinations of a high order of reverence like Baghdad, Basra, Karbala, Najaf Ashraf, Ajmer, Kichocha, and Mazar Sharif. The world map is filled with such places. Not only the stories and charisma attached with these saintly memorials should be topics of class rooms, but their works and practices should also be available in original as well as in translated versions in print and as well in digital versions.
There is another important issue to be addressed is pilgrimage. Afghans along with other nationals reaching Saudi Arabia for the purpose of Hajj and ziyarat should not be treated like Muslims of lesser integrity. They must be given freedom to practice according to their age-old customs and profession of the religion, while the government of the country has enacted bad laws totally against the Islamic legacy and implementing it to the level of criminalization of acts of reverence. The people of Afghanistan have every right to be treated equally in Hajj affairs.
It is very important to sensitize the media to learn and teach, observe and present the works of the saintly people, their contribution to humanity and their benefactions, which still exist. Apart from this, the exercise to strengthen peace in Afghanistan needs a very close and dedicated support from media. English language newspapers and television news channels and new social media are as important in this process as newspapers and periodicals in the local vernaculars. The existing media organizations need to be educated about the process, and to reach sections beyond the English channels and social media, it is essential to connect with locally popular print media, and if necessary, to establish new media organizations under the program. The flow of information for the targeted audience is not only essential in Afghanistan but the nations adjacent to this landlocked country also deserve attention in this regard because any event taking place in Afghanistan has a direct bearing in its immediate neighborhood including India.
Afghanistan is a recipient of aid from its donor countries. Donors have pledged billions of dollars in a time-limited program, but at the same time, countries like the United States of America have been considering discontinuance of aid after the 2014 military withdrawal. While it will be desirable to ensure that international efforts go on helping the Afghan people, some more efforts are required to ensure personal assistance to the needy families oppressed by decades of war. Health care, education and social security are known areas where personal support is most needed. Helping the government in nation building or infrastructure development is much debated while personal care is neglected. We may think out certain measures to make personal care a priority, with mercy and healing as a process to be a source of empowerment for the locals. The fund collection process and its distribution among the needy Afghans can be managed through administration of waqf properties and zakat. All those less fortunate locals who are not the recipient of resources under government schemes can be assimilated in this program. Career building programs and micro-units may be initiated through small funds and self help groups constituted to ensure the money provided is utilized in a productive and constructive manner. A movement can be launched through local administration to ensure that each section of the society benefits. Again, I would say that small units, self-help groups and other concepts like these must be strengthened and nurtured for empowerment of the local poorest of the poor, to finally ensure enduring peace.
Here again there is a parallel system to enforce the idea and that is through Sufi establishments – Astanas and Khaniqahs and Dargahs – which have centuries-old traditions of looking after the needy. These institutions were earlier promoted by the powers of the time. These institutions may still be utilized for their well-known contributions and they should be financed to ensure empowerment of the poor, needy and under privileged throughout the country.
This proposal needs to be supplemented by regular social interaction between peace-loving and development-oriented citizens to counter the global network of extreme forces at work everywhere with bad intentions of establishing their absolute rule in countries like Afghanistan and introducing ideological bargaining in nations like India. So it must be ensured that social development is the top priority for the new governments in all the Islamic countries afflicted by militancy.
Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kichowchchwi
All India Ulema & Mashaikh Board
Syed Mohammad Ashraf Kichowchhwi addresses the Istanbul conference, March 4, 2013.
Related Topics: Deobandism, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sufism, Terrorism, Wahhabism receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free center for islamic pluralism mailing list
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