Pakistan needs to dismantle not only the infrastructure of terror but also the ideas that built it.
Not long before an assassin’s bomb extinguished his life in 1989, Abdullah Yusuf Azzam authored his own requiem. “The flowing blood of innocent martyrs,” Azzam wrote in The Signs of Allah, the Most Merciful, in the Jihad in Afghanistan, “and the scattering of corpses are all complementary to jihad. All these are the fuel of jihad and water for its garden.”
Born in Palestine, Azzam’s politics was shaped by his membership of Egypt’s Islamic Jihad — an organisation devoted to overthrowing that country’s secular state. He arrived in Pakistan in 1979, and founded the Maktab al-Khidmat (Office of Service). In time, the Maktab mentored thousands of West Asian jihadists — among them, Osama bin Laden.
Eight years later, Azzam teamed up with Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, a religious studies teacher in Islamabad whose family’s experiences of Partition left him with an abiding hatred of Hindus and India. Together, the men set up the Markaz Dawat wal’Irshad, which gave birth to the Lashkar-e-Taiba. Azzam’s significance, though, far transcends his role in the founding of the Lashkar: his ideas have become the keystone of a system of ideas that today threatens Pakistan itself.
From Azzam to Masood Azhar
For the most part, The Signs is a compendium of miracles: stories of men whose bodies were untouched by bullets which ripped apart their clothes and of birds that flew faster than the Soviet Union’s supersonic jets to warn the mujahideen of imminent bombardment.
But Azzam also laid out his vision of the obligations of an Islamic state. “It is incumbent on the Islamic state,” he stated, “to send out a group of mujahideen to their neighbouring infidel state. They should present Islam to the leader and his nation. If they refuse to accept Islam, jizyah [a tax] will be imposed upon them and they will become subjects of the Islamic state. If they refuse this second option, the third course of action is jihad to bring the infidel state under Islamic domination.”
He argued that the Afghan jihad was ultimately unsuccessful because of the mujahideen’s failure to create an Islamic state that could fulfil the jihadist imperative. “Instead of directing their guns at the infidels of India to liberate Kashmir, and at the Russians to liberate Tajikistan,” he wrote, “they went at each other’s throats in a genocidal power struggle for the remains of Kabul. They chose carrion over the Paradise of Kashmir, Tajikistan and Palestine.”
In another book, Defence of the Muslim Lands, Azzam elaborated the same point: “The sin upon this present generation, for not advancing towards Afghanistan, Palestine, the Philippines, Kashmir, Lebanon, Chad, Eritrea, etc., is greater than the sin inherited from the loss of the lands which have previously fallen into the possession of the infidels.”
Lashkar ideologues, developing on Azzam’s ideas, argued that the absence of an Islamic state meant jihad had become incumbent on individual Muslims. In an undated tract, Jihad in the Present Times, the Lashkar’s Abdul Salaam bin-Muhammad argued that Muslims were in a “position of disgrace and slavery.” It was therefore “binding and incumbent” upon them to fight until Islam became the dominant global order.
Azzam’s influence on this world-view is evident. His intellectual heritage included the work of the seminal Islamist ideologue Sayyid Qutb — a member of Egypt’s Society of the Muslim Brothers who was executed for his alleged role in an attempt to assassinate President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Qutb’s signal work, Milestones, cast Islam as being in implacable opposition to jahiliyyah, or ignorance. He sought to create “not a party of preachers and missionaries but rather of divine enforcers.” In Qutb’s view, this “Muslim party has no choice but to go for and control the power centres for the simple reason that an oppressive immoral civilisation derives its sustenance from an immoral governmental set-up.” The enemies included “hostile creeds such as communism and idolatry of all forms, whether in Russia, China, Yugoslavia, Albania, India, Kashmir, Ethiopia, Zanzibar, Cyprus, Kenya, South Africa or the United States.”
We, the Mothers of Lashkar-e-Taiba, published by the Markaz’s Dar-ul-Andalus press in 1998, tells us how the Lashkar set about fulfilling this obligation. It fought along with pro-Saudi Arabia Salafists against Soviet forces in Jaji and later joined battle in Jammu and Kashmir with fewer than “700 mujahideen ranged against 7,00,000 satanic forces.” In an undated pamphlet, Why We Are Waging Jihad, bin-Muhammad promised that more was to follow: “Muslims ruled Andalusia for 800 years but they were finished to the last man. Christians now rule [Spain] and we must wrest it back from them. All of India, including Kashmir, Hyderabad, Assam, Nepal, Burma, Bihar and Junagarh were part of the Muslim empire that was lost because Muslims gave up jihad.”
Lashkar ideologues legitimised their call for individuals to wage a jihad using Islamist cleric Fazal Illahi Vazirabadi’s work. Vazirabadi fought along with the Pakistani irregulars who attacked Jammu and Kashmir in 1947. In a 1949 book, The Problem of the Kashmir Jihad, he argued that it was imperative for Muslims to wrest political control from non-Muslims. Vazirabadi’s position was a response to Jamaat-e-Islami founder Sayyid Abul Ala Mawdudi’s insistence that the state — not individuals — ought to be the agent of jihad. Mawdudi, like Vazirabadi, believed that it was “impossible for a Muslim to succeed in his aim of observing the Islamic pattern of life under the authority of a non-Islamic system of government.” However, Mawdudi believed that it was for the Pakistani state — not individual Muslims — to fight India’s rule in Kashmir.
Battered by confrontations with the Pakistani state, historian Ayesha Jalal has recorded, Mawdudi “watered down his ‘revolutionary’ agenda.” While “his enthusiasm for an armed jihad remained unabated,” Mawdudi eventually “settled for a long secular trek toward the attainment of the Islamic state.”
State as an ally
Others didn’t: although the Lashkar saw the Pakistani state as a tactical ally, organisations like the Sipah-e-Sahiba, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and now the Taliban have engaged in murderous violence that threatens to tear apart that country.
Significant differences exist in the theological heritage of these groups — but a common intellectual vision unites and binds together their project with Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Mohammad Masood Azhar, who was released from an Indian jail in return for the safety of passengers on board a hijacked Indian Airlines flight, and claims theological legitimacy from the Deoband school of jurisprudence — a school at odds with the Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith to which Saeed and the Lashkar owe allegiance.
But Azhar’s ideas — outlined in The Struggle, The Gift of Virtue and The Virtues of Jihad — are almost indistinguishable from those of the Lashkar. Struggle was written, Azhar tells us, in the same mountains where Sayyid Ahmad of Rae Bareilly died in 1831 while waging an unsuccessful jihad against Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s empire — a martyrdom to which the Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith traces its formation. Following Qutb, Azhar argues that Islam faces an existential threat from modernity, much as followers of the Prophet Mohammad found themselves endangered by militarily more powerful pagan tribes. He reminds his audience that the Battle of Badr, where the Prophet defeated his adversaries, was won by 313 men pitted against armies of several thousands.
Like Azzam and his Lashkar protégés, Azhar uses the idiom of myth and miracle to draw cadre to the Jaish. His translation of a 13th century text by Ibn Nanhas, for example, provides a Jaish cadre a graphic account of the sensual benefits that await the mujahideen.
Many in the jihadist movement are now being drawn to a new generation of clerics who have been adroit in using television and the Internet to spread their message — figures like Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemen-based cleric who was earlier chaplain at the George Washington University in the U.S.
In one pamphlet, 44 Ways to Support Jihad, al-Awlaki argues that in “times like these, when Muslim lands are occupied by the infidels, when the jails of tyrants are full of Muslim prisoners of war, when the rule of law of Allah is absent from this world, and when Islam is being attacked in order to uproot it, jihad becomes obligatory on every Muslim.”
Among other things, al-Awlaki suggests that “if arms training is not possible in your country then it is worth the time and money to travel to another country to train.”
Ever since the November 2008 Lashkar attack on Mumbai, Pakistan has faced growing global calls to dismantle the infrastructure of terror on its soil. It needs to do that — and also confront the ideas that brought about its construction in the first place.