Apocalyptic Realm: Jihadists in South Asia

Apocalyptic Realm: Jihadists in South Asia

by Dilip Hiro

This hard-hitting and timely book explores the roots of militant Islam in South Asia and how it has grown to become a source of profound global alarm. By meticulously tracking the rise of the jihadist movement from its initial violence in Afghanistan in 1980 to the present day, Dilip Hiro challenges conventional narratives of the roles of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the

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This hard-hitting and timely book explores the roots of militant Islam in South Asia and how it has grown to become a source of profound global alarm. By meticulously tracking the rise of the jihadist movement from its initial violence in Afghanistan in 1980 to the present day, Dilip Hiro challenges conventional narratives of the roles of Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Soviet Union, the United States, and India. He warns that the Line of Control in Kashmir, where jihadists seek to incite war between nuclear-armed Pakistan and India, is today the most dangerous border in the world.

Drawing on evidence from a wide variety of sources including newly released Kremlin archives and classified U.S. Embassy documents published by WikiLeaks, the author compiles the first complete and accurate history of Islamist terrorism in South Asia. He chronicles historic links between Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India and their varying degrees of destabilization at the hands of the jihadists. He also sheds unprecedented light on the close military and intelligence links that have developed between India and Israel. Finally, he outlines the ambitions of Pakistani, Afghan, and Al Qaeda jihadists to establish an "apocalyptic realm" covering South, Central, and Western Asia. Compact, comprehensive, and fast paced, this book lays bare the causes of today's escalating terrorist threat, sets the historical record straight, and offers fresh strategies for defeating jihadist extremism.

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Editorial Reviews

Wall Street Journal - Sadanand Dhume
"Mr. Hiro ought to be commended for attempting to bring a regional lens to a subject too often written about in narrower terms."—Sadanand Dhume, Wall Street Journal

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Yale University Press
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Copyright © 2012 Dilip Hiro
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-17378-9

Chapter One

The Sufi Connection

A temperate Thursday evening, late February 2010, the New Delhi suburb of Nizamuddin. Along a crowded, rutted side lane, past the milling throngs of pilgrims and stall holders selling savories and round caps of cotton – often white, sometimes patterned – who part slowly for weaving motorcycles, auto-rickshaws, and an occasional car; past the well-kept shrines of Mirza Ghalib (1797–1869), the Urdu poet laureate of the Indian subcontinent, and Amir Khusrau Dehlvi (1253–1325), the originator of northern Indian classical music; and then treading on the unevenly cobbled floor of a narrow, covered bazaar – a series of holes in the wall stacked with cheap goods – with the dark, slender shopkeepers in long white shirts, tight pajamas, and low cylindrical caps selling red flowers, rosewater, and gaudily printed religious texts in Urdu, Hindi, and English; you come to a robust threshold of the monument where an attendant takes charge of your shoes.

Beyond it lies the mausoleum of Nizamuddin Auliya. A Sufi saint of the Chishti Order – derived from Chisht, the town in western Afghanistan (Land of Afghans) where it was established in 930 by Abu Ishaq Shami – Nizamuddin Auliya died aged eighty-two in 1325, when north India was governed by the sultans of Afghan pedigree. A succession of these rulers erected a complex around Nizamuddin's bare grave. At its center now stands a square chamber surrounded by verandahs, pierced by arched openings, while its roof is surmounted by a dome springing from an octagonal drum. The dome, ornamented by vertical stripes of black marble, is crowned by a crest of lotus, a floral symbol sacred to Hindus. In due course, the mausoleum acquired a mosque along with a communal washing place for ablution before prayers, and an assembly hall.

On capturing Delhi in 1526, the Kabul-based Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur (1487–1530), the founder of the Mughal Empire in the Indian subcontinent, sought blessings at this shrine. In our times the high-powered pilgrims to the mausoleum, known locally as Nizamuddin dargah (Urdu, "gate of the court"), have included not only the visiting Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf but also the Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, a Hindu.

The only way to have a glimpse of the redoubtable saint is to enter the carpeted room of the caretaker, Sayyid Ausuf Ali Nizami. A well-built man of forty-five in a long silk shirt, white salwar (loose pajamas) and black fez cap over his chubby, mustached face, he sits behind a low writing desk. In a corner behind him hangs a painting, captioned in English, of a small Amir Khusrau Dehlvi staring at Nizamuddin, who wears a mountainous turban and sports a beard so luxurious that it masks his facial features.

As dusk fell during my meeting with Nizami, a wiry old man in a lungi (loose rectangular cloth worn below the waist) entered the sky-blue room with a metal plate bearing a stick of burning incense. The practice reminded me of my visits to Hindu temples and Eastern Orthodox churches in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

On one side of Nizamuddin's domed grave is a prayer hall for women. And on the other is a communal quarter where free meals are served, funded by those whose wishes have been fulfilled thanks to the intercession of the holy saint.

Given that Friday is the day for believers' congregational prayers in a mosque, dargahs draw their crowds on Thursday evenings. In Islam as in Judaism, the day starts with sunset, so a Christian or Hindu Thursday evening is a Muslim Friday evening. On this Thursday, the mausoleum was a hive of activity, with women moving freely among men as children ran around unaccompanied. Men's white or beige long shirts and tight pajamas, pants and shirts, or salwar kameez (Urdu, "long shirt") looked drab compared to women's yellow and red saris with ocher-colored borders, partly covered by russet shawls, or pink or sky-blue salwar kameez and dupatta (light loose cloth) to cover their breasts.

To enter the inner sanctum, the pilgrim has to mount the steps leading to a marble platform: male devotees only. "Ladies Not Allowed Inside," reads a sign at the entrance to the hallowed place.

Nizamuddin's tomb lies in a grilled enclosure. On that day it was draped in green silken sheets, overlaid with red ones, all profusely spattered with red flowers, being the offerings of devotees. The red strings tied on the marble trellis around the tomb symbolize wishes of the pilgrims backed by pledges of charity if the wish is granted by God. The reason for the need for the intercession of the Sufi saint is the belief that human beings are far too sinful to approach God directly. All around the inner chamber men were standing next to the walls, with cupped hands raised in silent prayer. They beseeched the saint for the end to an illness, success in finding a job or winning a court case, or relief from the clutches of an avaricious moneylender.

The sentiment prevalent among the devotees on this warm Thursday was well captured by Ahmad Shafeek, a shopkeeper: "If the saint intercedes for me with Allah, then my plan [shared only with the saint] will be successful." Those who had their wishes fulfilled aired the news widely and helped elevate the status of the shrine; those who failed blamed their own fate.

A straw poll of the pilgrims showed that most of them had come to receive the holy sage's blessing. A few added that they were also drawn by the qawaali (also spelled qawwali), Islamic devotional music, that was being played in the forecourt. (Qawaali is a derivative of qawaal, meaning someone who repeats a qual, an utterance of the Prophet Muhammad.) As for Nizamuddin Auliya, no devotee in salwar kameez or long shirt and tight pajamas – common among the working and lower-middle classes – had any idea who he was. The one exception was Faheem Dehlvi, the dark-eyed, mustached publisher of an Urdu magazine, Shama ("Urdu, Flame"), clad in Western pants and a shirt with a breast pocket holding a pen.

What about Sufism? The response to this question almost invariably was: "I know nothing about it."

History of Sufism

Islam spread among societies where existing religious practices involved either idol worship or a personality cult. This was as true of the Arabia of the seventh century as it was of the Java of the thirteenth. As a result, those who adopted Islam missed the psychic satisfaction they had derived from worshiping idols, or objects of nature, or even some superior human being – practices strictly forbidden by the Quran. Furthermore, the Allah portrayed in the Quran was a severe entity who aroused more awe and reverence than love or affection among believers.

To the bulk of new converts, Islam came across as a creed concerned primarily with precise and overt observance of the Quranic edicts and the pursuit of political power. Strict obedience to Allah's commands and rigid observance of religious rituals left many believers spiritually and psychologically unfulfilled. The debates about the finer points of the Quran and Sunna (the Prophet Muhammad's practices), which deeply engaged the ulema (Arabic, "religious-legal scholars"), left other, largely illiterate believers cold and bewildered.

The Muslim masses sorely needed a humane, charismatic Islamic leader whose words and actions would infuse their new faith with warmth. In the early history of Islam, the tragic figure of the idealistic, uncompromising Imam Ali (598–661) was the personality from whom many of the fresh converts drew inspiration. Later, the martyrdom of his son Imam Hussein in 681 provided spiritual sustenance to this body of believers. After that, no equivalent figure emerged to satisfy the spiritual needs of the newly converted.

Some Muslims sought solace in undertaking ascetic exercises and arduous spiritual practices, believing that such means would bring them closer to the Deity. They were inspired by the example of the Prophet Muhammad (570–632) who used to withdraw into a cave and undertake nightly vigils, as well as by the practices of Christian hermits. Like the adherents of the Eastern Orthodox Church, they came to believe that Allah, or the Ultimate Reality, could be apprehended only by direct personal experience. They therefore stressed meditation and contemplation of the Deity, and regarded active involvement in worldly affairs, or pursuit of political power, as a distraction from seeking Allah within. Through their practices they injected warmth, piety, and altruistic love into Islam. They came to be known as Sufis – from the term suf (wool), linked to the patched woolen garment that they wore as a sign of their asceticism.

Hassan al Basri (d. 728), who lived as an ascetic, was the first known Sufi personality. The next renowned Sufi saint was Abu Ishaq Shami (d. 940). Over time two kinds of Sufis emerged: ecstatic and sober. A glaring example of ecstatic Sufism is the Qalandar Order, popular in today's Pakistan. In the sober category, the Naqshbandi Order stands out.

The ecstatic Al Hussein ibn Mansour al Hallaj (857–922) declared: "I am the Truth" – and was executed as a heretic. Among sober Sufis, Abu Hamid Muhammad al Ghazali (1058–1111) was the most prominent. His personal experiences led him to conclude that mysticism was a meaningful way of perceiving the Ultimate Reality, even though it did not enable the believer to learn anything about it beyond what was already revealed in the Quran. In other words, he tried to fit mystical experience within the bounds of the Sharia – Islamic law, consisting of the Quran and the Sunna. His greatest contribution to Islam was his Ihya Ulum al Din (Arabic, "Revival of the Religious Sciences"), a manual for everyday existence that blended institutional observance with individual virtue. Ghazali integrated the legal system with a spiritual infrastructure originating in the Prophet Muhammad's mystic consciousness. In Ihya Ulum al Din, he urged the faithful to be aware of God's presence while undertaking not only prayers and fasting but also such mundane actions as eating, washing, and sleeping. His work became the living manual for the Sufi orders, which arose soon after his demise in 1111.

The first major Sufi brotherhood with set rules and procedures was Qadiriya. It was founded by Abdul Qadir al Gailani (1077–1166), a resident of Baghdad. In the absence of any social organization outside the extended family, Sufi orders provided the only platform for social solidarity. A brotherhood consisted of aspirants (murids) or mendicants (dervishes) who took an oath of allegiance to the guide, known as shaikh, pir, or murshid. Women were admitted as associate aspirants. The shaikh headed a hierarchy within the order which was linked by a chain of inherited sanctity (Arabic, baraka) or kinship to the founding saint. This chain went back to the early Sufi founders, such as Hassan al Basri, and through them to the House of the Prophet or to the Prophet Muhammad himself. Sufi brotherhoods went on to establish their own convents.

A typical Sufi complex consisted of a mosque, an assembly hall for the Sufis to conduct their communal prayer, zikr (or thikr; literally, "remembrance"), cells for the Sufis to live and meditate in, and a toilet. The zikr, recited loudly or quietly or just mentally, involves control of inhalation and exhalation – the essential elements of Buddhist meditation. Generally, the zikr formulas involve the recitation of different syllables of the Islamic Creed – "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah" – or some of the ninety-nine names or attributes of Allah. Then comes meditation, which lets the Sufis' own thoughts rise up.

Visits to a Sufi complex afforded the novices and servants the company of Sufis. Many Sufi orders devised a framework within which rich and colorful liturgical practices were spawned as the devotional rituals of novices. Next up the hierarchy are those who learn Sufism's social ethics. Finally come the older Sufis, living in seclusion, engaged in meditation and prayers. As a collective, they are known as ikhwan, "brethren." That is why Sufi orders are also known as brotherhoods.

The turbulence in the Islamic world, caused by the devastating invasions of Central Asia and Iran by the pantheistic Ghuzz Turks and Mongols in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, weakened the Muslim Turkic sultans. The resulting collapse of the official channels for redressing citizens' grievances led them to seek the help of the Sufi orders. Their involvement in the day-today affairs of the common folk became so widespread that by the mid-twelfth century Sufism began competing with mainstream Islam. By then, with the long-running Sunni–Shia dispute having been settled in the Sunnis' favor, much intellectual energy was channeled into Sufi philosophy, its orders being generally free of sectarian influences.

Popular activity at the shrines led to an identification between ordinary Muslims and the Sufi orders. This engendered genuine reverence for the Sufi shaikh. By and large, Sufi saints conveyed their message of love and tolerance through popular modes of communication – poetry, music, and romantic tales of love, separation, and ultimate union. An added attraction for non-Muslims was the free food provided at many of the Sufi shaikhs' retreats.

The overthrow of the Sunni Abbasids in 1258 by the invading Mongols led by Hulagu Khan created a further ideological and intellectual vacuum in which Sufism thrived. Sufi orders took on board both orthodox and dissident ideologies. They became involved in political-military campaigns. For instance, in 1453 Sufi dervishes participated in the successful seizure of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks.

Celebrations were held to commemorate the anniversary of the saint's death called urs (Arabic, "wedding night"), the temporal demise signifying the return of his soul to the supernatural source from which it had been separated during its earthly existence. Earlier Sufi shaikhs were frequently credited with miraculous powers. It was believed that their inherited sanctity, which survived their death, lingered around their tombs and could be invoked for personal welfare. Out of this arose the practice of saint worship. Unlike Hinduism and Buddhism, Islam does not believe that the spirit is eternal and indestructible. So this concept was un-Islamic.

Within Islam relations between the ulema and Sufi shaikhs were tense. Sufi personalities based their claims to spiritual leadership on calls by God or the Prophet Muhammad in a vision or a dream, and not on strict book learning, as was the case with the ulema. The latter, committed to implementing the Sharia, demanded obedience, whereas Sufi shaikhs preached tolerance. Today, anti-Sufi sentiment remains particularly acute among those Muslims who are the adherents of Salafi, Wahhabi, or Ahl-e Hadith (derivative of Ahl al Hadith: Arabic, "People of the Hadith") ideology. A derivative of salaf al saliha (Arabic, "the pious ancestors"), the Salafiya movement stressed the militancy and purity of early Islam. For their religious practices, those subscribing to Ahl-e Hadith philosophy referred directly to the Hadith – sayings and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad – ignoring the myriad interpretations issued by the ulema since the death of the prophet. Wahhabis belong to a puritanical subsect within Sunni Islam that sprang up in Arabia in the mid-eighteenth century. Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaida, was a Wahhabi; so too are the rulers of Saudi Arabia.

While the adherents of these ideologies collectively form only one-fifth of the 1.57 billion-strong followers of Islam worldwide, their impact on the events in the Muslim and non-Muslim regions increased dramatically due to the jihad they conducted against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s. During this decade-long campaign, they scoffed at the Sufi practices, especially saint worship, of their Afghan comrades in the seven-party Islamic Alliance of Afghan Mujahedin, or Afghan Mujahedin for short. They destroyed several Sufi shrines, notable for their blue domes, in the areas controlled by the Afghan Mujahedin.

While saint worship was heretical in Islam, it appealed to most new converts drawn from societies steeped in this tradition. Thus Sufism served as a bridge to pre-Islamic creeds, helping to win converts to Islam and retain them. An outstanding case of this is the Rishi (Sanskrit, "sage") Order in Kashmir.

The Rishi Order in Kashmir

This brotherhood was established by Nouruddin Rishi (1378–1439), whose mentor was Lalleshwari (1320–92), a female Brahmin poet, popularly known as Lalla Ji, Lalla Ded, or Lal Vaid. She rebelled, preached the oneness of God, which clashed with Hinduism's pantheism, condemned the caste system, and came under the influence of Islam. She and Nouruddin became the precursors of the blending of the ancient Vedic Hindu philosophy and Sufi practices that has molded Kashmir's language and culture. The Wise Sayings of Lalla continues to influence Kashmiris. Regarded as the patron saint of the Kashmir Valley, Nouruddin is revered by both Muslims and Hindus, who carry flowers to his shrine at Chrar-e Sharif, 21 miles (35 km) west of Srinagar, the summer capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (henceforth Kashmir).


Excerpted from APOCALYPTIC REALM by DILIP HIRO Copyright © 2012 by Dilip Hiro. Excerpted by permission of YALE UNIVERSITY PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Dilip Hiro is the author of more than 30 books, including After Empire: The Birth of the Multipolar World and Inside Central Asia, listed by the Financial Times as one of the best history books of 2009. He lives in London.

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