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Home > 2024 > Review of Iqbal S. Hasnain’s Fault Lines In The Faith | P S Jayaramu

Mainstream, VOL 62 No 22, June 1, 2024

Review of Iqbal S. Hasnain’s Fault Lines In The Faith | P S Jayaramu

Saturday 1 June 2024



Fault Lines In The Faith:
How events of 1979 shaped the Islamic World

by Iqbal S. Hasnain


2023 Pp 279, Price ₹395.

Iqbal Syed Hasnain, the author of this book, is a former Pro-Chancellor of Jamia Hamdard and former Vice Chancellor of Calicut University, besides the other assignments he handles. Hasnain has varied interests and the same can be discerned from his interests in Himalayan glaciers and climate change. He is a Padama awardee too.

The book has eight chapters starting from a write-up about Wahhabism as an ideological source of the Global Jihad, the radicalization of youth in Europe and the United States, the evolution and expansion of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, ending with an interesting chapter on ‘ reviving Sufi tradition to bring about peace’ in the Islamic World.

The author asserts that the fault lines in the faith began in 1979, which was a defining year with some major events becoming the catalysts for change in the Middle East and in the entire Muslim World. There are detailed references to the manner in which the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia renewed its loyalty to the fundamentalist ideology of Wahhabi Salafism following a questioning of the ruling family’s moral legitimacy by a radical Islamist group by highlighting the regime’s economic and moral corruption. The Western World’s responses were varied - Europeans hailed it, while the United States did not show any enthusiasm towards it. The author contends that the US abandonment of Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal from it led to scores of young radical Islamist groups turning to become suicide bombers under the leadership of Osama Bin Laden. He describes it as, perhaps, the unintended consequences of the American support to Afghanistan. The result was that the rest of the world had to suffer it in the years to come. The author very correctly refers to how the Pakistani Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence ( ISI) saw an opportunity to interfere in Afghanistan through the Taliban, as the American CIA virtually handed over the charge of its Afghan policy to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in the region.

Elsewhere in the book the author forcefully points out that the year 1979 led to three apocalyptic events in the Middle East:(1)The Iranian Revolution, (also known as the Islamic Revolution) led by Ayatollah Khomeini, (2) the seizure of the Grand Mosque in Mecca,(3) the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan followed by the American resolve to defeat it by arming Islamists in Afghanistan.

Hasnain vividly refers to Wahhabism as the ideological source of Global Jihad. He points to the strict application of Sharia laws, its vehement opposition to the Western influences and the artistic and mystical traditions of Islam and the way the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia provided the Wahhabi movement with a state which included the holy cities of Mecca and Madina contributing to it’s acceptance in the Muslim world (P.26). His central point is that in contemporary times, Muslims are unfortunately facing the consequences of a decision taken by Saudi Arabia to encourage the radical Wahabi Islam by sidelining a more tolerant strand of Sufi-Sunni Islam. The author is absolutely right when he says: “Today global Muslims have two options before them—either the peaceful historical Islam that accommodates art, music, science, aesthetics and multiculturalism or the intolerant Wahabi-Salafi Islam, a highly politicised version, full of hatred, dogmas, rigidities and bigotry”.( P59)

In the chapter on Sectarian Fault Lines and the Future of the Middle East, the author traces the growth of sectarianism and its consequences on the future of the Middle East. Pointing to the difficulties of predicting the sectarian struggle in the Middle East, the author says that the future of the Middle East is in jeopardy as long as the lengthening shadows of sectarian conflict hangs over it. ( P79). He doesn’t see it going away soon, affecting the future of the 1.6 billion Muslims across the world.

In an interesting aside, writing about Israel, the author draws our attention to how it is trying to serve its own interests through policies aimed at changing the contours of regional politics by trying to unite the Arab monarchies against Iran.

There are also references to Iran’s Middle Eastern Policy. The author argues that the guiding principle of Tehran is Shia empowerment and that towards that end, Iran has patronized Shia parties and militia in a manner that is reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s strategy towards Third World Communist movements during the Cold War. He says that Tehran used different proxy armies to push back Saudi influence and enhance its own influence in the region. The author rightly says that the jury, however, is still out on whether the sectarianisation of the Iranian foreign policy will be a costly mistake or not, though the Policy has worked well to enhance the regional power of Iran.

The book has interesting write-ups about the radicalization of Muslim youth in Europe and America, the use of social media as a Jihadi platform, the virtual Caliphate, the need for preventing online extremism, the marginalisation of Sufism in spite of its presence in the West, South Asia and South India.

Hasnain observes that after 9/11, the US Administration had a unique opportunity, as global sympathy was in its favour, to make an attempt to purge globally extreme Muslim communities. However, it either failed to identify the dangerous implications of endorsing Wahhabi-Salafism, a limited and vicious ideology or deliberately did nothing to prevent its spread across the World. He avers that Muslim extremism is not due to poverty, deprivation or any grievance against the Policies of Western democracies. He concedes that Western democracies are not against Islam. “The elephant in the room is, unfortunately, the ultra-conservative Wahhabi-Salafi Islam, which for Saudi Arabia is the authentic and ‘real’ Islam”. He bemoans the branding and selling of this version of Islam as the strongest and most vibrant brand of Islam and that the majority of Sunni Muslim youth in the Middle East and the Western world became its followers through the internet and social media platforms.( Pps273-74). At a larger level, the author considers the total withdrawal of the US and NATO from Afghanistan and by default giving space to the Taliban under the US-Afghan peace deal, a monumental mistake, with serious regional and international consequences. However, putting the blame entirely on the United States may provide an escape route for failing to do what is essential for the liberals ( their space may be very limited) in the regional States. Modernisation of Islam and turning away from its militant/extremist avatar, by going back to the essentially peace-loving and fraternal aspects of Sufism, which has many commonalities with Gandhism, is the need of the hour.

I enjoyed reading the book and would strongly recommend it to academicians and general readers in India and abroad.

(Review Author: Dr. P.S. Jayaramu is former Dean of Social Sciences, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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