I am presently in the United States. Among other things, the guardians of my health have just completed my annual certification, and I remain comfortable in my departure lounge. But ever since I arrived here, I have been feeling a terrible sense of gloom at the daily dose of bad news that keeps confirming a belief that has lingered with me since childhood that Islam is on a tragic course of self-destruction. Almost as if the misguided elements which have taken control of Islam, and are holding it hostage, are determined to validate the Christian prophesy of Armageddon, the final War of all Wars. The morning newspapers of New York present a depressing view of the havoc being inflicted upon innocent fellow beings in large sections of the world by misguided religious fanatics. Fortunately, the ancient tradition of religious co-existence and amicability of our great country remains intact, and may it remain so for ever. The Muslims of India are demonstrating great courage and sincere nationalism by remaining immune and not succumbing to the demons of this vicious epidemic of extremism and fanaticism.
As I write this piece on Wednesday, 18 June, newspaper headlines carry the capture of Ahmad Abu Khattala by US commandos in the Libyan town of Benghazi, ending a manhunt that lasted two years, inflaming domestic and international politics. On 11 September 2012, Khattala had led the attack on the American mission in Benghazi, and killed the US ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens and three of his American colleagues. Khattala firmly believed that Christians and Muslims were locked in an intractable religious battle, in which Islam would triumph. And while he waged this fanatical and lethal battle, the destruction and suffering caused to humanity was not at all his concern.
Yesterday's newspapers carried screaming headlines, equally distressing: "Gunmen in Kenya targeted Non-Muslims." Cruel monsters, belonging to a Somali militant Islamic group, Al-Shabaab, forced innocent men and women out of their homes, asked them to recite verses from the Holy Quran, and shot down at point blank range at least 48 innocent people who could not recite them. Another item on a different page reports the downward spiral in the Middle East, where more than 160,000 have died in the Syrian civil war, and the capture of key Iraqi cities by the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIS) and its onward march to Baghdad, a holy Shia citadel. The Shia forces that make up the Iraqi army are looking for help from the US army and the Iraqi Kurds located in the north. But what looms large is the fear that Al Qaeda, the ISIS, and other Sunni sympathisers will not stop at Iraq and Syria. Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Turkey, Egypt, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are sure to be next targets.
While the White House plans a military response in Iraq, it cannot easily ignore the dangers the world presents. Not since the end of the cold war have there been so many crises erupting simultaneously in so many places — Russia and Ukraine, China's push in the East and South China Seas, and the surge of jihadist violence and terror from Boko Haram in Nigeria to the religious wars that now engulf Syria and Iraq.
Nearer home, on 9 June, Pakistan's Taliban mounted a deadly attack on the Karachi airport. Fearing a deadly backlash, government resistance is apparently weak. The 28 killed by the Tehrik-i-Taliban will be followed by many more, warned the TTP leader and spokesman, Shahidullah Shahid. The average right thinking Pakistani citizen is tormented with doubt as to how, if ever, Pakistan will be able to annihilate this menace. Eliminating terrorism in the sub-continent is of prime common interest for both India and Pakistan, and a joint and common solution simply must be found. The scenario that seems to be emerging on our frontiers, that are really a geographical continuum, is one that resembles 1192, when Ghori's savage hordes descended upon India. India cannot underestimate the dangers and must be prepared for the worst. Matters relating to defence and external affairs should be in the most capable hands.
Our Muslim citizens must rise to the current dangers and concerns. They must learn the truth and teach others the essence of the real Islam preached by the Prophet, which has tragically been hijacked by a counterfeit version, which I call Osama bin Ladenism. No other Prophet in the entire conglomeration of religions has ever preached to his followers with so much clarity, "When you work in search of knowledge, you are on the path to God; the ink of a scholar is holier than the blood of a martyr."
When Europe was still in the Dark Ages, over a thousand years ago, the Islamic world was a great civilisation, characterised by a thirst for science and knowledge. The world's great trading cities were Arab cities. The present Emir of Quatar, Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, has a completely modern and cosmopolitan outlook and believes that a new Arab Golden Age can be achieved through education and research, coupled with creativity and economic development. Education, the Emir and his wife believe, is essential for controlling and preventing the hijack of Islam by fanatics and suicide bombers.
Towards this objective, the Emir has set up the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development, and started a wonderful project called Education City. Education City has created Centres of Excellence and campuses for education from school age to research level, with participation of leading American and European Universities. It has several academic and training programmes, with the highest emphasis being placed on education.
The Muslim community of India has enough leaders with high levels of education, global experience and achievement. In business and entrepreneurship too, we have enlightened and wealthy leaders, who command high respect in society. Let India have multiple Emirs, to emulate the great one in Quatar. Let them create centres of excellence for lower and higher education, skills, higher studies and research which can be accessed by the Muslim community, particularly the poor and under-privileged, who presently have no access to any proper modern educational institution, and must rely only on madrasas that stunt their minds further. This would be their real contribution towards the socio-economic progress of their community, preventing young people from embracing terrorism, and cementing the secular democracy of India.
Let me end on a philosophic note, literally. The word "philosopher" is derived from two Greek words: Philo, which means Love, and Sophia, which means wisdom. The Prophet Mohammed was a philosopher, not a fanatic. He would have been ashamed of the Taliban and others like them, who are committing the worst crimes against humanity in his name.