Funding Intolerance

Written by Yoginder Sikand | Published on: March 1, 2005
to sternly condemn them as ‘aberrant’ on account of differences in their methods of performing rituals and their rules governing a range of issues related to normative personal and collective behaviour.

Another interesting feature of the literature produced by Ahl-i Hadith publishing houses in India, and one that is directly linked to the close association between the Ahl-i Hadith and the Saudi Wahabbis, is a fierce hostility to local beliefs and practices. This hostility, while having been a defining feature of the early Ahl-i Hadith, has been further exacerbated with the growing Saudi-Ahl-i Hadith nexus. In recent years Ahl-i Hadith scholars have penned scores of books and tracts sternly denouncing customs that many Indian Muslims share with their Hindu neighbours, a legacy of their pre-Islamic past.

These also include customs, such as those associated with popular Sufism and the cults of the saints, which enabled Islam to take root in India and to adjust to the Indian cultural context. As Ahl-i Hadith writers see it, these are all ‘wrongful innovations’, having no sanction in the Prophet’s sunnah, and hence must be rooted out. In their place they advocate an adoption of a range of Arab cultural norms and practices which are seen as genuinely ‘Islamic’.

The publication of Urdu translations of the compendia of fatwas of leading Saudi Wahhabi ulema by Indian Ahl-i Hadith publishing houses is a reflection of this cultural alternative that they seek to provide to take the place of what they see as ‘un-Islamic’ practices widely prevalent among many Indian Muslims. This has added to the conflict with other Muslim groups, most particularly with the Barelvis, who are associated with the cults of the Sufis. The ‘Saudi Arabisation’ of Islam and Indian Muslim culture that the Ahl-i Hadith seeks to promote also inevitably further widens the cultural chasm between Muslims and Hindus.

As many Ahl-i Hadith ulema see it, and this is reflected in their writings as well, Hinduism is hardly different from the pagan religion of the Arabs of the pre-Islamic Jahiliya period. Although most of them do not advocate conflict with Hindus, some Ahl-i Hadith scholars insist on the need for Muslims to have as little to do with the Hindus as possible, for fear of the ‘deleterious’ consequences this might have for the Muslims’ own commitment to and practice of Islam.

Like other Muslim groups, Indian Ahl-i Hadith publishing houses have also paid particular attention to combating their Muslim rivals. This cannot be understood without taking into account the Saudi connection. Scores of books have been penned by Indian Ahl-i Hadith ulema, branding Sufis, Shias and Deobandis as heretical.

Tirelessly claiming in their writings to being the sole representatives of ‘normative’ Islam and, in the process, identifying themselves with the Saudi Wahhabi ulema, enables the Indian Ahl-i Hadith ulema to present themselves as faithful allies of the Saudis, which in turn helps earn them recognition as well as monetary assistance from Saudi sponsors. In addition, such publications also serve the purpose of presenting the Saudi Wahhabi version of Islam as normative, and in putting forward the claim of the Saudi regime to being the only one in the world sincerely and seriously committed to ‘genuine’ Islam.

Access to Saudi funds has therefore led to heightened conflict between various Muslim sectarian groups in India, as Ahl-i Hadith publishing houses produce and distribute literature on a large scale bitterly attacking their rivals of being Muslim only in name.

Heightened intra-Muslim polemics within India are not unrelated to the interests of the Saudi regime. Thus, the virulently anti-Shia and anti-Sufi propaganda material churned out by various Ahl-i Hadith publishing houses in India, some of this said to be sponsored by Saudi patrons, serves the purpose of denouncing as outside the pale of Islam Muslim groups who are opposed to Wahhabism and the Saudi State, these often being branded as ‘enemies’ of Islam. In this way the literature produced by several Ahl-i Hadith publishing houses in India helps promote a version and vision of Islam that is almost identical to that of the Wahabbis of Saudi Arabia, and hence one that fits in with the interests of both the Saudi Wahhabi ulema as well as the Saudi State.

The claim of the Saudi monarchy