King Abdullah’s Delhi visit is significant. Here is why

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Jordan’s King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein is in New Delhi on a three-day visit to discuss the entire gamut of bilateral relations as well as regional and international issues of mutual interest. This visit has to be seen as part of wide arc of developments taking place between India and the Muslim world.  Quite recently, when Prime Minister Modi was on his historic tour of West Asia, the External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was in Riyadh. Analysts were still sifting through the pages of history to find out the significance of these travels in the deserts, that Hassan Rouhani of Iran landed in India. Back in Tehran, Rouhani must still have been unwinding that King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein of Jordan had PM Modi breaking the protocol receive him with a warm hug on arrival in Delhi. There is clearly an emerging compact between India and the Islamic world to deal with a challenge –extremism –on which the West looks lost!

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the King of Jordan Abdullah II Bin Al-Hussein, Amman, Jordan, February 10, 2018

This visit of King Abdullah II is a testimony to India’s “Think West” policy getting robust and more vigorous, as it comes within a few weeks of PM Modi’s transit through Amman to Palestine. The remarkable visit by the Indian Prime Minister to West Asia earlier this month, which included Jordan, the UAE and Oman, was described as “history in the making”. On the first leg of his tour of West Asia, PM Modi met with King Abdullah II in Amman. This was the first visit by an Indian Prime Minister to Jordan in 30 years. Both the countries look for closer cooperation since diplomatic relations were established in 1950.

Now, Jordan King’s visit emphasizes continuity in India’s engagement with West Asia. It will definitely enhance collaboration between the two countries in business, investment, trade and technology. But one wonders how India and Jordan can take a joint venture into counter-extremism?

In this context, it is interesting to note a special talk of King Abdullah slated in Delhi’s Vigyan Bhawan on Thursday, where he is expected to highlight India’s role in combating extremist thoughts by averting the threats of ISIS and al-Qaeda. He will speak on “Islamic Heritage: promoting understanding and moderation” to an audience that includes academics and Islamic scholars, as well as representatives of all denominations of the Indian Muslim community, as NDTV reported. It says that the above topic has been selected by the King himself.

Particularly noteworthy in this visit, which officials said would be the “first of its kind” for New Delhi, is the release of the Urdu translation of the book written by King Abdullah’s cousin and renowned Islamic thinker, Prince Ghazi Bin Mohammad in the same premise of Vigyan Bhavan.

The crucial significance of this event lies in the news that this authoritative work on the Essence of Islam tilted “A Thinking Person’s Guide to Islam” will be launched at the hands of the Prime Minister.

Detailing how countries like India have escaped jihadist influences due to the most moderate and tolerant strand of Islam—non-Takfiri Hanafi Islam —being largely practiced in the country, the book includes a complete chapter on the “Crisis of ISIS”. It holds vital significance not only because it has been authored by the Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad who is descendant of the Prophet (PBUH), an asset to the Hashimite Kingdom of Jordan and an eminent Islamic scholar engaged in rigorous research and intellectual activism on counter-extremism, but also because the book’s foreword has been written by the King himself, who is known for his global effort of de-radicalization. He is also the custodian of the Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, located in the Old City of Jerusalem.

In his visit to Amman, Prime Minister Modi vowed to boost India-Jordan ties, especially in security and intelligence, defence, trade and investment. Counter-extremism is obviously an important area of cooperation as both the countries are at the forefront of the fight against global jihadism and Islamic State’s extremism. In fact, after the fall of ISIS in its de facto capital Raqqa, return of ISIS fighters greatly worries both Jordan and India.

According to counter-terrorism officials, several ISIS fighters of Indian origin will now try to return to India. After the loss of its occupied territory, ISIS sympathizers, who had travelled to Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan in groups or individually, seem to plan their extremist activities in rural areas. The latest arrest of the ISIS-linked couple of Indian origin who hoisted the ISIS flag at a modest homestead in a rural area in South Africa is a sign that ISIS fighters are making attempts to work in rural areas. Similarly, the arrest of several IS suspects upon their return from Turkey to India, killing of ISIS recruit from Kerala’s Kannur while fighting in. Syria, and the Indian-origin ISIS militant ‘New Jihadi John’ hint that Islamic State is still active and many of its fighters attempt to return to their countries of origin.

Notably, when King Abdullah launched the “Aqaba” process of de-radicalisation, Prime Minsiter Modi, as part of the Aqaba meetings, instituted new mechanisms for cooperation in counter-extremism. It appears now that not only Muslim countries, even Indian government is cognizant that counter-extremism is not possible without engaging with the community’s leaders to guide the vulnerable sections, and that without explaining the true essence of Islam, any effort aimed at de-radicalization will prove futile. In this context, one is reminded of the PM’s keynote address at World Sufi Forum in which he recounted the 99 names of Allah and remarkably stated: “When we think of the 99 names of Allah, none stands for violence, and that the first two names denote the Compassionate and the Merciful (Rahman and Raheem)”. Quoting from the world’s greatest Sufis and the tallest of Indian ulema and Sufi scholars, PM averred that “Islam rejected violence and the idea of division on the basis of religion” and that Sufism. in India is the voice of co-existence, altruistic service to mankind and composite nationalism. [Read full text of Prime Minister’s speech here]

It is gratifying to note that Indian Muslims have come together to cooperate with the government in creating this melody. In India, leaders of all Islamic denominations (Sunni, Shia, Barelwi, Deobandi etc.) and all schools of Islamic jurisprudence (Hanafi, Shafa’i, Maliki) and even on an individual level, every prominent Muslim leader and thinker has categorically denounced the extremist tendencies. As a matter of fact, most anti-extremism Fatwas emanated from India’s ulema and muftis (Islamic jurists).

Both in Sunni-Sufi leadership’s conclave at Ramlila Maidan (World Sufi Forum) in March 2016 and Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind’s multi-religious conference (Aman and EktaSammelan) at Indira Gandhi Indoor Stadium in October 2017, thousands of Indian Muslims came together to adopt a declaration of pluralism and counter-extremism, castigating every form of violence as ‘anti-Islamic’ (ghairislami), ‘anti-national’ (khilaf-e-watan) and ‘anti-humanity’ (ghairinsant). Even the relatively conformist Islamic outfits in India like JamiatAhl-e-Hadis, Jamat-e-lslamiand Tablighi Jamat launched anti-terror fatwas loudly claiming to protect the Muslim society from the ideological influences of the violent extremists. In fact, the rescue of Islam from the false schools bred by outside interests started from India.

According to the media reports, in Jordanian King’s special address at Delhi’s Vigyan Bhawan, India’s religious plurality will be highlighted as key to success in mitigating the influence of extremist Islamist groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda. An official involved in the planning of the visit has reportedly said: “The King has personally chosen to give this address in Delhi, as Jordan has studied how India has been able to avoid the threats from ISIS and other groups”.

Undeniably, only in the pluralistic ethos of the ancient inclusivist India, the Vedic tradition; Gnosis of Gautam Buddha, Non-Violence of Mahavir Jain, Sikh teaching of the Devine Unity as well as the Monotheism of the Semitic religions were brought together. This is the land where Islam arrived in the very age of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), and as recorded in history, the first mosque had been built in Kerala at that time. Thus, India’s civilizational force has great potentials stemming from the ancient inclusive and pluralistic cultures, to curb extremist thoughts and hardcore philosophies of all kinds.

Since India and Jordan share counter-terror strategies, their bilateral ties will be well received in combating the forces of radicalism. Commenting on how India and Jordan can tackle the common threat of religious extremism, Ashok Sajjanhar, President of Institute of Global Studies (Former Indian Ambassador to Kazakhstan, Sweden and Latvia) writes: “It has been reported that Prime Minister Modi and King Abdullah II will address an event themed on measures against radicalisation of youth. This reflects their conviction that the scourge of terrorism and violent extremism cannot be dealt with by force alone but that a counter-ideology of amity, concord and harmony is urgently needed. Both countries share the view that nations must coordinate their positions to fight against the misuse of religion by groups and countries for inciting hatred and justifying terrorism.”

Most importantly, King Abdullah’s vehement opposition to the Takfirist ideology which Ashok Sajjanhar cogently pointed out, has earned him global support in countering extremism. His declaration of the “Amman Message” unraveled a crucial Islamic consensus (ijma’a) of the world’s leading Muslim scholars in the capital of Jordan. They developed an Islamic consensus (ijma’a) on three points: (1) inadmissibility of accusing others apostates (takfirism) (2) inviolability of their blood, honour and property (3) audacity of those not qualified in issuing religious rulings or fatwas. In the Assembly for Moderate Islamic Thought and Culture convened in Amman, King Abdullah II stated: “True Islam forbids wanton aggression and terrorism, enjoins freedom of religion, peace, justice and goodwill to non-Muslims. It is also a message of good news, friendship and hope to the whole world.” Several Indian Islamic scholars including A.P Aboobacker Musliyar of Kerala, Maulana Mahmood Madani and Prof AkhtaruI Wasey were among the participants of the Amman Message against Takfirism. They strongly believe that if the Amman Message is truly practiced in its letter and spirit, it would put an end to the pernicious spade of violent extremism.

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