ISLAMABAD – Arif Jamal, born in Lahore into a traditional Punjabi family, is arguably the leading Asian expert on jihad. He was educated in Pakistan, France and the US. He is married and lives in Islamabad, where he works as a consultant for leading media organizations in Europe and in Pakistan. Although he describes himself as a journalist, he is also a scholar. For the past three years Arif Jamal has been engaged in monumental research that will yield at least four books – all of them related to jihad.
“Jihad” is now the supreme mantra in Pakistan’s tribal areas after the beginning of American strikes on Afghanistan. Jamal is fond of remembering a certain scene at the White House in the mid-’80s, when Ronald Reagan – with his unflinching Californian eye for drama – was receiving a bunch of bearded and rugged frontier characters in the Oval Office: they were the Afghan mujahideen fighting the mighty Red Army of the “Evil Empire,” the Soviet Union. Reagan on that occasion proclaimed the mujahideen “the moral equivalent of the Founding Fathers.” Among these mujahideen a place could easily be found for a certain Arab millionaire named Osama bin Laden.
Today Osama bin Laden – formerly the “moral equivalent” of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson – on the receiving end of America’s fury. History can be very fond of symmetries. In the ’80s, the Afghans were fighting a jihad against an Evil Empire, financed in part by America’s CIA. At the beginning of the 21st century, Afghans are about to engage in a jihad against America itself. As Jamal puts it: “Now it’s time for America to pay the price for the jihad in Afghanistan.”
Asia Times Online: What is the true meaning of jihad?
Jamal: Jihad literally means “holy struggle.” But in common parlance, when people use the word jihad, it means jihad in the way of Allah – or “the holy war.” Prophet Muhamad stressed a lot the concept of jihad all his life. And he fought jihad more than 20 times in his own life. The real objective of jihad in the life of Prophet Muhamad was to defeat the infidels and establish an Islamic state in Mecca, Medina and the Arabian island later on. This essential meaning of jihad remains even today. The main objective of jihad even today is to defeat the infidels and establish Islamic states all over the world. Muslims believe that the Earth belongs to Allah and they should establish the system of Allah on Allah’s Earth. The infidel system must go.
ATol: What are the rewards of waging jihad?
Jamal: Prophet Muhamad also offered a lot of incentives for those who would wage jihad in their lives. The mujahideen were assured of entering Paradise before the first drop of their blood fell to earth. The Holy Scriptures of Islam also say that houris [beautiful virgins of the Koranic Paradise] come down to Earth to take the spirit of the mujahid who is about to die before the first drop of his blood falls to earth. The martyrs are promised 72 houris in Paradise. These houris are more beautiful than all the beauties of the world combined. I have studied more than 600 wills of Pakistani mujahideen who were fighting in Kashmir. There is hardly any will that escapes this concept. All the mujahideen have mentioned the houris as an important incentive for waging jihad. The Paradise with houris is the prime objective of these mujahideen.
ATol: What is the Koranic view of “infidels” – especially Christians and Jews?
Jamal: In the beginning Prophet Muhamad did try to evolve alliances with Jews of the Arabian island against the nonbelievers. But they did not prove long-lasting. And ultimately the Jews, Christians and nonbelievers were bracketed in the same fashion by the Prophet. Prophet Muhamad wanted to establish an Islamic State in the Arabian island. It was not possible by evolving alliances with non-Muslims in those days. The Holy Koran is very clear about Jews and Christians; it very clearly says in several places that Jews and Christians cannot be friends with Muslims. The mujahideen today are propagating this concept from every available pulpit. Prophet Muhamad also asked to throw Christians and Jews out of the Arabian island. And this is the foundation of the concept of jihad of Osama bin Laden. Osama’s contention is that it is un-Islamic to have the Christian and Jewish army of the United States of America in the Arabian island. He wants them out. Many of his close associates say that if the American troops leave Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden can be convinced to appear before an Islamic court of law. This shows that his jihad is based on the sayings of Prophet Muhamad. A big problem is that jihad has intensified the hatred between Muslims and Christians and Jews.
ATol: Could we say that Osama’s jihad is a misinterpretation of jihad according to Prophet Muhamad?
Jamal: I don’t think it is a misinterpretation of the Islamic concept of jihad. It may be a narrow interpretation of the concept.
ATol: So Osama’s jihad in thesis only applies to Saudi Arabia, it would not apply to Palestine and Israel.
Jamal: Basically, the important thing is the presence of Christians and Jews of the American army on Saudi soil. But with the passage of time his jihad has also assumed many other aspects. It has come to be a jihad to liberate the whole world from the infidels, and establish an Islamic system all over the world. The practical problem is once you start jihad or guerrilla warfare you cannot come back to normal life. Your interest lies in the continuation of jihad.
ATol: Do great Islamic religious authorities like grand muftis, for instance, agree with the concept of a global jihad?
Jamal: I think no Muslim on Earth would disagree with the concept of jihad, because if they did they would become infidels. Most Muslims don’t take part in practical jihad. Even moderate Muslims would not disagree with the concept of jihad. They may disagree with the attacks on the World Trade Center, but they do not disagree with the concept of jihad as such. Most would certainly like to see the establishment of an Islamic state all over the world. Most Sunni Muslims condemned the Iranian revolution which established a Shia Islamic state. This is a sectarian problem. Shias believe they waged a real Islamic revolution, and Iran is the only Islamic state at the moment. Sunnis don’t believe so. The Wahhabis, for example, believe that Saudi Arabia is the only Islamic state in the world. As I said, Islam is a very sectarian religion. Different sects interpret different concepts according to their own wishes.
ATol: The concept of jihad itself was elaborated in seventh century Arabia. In your opinion, what is the relevance of such a concept to the 21st century?
Jamal: Jihad as we know it now started only after the CIA and ISI [Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence agency] started jihad in Afghanistan. Before that, jihad was a dormant concept, and Muslims were waging mostly nationalistic struggles. In the last two decades, jihad has come to mean “armed struggle.” After the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European empire, jihad has been adopted by the have-nots in Muslim countries. And these have-nots are waging a sort of class struggle against the Western haves. Jihad has become a thermonuclear bomb in the hands of the have-nots in Muslim states. So if Marx were alive today he would say that the new class struggle is the Islamic have-nots against the Western haves Sum Probably Marx would not agree with this because he was in favor of a class struggle without the involvement of religion Sum But this is one form of class war, yes.
ATol: Who is entitled to start and wage a jihad? Do you need special qualifications for it?
Jamal: According to the Holy Scriptures, it is the Commander of the Faithful – the Amir-ul-Momineen – who is entitled to declare jihad. But in the absence of a commander-in-chief, any Muslim can wage jihad. The Holy Scriptures say that jihad will continue till the Day of Judgement. This means that the mujahideen will not revert to ordinary life. You cannot simply abandon jihad. Once you get training to wage jihad, and you wage jihad, you only change locations, but you have to continue the struggle. That is why the mujahideen from Afghanistan were directed to Kashmir.
ATol: So how do you internalize jihad? Apparently once you start waging jihad, your whole world-view is subordinated to jihad. Everything else is not important. Even if you have to kill innocent people, this is subordinated to the higher purpose of jihad.
Jamal: The end justifies the means. When you start jihad, it starts dominating you, because it gives you power over the rest of the world. All other things become subordinated to jihad. Even the concept of Islam boils down to jihad for the mujahideen. All other Islamic concepts – even when they are important – they become subordinated to jihad. Jihad becomes the ultimate end even for the Islamic belief system. These mujahideen ignore many, many important Islamic concepts. For example, Prophet Muhamad said that marriage is important for Muslims. It is “half of your belief,” according to Him. But when I read the wills of mujahideen, I find they refuse to get married because they want to get married in Paradise.
ATol: So most mujahideen are single.
Jamal: Yes, most mujahideen prefer to get married in Paradise. Apart from jihad, they do practice namaz (the ritual of five prayers a day) regularly, they very regularly fast, but they ignore other concepts of Islam. They say jihad is the summit of Islam. So if you have found the summit, you have found the whole thing. This is what they are taught. They believe jihad will bring them honor in the world, they will become powerful. The heroes of the mujahideen have always been generals. No Muslim scientist, or intellectual, or artist has ever become a hero. It’s a military tradition that dominates the mujahideen.
ATol: Some influential Muslim scholars say that the great problem with Islam is that unlike Christianity, it did not go through a Renaissance and a Reformation.
Jamal: Something to this effect has been said by the Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi. Regarding your question, I think this is an influence of Christian scholars on Muslim scholars. I think the West developed only after it abandoned Christianity and adopted science. It did not develop because it had Renaissance and Reformation. They developed only after they abandoned Jewish and Christian dogmas and adopted science as a way of life. I think this is the only solution for Muslim societies as well. Unless they adopt science and technology, they will not be able to fight the West.
ATol: How many different faces may jihad adopt?
Jamal: Jihad can take many forms. The concept of many Pakistani organizations of mujahideen is the liberation of Kashmir from Hindu domination. Many of them say that if India quits Kashmir they will stop jihad.
ATol: Could we make a comparison with the jihad in Afghanistan in the ’80s? Many might have said that after the Soviets were expelled, they would quit jihad; instead they started fighting with each other.
Jamal: Certainly this will happen in Kashmir as well if India quits, because Islam is very sectarian in the Indian subcontinent. All the jihadi and Islamist parties in the subcontinent are based on sects. They cooperate with one another for the sake of convenience. But essentially they do not consider other sects as the “right” sects.
ATol: How do you describe the current jihad against Shias inside Afghanistan itself?
Jamal: When the CIA started jihad in Afghanistan, Shias in Afghanistan also participated in the struggle against the Soviets. But later the anti-Shia forces took over jihad – and the jihad started eating its own children. The Shias in Afghanistan are mostly concentrated in the Hazarajat region. They are also slightly spread out in the west. This phenomenon has international aspects as well. One reason is the Saudi influence on the Afghan jihad. You remember the Saudis were matching America dollar for dollar. And Saudis had a lot of influence over the mujahideen in Afghanistan. This influence was one of the important factors which turned the mujahideen and the Taliban against the Shias in Afghanistan. The second reason is related to internal Pakistani politics. In Pakistan, Zia-ul-Haq was seeking a support base among the Sunnis of this country. And he strenghtened a lot of Sunni organizations and parties, a lot of them Deobandi – which eventually turned against the Shias because they were also receiving money from the Saudis and other Middle Eastern shaykhdom (kingdoms). Since the Middle Eastern monarchs were against Iran, these parties also turned against Shia in Pakistan. The Afghan factor multiplied the tension between Pakistani Shias and the Deobandi organizations.
ATol: Why are the Taliban are so fiercely anti-Shia?
Jamal: Shias have always been part of Muslim societies. They are a significant part of most Islamic countries in the world. Normally Shias are associated with Iran only, but there are many other countries with a sizable Shia majority, like Syria or Iraq. In Pakistan, 10 percent of the population is Shia. But in Afghanistan, when the Taliban came to power, they represented a certain Islamic sect – the Deobandis. And Deobandi is the most aggressively and ferociously anti-Shia sect. This hatred is rooted in history and politics. In 18th century Lucknow (in India), the rulers , the Muslim rajahs, were Shias, whereas the populaton was Sunni. When the Deoband movement emerged, they used the class hatred of common people in Lucknow and the environs against the Shia rulers. From that point in history, the tension between the Deoband movement and Shias started rising. But it never took a bloody shape until the military regime of Zia had to depend on the Deobandi organizations and parties in Pakistan to prop up and support his government.
ATol: Can you mention some examples of Deobandi parties and organizations? Which ones are considered terrorist organizations?
Jamal: The important Deobandi political parties are the three factions of the JUI (Jamiat Ulema Islam) – directed by Fazlur Rahman, Samiul Haq and Maulana Ajmal Qadri. The other national parties are Sipah-I-Sahaba Pakistan (“The Soldiers of the Companions of Prophet Muhamad”), and there are also four Deobandi organizations involved in the jihad in Kashmir. One is Harakat-ul-Mujahideen – which has been designated a terrorist organization by the US. The others are Harkatul-Jihad-al-Islami, Jaish Muhamad and Jamiat-ul-Mujahideen. The Taliban, of course, are also Deobandis.
ATol: Is there any substantial difference between Deoband practiced by the Taliban and Deoband practiced by these religious parties in Pakistan?
Jamal: There’s very little difference. In Pakistan they cannot practice their version of Islam the way the Taliban can in Afghanistan. Given freedom in Pakistan, they would behave in the same way as the Taliban do. And this is exactly what they are striving for. And their influence is of course increasing day by day.
ATol: In terms of percentage, how big are they?
Jamal: It’s very difficult to estimate. It’s an important minority, maybe around 10 percent, spread all over the country. Once again, it’s important to say that Islam in the subcontinent is very sectarian. The Islamic sects in the subcontinent are as well defined as the castes are defined for Hindus. All the sects hate one another. Deobands believe that Shias are not Muslims. This has come to be their fundamental principle. The Brelevis – which are the largest sect in Pakistan and India – believe Deobandis are not Muslims. Brelevis also believe that Wahhabis are not Muslims. It’s a war of all sects against all sects. They could unite sometimes against a bigger enemy – like the United States. But given a relaxed atmosphere, they are at each other’s throats.
ATol: Could we talk about different manifestations of jihad – in Palestine, Kashmir, Chechnya, maybe Southeast Asia?
Jamal: I believe jihad has been spreading since the Afghan jihad started. Before that, the nationalist struggles were mere nationalist struggles even when Muslims were involved. In the case of Palestine, it was not jihad unless the jihad in Afghanistan started in 1980. In the last two decades, jihad has been spreading because the Muslims have found a very lethal way of combating their enemies – and expressing themselves – thanks to the CIA. The reasons and the causes of the spread of jihad are certainly valid – but it is an irrational way of reacting to those real problems in life. Hamas did not come into being in the early days of the Palestinian struggle. It was only after the Palestinians learned armed jihad in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the Philippines, the Abu Sayyaf group is very much linked with organizations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Chechnya as well, the Saudis are very much involved – through Wahhabi organizations in Pakistan. There is an international network of jihadi movements which has come into being. All these organizations all over the world are becoming closer and closer linked to one another. They give all kinds of assistance to other jihadi organizations, and civil society is unable to resist them. Most of these jihadi movements are one way or another linked to jihadi movements in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And both countries have become a source of training, arms and ammunition to these organizations. There is a respite sometimes, because of some government policies, but once these policies go away the jihadis re-emerge. One of the latest examples is in Burma. The jihad in Burma subsided when there was an arms embargo by the Huseena Wajid government in Bangladesh, and the price of a Kalashnikov went up three times – but now the jihadis can again support the Burmese mujahideen against the Buddhist government of Burma. These mujahideen are concentrated in the Burmese province of Arakan. A sizable number of Burmese fighters came to Pakistan; here they collect donations, and get religious military training.
ATol: Is there a Javanese connection to the jihad, or maybe from Aceh?
Jamal: I haven’t come across any visible link between Pakistani and Afghani jihad organizations and Indonesian or Malaysian mujahideen. But some Indonesian and Malaysian mujahideen got training in Pakistan and Afghanistan. There are no significant organizational ties – as yet.
ATol: Could we explain the attacks on America as organized by a coalition of jihadi organizations – with no Super-Brain giving the executive orders?
Jamal: Yes, in the sense that there are mujahideen from many countries involved in this operation. But we have to wait for the details. It is certainly not the handiwork of one organization, one group or one individual. If Osama and the Al-Qaeda are involved, they are not alone. It was certainly a collective effort.
ATol: Let’s talk about the training of a jihadi. How do you form a jihadi? What do they learn in those training camps?
Jamal: In 1980, when the CIA and ISI started jihad in Afghanistan, they concentrated on training the Afghans in the art of guerrilla warfare. There was very little religious indoctrination. According to a former ISI officer, they trained something like 80,000 Afghans in the art of guerrilla warfare during the ’80s. But after some time they found out that military training was not enough. So the CIA and the ISI – with the help of Saudi money – started establishing madrassas (Koranic schools) all over the country, for Afghans and Pakistanis, and certainly along the Pakistan-Afghan border. These madrassas produced hardened Islamist guerrillas. The early fighters were freedom fighters. But they were slowly replaced by the Islamist guerrillas. And that is why when the mujahideen came to power in Afghanistan after the overthrow of Dr Najibullah’s government in 1992, they could not sustain power. The students from these madrassas took over the government in the name of the Taliban Islamic movement.
ATol: So they were the second generation of jihadis.
Jamal: Yes – and these madrassa-trained students were the best jihadis. The CIA and the ISI set up many training camps inside Afghanistan and in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan. When the jihad in Afghanistan came to an end, these guerrillas needed employment somewhere. And luckily for them, the Kashmir front was opened. So most of them were diverted to Kashmir. Kashmir was a nationalist cause for Pakistan. And Pakistanis responded to it very liberally – unlike in Afghanistan, where the cause was not a Pakistani cause. Kashmir was a Pakistani cause. So they set up scores of training camps. My own calculations show there are somewhere near half a million military-trained Islamist guerrillas in this country.
ATol: How many of these are operating right now in Kashmir?
Jamal: At any one time, there are between 3,000-4,000 Islamist guerrillas inside Indian-controlled Kashmir. These guerrillas are full-time guerrillas. Military training is only a part of their syllabus. Most of the time they learn about the holy scriptures of Islam and the rituals of Islam. The stress in the training camps is on religious training rather than military training. Once you train somebody to give his life in the way of Allah, it compensates for lack of training. This is why 3,000-4,000 guerrillas are holding more than half a million Indian troops in Kashmir. And the Indian army does not seem to be winning. If they were only mercenaries fighting for money, they would not have done so well. It’s their Islamist belief, it’s their desire to establish the sovereignty of Allah all over the world which keeps them going.
ATol: So they don’t study anything else apart from the Koran – no history of the subcontinent, no math, no languages?
Jamal: Certainly not. They read the Holy Koran and other religious texts like the sayings of the Holy Prophet. These organizations also produce a lot of literature of their own. They are encouraged to read that literature as well. Once the students finish their training they come back to society and start proselytizing. They don’t sit back at home. So half a million guerrillas in Pakistan are very much active in imparting to others the Islamist solution to their problems.
ATol: What does the military training consist of? And who are the instructors?
Jamal: Most of the instructors are Pakistanis. There are some Muslim deserters from the Indian army as well. The concept is not to wage jihad only. The important thing is to get prepared to fight jihad if one has to. That is why all the trained mujahideen do not go to Kashmir or elsewhere. They get training because the Koran orders Muslims to remain always prepared to fight against the infidels. They usually follow a basic military course of 21 days – to get minimum training in Kalashnikov-handling, hand grenades, ambushing. You come back to get advanced training only when you are planning to practically wage jihad. Even those who have minimum guerrilla training are better fighters than the Pakistani policemen. And the advanced guerrillas are certainly better than most conventional armies. The proof is what is going on in Indian-held Kashmir.
ATol: Have you had any reports of a massive transfer of jihadis from Kashmir to wage jihad against America in Afghanistan?
Jamal: No, there is no mass transfer to Afghanistan. There are only four organizations who are engaged both in Kashmir and Afghanistan. But they have different agendas for Kashmir and Afghanistan. Those who fight in Kashmir are not necessarily involved in Afghanistan, and vice-versa. In Kashmir the fighters are mostly Punjabis – and Punjabis have proved themselves to be very good guerrilla fighters. In Afghanistan they need Pashtun fighters, because the Pashtuns do not like guerrilla warfare. They feel they are being cowards, because they attack the enemy from behind. They have the tradition of coming out in the open and fighting the enemy. Most of the Pashtun fighters in Kashmir failed and died: they could not match the Indian army because they came into the open. Only Deobandi organizations are involved both in Kashmir and Afghanistan. The Taliban expelled all other jihadi organizations from Afghanistan when they came into power – because they consider only Deobandis as good Muslims.
ATol: What is the future direction of jihad?
Jamal: Jihad has tremendously affected Pakistani society. With increasing poverty, most people have very little to do with their lives. In this uneducated society, they have found a solution – an irrational solution – to their problems. They don’t want to labor to find better solutions. They think if they wage jihad all their problems will be solved. It is very interesting: all their problems are worldly, and the solution is spiritual. But when they join jihad, they forget about their worldly problems. The Kalashnikov in their hands gives them respect, power and raison d’etre. Somebody who has nothing in life and nothing to lose, who has been for many years idling away his time in the streets of a Pakistani village, suddenly finds a cause to live for in a jihadi camp. And that gives him not only spritual power but also practical power over one of the biggest armies in the world. He is almost intoxicated with that power. And he will do everything to retain that power. These guerrillas very often praise themselves for winning against the Soviet Union – a former superpower. They have turned the Indian army – a big conventional army – into a wreck. And they believe they can defeat the sole superpower today – the United States. And they believe they are the intermediaries who can establish the rule of Allah on Allah’s Earth.
ATol: Assuming the scenario of the fall of the Taliban government – which is now the supreme desire of the “fantastic coalition,” as George W. Bush put it, do you think jihad will be waged against the government inside Pakistan?
Jamal: In Afghanistan there is no viable alternative for the Taliban at the moment. The Afghan king, Zahir Shah, has been away from the country for more than 25 years now. He doesn’t know anything about today’s Afghanistan. He ruled Afghanistan in different times. The Northern Alliance is itself divided. It can speak for small minorities such as the Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Shias – but they cannot provide strong government in Afghanistan. The removal of Taliban will create a vacuum, which will ultimately lead to further bloodshed. In Pakistan, where the state is stronger, there is every possibility of bloodshed, but not on the same scale, at least in the beginning. The Pakistani jihadi organizations have an enemy before them: the United States and their collaborators in Pakistan. Ultimately Pakistani jihadi and Islamist organizations won’t agree to form a government because they hate one another more than they hate the biggest enemy – the United States. So there is more of a possibility of an eternal clash among the jihadi and Islamist parties than jihadis against the Pakistani government.