The Cult Phenomenon, Fanaticism Or ‘Fitnah’!
By: Aftab Ahmad Khan
The expected tragedy of ‘RED MOSQUE’ Islamabad resulting into death of many people, is commonly perceived to be linked with the militancy of religious fanatics, the aftermath of Afghan Jihad and oppression of Islamists under the pretext of the war against terror after 9/11 lead by US and allies. While on the face of it, this perception can not be denied, there is a need to look at it deeper from an other perspective through the hindsight. The rigidity of the Ghazi brothers, the clerics providing leadership after brainwashing hundreds of students (both male and female) in their seminaries can also be linked with the ‘Cult’ phenomenon. Let us analyze what the word ‘Cult’ stands for? According to Oxford dictionary ‘Cult’ means: “to inhabit, cultivate, protect, honour with worship; Worship; reverential homage rendered to a divine being. A system of religious worship, especially as expressed in ceremonies, ritual, etc. Cult is the devotion or homage paid to a person or thing; especially a fashionable enthusiasm; a transient fad of an in-group.” The Cult leaders have different views form the majority and rigidly adhere to them. The scholars hold that one should be very careful to use world ‘Cult’ because while the word cult originally was intended to be neutral and innocent, since Jim Jones in 1978 provoked mass suicide among his followers, many have associated cults with killing. That assumption, state the scholars, is unfair to all those who belong to quite peaceful and harmless movements. Yet no one has settled on a satisfactory alternative term, though some speak of ‘New Religious Movements’. Why do these cults exist? Human action, especially responses to leaders who invoke the sacred, the divine, is always complex. Cult followers tend to be people who are unsatisfied by the complexities, contradictions, and ambiguities of life including life as interpreted by the mainstream religions. They seek answers, and the modern world, with its pluralism and its rapid communications, can confuse them and undercut their belief systems and their "orthodox" communities. The cult leader offers a single answer, keeps the rest of the world at bay, and reinforces only ONE BELIEF SYSTEM advocated and preached by them. The history of all the religions is full of ‘cults’, the most recent being ‘Doomsday Cults’ in Christendom.
The cult leader or leaders may be suffering from the psychological disorder like Paranoia syndrome, or mania. These disorders are usually restricted to just two abnormalities of mood depression and elation, or mania. (Mood is a predominant emotion that colours the individual's entire psychic life.) Mania is characterized by an elated or euphoric mood, quickened thought and accelerated, loud or voluble speech, over-optimism and heightened enthusiasm and confidence, inflated self-esteem, heightened motor activity, irritability, excitement, and a decreased need for sleep. The manic individual may become injured, commit illegal acts, or suffer financial losses due to the poor judgment and risk-taking behaviour he displays when in the manic state. The Red Mosque clerics were repeatedly advised by all the religious scholars of repute that; while their demands for the implementation of Shari’a were genuine, the methodology adopted by them to achieve their objectives through militancy was wrong because it challenged the writ of state, which may result in to anarchy. But they declined to compromise.
In the Muslim history some Cults may be linked with the term ‘Fitnah’ (‘trial,’ or ‘test’, which refer to heretical uprisings, especially the first major internal struggle within the Muslim community (656-661 C.E), which resulted in both civil war and religious schism. During the reign of the third caliph, 'Uthman, certain rebellious groups accused the Caliph of nepotism and misrule, and the resulting discontent led to his assassination. The rebels then recognized the Prophet's cousin and son-in-law, 'Ali, as ruler but later deserted him and fought against him, accusing him of having committed a grave sin in submitting his claim to the caliphate to arbitration, they are called Khawarij. The word Kharaju, from which Khariji is derived, means "to withdraw" and Khawarij were, therefore, seceders who believed in active dissent or rebellion against a state of affairs they considered to be gravely impious. The basic doctrine of the Khawarij was that a person or a group who committed a grave error or sin and did not sincerely repent ceased to be Muslim. According to them mere profession of the faith "there is no god but God; Muhammad is the prophet of God" did not make a person a Muslim unless this faith was accompanied by righteous deeds. In other words, good works were an integral part of faith and not extraneous to it. The second principle that flowed from their aggressive idealism was militancy, or Jihad, which the Khawarij considered to be among the cardinal principles, or pillars, of Islam. Contrary to the orthodox view, they interpreted the Qur’anic command about "enjoining good and forbidding evil"(Qur’an;3:104) to mean the vindication of truth through the sword. The placing of these two principles together made the Khawarij highly inflammable fanatics, intolerant of almost any established political authority. They incessantly resorted to rebellion and as a result were virtually wiped out during the first two centuries of Islam. Although till recently Chasidism has been considered essentially a story of the past, which left permanent influence on Islam, because of reaction against it. It forced the religious leadership of the community to formulate a bulwark against religious intolerance and fanaticism. Positively, it has influenced the reform movements that have sprung up in Islam from time to time and that have treated spiritual and moral calmness and status quo with a quasi-Khawarij zeal and militancy.
Mr. Martin E. Marty, a renowned American scholar on religion writes in his article in Encyclopedia Britannica that; Waco, Heaven's Gate, Solar Temple, Aum Shinrikyo ("Supreme Truth"), and People's Temple, or Jonestown, are shorthand terms often used to recall places, movements, and events associated with groups known as doomsday cults. Doomsday cults have a long history in the United States. Beginning in colonial times, preachers and leaders of many spiritual movements often made the final judgment of a person's life and the subsequent threat of his or her doom central to their proclamations and appeals. Rarely would these leaders proclaim that everyone was doomed. Instead, they would draw on old Biblical stories or invent new ones, stories that described how a minority would be saved, while many, maybe most, would be "lost" forever. In order to be saved, followers were instructed that they had to respond to the appeals, change their ways, believe what the leader taught them, and, frequently, form tightly bonded groups so that they could stay at some distance from lures and distractions--including, often, members of their own families. In their closed-in, cultic circles, they would receive the messages of truth, affirm one another, screen out other interpretations of reality, and support each other through ordeals that the group envisioned.
In the 19th century two newly developing religions had elements that led them to be regarded, especially by their many rivals and enemies, as something like today's doomsday cults. Most familiar of these movements was the gathering on a hilltop in New York of followers who had been persuaded by William Miller that they should sell all their possessions, gather, and greet Jesus Christ, who was returning, making a "Second Advent" in 1843 or 1844. When Jesus failed to appear, the disappointed re-gathered in what is today Seventh-day Adventism. Students and followers of Charles Taze Russell foresaw doom at various times, notably 1914. They survive as Jehovah's Witnesses.
The charismatic leader has been central in the groups thought of as doomsday cults in the late-20th-century U.S. This is often a person who draws on ancient scriptures and prophecies and then interprets what the Bible calls "the signs of the times." All around, this leader sees evil and corruption and views them, sometimes even including natural disasters, as tokens of divine wrath and signals of judgment, doom, and the end of the world. Immorality, relativism, the competition between religions, the loss of meaning, wars, and rumors of war, all count as such tokens. But there is a way to avoid doom, say such leaders: join the tightly formed group; keep your distance from others; obey what the leader says. Then, be ready to do what you are told to avoid the wrath to come.
Many of these features are present in the cases of the best-known leaders. Jones began his ministry as a conventional mainstream Protestant (Disciples of Christ) pastor. He came to lead the People's Temple movement, eventually from bases in the United States to a remote area in Guyana. While the movement was being observed and exposed by U.S. governmental and other agencies and scholars, Jones evidently talked his hundreds of followers into simultaneous mass suicide.
Similarly, David Koresh had been brought up in orthodox Seventh-day Adventism, a religious movement not considered dangerous by other Christians and the public at large. Koresh's new revelations, however, went beyond the bounds of the Bible and early Adventist leaders and inspired him to lead his Branch Davidians to near Waco, Texas. There federal officials, having lost patience and quite likely having misinterpreted what they had learned about Koresh's followers, in 1993 attacked his enclave in an assault that prompted the cult members to set the compound on fire and led to the death of 74 people, including Koresh.
Such movements are not restricted to Jews and Protestants, in 1995 in Japan, came perhaps the most dangerous of the doomsday cults, the one that demonstrated the greatest potential for killing innocent nonmembers, formed and acted. This was the Aum Shinrikyo group, led by Shoko Asahara, who was later arrested and accused of murder. Largely on the basis of Japanese religious resources--where talk of an end of history is less frequent, Asahara proclaimed that only he and his followers should control history. In Quebec and Switzerland in 1994, many members of the Order of the Solar Temple, a group that combined elements of feminism and apocalypse, were murdered or committed suicide. In the U.S. another doomsday cult, ‘Heaven's Gate’ was not based on biblical themes. It was leader Marshall Applewhite ("Bo") who talked his followers into being sequestered into a single community. They committed suicide in 1997, as their previously taped testimonies revealed, in order to leave Earth to ride Comet Hale-Bopp to "Heaven's Gate." They stated that they would willingly shrug off and shed their bodies in order to reach the new state and place, while the rest of the human world sped on toward doom.
The question arises; Are there more groups like these? Will there be more like them? Gnostic sects (groups that claim esoteric knowledge) and eschatological hysteria (anxieties about the end of the world) are as old as religion itself and have occurred in many places and times. Presently the religious fundamentalist terrorists, are not only found among the followers of Islam but Jews who interpret biblical texts and follow new leaders, and various Christian groups and even secular "militias" in the United States that arm themselves and keep others at a distance. Most of them can be studied and classified in the context of old religions newly interpreted, but most of them are also similar to the doomsday cults in their view that they are a specially selected people. They believe that they alone hear the voice of God accurately, that they alone act upon what they hear, and that they and their leader foresee doom for others. The result of their actions can be lethal. They, however, are less divorced from inherited and host religions than are the fully identified doomsday cults. The Red Mosque clerics frequently misused the term ‘Jihad’ and ‘Shahadat’ (martyrdom) to indoctrinate the innocent young students, who had joined their seminary to learn Islam and memorize holy Qur’an. Like Doomsday Cult, they prepared their students to lay down their lives to get instant rewards through martyrdom (Shahadat). The concept of Jihad and martyrdom (Shahadat) interpreted to be employed against their own fellow Muslims ! In a TV talk show, a lady student of Hafsa Madrisa was found saying that, there were no weapons in the complex, in reply to query that the bullets were fired from inside the mosque complex killing around dozen security personnel, she replied that the angels had been sent by Allah to help them who fired these bullets as happened in the battle of Badar ! This indicates the level of indoctrination and motivation in the cult style.
THE PILLARS OF ISLAM:
While Jihad (struggle, armed or unarmed) for the cause of God and Shahadat (martyrdom) has very high significance in Islam, Allah has laid down five major principles (pillars) for practice of faith for Muslims, some are daily, some weekly, some monthly, some annually and some are required as a minimum of once in a lifetime. These principles of faith are to serve man's spiritual functions, satisfy his human needs and to mark his whole life with a Divine touch. Allah instructed the Muslims to practice what they believe in. The basic articles of faith are not new, they were applicable to the followers of previous messengers as well in various forms, it is mentioned in Qur’an: “And remember We took a covenant from the children of Israel (to this effect): worship none but Allah; (Shahada) treat with kindness your parents and kindred and orphans and those in need; speak fair to the people; be steadfast in prayer (Salah); and practice regular charity (Zakat). Then did ye turn back except a few among you and ye backslide (even now)”(Qur’an;2:83). Any non Muslim joining the community of faithfuls of Islam has to first make a confession (Shahada) by testifying that: “La ilaha Illallah , Muhammad-ur- Rasul-Allah (None has the right to be worshipped but Allah and Muhammad, peace be upon him is the Messenger of Allah). After this confession he (or she –new Muslim) should take a bath do ablution (i.e. Ghusl) and then offer two Rak'at prayer, should believe in the six roots of affirmation: (1) Allah (One God), (2) His angels, (3) His Messengers, (4) His revealed Books, (5) The Day of Resurrection, and (6) Al-Qadar (Divine Preordainments i.e. whatever Allah has ordained must come to pass), then he should practice the five principles (pillars) of Islam, as narrated by Ibn Umar in the Sahih Al-Bukhari, Vol. 1 HadtihNo.7 : Allah's Messenger said: Islam is based on the following five (principles), which are also the forms of worship; the first two (Shahada & Salah) are daily, next two (Zakat & Saum) are annual and the last (Hajj) is once in life :-
To testify (Shahada) that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and Muhammad(peace be upon him) is Allah's Apostle. This is a spiritual form of worship.
To perform (iqamat as Salah), five canonical daily prayers. This is physical, spiritual and social for m of worship in congregation.
To pay Zakat (obligatory alms), a financial, social and spiritual form of worship.
To observe Saum (fast) during the month of Ramadan, a physical and spiritual form of worship.
To perform Hajj (Pilgrimage to Makka once in life time if one can afford financially and physically). This form of worship has physical, financial, social and spiritual aspects.
MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT JIHAD :
Jihad has been deliberated upon previously, however its meanings and concept is being mentioned in brief. The term “Jihad” has much wider significance than a military campaign and open warfare as commonly perceived. Jihad could be with “the heart” (intentions or feelings), with “the hand” (weapons etc) a simple action, such as standing firm in defense of the cause of Islam or “with tongue” (expression through speech or writing etc). This may require speaking out in public, for extending invitation of Islam to non believers (Dawah, preaching), against ignoring Islamic principles, and writing articles or publishing books to promote Islam. Since Islam is the faith of “Peace”, the early Muslim community was urged to conduct the Bigger Jihad (Jihad Kabira), through Qur’an, i.e. preaching of Allah’s message. Allah says in Qur’an: “therefore, do not yield to the unbelievers, and make Jihad (strive) against them with this Qur'an, a mighty Jihad (strenuous striving).”(Qur’an;25:52). The aim of making ‘Strenuous Efforts’ (Jihad) is three fold:
(1) Jihad Against Selfish Desires: The first and foremost is to; ‘Strive Against Selfish Desires’ (Nafs ammarah), to purify the heart, so that the faith (Eman) of Islam is deeply rooted in the heart, to become fully subservient to the commands of God and His Apostle. Allah says: “The Bedouin Arabs say: "We have believed." Tell them: "You have not believed; rather say 'We have become Muslims;' for faith has not yet found its way into your hearts. If you obey Allah and His Apostle, He will not deny you the reward of your deeds; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.”(Qur’an;49:14), “(We take our) color from Allah, and who is better than Allah at coloring. We are His worshippers.”(Qur’an;2:138). Abu Bakr is reported to have said; To fight against the infidels is Jihad, but to fight against your evil self (Nafs ammarah) is greater Jihad. It may also take the form of reminding people of their Islamic duties and motivating them to conduct their lives according to Islam. God says: “The true believers, both men and women, are protectors of one another. They enjoin what is just and forbid what is evil; they establish prayer (Salah), practice regular charity (Zakah), and obey God Allah and His Apostle. It is they on whom God will have His mercy; surely God is Mighty, Wise.”(Qur’an;9:71).
(2) Preaching-Strive to Convey Message of Islam: Secondly, making strenuous efforts (Jihad) to convey the Last message of God (Islam) to the humanity(Dawah) because Allah says: “Thus We have appointed you (Muslims) a middle nation, that ye may be witnesses against mankind, and that the messenger may be a witness against you.”( Qur’an;2:143), : “You (Muslims) are the best of peoples evolved for mankind enjoining what is right forbidding what is wrong and believing in Allah.”(Qur’an;3:110), “We have given the Book as an inheritance to those of Our servants (Muslims) whom We have chosen”.(Qur’an;35:32). The Prophet (peace be upon him) in his last sermon said: “O’ People, no prophet or apostle will come after me and no new faith will be born. Reason well, therefore, O People, and understand my words which I convey to you. I leave behind me two things, the Qur'an and my example, the Sunnah and if you follow these you will never go astray. All those who listen to me shall pass on my words to others and those to others again; and may the last ones understand my words better than those who listen to me directly. Be my witness oh Allah that I have conveyed your message to your people.” As true followers of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), it is the obligation of Muslims to pass on the Guidance and the Religion of Truth (Islam) to the humanity. This is a great responsibility so Muslims have to gain knowledge of Islam, practice it and then convey to the humanity.
(3) Fight Against Oppression and Protect Believers: It was only after the first two stages which lasted for over thirteen years of the Prophetic mission of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) that after migration to Median the third stage came. Hence Jihad is made permissible to provide protection to Muslims and non Muslims against oppression. Allah says: “He is the Lord of the east and the west: there is no God but Him, therefore, take Him as your Protector”(Qur’an;73:9), “And what reason do you (Muslims) have not to fight in the cause of God, to rescue the helpless oppressed old men, women, and children who are crying: "Our Lord! Deliver us from this town whose people are oppressors; send us a protector by Your grace and send us a helper from Your presence?”(Qur’an;4:75). All out efforts are to be made to preserve Islam, and to create conducive environments for freely conveying the message of Islam to all the people, without any coercion. So that they may ponder and accept or reject it by their free choice using their reason and intellect in line with the teachings of Qur’an. Hence like any other struggle, Jihad also has defensive as well as offensive implications depending upon social, geopolitical, socioeconomic, military, religious and other considerations. According to the traditional procedure of Allah, the rejection of Message by the direct recipient form the Apostle (Rasool) are entitled to Divine punishment through the messenger and his followers. This Divine punishment was accomplished in case of Arabs in the life time of Apostle and for the neighboring powers through his companions. It is no more applicable now. Creating mischief on earth on the pretext of Jihad is against the sprit of Jihad. Allah says: “Eat and drink of what Allah has provided and do not create mischief in the land.”( Qur’an;2:60), “those who break their bond with God after it has been established (in their nature), and who cut aside what Allah has ordered to be united and cause mischief on earth. It is they who are the losers.( Qur’an;2:27).
Jihad is a life-long mission for the Muslim as a community to struggle against all evils, socio-economic, cultural, educational and political dogmas; superstitious and mythological concepts; and directing the Muslims towards obedience to Allah, enlightenment, refinement, scientific progress, dignified character and honest actions. Its top and most noble form is to fight the enemies of Islam in battle in order to foil their attempts to suppress the Muslims and the invitation to Islam. Killing fellow brothers in faith is a cardinal sin, Allah says: “If a man kills a believer intentionally his recompense is Hell to abide therein (for ever): and the wrath and the curse of Allah are upon him and a dreadful penalty is prepared for him.”(Qur’an;4:93). Those who are slain in Jihad for the cause of Allah are called Martyrs (Shaheed) and are well rewarded by Allah: “Think not of those who are slain in Allah's way as dead. Nay they live finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord.”(Qur’an;3:169). While the real intentions of an individual for his acts are best known to Allah alone, dying while fighting the established government in a Muslim state, even for legitimate cause for which other peaceful means are available is martyrdom or not, is a debatable question, to be left for the theologians.
Parallels may be drawn between ‘Cultism’ and the phenomenon of Talibanization due to the intolerance and militancy (including suicide bombing) being employed by them against fellow Muslims to enforce their vision of Islam. It appears that; “We are chasing an Islamic order stripped of its humanism, aesthetics, intellectual quests and spiritual devotions…. concerned with power not with the soul, with the mobilization of people for political purposes rather than with sharing and alleviating their sufferings and aspirations .”(Eqbal Ahmad). Lot is being mentioned in the media (both electronic and pint) some blaming the government for intelligence failure, complacency, delay, appeasement and use of excessive force (difficult to define what is minimum force required, which is the job of Force Commander on ground) resulting in casualties. While others put all the blame on the clerics for their rigidity, militant behaviour and misusing the spirit of Jihad and Shahadat against fellow Muslims. It will take some time, to conclude the ‘blame game’ once more facts are made public. However in order to avoid reoccurrences of such incidents and spread of ‘Red Mosque Cult’, all over the country, there is need to urgently undertake short term and long term measures to satisfy the needs of morality, security, justice, social inequality and economic conditions of masses and level of education in religious institutions so that the unity and development of Muslims is not affected. Over 17000 religious seminaries (Madaris), with around 2 million students, should not be left at the mercy of some semi literate psychotics, to teach hatred and militancy in the name of great religion of Islam, though many among them are highly learned, mature and balanced teachers rendering great service to Islam. Their leadership needs to be closely scrutinized, the long awaited ‘Madaris Reforms’ need to implemented without further delay and with sincerity, co-opting the real scholars (Ulema), for the sole objective of own benefit, not to please the foreign masters . Any delay will result in dire consequences.