Since it was discovered that Tashfeen Malik (one of the alleged terrorists in the San Bernardino shootings) studied with Farhat Hashmi at the Al-Huda Institute, all eyes are on Mississauga, Canada where Ms. Hashmi also runs a branch of her school.
I first heard about Ms. Hashmi and the Al-Huda Institute on one of my yearly visits to Pakistan when she was the buzz. What surprised me was that educated Pakistani socialites from elite backgrounds and largely secular were attending her lectures giving her a rock-star status. I deduced that she was preying on the minds of those who had some guilt about not knowing Islam in depth. Upon making inquiries I was told that she runs the classes from 9 to 5 daily and women are told that this is more important than their families so they must somehow attend and find salvation through her lectures which were a mix of fiery preaching and blessed forgiveness. The women felt their wicked ways were washed away and now marriages were breaking up because many men saw this as brain washing and were against it. But the wives were told its their first duty. Socialising, especially in mixed company was deemed sinful. I was disturbed to see some of my extended family and friends succumb to Ms. Hashmi’s teaching by donning Saudi-styled clothing – a black cloak from head to toe and in some cases gloves and a niqab and spouting Ms. Hashmi’s teachings like parrots at every gathering.
Also of concern was the amount of funding Ms. Hashmi was getting as she would rent the ballroom of the prestigious Intercontinental hotel in Karachi for a month. My nephew’s friend emptied his house so Ms. Hashmi could live there and there seemed to be no financial restraints for her to spread her message.
In 2001 Ms. Hashmi came to Canada for a visit upon the invitation of Mubeen Qureshi, a retired Judge in Mississauga. In 2004 ISNA and Shalimar facilitated Ms. Hashmi and her husband’s move to Canada. Meanwhile her students continued to spread her message all over Pakistan.
At that time many of us liberal progressive Muslims tried to expose Ms. Hashmi’s fundamentalist brand of Islam and questioned why she is allowed to run a school in Canada that teaches values that are not in sync with Canadian values. Macleans magazine ran an article about this.
In a piece I wrote a few years later, I addressed concerns about the ideology of Ms. Hashmi
However Ms. Hashmi effectively ran and promoted her Institute with impunity marketing it through fliers distributed at South Asian grocery stores and Halal meat shops. The Institute has distanced itself from Tashfeen Malik noting in a statement on their website “Tashfeen Malik had studied at Al-Huda International’s Multan branch for a brief period between 2013 and 2014. She left without completing the Diploma course. No organisation can be held responsible for personal acts of any of its students.”
So how culpable is Ms. Hashmi in the eventual radicalization of Tashfeen Malik? The larger question here is what is being taught at the Al Huda Institute. This question is key to the syllabus of the school for radicals. Let’s examine what lessons Ms. Hashimi and other Islamist Organization have been giving their students. We had a Muslim woman attend her classes under cover and this is what we found. Ms. Hashmi promotes polygamy; tells her students not to shake hands with non-Muslims or befriend them; she encourages them not to vote for “kafirs” (non-Muslims); women should stay at home and not work; this land is not your land as the world belongs to the Muslim Ummah; life in this world is irrelevant – its only the hereafter that matters.
One could say these are benign messages. But over a period of time they create an “Us” and “Them” narrative. No one is born a terrorist. They are taught hate over time and only then are they programmed to act out their hate through violence.
Very few experts and political pundits are talking about the ideology behind radicalization of Muslim minds and what turns a normal human being into terrorists.. This is not about socio-economic disadvantage, gun control or mental health. It’s about insidious and subversive messaging.
Members of ISIS, Al-Qaeda and their ilk have billions of dollars at their disposal; they are technically proficient and educated. So their vision of building a Caliphate throughout the world is based on an ideology.
The messages coming from some Mosques and Muslim organizations are the following:
• It’s incumbent upon all Muslims to eradicate “kufr” (not believing in God and His Messenger) wherever we are
• If someone living outside Muslim lands doesn’t follow ‘the path’, they are with the infidels and as such outside the fold of Islam so if they are killed, it’s no fault of the perpetrator
• No one has the right to rule except Muslims so we have to choose a just ruler among Muslims. (In Shia contemporary thought the Mehdi will come and rule the world; for Sunnis the Caliph will be chosen)
• Wherever Muslims live, they must implement Sharia law and live by it.
• Armed Jihad is the responsibility of all Muslims
This ideology is so entrenched in minds of those who attend Islamic schools, Madrassas and some Mosques that many of the attendees become powder kegs ready to explode themselves and others when they are recruited.
If we want solutions to the problem of radicalization, we must go to root.