A little known Salafi preacher made headlines in Kerala last week by exhorting Muslims not to send their children to mainstream schools, which he claimed did not teach their students to respect Allah and the Prophet Muhammad.
Abdul Muhsin Aydeed, who is based in Kozhikode, described the schools as dens of kuffir and shirk, Arabic terms for unbelief and polytheism, respectively, in an hour-long speech sprinkled with verses from the Quran and Hadith (the sayings and teachings of the Prophet). The audio was uploaded on the website edawa.net on October 15.
Salafism is an ultra-conservative Islamic movement that advocates a return to the way of life of Prophet Muhammad and his followers.
Aydeed enjoys little credibility and has few followers. But his speech has put Muslims in Kerala on the defensive once again, just two weeks after the National Investigation Agency arrested six men from Kannur district in the state for alleged links with the Islamic State terrorist group. Media reports suggested five of the accused were influenced by extreme Salafist ideology while the sixth was a member of a political party. The reports also said 21 missing youth from the state were suspected to have joined the Islamic State.
Aydeed even termed democracy anti-Islam and asked Muslims not to be part of it. “Democracy implies that power belongs to the people, which is against the basic tenets of Islam,” he said.
But even before him, leaders of Salafist outfits in Kerala have been urging Muslims not to compromise with their faith and to leave India, calling it “the land of unbelievers”.
One such leader is Shamsuddeen Fareed. At various public addresses, he has advised Muslims against appointing non-Muslims as personal assistants in offices and businesses, exchanging pleasantries with them during their festivals, living in places thickly populated by non-Muslims, and supporting any attempt to destroy Muslims in other parts of the world, even in the name of nationalism.
In October, the police booked the preacher under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.
Fareed’s speech was based on Al Walaa Wal Baraa Fil Islam (bonding and hatred in Islam), a book by Shaykh Saleh Al Fawsan, a controversial Salafi preacher in Saudi Arabia who dared his country’s grand mufti to declare war against the Islamic State.
Extreme Salafist ideology – also known as Gulf Salafism – made its way to Kerala in the late 1990s after the split in the Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen, a reformist religious organisation.
Opportunity for Sangh
The Salafi leaders, through their preachings, have not only created an ideal climate for the growth of the Sangh Parivar but also created deep rifts within Muslim organisations.
Sangh organisations in Kerala had failed to unite Hindus for a long time. But with the Salafis terming all non-Muslims non-believers, it can realistically hope for a turnaround and even for a broad Hindu-Christian consolidation against Muslims.
“Kerala is being portrayed as fertile ground for IS recruits following the arrest of six men by the National Investigative Agency from Kannur recently and the disappearance of 21 people in May this year,” said Ashraf A Kadakkal, who teaches Islamic history at the University of Kerala. “This created a fear factor among the middle class. Obviously, the Sangh Parivar would reap the political benefits of these developments. I would blame only the extreme Salafists for creating such an environment.”
To capitalise on the political climate, the Sangh Parivar has been organising campaigns such as Prathisedha Jwala (protest fire) across the state to highlight the emerging threat of terrorism.
O Rajagopal, the lone Bharatiya Janata Party MLA in Kerala, said the failure of successive governments in fighting terror-related activities was responsible for the current situation. “Slackness of CPI(M)-led LDF and Congress-headed UDF governments resulted in the present state of affairs,” he said.
Addressing a protest rally at Thiruvananthapuram on October 8, he added, “The pronouncement that Kerala would be made Kashmir was raised two decades ago. There were incidents of torching 14 cinema theatres at Malappuram three years back, stating that cinema was un-Islamic.”
Sheikh Muhammad Karakkunnu, leader of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, too, felt the Sangh Parivar would benefit from the efforts of the extreme Salafists. “Sangh would definitely use this as an opportunity to widen its base,” he said.
The Salafi preachings have become a headache for other Muslim organisations too.
The Indian Union Muslim League, a political party that counts the Salafis as its traditional vote bank, defended the preachers against allegations that their statements were sowing the seeds of extremism among young people.
Last week, in an edit-page article in the leading Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi, party leader KM Shaji blamed the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind for the situation while attempting to absolve Salafi organisations of any wrongdoing. “Salafists have been functioning in Kerala for the last eight decades,” Shaji, who is also a member of the Legislative Assembly, wrote. “Their efforts in imparting modern education and women education are part of the history.”
The Jamaat-e-Islami Hind hit back with a counter to Shaji in its mouthpiece, Madhyamam. Editor-in-chief O Abdul Rahman wrote, “Seventy-five years after the formation of Jamaat-e-Islami, no one from the organisation joined IS or Al Qaeda or any other terrorist groupings. Instead, terror outfits recruited people from Salafist organisations. How did it happen? KM Shaji should explain it.”
Karakkunnu said his organisation was well aware of the threat posed by the Islamic State. “We were the first organisation in Kerala to conduct mass campaigns against Islamic State,” he said. “We have educated our members on how to counter un-Islamic organisations like IS.”
Karakkunnu said that all Muslim organisations should teach their followers how to live in a pluralistic society, adding, “That is the only way to counter the extremist Salafist ideologies impacting our lives.”
Kadakkal, of the University of Kerala, criticised the Indian Union Muslim League’s way of dealing with the issue. He said, “IUML’s decision to protect extreme Salafists was an opportunistic stand. Instead of scoring brownie points, the party should try to find a solution to the vexed issue.”