Radical Salafi activists from God's Own Country proclaim, ‘Islam is a religion of Peace’, even while they attack Sufi shrines
On September 8, this year, we were just shocked to read the news emanating from Kerala. In the night of 7th September, two young activists of a radical Salafist outfit demolished the tomb of Sufi Sayyed Muhammed Turab of Nadukani, a remote village in the Malappuram district in Kerala. Now we have learnt that Anees, one of the two Salafi shrine-destroyers, has been arrested by the Kerala Police, while the other violence perpetrator, Shajahan is to be arrested soon, according to the Malayalam media outlet, Dool News It reports that these two young extremists are the active members of Mujahid Global, one of the Salafi outfits in Kerala. Tragically, the same Sufi tomb has faced three attempts of demolition by the very Salafist outfit throughout the year.
Times of India reports that the 37-year-old Aneesh the accused in connection with the demolition of the Swalih Makham Shareef Jaram is sympathizer of Mujahid Wisdom (Jinn) group, as the inspector of Edakkara police circle, P Abdul Basheer has stated. The centuries old jaram (tomb) of Muhammed Swalih situated on Vazhikkadavu-Gudallur state highway near the Tamil Nadu border was targeted three times on September 7, 19 and 29 by a section of Mujahids. It triggered a war of words between the Sunnis (Sufi followers) and Mujahids (Salafis). The same tomb had also been attacked in April 2009 by those following the Mujahid ideology. But no Muslim media outlet or the so-called Islamic political party in Kerala viewed it as a matter of concern. Therefore, it is about time Islam is discerned from the false Islamic schools of thought which are trying to further the ulterior foreign motives in India. Only moderate Muslims in India can win this war within Islam. At the moment, we must concern ourselves with the rise of overt religious fanaticism in Kerala.
Though the issue has attracted the national attention, it also raises a crucial question to the Keralite Muslim society: Why the Keralite Salafist activists systematically target the Sufi shrines, while they seem ‘peaceniks’ loudly talking about Islam as 'religion of peace’? But when it comes to show peace and toleration within Islam itself, they find no room for other schools of thought! Literally, there is no diametric difference between the ISIS onslaught on tombs of the Prophet’s companions and the demolition of the Sufi tomb by the Salafis at Nadukani in Kerala. Worst of all, the deafening silence by the ‘popular’ Muslim fronts, Islamic media outlets and political parties particularly those formed in the name of Islam and Muslims in Kerala is appalling. This situation should have forced the Keralite Muslims to think of who they are and where their state is headed to. But execrably, the larger section of the community is still in denial.
Undeniably, the political Islamist outfits in Kerala pledging an allegiance to Ikhwan-ul-Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood) are antithetical to the south Indian history of Islamic pluralism. Islam emerged in India through two different groups— Muslim traders and Arab invaders. In sharp contrast to the other parts of India, Kerala witnessed Islam’s advent through completely peaceful means—trade and travel. While north India’s ‘first encounter’ with the Muslims through the Arab invaders has not gone down well in history, Kerala had the bliss of mystical Islam in the lifetime of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) through his direct companions (Sahabis). As evidenced in historical records, Islam blossomed in south India with the Prophet’s noble companions reaching the coastal areas of Malabar for their trade.
But over the past few years Muslim Brotherhood’s ideological project has been massively funded and supported in south India’s Salafist circles particularly in Kerala and the Malabar coastline. This has systematically been pursued in a bid to indoctrinate the Keralite Muslims into the theocracy of the two political Islamist ideologues: (1) Syed Qutub, the Egyptian theologian and the leading member of the Ikhwan who conceptualised other insurgent Islamist outfits in Egypt and (2) Maulana Maudoodi whose writings politicized the Islamic doctrines and practices to an extent that he viewed every spiritual belief and act of Islam with a political outlook.
Hasan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928 in Egypt. But it actually gained ideological momentum with the theoretical framework of Syed Qutub who propounded the doctrine of 'Hakimiyyah' (God’s sovereignty on earth). For instance, in his commentary on the Qur’an, 'Fi Dilalil Qur’an (In the Shade of the Qur'an), he misinterpreted the 44th verse of Surah al-Maida to buttress his own argument that every modern, liberal and democratic form of governance is “infidelity".
Such an exclusivist interpretation which turned Islam from being a faith of spiritual salvation into a religion of political dominion has created chaos in West Asia. But deplorably for Indian Muslims, it appears to be at play in India too—more so in south India now.
It was during the early 19th century when Kerala first witnessed the self-styled Islamist doctrine of Hakimiyah with the establishment of an Islamist outfit, 'Muslim Aikya Sangham' by Vakkam Abdul Qadar, popularly known as Maulvi Vakkom.
Maulvi Vakkom championed the pan-Islamism for the Muslims of Travancore, Cochin and Malabar regions. He was instrumental in creating an ‘Islamist renaissance’ in Kerala through the Arabic and Malayalam literature like The Muslim (1906), Al-Islam (1918) and Deepika (1931). Through these publications, he tried to preach the ‘puritanical’ Salafi Islam purging the Keralite Muslims of the local festivals like the Nerchas and Urus. For instance, Malik Deenar Urus was one of the major local festivals for the Keralite Muslims who celebrated Malik’s advent in South India. It was a mix of various socio-cultural rites such as the shrine visitation (ziyarat) flag hosting (pataka uyarthal) and Annadanam (Malabari tradition offering of food). But the Salafist proselytes have now deviated from the pluralistic postulates reflecting an ancient Muslim heritage in Kerala.
The advent of Islam in Kerala is attributed to the early Sufi saints—Tabi‘in—who reached the coastal areas of Malabar. Hazrat Malik bin Dinar, a mystically-inclined companion (Sahabi or Tabi'i) of the Prophet was the earliest Muslim preacher in South India. One of the first mosques in Kerala is known as Malik Dinar Masjid, which is located in Kasaragod with an adjacent graveyard and is embellished with the grave-stones known as Mizan-stones. This historic mosque built in the typical Keralaite architectural style is believed to have been established by Malik Ibn Deenar himself. According to a historical account, Malik and his trade associates landed in Kerala in 624 AD and erected the mosque in 642 A.D. (13th Rajab, 22 Hijrah).
Remarkably, this foremost Muslim in Kerala greatly inspired the noted mystics of Islam in Arabia like Hasan al-Basri and Rabia al-Adawiya. In fact, he coined the Sufi term of ‘jihad bin-Nafs’—inner jihad against one's baser instincts— in contrast to the offensive jihad. He also showed wide embrace for all faith traditions in India. Imbued with the spiritual ideals of Jesus Christ (pbuh), Malik bin Dinar memorized various chapters and commentaries of the Bible along with the Qur’an. Thus, he was an epitome of the peaceful coexistence with the Christians and other faith-based communities in the Indian subcontinent.
Now, let’s discern between Malik bin Dinar’s Islam which meted out a magnanimous treatment to the Christians and the self-styled Islamists chopping off a Christian professor's hand in Kerala's Idukki. Thus, ironically, the Salafist preachers of Islam in Kerala are catapulting the Keralite Islam from inclusivism to the brutal religious exclusivism. There is a continued wave of radicalisation in Kerala and the Malabar region, thanks to the extremist outfits which camouflage political Islam in the name of ‘fight for Muslim rights’.
The Kerala-based political Islamist outfit Popular Front of India (PFI) is a substantial case in point. PFI cannot be understood without grasping this broader ideological dynamic. It claims to be an NGO, but pledges an allegiance to the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan-ul-Muslimin). It has also alleged links with terror activities like chopping of a Christian professor's hand in Kerala's Idukki and running the ‘Islamic State Al-Hindi Module’. A case was busted in which PFI planned to target prominent people and places in South India by involving the outfit Islamic State Al-Hindi, as the NIA report on government table revealed.
What we have learnt, so far, from various media outlets, is that PFI may soon be banned by the union government. A dossier of the Ministry of Home Affairs has claimed that the PFI is indulging in actions detrimental to the overall national security of India. Investigators have accused PFI of pursuing secret agenda inspired by radical Islam in India. But the question is: will merely banning the radical Islamist outfits serve the purpose? Has the government’s crackdown on the radical Salafist preacher, Zakir Naik and his outfit Islamic Research Foundation (IRF) brought any tangible developments on counter-extremism?
Merely mulling the crackdown on the radical institutions is pointless. India would do better if it strengthens the spiritual Muslim centres like Khanqahs and Sufi shrines situated in South India as quality education centres in order to rescue the young and impressionable Muslim minds from going astray.
Today, there are two major groups of Keralite Muslims diametrically different in thought and action: Sunni Muslims and Mujahid Muslims. While the Keralite Sunni Muslims are believed to be pluralistic, peaceful, and Sufi-oriented shrine-visitors, the ‘Mujahid Muslims’ in Kerala constitute the ‘puritanical’ Salafis often indulged in communal and sectarian clashes. Recently, they razed the tomb of a Sunni spiritual leader Muhammad Swalih at Vazhikkadavu on the Nilambur-Otty road on September 6. A piece of paper scuffled inside a bottle was recovered from the vicinity. The words written on it in Malayalam were: “I am going to the Arabian Sea”. In their protests, the Sunni-Sufi leaders came down heavily on the Salafis. K P Jamal Karulayi, district leader of the Sunni Yuvajana Sangham said: “Wahhabism should be thrown into the Arabian sea”.
Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a regular columnist with www.newageislam.com, scholar of classical Arabic and Islamic Sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies at Centre for Culture, Media & Governance, Jamia Millia Islamia.