Is Extremism Increasing Among the Indian Muslims?



Muhammad Sirajuddin, an IOC engineer was nabbed by ATS Rajasthan for running the online recruitment drive for ISIS. In Maharashtra, the local daily, Lokmat published an article against ISIS, and very next day one finds 1000s of aggressive and semi-violent protestors burning the effigies of the newspaper and demanding a formal apology for what they perceived as an insult to their faith.  Indore, and Jaipur witnessed ugly protests against Kamlesh Tiwari (who has already been booked in NSA), a Hindu Mahasabha leader who allegedly questioned the sexual orientations of the Prophet, in a reaction to the UP minister’s statement calling the RSS’ members homosexuals.  In Malda and Purnea, the protesters demanding death sentence for Tiwari, turned violent, and burnt a police station and sixteen vehicles.

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Qazi Masoom Akhtar of Kolkata was beaten black and blue for teaching national anthem in the Madrasa. In another case, female journalist Rajeena in Kerala is abused bitterly for exposing the sexual corruption of clerics in madrasas. In West-Bengal, madrasas are openly giving training in arms and spilling the venom of jihad among the youth. In Kashmir, it has become commonplace to display ISIS banners on the Friday prayers, while protesting against security forces.

Are all these developments an indication of a sudden increase in the radicalization among Muslims?

So far it has been believed that the Indian Muslims are comparatively liberal and much less prone to extremist ideologies vis-à-vis the Muslims of Pakistan and Bangladesh. The said fact is evident in the unique cultural patterns which emerged in the interior regions of India. For instance, in Rajasthan, the Muslims have since ages, worshiped the village deities like Gogaji, Pabuji, and Ramdev ji. However, of late, the hitherto unknown and alien practices have started penetrating the interiors of India. It is now a common sight to find Jamati missionaries with their green turbans and long beards in two-tier cities like Udaipur, Indore, and Jodhpur. Under their influence more and more women are taking to Burqa, the youth have grown their beards, and they are joining madrasas in droves, instead of learning physics, chemistry, and computers. These Jamati cadres invoke an austere and rigid version of Islam, denying the “faithful” from mingling with other communities, and asking people to shun Sufi practices which were until recently the mainstream Islam in India.

Further, an IB report shows that between  2011-13 INR 1700 crores have been injected into India for the propagation of extremist Wahhabi ideology, whose results can be seen in the fact that now in Kerala 75 mosques are being controlled by the Wahhabis. This process is going on in other states at an alarmingly fast pace.

Well, in a politically correct language, it can always be argued that India is a democratic country where everyone has freedom of religion and freedom of expression. Such aggressive demonstrations could be brushed aside routine occurrences in our country and as something not specific to the Muslim community. However, it might not be the question of legal or illegal or wrong or right or even fundamentalism versus liberalism. This is an even bigger question i.e. the question of the long-term impacts of this phenomenon of increasing radicalization. The long-term implications of the radicalization of Muslim community can be gauged from what has already happened in our neighbor.

The official Islamization of state under Zia’s regime has almost obliterated the social fabric of Pakistani society. Three decades of Wahhabi proselytization has devastated the ethnic version of Islam. Further, extreme radicalization has led extreme hatred for minorities and other sects of Islam like Shias and Ahmadiyas.  With the covert military support, outfits like “Sapah-e-Sahaba” and “Lashkar-e-Jhangvi” have indulged in most brutal Shia and Ahmadiya killings. Temple demolitions, forcible conversions, killings of Christians and Hindus have become an order of the day.

Ours is a multicultural society which can never afford this kind of radicalization as in India the Muslims are living with 82% Hindu majority population, and a couple of other religious systems like Jainism, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism. In terms of immediate effect, display of ISIS flags conveying an implied sympathy for ISIS might not transform into the country becoming a fertile ground for recruitment of ISIS cadres. Though, it can’t be denied that Indian Muslims are not joining ISIS. Intelligence agencies have reported that to date 25 Indians have joined ISIS. The figure could even be higher than that, though by any measure, it still can’t be called significant in terms of numbers. But even this figure does not portend well for India as ISIS-styled violent and brutal adventurism in the name of religion is alien to India. If this kind of radicalization continues unabated then it might have threatening consequences for our communal harmony. Already, we have seen so much bloodshed in communal riots that we can’t afford any more if we are to survive and develop as a democratic country.

Further, in addition to increasing communal frictions, it also has a debilitating effect on the social, economic and political development of the Muslim community. As a result of this radicalization and prevailing orthodoxy, literacy levels are very low among Muslims. Any voice against oral divorce and polygamy is banished as un-Islamic. It is increasing the economic, social and political disparities between Muslims and other communities. Even the politics among Muslims is purely an identity politics with its primary theme of protecting the cultural and religious identity of Muslims in India against a fictitious Hindu onslaught by keeping an age-old retrograde social system intact. It has given rise to communal leaders who are nothing more than the alter-egos of their Hindutva counterparts.

Moreover, this kind of radicalization could further strengthen the radical Hindutva elements, which in turn will strengthen the fears among Muslims, thereby rendering the communal leaders more powerful. Worst in this scenario is the silence of the liberal intelligentsia and media. Most of them were found ranting at the peak of their voice on the fabricated allegation of intolerance during Bihar elections.  None of the intellectuals were found to be returning awards against the treatment meted out to Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen, and Bibi Rajina. The mainstream media hardly gave any coverage to aggressive Muslim protests against Kamlesh Tiwari, demanding his immediate execution. The apologetic defense of Islamic extremism by left-wing intellectuals/ liberals and the mainstream media smacks of intellectual dishonesty, crass inhumanity and lack of concern for the victims of such extremism.

Olivier Roy writes in Foreign Policy that radicalization among Muslim youth in France is not a religious issue but a social-cum-generational issue as radicalization is confined to second generations Muslims and recent converts. Hence, he argues that there is an Islamization of “radicalization” which is basically a social or a generational issue. Though his analysis has a French society as a social context but it could of some relevance while studying the trends of radicalization among Indian Muslims too, because I have witnessed a new-found passion and extremism among the young generation of Muslims, many of whom have been at crossroads with their elders for abandoning the faith in multicultural values. Well, it could be true to a great extent that this radicalization is a phenomenon among misguided young generation and it does not have much spiritual and religious depth but still the fact remains that it is among the people who publicly profess Islam, and they are able to use Islam to seek justification for their extremism. This is so because of the presence of some injunctions in Quran (verses like 4:89, 8:12-13, 5:33, 47:4) which are open to misinterpretation, thereby inciting violence against infidels. Because of a scriptural sanction in some rudimentary form which is prone to misinterpretation, even the rational Muslims are not able to question their relevance in open, for the fear of being branded as blasphemous.

Hence, to conclude, I would say that there is an urgent need for introspection and pursuant religious reform in Islam.  Liberal religious scholars must be encouraged to declare that the verses inciting violence have no relevance in the 21st century. They also need to emphasize the temporal nature of religious symbols and the eternal nature of core philosophy, which only must be followed in the case of clashes with the symbols and the literal meanings of the Koranic verses.


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