April 2008 
Year 14    No.130
Cover Story

‘Count us out!’

Malayali Muslim disclaimers to "Islamic" terrorism


The term "Muslim" is not a mere descriptive or neutral identity any more. To be born and to live as a Muslim is no longer a matter of individual faith in the public sphere. The heterogeneity of this identity in social and cultural terms has been overruled by the "menacing Muslim" proposition now ingrained in the political unconscious of globalised sensibility. A movement similar to the anti-Semitism of Christendom during the first half of the 20th century is prevalent against Muslims today and this is all-pervasive in the networked world. It has been constructed through carefully launched cultural machinery by imperialist fascist forces.

On the other hand, there is a small but loud minority of Muslims who claim Islam as their political ideology, a dogma that advocates the taking up of arms against countries and peoples. Religious terrorism drags the name of an entire religion into political turmoil and thus quite falsely holds all Muslims responsible for the destructive activities that this minority carries on in the name of Islam.

As much of today’s "Islamic" turbulence is in fact a product of cold war politics, this contention is historically false, socially dangerous and culturally suicidal pretension. (It is common knowledge that the Taliban and Osama bin Laden were weapons of US imperial capitalism in their war against the USSR and their current threat to peaceful life is a political crisis that America masterminded and maintains – the success of US marketing strategy lies in dumping the responsibility for these criminal elements on Muslims as a religious group.) For the complementary forces of imperialism and religious fundamentalism it is necessary that Muslims as a whole are perceived as a body of fanatics: while the latter makes such claims about Islam, the former spreads and imposes the image on every Muslim.

Within this perceived reality, a vast majority of the population has been silenced and held captive – the unjustly suspected Muslim community all over the world, the majority of whom are no longer willing to stand by such retrogressive use of their religion. They want to reiterate the fact that the responsibility for what a lunatic fringe does in the name of Islam will not be shared by Muslims everywhere; instead, such actions will be denounced categorically and substantially. The religious disavowal of fanaticism, bomb terror and communalism, all of which are conducted in the name of religion, has been gaining ground among Muslims in the state of Kerala in recent years.

Kerala’s contemporary history has followed a disappointing negative trajectory. Muslims in Kerala lapsed into withdrawal and fear after LK Advani’s infamous Rath Yatra and its culmination in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. The suspicion and feeling of insecurity that this generated in the post-industrial, consumerist society that Kerala had become thanks to the inflow of petrodollars from the Gulf started consolidating destructively in the form of religio-political organisations that sought to "resist" attacks from Zionism, fascism and imperialism.

Just as the Hindu diaspora was funding the RSS in the north of the country, these religio-political organisations in the state received funding from the Muslim diaspora. Parallelly, the consolidation of Hindu communalism that functions outside politics, in the cultural sphere, poses an equal threat. The arrival of such factors on the Kerala landscape has not, so far, been a terribly rooted or widely popular phenomenon. But the chances of it becoming one, given Kerala’s geographical, economic and demographic peculiarities, can never be dismissed.

Muslim activism against terrorism in Kerala is more a precautionary step than a remedial measure. These groups are deeply concerned about the loss of Kerala’s vibrantly inclusive tradition vis-à-vis religious groups and it is their wake-up call before it gets too late.

What is remarkable about the situation in Kerala is that the cancerous growth within the community faced serious opposition from the political face of the Muslim community, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), in its nascent stage itself. The IUML’s remarkably mature decision to prevent any kind of mob violence during the post-Babri Masjid phase in Kerala, as a result of which not one person was killed in Kerala even as hundreds died in ensuing riots that took place across the country, stands testimony to its position on fanaticism and communalism. Panakkad Sayyid Muhammedali Shihab Thangal, state president of the IUML, was at the forefront of this stand.

Because the extremist outfits were structured around the youth of the community, the IUML’s youth wing became the main channel for disseminating the party’s message that religious terrorism and its anti-democratic measures would only hamper the interests of both the Muslim community as well as the community at large. As far back as the early 1990s when these religio-political forces first began to surface, and no matter how small their influence was at the time, the Kerala Muslim Youth League, under the presidentship of MK Muneer, passed resolutions against this growth.

In fact, Muneer, son of former Kerala chief minister CH Mohamed Koya and a former minister himself, went on to write a chapter on the dangers of terrorism in his award-winning book, Fascism and the Sangh Parivar (1995). The publishing house that he chairs, Olive Publications, has brought out a series of books against the misuse of jihad and Koranic dictates. His visit to Marad, to console relatives of the Hindu victims who were killed in the second Marad riot, of May 2003, and his statement that the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddha idols at Bamiyan was as heinous as the demolition of the Babri Masjid, have helped to send out a positive message to the wider society. As a natural extension of his beliefs and activism, Muneer is currently authoring a book on the sociological, religious and psychological roots of terrorism.

The current president of the Muslim Youth League, KM Shaji has been a powerful voice against the National Development Front and the Jamaat-e-Islami. Shaji believes that "If it is the doing of Malayali Hindus that there is not even a single RSS person so far in the Kerala assembly, it is for the Muslims to show their sense of justice by defeating communal and terrorist forces that use our name." He adds, "These terrorist organisations are instilling fear in the minds of Muslims as well as non-Muslims and are killing creative energy. That is suicidal."

There has been vehement opposition to the misuse of Islamic scriptures in wars and other violent campaigns from state-level leaders of the four Muslim religious organisations (two Sunni groups, the Sunni Yuvajana Sangham – the EK faction and the AP faction, and two Mujahid groups) that share secular and democratic values. (The term "mujahid" can be grossly misleading now, for its suggestion of jihad. Jihad, according to the Kerala Nadwathul Mujahideen, is the inner struggle against the base instincts of the body. They have never supported jihad against another person or another religion. Nor have they ever resorted to violence.) The awareness that the "jihadi" claim that they are fighting imperialism is false, as the jihadis serve the imperial need to tag religion to politics and thus spread fear and animosity and reiterate their power, underlines such endeavours.

Cherussery Zainudheen Musliyar, Abdussamad Pookkottur, Sayyid Mohammed Nisami, KT Manu Musliar, AP Abdul Khader, TP Abdullakkoya Madani, Husain Madavoor, Mujeeb Karimbilakkal, Ali Abdulla and Ismail Wafa are some leaders who have taken an unflinching position against the dangers posed by jihadi groups. This is of no little significance given the fact that these personalities lead organisations that are among the most powerful mainstream religious organisations in the state and regardless of what their religious positions and the merits of this may be they have been unequivocal in their stand against this immediate threat of terrorism.

As in the case of the political organisation, IUML, the youth wings of the religious organisations have also been forceful in this regard. Nasir Faisy Koodathayi, the secretary of the Samastha Kerala Sunni Students’ Federation, has been foregrounding the need to fight terrorism in every venue: "It is intoxication, like liquor. Both are un-Islamic." CP Saleem and Mujeebrehman Kinaloor are other young leaders who have led awareness programmes against the encroachment of terrorism in an informed way. They maintain that the pretension of support, which terrorist organisations claim to receive from the Muslim community, must be countered in the interests of the community.

Though the hysterical and paranoid brand of militarised Islam is only 15-odd years old, the theoretical strain of the whole movement can be traced back to 1941 when the Jamaat-e-Islami movement was first established. The Jamaat’s founder, Maulana Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi argued that the once golden era of Muslims had vanished due to the loss of political power. He interpreted Islam as a political system and argued that each Muslim should work for the establishment of an Islamic state. There have not been many thorough and systematic critiques of the Maududian notions of the theocratic state. To the politically wounded, Maududism offered a utopia to fight for.

CT Abdurahiman, the driving force behind the educational and cultural centre, Dayapuram, has been working on the discrepancies and dangers of Maududian thought in the context of modern, plural societies. After completing his studies at a Jamaat-e-Islami institution during his youth, Abdurahiman pursued a religious education in Qatar where he interacted with the likes of the Muslim scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi. For Abdurahiman, the early eighties brought an ideological break from the Jamaat-e-Islami due to his fundamental disagreement with the organisation’s notions of state and power and its unwillingness to consider plural societies at all. By systematically pointing out the economic, demographic, historical and geographic impossibilities of the Maududian scheme and elaborating on the anti-Islamic aspects of the very notion, Abdurahiman launched an ideational Muslim struggle against the notion of an Islamic state through various articles and books, including his latest volume, Different Thoughts of a Malayali Muslim.

Dayapuram’s establishment 23 years ago by a team of enthusiasts such as PP Hyder Haji, V. Mohammed, MN Karassery, V. Marakkar, KP Mohammed Haji, Abdulla and others marked an important step in the institutionalisation of religious secularism and socialism in Kerala’s private sector. Run by the Al Islam Charitable Trust and inspired by the Qatari religious scholar Sheikh Abdullah Ibrahim Al Ansari, Dayapuram’s orphanage admitted children from all religions and treated them on a par with children of the rich. As it expanded, even as it grew to become a renowned centre of education and culture with several schools and colleges spread over 40 acres of land, Dayapuram chose to do more than mould human resources alone. It attempted to spread its sociocultural, inclusive outlook through the Dayapuram Cultural Forum, a collective of staff, students and management, and through the forum’s publications.

In September 2006 the Dayapuram Cultural Forum observed an "Anti-Terrorism and Anti-Communalism Week" which started with a procession that proclaimed "Resist Communalism and Terrorism; Save Kerala". A symposium of Muslim religious scholars held on September 22 that year declared that "terrorism is anti-Islamic". Participants at the symposium included representatives from the two Sunni and the two Mujahid groups as well as the Muslim League. The weeklong programmes included essay writing, poetry writing, painting and poster designing competitions for students and ended with a multi-religious meet that condemned communalism in the name of any religion.

Similar "anti-terrorism unity meets" based on this model were then organised in different parts of the state and hosted by local citizens.

In order to strengthen Muslim unity against communalism and terrorism and make it more effective, CT Abdurahiman then suggested the creation of a forum that would serve as a common platform for people who, notwithstanding their political or religious differences, have been sincere and strong in their fight against these lethal presences. At a formative meeting on September 21, 2007, with Dayapuram as its starting point, the Dayapuram Stage for Humanitarian Activism was born. MK Muneer was appointed president, CT Abdurahiman, general secretary, and many others such as KM Shaji, Nasir Faisy Koodathayi, CP Saleem and Mujeebrehman Kinaloor were appointed office-bearers of the new forum. The Dayapuram Stage for Humanitarian Activism (DaSHA), a forum for religious harmony, cultural justice and caste and gender equality, was inaugurated by Javed Anand, co-editor of Communalism Combat, on January 5, 2008.

DaSHA’s second programme, a "Madrassa Teachers’ Meet Against Communalism and Terrorism", investigated the ways in which madrassas could be utilised to spread religious harmony. On February 20, 2008 (about a week before the well-known Islamic seminary Darul Uloom Deoband organised its historic meet against terrorism) around 300 madrassa teachers came together with eminent leaders from different religious organisations and madrassa board members to denounce terrorism. The meeting was inaugurated by Sayyid Munavvarali Shihab Thangal and the resolution taken therein condemned the ill-motivated propaganda that madrassas are training centres of terrorism whilst simultaneously voicing anxiety over the growth of terrorism in the name of Islam. The resolution called for a peaceful jihad against terrorism.

DaSHA also plans interventions by small units set up in nearby areas to alleviate communal tension and spread communal harmony. The first of these, the Chennamangallur unit, has already been inaugurated.

Along with spreading awareness about the dangers of communalism and terrorism through meetings and media work, DaSHA also seeks to coordinate research work that probes the economic, cultural, social and ideological "whys" of communalism and terrorism by looking at social coordinates such as caste, gender, region, class and race in its attempt to function as a stage for constructive thinking.

It is important that activities such as these, which are currently taking place in one corner of the country, are also carried out on a national and even a global level since local developments also add to the widening chasm that has been created between peoples of the world. It will make those Muslims who do not support the killing of civilians in the name of their religion or do not like being part of the war industry more visible and powerful. And this can only be achieved through a systematic project that sends the right kind of message to society at large and through voices that clearly denounce the religious tag. The presence of Mufti Fuzail-ur-Rahman Usmani from Deoband at the anti-terrorism session of the state convention of the Muslim Youth League at Kollam is a significant step in this direction.

These Muslim disclaimers to Islamic terrorism, clear and categorical as they are and should be, help to weaken the claims of jihadists and deter those involved in the baseless stereotyping of an entire community. Such a Muslim move is the need of the hour, as it questions the myths that the culture industry has been imposing on the collective psyche of the people. The move to delink one’s religion from political ends will not, of course, be the end of it, but it is nevertheless a significant step towards realising secularism and democracy in a plural society.

(NP Ashley is a junior research fellow at the University of Hyderabad’s department of English.)


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