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Indian Muslims Increasing Resistance to Wahhabi Incursion

5:02 PM, Oct 20, 2011 • By IRFAN AL-ALAWI and STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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This pledge repeated language employed by the AIUMB’s national secretary, Syed Babar Ashraf, in publicity for the Moradabad event. Babar Ashraf wrote, “Wahhabi extremism is sweeping across the sub-continent. And after Afghanistan and Pakistan, the radical Wahhabi ideology is aggressively engaged in the radicalization of a few Indian Muslims. It is time for the silent majority to speak up and take the center stage. A vast majority of Muslims in India are Sunni Sufi Muslims who are nationalistic, patriotic and followers of the Sufi saints.” He accused the Wahhabi hardliners, “through charities and capturing mosques/madrassas” of “indoctrinating innocent Muslims and spending billions of dollars to hurt the democratic and secular fabric of the country.” Babar Ashraf challenged Wahhabism as “a big threat to entire humanity as well as the internal security of our nation,” adding that the AIUMB “wants to send a message to the present government that moderate Muslims will not allow [the Wahhabis] to grab the Indian soil . . . for spreading terrorism.”

The AIUMB has submitted a sheaf of memoranda to Indian authorities calling for changes in religious affairs, including enhanced protection of Sufi shrines, and auditing and monitoring of religious endowments. They demand reform of madrassas to encompass modern education alongside traditional religious instruction, as outlined in proposed legislation to establish a Central Madrassa Board for India, with Shia as well as Sunni participation. The moderate group emphasizes the need for “quality modern education centers” in districts where Muslims are concentrated. They asked for more girls’ schools and colleges as well as employment incentives for women, with at least one girls’ school in each local district, and at least three in every local jurisdiction with a Muslim majority.

In another heartening development, the AIUMB proclaimed its solidarity with Indian Christians, whom the Sufis noted had been targeted in a little-known outbreak of violence on August 25-28, 2008 in Kandhamal, a Hindu-majority region in India’s eastern coastal state of Orissa. There, Christian settlements were torched, 25,000 Christians fled, and at least 28 people were killed. The Sufi group additionally protested against Christians having been obstructed bureaucratically from erecting churches, and “illegal occupation” of Christian properties. In May 2011, the monitoring group International Christian Concern reported that a 17-year-old Christian female, Nirupama Pradhan, had been raped and murdered by Hindu militants in Kandhamal, and charged that “serial murders against Christians” were ongoing there.

South Asia obviously has no lack of opportunities for sectarian violence—the AIUMB also recalled the massacre of Muslims in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002. But in contrast with Pakistan, where moderate Muslim religious figures as well as secular politicians appear faint-hearted in the face of the extremist offensive, Indian Muslims, guided by Sufis like those in the AIUMB, are fighting back.

In the southwest coastal Indian state of Kerala—where Muslims first appeared in the subcontinent, but also home to a significant Christian community—axe-wielding Islamist fanatics last year sliced off the right-hand palm of T.J. Joseph, a professor at a Catholic institution, Newman College. Joseph allegedly insulted Muslims by including the name of Muhammad in an examination testing students on grammar in the local Malayalam language. Twenty-seven Muslim men were arrested in the incident, and Joseph’s hand was reconstructed through skin grafts. Nevertheless, the Christian professor was arrested for allegedly inciting communal discord. He was released but was dismissed from his employment at the college. The detained suspects were charged with rioting, suppression of evidence, and similar non-terrorism charges, in January of this year. Their case is pending. But in response to the atrocity, young Muslims came forward to donate blood to Joseph, and the Sunni Students Federation of Kerala has organized a campaign, like that of the AIUMB, to educate its members on the dangers of Wahhabism.

Irfan Al-Alawi is executive director of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation. Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor. 

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