Indian Muslims from 2014-2020: De-radicalization or de-politicization?
By Nousheen Baba Khan
This essay explores whether the BJP-led government has tried to de-politicise Indian Muslims in the name of de-radicalization.
The partition of India marked a significant shrinkage in the political leadership of Muslims of India. The flight of Muslim League leaders to East and West Pakistan left the Muslim masses of India socially dithered and politically undermined. In Azad Hindustan Mein Muslim Tanzeemein, Syed Abdul Bari remarks, “…the Muslims who were left in India were engulfed with uncertainty and skepticism about their future.” He lists fourteen Muslims organizations that worked for the social, educational and political development of the Indian Muslims. The central religious organization that tried to provide political leadership to the community was Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, formed in 1919 under the leadership of Mahmood Hasan Madani. Maulan Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Hifzur Rahman, and Maulana Asad Madani were some of the mainstream political leaders closely associated with Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind. In our own times, Maulana Badruddin Ajmal of Assam, Siddiqullah Chowdhury of West Bengal, Maulana Mahmood Madani, the present General Secretary of Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, etc. are actively involved mainstream politicians in the organization.
There have been other religious organizations such as Jamaat-e-Islami (Hind) which also tried to provide political leadership until recently. Although Jamaat-e-Islami (Hind) was founded in 1943, inspired by the ideas of Abul Ala Maududi with a political ideology to form an Islamic state, such a political ideology found little space in independent India because of its secular fabric. In Limits of Islamism, Maidul Islam does a comparative analysis of Jamaat-e-Islami in India and Bangladesh. He writes, “…in India, Jamaat-e-Islami is a small organization and does not even contest elections.” It was only after lifting the ban on Jamaat-e-Islami (that was imposed by Indira Gandhi during the emergency 1975) that the organization made some vital changes in its system. In 1985, the consuls of Jamaat-e-Islami lifted the ban against voting and the criterion that the electoral candidate must be Muslim was changed. It was to maintain tenets of secularism and restore democracy as directed by the then government in power. Apart from Jamaat-e-Islami, more than two dozen political parties and pressure groups were banned. It included the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Apart from being socio-religious organizations, both of these major organizations worked tirelessly to bring back Islam to a ‘purer’ form free from the cultural syncretism of the land. In other words, they tried to reform Islam by crusading against the un-Islamic practices known as bid’ah or innovation. Islamic revival and reform swept over almost every part of the world where Muslims formed either the majority or were in considerable number. Islamist fringes in other countries like Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Afghanistan, Syria, etc. also carried out extreme forms of reform and Kashmir was no exception to it. The ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri Pandits in the valley is a dreaded example of a radical force unleashed in India.
As the UK Report from the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism, published in 2013, shows, it is not that difficult for preachers with extreme ideology to infiltrate religious organizations and spread extreme views. The report also suggested some legislative measures to initiate a process of de-radicalization to reduce extremism. The report boldly states, “Extremist propaganda is too widely available, particularly online, and has a direct impact on radicalising individuals. The poisonous messages of extremists must not be allowed to drown out the voices of the moderate majority.”
The UK Report was published in December 2013 and interestingly in May 2014, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) formed the government in India with Narendra Modi being sworn in as the 14th Prime Minister of India. Mr. Modi inaugurated the World Sufi Conference on 17 March, 2016 under the auspices of All India Ulama & Mashaikh Board (AIUMB), which was founded by Maulana Muhammad Ashraf Kichochhawi in 2005. One of the major objectives behind the formation of the organization was to create a political space for Muslims who do not actively involve themselves in the government machinery. As discussed above, the Muslim political leadership that evolved from religious organizations belonged to the Deobandi track. AIUMB rallied against the Deoband ideology and gave sermons against the same. The World Sufi Forum appeared to be a political gimmick staged by the central government and strategized by AIUMB in order to discredit the Deoband ideology. In the same year, National Investigating Agency (NIA) registered an anti-terror case against Islamic Research Foundation, founded by popular televangelist Dr. Zakir Naik. In July 2017, NIA declared him an offender. Surprisingly, in May 2017, a delegation of twenty-five Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind leaders called on Mr. Modi. An excerpt from the official website states:
Noting that terrorism is a major challenge, [the members] expressed a common resolve to combat it with all their might. They added that it is the Muslim community’s responsibility that under no circumstances should anyone compromise the nation’s security or well-being. They said that the Muslim community would never allow any conspiracy against India to succeed.
Expressing concern at the situation in Kashmir valley, members of the delegation said that only Prime Minister Narendra Modi can resolve the issue.
What one notices is that the Home Ministry banned Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir (JIJK) for five years on 1 March 2019. The supporters of Zakir Naik as well as JIJK made a clamour against the bans.
While filtering extreme ideologues from the nation is praiseworthy but what about the political space that AIUMB called for? Why did the BJP not provide political representation to AIUMB and Jamiat Ulama Hind leaders in the latest Lok Sabha elections? While the leaders of Jamiat Ualam-e-Hind have remained actively involved in mainstream politics, the BJP did not bother to field any candidate belonging to this organization or other Muslim organizations. The five candidates that the BJP fielded in 2019 Lok Sabha elections are Mahfuja Khatoon (Murshidabad, West Bengal), Humayun Kabir (Murshidabad, West Bengal), Abdul Khader Haji (Lakshwadeep), Mohammad Maqbool (Baramulla, Jammu and Kashmir) and Sofi Yousuf (Anantnag, Jammu and Kashmir). Why did the BJP not field any candidate affiliated with the AIUMB which has repeatedly announced that the government lacks representation of the ones who believe in the Sufi spirit of the land? In addition, why did the government not consider the politically astute Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, which sustained the injuries of partition and remains active in mainstream politics, for political leadership?
This makes me wonder if the process of de-radicalization is a disguised way of de-politicization of Indian Muslims. The major drawback of the religious Muslim leaders of India is that one rallies against another, the way the AIUMB rallied against the Deobandis and perhaps the Jamaat Ulama-e-Hind rallied against the extreme forces in Kashmir and made a remark on the same when they met the Prime Minister in 2017.
 Ahmad, Irfan. “Islam and Politics in South Asia”. John L. Esposito, Emad Al-Din Shahin edited Islam and Politics around the World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018. (p. 124).
 Official website of AIUMB www.aiumb.org accessed on 01/04/2020.
 www.narendramodi.in https://www.narendramodi.in/leaders-of-jamiat-ulama-i-hind-call-on-pm–535364 (accessed on 01/04/2020).
 Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir is an autonomous religious organization formed in the year 1953 with ideology similar to that of Maududi’s political Islam.
Nousheen Baba Khan is a PhD Research Scholar at the Department of Political Science, Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata. Her areas of research include Sufism, Islamism, syncretism, ideology, etc. She is a key and active participant of the anti-CAA protest carried out in Park Circus, Kolkata. Nousheen has carried out a number of streets corner meets.
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