Salafism in Kashmir: Why is media silent on Salafi-Wahhabi preachers in the Valley?

Indian academician and professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Madhu Purnima Kishwar, had noted in 2015 how the prime time TV shows and their celebrated anchors hyperventilated at sundry issues in India while overlooking the matters of paramount importance for the national integrity. Drawing a line of difference between patriotism and ‘hysterical jingoism’, she accused a section of the Indian media, particularly the TV channels, of being heedless to the rapid spread of petrodollar Islam in India and its inevitable consequence — the radicalisation of the gullible Muslim youth, notably in the Kashmir Valley.

Kishwar wrote in her Firstpost article: “The traditional benign Sufi Islam is fast giving way to ultra-conservative and fundamentalist Salafi Islam which is expanding the catchment area for jihadi terror groups… In village after village, new Salafi mosques are mushrooming to overshadow the old Sufi mosques. In fact, Sufi shrines are being systematically targeted as being un-Islamic.  While older generation Kashmiris may still go to the Sufi mosques, the excitable youth are flocking to Salafi mosques which spoon-feed them a highly distorted version of world events to show how Islam is under threat and Muslims an endangered species. The siege mentality thus engendered is helping recruit cadres for jihad.”

What Kishwar had noted in 2015 can be vividly seen today not only in the valleys of Jammu and Kashmir but even in the northern Indian states — Uttar Pradesh and Bihar — where Muslims did not appear to be drawn to the jihadist mentality or Islamist militancy.

 Salafism in Kashmir: Why is media silent on Salafi-Wahhabi preachers in the Valley?

Representational image. AFP

Recently, I spent a great deal of time in the two Indian states empirically researching the impact of the divisive religious rhetoric on the radicalisation of the Muslims by visiting a number of Salafist madrasas. The question my extensive research attempted to answer is why growing number of the Indian Muslims are flocking to the Saudi-style Islam leaving behind the age-old history of Indian Sufism. After an extensive literature review and exploration of the Salafi textbooks being taught in various Indian madrasas, it appears that an academically important question has received very little attention in those fiery discussions in media or academia.

While India constitutes the largest population of Muslims in the world after Indonesia, it cannot be denied only a tiny number of those in India are getting lured to the extremist Islamist outfits such as Islamic State, al-Qaeda, Taliban and others. This is precisely because Islam in India has been anchored in syncretism and pluralistic tradition. But now several academics, analysts and even media researchers worry about the growing onslaught the petrodollar Salafism on a more accommodative form of Sufi Islam in India.

Of late, the English news channel NDTV ran a two-part research-based documentary titled, “The Shadow of Salafism”. It visited Salafi Madrasas in Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka and found works of controversial Saudi Salafi scholars as part of their syllabi. Perhaps first time in the Indian media’s history, a national TV channel has extensively researched and debated the curriculum of Salafism which is widely taught in the Indian madrasas. The program seemed concerned with the rise of the puritanical and supremacist strain of Islam, known interchangeably as 'Wahhabism' or 'Salafism'.

NDTV analysed whether the extremist, supremacist, and divisive theology of Ibn Taymiyya and Ibn Abdul Wahhab is opening a gateway into religious extremism in India. In an hour-long part one, the Truth vs Hype show – presented by Sreenivasan Jain – traced foreign funds to the Salafist NGOs in India from donors on terror watchlists. Jain also discussed as to why India has held Salafism as one of the factors behind Kashmir unrest.  Travelling to various Salafist madrasas in Uttar Pradesh and to the state's eastern border with Nepal, Karnataka, Kerala and other vulnerable states of India, Jain and his colleagues did the story with inputs from various Sufi and Sunni scholars.

It is not the case that NDTV dug a lonely furrow in the Indian media by investigating the mystery of the petrodollar-funded Salafism in India. Many other national TV channels and leading newspapers of the country have shown concern over the trail of Saudi-style Islam, and with great gusto. But Jain and his team did an extensive literature review of the Salafist teachings linked with extremism, in consultation with well-versed Islamic scholars and professors.  For instance, Dr Syed Aleem Ashraf Jaisi, head of the Arabic department in Maulana Azad National Urdu University in Hyderabad, appeared on this show to explain the Mardin fatwa — a 13th-century fatwa authored by Ibn Taymiyyah – which is still being adhered to by the world’s jihadist outfits to justify violent extremism. Dr Jaisi has been quoted as saying:

Terrorist organisations spread all around the world are based on Ibn Taymiyyah's principles and traditions. These terrorist organisations rely on references taken from Ibn Taymiyyah's books and particularly his Mardin Fatwa in which he has mentioned that one can kill anyone to achieve his target or defeat enemies or target anyone.

Similarly, a few other scholars were approached for an informed analysis of the Salafi curricula replete with the teachings of Taymiyyah and his successor Ibn Abdul Wahhab who misconstrued the Quranic verses in an attempt to coin an anti-pluralism theology. He preached a devised worldview by misreading the Qur’an and coining the concepts like “al Walah  wal  Bara” (loyalty with Muslims and disavowal against all non-Muslims including the non-Wahhabi Muslims).

Truth vs Hype show also assessed the influence of Ibn Abdul Wahhab’s intolerant and supremacist theology spreading in many parts of India. In this context, it aired the dissenting views on the textbooks being taught in the Salafi-Wahhabi madrasas. Remarkably, the madrasa rectors confessed in the show that they teach the controversial books like Taimiya’s Majmua Fatawa (compilation of his fatwas), Ibn Abdul Wahhab’s Kitab al-Tawheed (book of monotheism), along with Taqwiyatul Iman (strengthening of the religion) and Sirat-e-Mustaqeem (the straight path) authored by the hardcore Indian clerics Shah Ismail Dehlvi and Syed Ahmad “Shaheed”.

All these books contain intolerant texts denouncing the syncretic traditions and pluralistic ethos as antithetical to Islam.

When the channel spoke to the trustees of Salafi mosques, they fervently supported these books vehemently opposing the Sufi culture and tradition because 'they are contaminated with the influences of non-Muslims'. "Wrong things if done for thousands of years are wrong," said the Salafist cleric Abdul Wahid Madni, founder of the Safa Educational Society in Domariaganj, Uttar Pradesh.

Thus, the news channel's show sought to address that academically important question which is rarely discussed in the mainstream media. In such an ideological discourse analysis, journalism coupled with an academic rigour should be emulated to break away from the stereotypical Indian format of "talking heads" discussion on prime time news television.

However, it was astonishing to note that the two-part investigation did not touch upon the Salafist hardliners and their separatist preachers in Kashmir. It left many in the lurch because the channel basically wanted to assess the Indian government’s ‘concern’ over the rise of Wahhabism/Salafism in Jammu and Kashmir, as the show’s intro unravels: “From time to time, the Indian government has warned of the dangers of the rise of puritanical, Saudi-style Islam in India. Most recently, during the unrest in Kashmir, when it warned it will not allow a 'Wahhabi theocracy' to take root in the Valley”.

In fact, there is no dearth of well-known Salafi-Wahhabi preachers and their exclusivist sermons in the Valley. But one wonders why NDTV skipped the portrayal of the Salafist preachers in Kashmir who spew venom and misguide the Muslim youth in the valley using the religious platforms.

Just as the channel examined, in the second part of this show titled “Road To ISIS”, as to how some South Indian Salafist preachers delivered speeches filled with religious bigotry and extremism, it could have cited some instances in the Valley too.

Much like Shamsudheen Fareed, a known Salafist cleric in Malappuram whose extremist sermons are cited in the show, the avowed advocate of Salafi mission in Kashmir, Maulana Mushtaq Veeri is not lesser hate-monger. Maulana Veeri has delivered various speeches — all of them filled with the extremist and exclusivist content — in the Valley’s Salafi mosques. Scores of his divisive speeches have been circulated on social media and are still attracting the imagination of the Kashmiri youth towards separatism. Only a single instance is sufficient and substantial evidence on how the ‘Salafi mission’ is being pursued in the religious rhetoric in Kashmir. In his religious sermon (khutba), Maulana Mushtaq Veeri dwells on “the Salafi Mission in Kashmir”. After a lengthy talk in the local Kashmiri language, he speaks in Urdu in the conclusive part of this video. Note these words in his speech:

“Dekha Salafiyon ka kamal, jab salafi maidan men utarte hain to wapis naam lene ka kabhi sochte hi nahi. Ham Islami hukumat qaim kar ke rahenge. Iraq men dekho Abu Bakr naam ke salafi ki hukumat…..kashmir men anqareeb inshaAllah Islami jhanda gaad diya jaega….”

(See the achievement of the Salafis! When the Salafis embark on their mission in the battlefield, they do not back out. Look at the state of the Salafist by the name of Abu Bakr Baghdadi in Iraq... God willing, we will be hoisting the Islamic flag soon in Kashmir...)

The author is a scholar of Comparative Religion, Classical Arabic and Islamic sciences, cultural analyst and researcher in Media and Communication Studies. Views are personal. He tweets at @GRDehlvi.

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Updated Date: Oct 05, 2016 09:25:21 IST