India’s vibrant democratic experience over past six decades has been difficultly nurturing an open society for its people, but there are injurious intellectual streams in our midst which are radiating darkness among Indian Muslims. The disturbing case here is of Maulana Salman Al-Husaini Nadwi, an internationally recognised Islamic scholar who decided against this country’s collective wisdom to write a letter to greet Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, the leader of murderous jihadists who overran Iraq’s cities in June, butchered human beings in hundreds, demolished shrines revered by Shias and Sunnis alike, and expelled Christians from Mosul.
Al-Baghdadi is a terrorist who trained in the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan along with Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, a slain chief of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. On June 29, Al-Baghdadi declared himself as the caliph of Muslims and demanded bai’yah (oath of fealty) from all as head of the Islamic State, formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Across the world, Al-Baghdadi is viewed by Muslims and non-Muslims as a terrorist whose forces are killing innocents. His terror outfit identifies India as one of its targets, incorporating it in an ISIS map of Khorasan, about which Prophet Muhammad prophesied that jihadists will rise from there and join the forces of Jesus who will be reborn in present-day Israel to proclaim global Islamic rule.
By writing the letter, Salman Nadwi has refused to see the present and clear danger to India; he thinks of himself as wiser than 1.25 billion Indians and numerous Islamic scholars across the world who have denounced Al-Baghdadi. In the letter sent via WhatsApp and later statements in Urdu and Hindi, Nadwi refers to Al-Baghdadi as Emir-ul-Momineen (Leader of Faithful Muslims) and prays — “May Allah protect you”, urges jihadist organisations in Syria to end their differences, speaks of “good news of victories” in Iraq and advocates that Muslims “abide by” the Emir-ul-Momineen “if he follows Allah’s sharia”; Nadwi appreciates the “united struggle by Iraq’s different jihadist organisations in making the revolution successful” against Iraq’s elected leader Nouri Al-Maliki; he dubs Al-Maliki as “the world’s biggest terrorist” for causing Shia-Sunni differences but praises Al-Baghdadi whose forces are killing Shias in hundreds, having declared them as infidels.
Indian media is silent, except for Urdu daily Aag, which brought the Nadwi issue on its front page. If a Muslim youth from Azamgarh had written this letter, he would be languishing in jail by now. In the US where a person can be arrested for contacting terrorists and in the UK where one can be jailed for downloading jihadist videos and literature from the internet, Nadwi would have been picked up by intelligence agencies for questioning, if not for outright prosecution.
However, being a known scholar at the Lucknow-based seminary Nadwatul Ulama, he enjoys freedom from law, especially since India doesn’t have updated legislation against radicalisation of youth for jihad.
Ashfaq Ahmad, who studied at Nadwatul Ulama and is now a professor of Arabic at the Assam University, says that Salman Nadwi has been known for his ideological support for Islamic groups and such letters may influence younger generations of Indian Muslims, especially hundreds of members of Jamiat-u-Shabab-il-Islam, an organisation of youth established by Nadwi. Meanwhile, a review of Nadwi’s Facebook wall reveals that his followers are lauding him and Al-Baghdadi, with one Muslim youth commenting: “do not worry, if something happens to you, Allah willing, we will set fire to the ocean too.”
It is also worrying that India’s Shia Muslim leadership, under Iran-backed cleric Maulana Kalb-e-Jawwad, is unable to grasp the threat to Indian Muslims from global jihadism originating from Iraq and Syria. Until now, terror attacks in Jammu & Kashmir and elsewhere in India could be traced to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and other terror groups backed by it, but an era of global jihad has stamped its footprint in India. Youth from Tamil Nadu went to Syria via Singapore to join the jihadists. Noted investigative journalist Praveen Swami recently revealed that four Muslims from Mumbai were among Shia pilgrims that went to Iraq where they joined the ISIS. Eighteen Indians have reportedly joined the jihadists in Iraq.
However, the Shia leadership cannot understand these developments or wants to join the conflict. Anjuman-e-Haideri, a Delhi-based Shia organisation, gave advertisements in Urdu dailies asking people to register to visit Iraq — apparently to volunteer as nurses, doctors and engineers to help Iraqi Shias, but they aim to defend holy shrines. Ali Mirza of Anjuman-e-Haideri has set plan to register one million people. One lakh registered; six thousand volunteers applied for Iraq visas. However, the volunteers do not view this trip as a humanitarian mission; for them it is an end-life journey. Haji Mirza Qasim Raza, a volunteer, said: “There is nothing that I will not do to protect Karbala… including laying down my life.” Zeeshan Haider, a youth, described his trip as “a religious duty”. Jahan Ara, a widow with failing eyesight, said: “there’s no better way to spend one’s last days”. Disturbingly, 25 percent of the volunteers are women. Kalb-e-Jawwad has backed women’s participation in battlefields, arguing: “There are misconceptions about Islam being very limiting for women”.
For Shia nurses, doctors and others, the best deed is to help the sick and elderly in India. A few hundred volunteers, if they want to go on a humanitarian mission, should visit as part of the Red Cross, not led by sectarian groups like Anjuman-e-Haideri. War has its own logic that sucks people into its arms. The risk is that Shia Muslims visiting from India could by recruited by Iran-backed terror groups like Hezbollah. Iran recently sent Afghan refugees to fight in Syria.
In a recent article, Pakistani author Ahmed Rashid warned: “the Islamic world will be plunged into a sectarian war of unimaginable dimensions” if the ISIS attacked holy cities of Karbala and Najaf.
Rashid also noted: “We can expect conflict between Sunni and Shia that could last for years to come. Already, there is an ominous rapid growth of Shia militias in Iraq.”
Tufail Ahmad is director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC.