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Some Indian clerics spreading distorted versions of Islam on the Internet: Security agencies

A section of Indian maulanas are using the Internet to radicalise gullible people in several Southeast Asian 
countries by imparting religious sermons on distorted versions of Islam

Published: 29th January 2017 12:41 PM  |   Last Updated: 29th January 2017 03:18 PM   |  A+A-

Propaganda is most effective when it touches you emotionally. And with the Internet virtually free, it’s almost impossible to disconnect radical groups from spreading hate. A section of Indian maulanas (Muslim clerics) are now using this platform to radicalise gullible people overseas by imparting 
takreer (religious sermons) on distorted versions of Islam.

According to security agencies, the clerics are targeting youths in Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Philippines to spread hatred. Intel reports say over 100 such preachers have so far been identified.

Maulanas have not only found ways to evade the police in India, but they have also  exploited loopholes of the law of countries being targeted by them. After being in the dark for many years, central probe agencies have now created a database of such radicals. The agencies are keeping tabs on the masterminds and their funding.

“Videos of radical speeches are made abroad and contents are either uploaded online or CDs distributed among people in other countries. Even when they come under the scrutiny of agencies in India, they seek immunity on grounds of not having violated the country’s law,” an Intelligence official said.
Many maulanas in the probe agencies’ database are from Kerala, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh. These rich clerics go abroad to spread hate sermons thus making it impossible for the Intel agencies to take action.

Managers, who market the radical speeches and those who listen to such sermons, meet abroad for joint sessions. Agencies are now identifying those who act behind the scenes, sources said. 

Use of the Internet and social networking sites has aggravated the situation. Fundamentalism and radicalisation can now be spread across the world without anybody having to physically cross the border. All you need to do is upload videos on the Web and access Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications such as Skype. It is much cheaper than video-conferencing. Through such means, radical sermons are encrypted and relayed to distant locations. 

Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind president Arshad Madani admitted that social networking sites were being misused. “There’s a need to inform people about the positives and negatives of social media,” he said. The Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind is the largest body of Muslim clerics. 

While the Deobandi stream of madrassas teaches students about the correct interpretation of Islam, a section has distorted it to serve their interests besides maligning the Muslims. “Islam does not permit violence. It stresses peaceful existence. But some are misusing the religion for evil activities,” Madani added.

Maulana Rahimuddin Qasmi of the All India Majlis Ulema said, “Any action which has the potential to create trouble is against Islam. Without verification, religious sermons available online should not be followed. When Islam is even against wasteful expenditure of water, how can it permit violence? Loving the country is part of the faith, and anyone acting against the nation cannot be accepted.”


Arshad Farooqui, Mufti of the Darool Uloom Zakaria, Deoband, told The Sunday Standard: “Lack of education leads to radicalisation. Successive governments have failed to provide education to all. Deprivation also leads to a sense of alienation and some youths are tilted towards violence. Both the government and the Muslim community should take steps to check radicalisation among the youths.”


If the government’s education drive has not reached the Muslims, the Islamic clerics have also failed to impress upon the youth that online Islamic material is not the real religion and such information must be verified by a cleric before being followed. 


On maulanas misinterpreting Islam, Farooqui said: “Without verification, nothing should be preached and such contents should not be accepted. Everyone should try and evolve as good human beings.”
Sources said a section of the maulanas related to controversial preacher Zakir Naik has held several radicalising sessions in the Terai region of Nepal during the last few weeks. They have been giving distorted presentations on the “concept of god in major religions.”


Qasmi said, “A very small percentage of youths are drifting towards radical streams because of lack of knowledge of Islamic scriptures. Agents of foreign outfits and agencies are radicalising and misleading young people in India, especially in a few states. Radicalisation is a conspiracy to defame Islam as terrorism. Violence is unacceptable according to Quranic principles.”


Blaming the media and social media for aiding radicalisation, Qasmi said concocted forms of Islam were being fed by foreign elements who want to disturb peace. Historically, even caliphates, the nonbelievers of Islam, were allowed to exist by paying jijiya (tax). 


“The tanzeems should train the youths and use social media to counter radicalisation and present the correct interpretation of Islam. Youths in India are affected by the atrocities in places such as 
Palestine and Myanmar. Educational backwardness also impacts gullible minds and communication gap between the government and the public also adds to the problem,” Qasmi said.


The government should seek support from the tanzeems for deradicalisation measures. Ulemas (Islamic scholars) alone cannot bring out the correct picture of Islam. The media should help in portraying the religion the right way, he added. 


Dr S Aziz, a practicing physician and a social worker active in western Uttar Pradesh districts such as Saharanpur and Muzaffarnagar, said: “The government should take immediate steps to ban radical contents that are available online so that youths are not attracted to hardline streams.” According to him, Islam does not permit terrorism; it teaches about living in peace and harmony and not dividing people. “Islam gives rights even to non-Muslim neighbours. People connected to terrorism are not Muslims,” he added. 


A number of clerics in India say if one has to learn Islam, he should join a madrassa or at least verify online materials through a recognised cleric, said Maulana Abdullah Ibnul Qamar of Kul Hind Rabta-e-Masjid at Deoband. 


Counter-terrorism expert Dr Rituraj Mate said despite all the tactics being adopted by jihadists to radicalise people by using social media, the government’s focus is just on containing the availability of online materials. Containing contents has proved counterproductive. 


“The government should have a proactive counter-radicalisation initiative wherein liberal maulanas should snub distorted contents on Islam which is available online. Speeches of liberal maulanas should also be put online to counter jihadis’ agenda.”


He said after the United States banned the Twitter handle of al Qaeda a few years ago, a number of similar accounts popped up within hours and the propagation of the radical contents increased thereafter. 
In the present scenario where jihadi contents are available online, counter Hindu radical materials are also flooding networking sites, which again is counter-productive, Mate added. 



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