Rid India of salafi-wahabbism — do it before it is too late

Can one think of India without Muslims and Islam? Honestly, no. A sentiment reflected in Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s statement in the Parliamentary debate on developments in Kashmir today that Indian Islam is peaceful. It is if one conflates sufi Islam with Indian Islam, which generally describes the state of art of this religion in India. Except, Islam has many strains in the subcontinent including Wahabbism brought into South Asia in early 19th Century from Saudi Arabia. But it did not, for good reasons, quite take root in the Indian milieu in the main because the austere mien of this desert Islam and its insistence on the strictest and literal adherence to Koran and Hadith grounded in the 7th Century was at odds with not just the tropical lushness of India but the live and let live attitude and ethos embedded in Indian culture — an easy- minded amalgam of food, literature, religion, ritual, music and dance that sufi Islam was in sync with.

This changed with export of labour to start with from peninsular India (Hyderabad and Kerala) to West Asia, in particular, oil rich Gulf emirates and especially Saudi Arabia where the Sauds — the most debauched ruling elite to be found anywhere, as a matter of survival tactic permitted the wahabbis to impose the sharia and define the behaviour of the state while keeping themselves outside its ambit. Stacking a large part of the oil revenues in Swiss accounts and in capital acquisitions and other lucrative investments in the United States and Western Europe that made for rich returns, endowed these Sauds and their counterparts in the Gulf with unimagined amounts of expendable income. The extended Saud family and its retainers — numbering roughly some 10,000 plus persons, thus acquired the freedom and the means to have the run of the fleshpots of Europe and the gambling dens of Monte Carlo and London, and to indulge themselves in every vice and luxury forbidden by wahabbi Islam at home. Thus satiated after their excesses, they returned home to hypocritically play out their roles for the Muslim ummah as the abstemious guardians of Mecca and Medina.

As part of the deal cut with the Wahabbis, the Saudi state, through numerous religious charities, also undertook to spread wahabbi Islam to the outside world in every way possible. The Indian subcontinent seething with impoverished and illiterate Muslim masses was an irresistible and attractive target to launch a campaign to convert the majority of sunni Indian Muslims from the more tolerant hanafi/sufi version of Islam to salafist wahabbism. Regular transfer of rials/dollars lubricated this process of funding the Deoband seminary and its offshoots and influencing the Muslim clergy to adopt the wahabbi outlook. Deobandi graduates became the medium for wahabbi propagation, which joined up with the already existing Wahabbi strain lurking in the Indian Islamic fold. Saudi Arabia is thus the locus genesis of the terrorist Islamic State — not something the US and the West too long interwined with Saudi interests, will ever acknowledge or act on, despite IS violence and eruptions in Europe.

The wahabbist Islam began settling in for good in India, however, with a trickle and later flood of returning Muslim expat labour, investing their nest eggs in conspicuously garish residences in Kerala and elsewhere but also in building mosques and madrassas in their local communities preaching wahabbi Islam they had become habituated to. This activity meshed with the monies being channeled into the building up of same sort of wahabbi cultural assets. The political cover was provided by the Indian Muslim League in Kerala, which invariably partnered with the Congress party in the state wedded to “secularism” that blinded and desensitized them to imported wahabbi undercurrents in society.

Thus, there is no mechanism to monitor monies gushing into India from wahabbi Arab “charities” — other than a small cell in the Enforcement Directorate in the Finance Ministry, no legal requirement for auditing of the accounts of Indian charities that benefited from these large fund inflows, and absolutely no policing of the madrassas and mosques that with growing confidence began openly promoting wahabbism, until now when the previously harmonious society in Kerala is rent apart. Fatwas are being issued for Muslims to shun celebrations of onam and christmas.

Have policing and administrative measures, audit requirements, etc been put in place since the BJP came to power at the centre to ensure the wahabbist influences begin to be reined in? Alas, no, because law& order is a state subject. Yes, but the enforcement directorate can haul up Indian beneficiary institutions of Arab largesse, and keep them under a keen policing lens. Throttling the money movement is one sure way to reverse the wahabbi spread. It was not until everybody suddenly discovered the wacko Zakir Naik — the “suited and booted” Saudi-supported wahabbi televangelist, who appeals to the middle class Muslims of South Asia, in the aftermath of the Dhaka killings, that the GOI suddenly shook itself awake and now talks of tasking intel agencies to trace the flow and pattern of Saudi-sourced funding. How Naik could get away for so long while regularly denigrating other religions, especially Hindu gods and Hinduism in a Hindu-majority state in the vilest terms, is a wonder. Shouldn’t these kinds of provocations have attracted the attention of the CrPC provisions about creating communal disharmony and disturbance, and earned him time in the slammer? It is laughable that this same Naik now claims the protection of the Indian Constitution. It reminds one of that old joke of the youth killing his parents and then pleading for lenient treatment by the judge on account of his being an orphan!

There are great many things the government can and must do. It need look no farther than majority Muslim Bangaldesh, which has been very innovative, notwithstanding the recent violence against non-muslims by jammaat extremists, in corralling these elements bent on mischief and disorder.

Chief among the measures Dhaka has successfully implemented are (1) the licensing of madarssas by the education ministry, which also oversees the curriculum and inclusion of science, mathematics and other secular subjects, and putting the maulvis in the mosques and madarssas on govt dole, and (2) monitoring of the jumma prayers in mosques to ensure the salaried maulvis do not preach wahabbism, for instance.

Now, why can’t the Kerala govt adopt such measures and the central govt release funds from the HRD Ministry on condition that Bangladesh-type regulations are promulgated and followed?

One of the side benefits of the govt maulvis in madarssas and indirect control of what’s said in the mosques is that Dhaka has used these clerics to popularize small family norms. Indeed, this has been so stellar a success — which’s not known in India — that Bangladesh has been able to control to a commendable degree the surge in the rate of population growth. Of all the states in South Asia Bangladesh will be the first to reach replacement rate (meaning equal number of births and deaths) and demographically stabilize Bangladeshi society — the start point for a rocketing takeoff economically.

GOI’s and the privilegentsia’s persistently confused take on secularism thus bids fair to obtain in India a wahabbi hell, a denouement Bangladesh — that many still perceive as a basket case — may escape. Something for all the right-thinking people in this country to ponder, because GOI is apparently not doing so, and if it is, not going beyond and doing something on the ground. It is better something lasting be done before it is too late. Extremist religion is one thing the govt should ruthlessly contain by any and all means, or see it consume the Indian society that is already restless and just short of being in the grip perennial turmoil and terrorist violence, a’la Pakistan. This is more than a mere problem of internal security but an issue of the nation’s well being.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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32 Responses to Rid India of salafi-wahabbism — do it before it is too late

  1. &^%$#@! says:

    I believe that a TADA-like law needs to be enacted and ruthlessly enforced ASAP. The militant Islamic menace is truly getting out of hand.

  2. Shaurya says:

    The issue is not just wahabi or KSA Islam, it is Islam itself. On this one aspect, I think Bharat may not have the full historical or ideological context. Let us not forget Pakistan is itself an expression of the ideas of Islam. The deobandis were the propitiators of the Tablighi movement 100 years back to rid Indian Islam of its “corruptions” in India to move to a more purer form of it. The result of this movement eventually was picked up by the then political forces resulting in the partition of the nation.

    The sunni theologians, the custodians of Islam based on the sunnah and the Koran have always led this constant ideological struggle that even Akbar struggled with, when he sought to abolish sharia law in the country meeting fierce resistance. The net result was further dilutions and movement towards the envisioned purity of Islam with Jehangir, Shahjahan and restoration of Sharia under Aurangzeb.

    Even the Shia strain has moved towards a neo-sunni version of Islam, ridding itself of its persian influences. After all much of the ideological basis is the same, even if the social and political history differs.

    So, where do we go from here? Bharat is right cannot wish away Islam from India. Assimilation – aggressive one is the answer and no it will not happen overnight but without this Assimilation the country and regions and its peoples are doomed. Sorry for this pessimistic forecast. So, no people like me, who’s homelands are lost may not see its restoration for generations but the effort towards assimilation to dilute the ideological core of Islam and its practices should go on.

    • &^%$#@! says:

      Could you please expand on your definitions of “assimilation” and “aggressive assimilation”!

      • Sanatani says:

        say for example, the much debated and much denigrated Uniform Civil Code, which today has become a necessity. This involves not only declaring the AIMPLB a defunct organization but also by keeping a stringent check on the groups that swear allegiance to it. This will remove, to a great extent, the tendency to create a “Muslim narrative” mostly based on false pride and victimhood. All religious groups need to be brought under the purview of law (Civil as well as Criminal).

        Define, in no uncertain terms, the word “Secular” as enshrined in the Indian Consitution.

        Educate them on the virtues of cultural affinity as opposed to religious affinities, just the exact thing which the Hasina Government has been able to achieve in Bangladesh. After all, small-statured Indian Muslims have got nothing to do with say, the Chechens who look not very different from their Caucasian counter-part.

        So yes, top of the mind and also, as rightly pointed out in the piece above.

      • Shaurya says:

        It is not uncommon in history to find a nation fragmented and in the midst of a civil war. Remember the old adage, more have been killed in the name of religion than anything else. Well those days of killing your way out like done in the Spanish Reconquista or in the Punjab maybe gone for good and anyways not practical at a continental level of a problem. Our best chance was to stop these hordes, like done in the battle of Vienna, under the Pope’s tutelage but we lost that chance a 1000 years back. No point of a grand war – even with Pakistan. Even a nuclear war will not solve it.

        A state wields tremendous powers over its peoples. The people of England shelving their catholic faith was under the forced wishes of its monarch. One of them even standardized the multiple versions of the Bible and still is the most popular version around – the King James Bible. Unfortunately, the Ranjit Singh kingdom did not apply such “forced” assimilation techniques. A small example of the power the state wields is our use of the English language as the language of “progress”, used by less than 1% of the population in 1947.

        In contemporary times, laws (which have the force of the state) can do a lot under the guise of humane, democratic, equality, freedom, justice, righteousness, plurality, etc concepts. The Muslim population of the land can be “forced”, through the force of law to accept many such desired assimilative and integrative concepts. This force obviously needs the backing of a majority, which can be had in India.

        Some examples, the most obvious one of course is UCC. Amending articles 25-30 of the constitution to remove the “minority” protections that promote separate ways to manage religious institutions, minority laws, education, etc. We can take many such “coercive” steps, if that is what one chooses to call it. Steps like, Madrasas not recognized as religious institutions, education in integrated schools only. Steps can be taken to de-ghettoize the muslim communities, limits on number of mosques and its conduct. Prohibition of full body covers in public and vigorous implementation of women’s rights. Simple things like checks on foreign funding are no brainers.

        But, I will be the first to admit that these hard steps can go only so far. Coupled with the hard laws, a “soft” constitutional narrative needs to be built up. To use an American example, a government of, by and for the people is no hard law in the US but a narrative that permeates at all levels of the government and political life.

        Similarly, we need some supporting narratives that makes the “exclusivist” concepts of Islam to be considered not compatible for a pluralistic and humane society. Islam cannot be viewed as a “complete” and “completed” doctrine – no doctrine can. Islam cannot have ANY role outside of the home. Its social life has to only promote its spiritual domain. Islam’s “exclusivist” ideologies should have no place in accepted thought processes. Islamic history of India needs to be looked upon truthfully, as the history of invaders that did do harm to the people. A truthful account of this history needs to be made so that there is a clear recognition that muslims in India do not feel the need to glorify this historical past . These are the type of narratives under which Islam needs to co-exist in India. Co-existence with mutual respect for the present and the past. This can be done, if the sunnah is discarded as “unreliable” and only the Koran is adhered to. It is the sunnah that provides the context to the Koran, lacking such frozen context, one is free to reinterpret the words of the Koran. This is what some are doing.

        At a practical level in India it means no to separate communities, separate schools, dresses, foods. Muslim boy is named Shiva and a girl as Lakshmi should be common place, with a tikka on the fore head and celebrating Holi and Diwali with the rest of the nation and the Sanskrit language as the mother language for all of our peoples. The de-Arabization of Indian Muslims and a divorce from the global “ummah” is non-negotiable.

        I do not mean to make Muslims as second class citizens. On the contrary their rights to integrate and live on equal terms needs to be defended aggressively. After all the mango Abdul only wants what you and me do, Artha, Kama, Dharma & Moksha.

        But all of the above is a push on Muslims to assimilate. Assimilation of a society is possible only if an EQUAL pull force is put into effect. This pull force has to come from Hindu society. I have always maintained that the solution to the Muslim issue in India is through the Hindu heart. It means we will have to make space for them in our urban communities, schools and work places. The socio-economic indicators of Muslims as a group in India is lamentable and this needs to change. We will have to make space in our governmental organizations. In effect this feeling of mistrust will have to go. Businesses will have to be made to accept affirmative action policies in their recruitments. Communities will have to be made to accept such integration.

        None of the above are overnight things and the above is certainly not an exhaustive list but hopefully provides some workable ideas. I will not lament on the current narratives, which stem from a deracinated understanding on India and its civilizational context.

        PS: Bharat – Sorry for the long post.

      • Shaurya@ — Not at all. Thank you for a very good take on the issue.

      • andy says:

        @Shaurya.
        Good perspective on a complicated issue with no easy solutions.

      • &^%$#@! says:

        @Shaurya: In the portion of your post “…It means we will have to make space for them in our urban communities, schools and work places. The socio-economic indicators of Muslims as a group in India is lamentable and this needs to change. We will have to make space in our governmental organizations….”, are you suggesting a religion-based quota system?

  3. andy says:

    A long overdue but as usual incisive take on the problem India faces of extreme Islam as propagated by the extremist wahabi/salafi brand from Saudi Arabia, the ostensible guardians of the Islamic faith who nearly buldozed their own prophets grave a 100 years ago.

    Over the years this penetration of wahabi/salafi is very clearly indicated by changes in the external appearance of Indian Muslims, the dress pattern has changed ( the men wearing short pyjama pulled up over the ankles and a long kurta ) as also the beard cut in a typical fashion and more and more women adorning the burqa.Culturally such dressing has never been part of the Indian Muslims ethos, can blame it on the Arab influence,especially after petro dollars started flowing into India from Saudi Arabia especially over the last 40 odd years.

    As in the past Kerala is starting point of this type of Islam in India (the second ever mosque of Islam is the Cheraman juma masjid in Kerala’s Thrissur district built by Maleek Deenar,when the prophet was still alive)and Mallapuram being a Muslim majority district in Kerala.

    A drive through the lush green countryside with palatial houses and huge mosques coming into sight as if out of nowhere is ample indication of prosperity gained from exporting manpower to the gulf countries in the main.

    Problem is how to contain the spread of such extremist brand of Islam,?the money from Saudi Arabia flows in through illegal hawala channels(impossible to monitor or control) is used mostly for building huge mosques and madarssas(which dont have any regulated curriculum) In fact Indian secularism can be defined as minority appeasement, having no common civil code is a case in point,can a nation be truely secular unless all citizens are the same in the eyes of the law?anyone who challenges the status quo is labelled a Hindu fanatic, with the political parties that depend on Muslim votes for survival crying blue murder whenever there’s any action seen to be slightly inimical to Muslim sentiments.The hue and cry raised over the status of Aligarh Muslim university being a minority institution since it’s govt funded is the latest such incident.

    Digvijay Singh of the Congress party calls Zakir Naik ‘ a messenger of peace’ and Ghulam Nabi Azad of the same party defends Zakir Naik on the floor of Parliament.

    Until such pseudo secularists are hounded out of the system there no hope of containing any extremism propagated by Wahhabi/salafi Islam.

  4. &^%$#@! says:

    The odious and treasonous statements of DIgvijay Singh and Ghulam Nabi Azad are testament to the failure of the Modi regime and the incompetence of the NSA.

  5. Punjabi Sardar says:

    Just showing your ignorance of history & doing your namesake a disservice my friend.

    Sufi Saints regularly invited invaders & the armies of sufi saints regularly oppressed Hindus.

    In fact funnily enough Aurangzeb & Jahangir were Sufi Disciples of Chisti at Ajmer.

    What more to say?

    • Punjabi sardar@ — What you say is historically correct. But Muslims and Islam are part of the woof and weave of the Indian social and cultural fabric and, whatever their antecedents, are integral to India as is, not as some of us might wish it to be.

  6. &^%$#@! says:

    In these trying days, India is lucky to have none other than Rajnath Singh and Ajit Doval to ensure the security of its citizens.

  7. Saudi_Hater says:

    There is an easy solution, the ‘only’ solution. Take out Saudi Arabia.

    If you are defensive in nature, always trying not to concede a goal rather than getting possession of the ball and scoring one, chances are, and the game of soccer has shown us many a times, 9 out of 10 times, you will loose….Unfortunately, that is what is happening here…

    • manofsan says:

      Nobody can just “take out” Saudi Arabia – not when they’re the gas pump for the world.

      • Saudi_Hater says:

        As per recent reports, oil of Saudi is going to end in next 5 years…Moreover US now has discovered much more shale gas…And parallely make Iran the leader of the Muslim world….

  8. Tama Shah says:

    I have been trying to diligently follow news articles on Bangladesh, but I haven’t seen anything to indicate the points you have made in the paragraph

    “Chief among the measures Dhaka has successfully implemented are (1) the licensing of madarssas by the education ministry, which also oversees the curriculum and inclusion of science, mathematics and other secular subjects, and putting the maulvis in the mosques and madarssas on govt dole, and (2) monitoring of the jumma prayers in mosques to ensure the salaried maulvis do not preach wahabbism, for instance.”

    Could you please add some references to support these? It will be immensely helpful for readers like myself. Perhaps we are looking at sub-par sources of information, and need to look elsewhere.

    • Tama@ — I confess I winged it with this one; these views being based on something told me by an African-origin Indian UN aid worker a few years back who had spent time in Bangladesh on population control programme, but who talked, impressionistically, about how maulvis are used by the state in secularizing the “education” provided in Bangladeshi madarassas. Cannot, however, vouch for this development as a fact on the ground.

  9. Independence and Partition in 1947 was the right time to get rid of people prone to Salafi-Wahabbism once and for all.In Punjab, Jat Sikhs did the right thing and today Indian Punjab is the safest place as far as Islamic terrorism goes.There maybe some radical Sikhs in Punjab but there is no Islamic extremism. We did the right thing.

  10. I do not mean to say that now we should throw the muslims out.Now You have to live with it.Now no matter what you may do Salafi-wahabism will penetrate India.There is nothing much we can do about it .

    • We can and should intensify, monitoring, surveillance, and policing measures to preempt such religious extremism.

      • Monitoring,Surveillance and policing will only happen if Modi wins elections in UP, West Bengal, Kerala, etc all over India.Now that may not happen atleast in near future.Right now we have people like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Mamta banerjee and CPI in Power.Just forget it!!!

  11. My comments above are a bit offensive and maybe I should not have written that.I just wrote it in a fit of anger. I AM SORRY IF YOU FIND MY COMMENTS TO BE ABUSIVE

    • Shaurya says:

      Your comments on the topic do come across as emotional and not thought through. Throwing muslims out of Punjab, may have made your neighborhood safe – for a while. It did not solve the issue for India, in fact partition has created a bigger issue.

  12. In India, You may get me arrested for What I had written above.I heard that some girls were arrested in Mumbai for writting something about Balasaheb Thackeray when he died.

  13. Venkat says:

    The oxygen for all this money. That needs to be cut off. I do not think BJP govt woke up too late. They acted when enough sins were committed and publicised.good move, else they would have been branded anti-minority.

  14. MS says:

    Corruption in the country is the biggest cause of our ills. To a little extent, it could also be the inability of common man to get swift injustice. Some will ignore these problems and lead their lives and some will get affected.

    Difficult to read newspapers in a cheerful mood. Child drowns in the swimming pool or falls in the open ditch school at school- no action against the well connected busines owner. Our very own people exploiting porters in hilly regions-today’s news-here, it is the army system, quotes the paper.

    I am not against a TT taking in a few hundred from someone for convenience but it is the big things that have to be tackled.

    Let muslims, Hindus, everyone feel we are getting better in terms of what state provides us-things may become better. May be a sociologist would research, how faced against insurmountable corruption peoples’ lives are changing and whether this has linkage to the discontent in the society.

  15. manofsan says:

    There’s a sudden spate of Pakistani-written articles on Kashmir in the Western media. Indians should vigilantly respond to these disinformation pieces.

  16. Shaurya says:

    @&^%$#@! : The exact nature of this legislation will have to be debated and will most likely be different based on the subject and region. An equal opportunity type of law, where there is a negative check on not complying with the equal opportunity mandate works best. In housing, quotas can be difficult, except for new dwellings. A soft quota system AKA affirmative action can go a long way in the school system and for private business recruitments.

    As a matter of principle, I personally do not like hard quotas but some balance will have to be attained to promote integration with a merit based system. As long as merit is not compromised, soft quotas are a viable solution. But cannot take these policies beyond intake. Once the gate is open, then all compete on merit only. So no crazy things like promotions based on quotas et al. IOW: A balance will have to be attained.

    • &^%$#@! says:

      @Shaurya: It is a proven fact that quotas in the name of fostering equality have actually brought about greater inequality one way or the other. Assimilation is a state of mind. BTW a region-wise quota will not work because of the vast floating population.

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