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.