The news that 21 Muslims from Kerala have gone missingand were believed to have left the country to join the Islamic State has joltedseveral Muslim parents in the state who have seen signs of an increasingconservatism among their wards but are struggling to address the trend.
The northern districts of Kerala are the most affected: TheMuslim-dominated district of Malappuram, as well as Palakkad, Kozhikode andKasaragod.
Educationists say that a fast-growing number ofyoungsters between the ages of 16 and 22 across these districts are comingunder the influence of Salafism, an ultra-conservative reform movement withinSunni Islam, which aims to go back to what its proponents call the fundamentalsof the faith.
This puritanical strain of Islam advocates strictadherence to Sharia law, and considers cinema, music and interactions with theopposite gender as un-Islamic.
The Salafist influence on boys often manifests itself inthem showing a reluctance, or flat refusal, to study in co-educational schoolsand colleges.
Several parents, whose children are displaying signs ofbeing influenced by Salafist thought, acknowledge it is a problem and areworried about their children, but express their helplessness at dealing withthe issue. Many are reluctant to seek help for fear of being ostracized bysociety, or worse, harassed by law enforcers. They also worry about the impactit may have on the future of their children.
Noschool, no girls
In Edavanna town in Malappuram district, for instance,Hakkim Razzack and his wife are struggling to get their son Abdul Hakkim tostart attending school again. The Class 10 student has skipped classes for aweek now.
When his parents asked him why he didn’t want to go toschool, he told them that his teacher was a woman and there were girls in hisclass with whom he was forced to interact. The Razzacks said that their sonadded that according to the Quran, apart from his mother and sister, he wasn’tpermitted to look at any other woman otherwise God would punish him. “He said,‘How can I defy God?’” said Hakkim Razzack.
Abdul Mohammed of Mukkham town in Kozhikode is anotherworried parent unable to comprehend the recent behavior of his 16-year-old son,Sajid, a Class 11 student.
“Last month we all wanted go out for a trip but Sajid justwouldn’t get into the car,” said Mohammed. “He said I have bought the car on abank loan and taking a loan is against Islam. I was shocked.”
Mohammed added: “A few days ago he refused to allow hiscousin to stay here for a few days just because she is a girl. I am scared toeven think which way my son is heading.”
Mohammed, who runs a shop in Mukkham, thought that a fewcounselling sessions by moderate preachers would set his son straight. But thatdidn’t have much of an impact.
He said that his son told him that the preachers he hadbeen sent to for his counselling sessions were wrong about Islam. “He told methat he had enough proof to show what he believes is right,” said Mohammed. “Hesaid, ‘If you want to really follow Islam, you need to give up on all this.Otherwise God will punish me’.”
Several Muslim teachers say they are getting anincreasing number of frantic calls every day from parents concerned about theirchildren, which is indicative of the extent of the problem.
Ashraf Kadakkal, who teaches Islamic history at theUniversity of Kerala, has been counselling such parents for the last two years.
He said that the influence of the ultra-conservativestrain of Islam on Kerala’s youth needed to be addressed immediately.
“There is a very young society here which feels that thisis not their world,” said Kadakkal. “They believe the Islam practiced here isnot pure and that they need to go in search of the puritanical strain. 16-17year olds thinking like this is a very dangerous trend. They may not be jihadisnow but if this terrible mental imbalance is not treated it will make themprospective jihadis of the future.”
Kadakkal spoke of his experience with distressed parents.
“There are fathers who hold my hands and weep in front ofme urging me to help their children get out of this mess,” Kadakkal said. “Whatcan you do? The moment I talk to the child, the boy will retort with Quranicverses. So strong is his conviction. It’s a kind of madness that needs to beaddressed very fast.”
Professional conferences and seminars held at variousinstitutions were recruitment grounds for ultra-conservative master preachers,according to Kadakkal.
Once master preachers identify their recruits, theseimpressionable youngsters are fed a daily diet of puritanical interpretationsof the Quran and other propaganda through networks on the internet and socialmedia, say law enforcement officers.
The internet has changed the game, admitted JacobPunnoose, former Kerala DGP (Intelligence). “Gone are the days when the policehad to look out for secretive camps and get-togethers,” said Punnoose. “Noweverything is over the internet and social media so it has become impossible tokeep tabs.”
Punnoose suggested that parents should keep an eye onchildren who show signs of extreme conservatism.
“The only way out is to make society as open aspossible,” said Punnoose. “If you see your child deviating from his normal behaviortalk to him, change him. Try to involve him with the local community anddiscuss the matter in open forums and change him.”
But that’s easier said than done as evident in the caseof Sajid Mohammed.
Many parents, in hushed tones, blame the growinginfluence of the Salafi movement in Kerala for alienating their children fromthem.
The police have identified a few mosques in Kodungallurin Thrissur district, one in Kozhikode and a few Salafist study centers in theSalafi stronghold of Karuvarakundu in Malappuram as places where preachersrecruit and indoctrinate youth in the ultra-conservative form of Islam.
One of those gone missing from Kerala is Hafeezuddin, aB.Com student who dropped out of college. He is from a well-to-do family inPadanna town in Kasaragod. His father has a thriving business in Mumbai and theGulf.
Still shaken by the disappearance of his nephew, hisuncle Salam blamed the Salafi influence for making Hafeezuddin a hardliner.
“He started visiting the local mosque here where you havethese Salafi preachers roaming around,” said Salam. “After a few months, hisentire outlook changed. He even cut the TV cable connection to the home whichshocked all of us. Then one day he just went off with his friends.”
Hafeez, who has three sisters, was among six who lefttheir homes in this little town in the northernmost part of Kerala forpresumably Iraq or Syria in search of what they call “Darul-Islam” or the realhome of Islam.
A voice message by Dr Ijaz Rahman – a government doctor,who is believed to be the leader of a number of missing Kerala youth – sent toone of the young men’s fathers referred to their search for what they believeto be the real Islam:
It said: “Dear Uncle, this is to inform you of a veryimportant matter. Me, Ashfaq, Shehaz and Hijaz have moved from Darul-Kufr toDarul-Islam. Our familes are also here. We are safe here with ISIS. We aresorry we had lied to you before we left that place, but we did not have anotheroption…Don’t talk too much to the police and get into trouble.”
The message baffled investigating agencies too. Termslike Darul-Islam and Darul-Kufr are rarely heard in Kerala.
Aware that the spotlight is on them, Salafist groups inKerala have described the situation a “grave one”. The Nadvathul Mujahideen,the most conservative Salafi organization in the state, has asked thegovernment to investigate the matter of the missing Keralites at the earliest.
“We cannot tolerate the IS at any cost,” said AbdullahKoya Madhani, state president of the Salafist group. “If someone is going to IShoping that is real Islam, then it’s a big mistake and a great danger for allof us. We need everyone to get together and find a solution to this problem. Itis up to us to stop our youngsters.”
Somenames have been changed on request.
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