happened to me, and it can happen to anyone.
sight of my unsuspecting family, I was radicalised during my teenage years. It
did not matter that I lived a privileged life — not all terrorists fit the
stereotype of poor, illiterate people who have nothing to lose.
changed my life, and would have ended it were it not for divine intervention.
What I realised was that anyone can be systemically brainwashed to the point of
How did it
happen? How does someone growing up with a silver spoon connect with an
ideology of anger and hate?
In the late
1990s, my family moved back to Lahore from Saudi Arabia. I was enrolled at an
elite boarding school, where I would meet our 9th grade Islamic Studies
teacher, a stocky man with a flowing orange beard, always dressed in a spotless
white Shalwar Qameez and a black waistcoat.
to have fought against the Soviets in the 80s. He regaled us with stories from
his time as a Mujahideen fighter in Afghanistan. His lectures had little to do
with our syllabus, and included colourful, emotional sermons on the devilry of
Hindus, Christians and Jews, as well as Sufis, Shias, Ahmadis, and whoever he
considered to be heretics, polytheists and Kafirs.
said that a ‘Momin’ is one who carries the Quran in his right hand and a sword
in his left; the sword to cut off his enemies’ heads.
fighting the enemies of Islam was our divinely ordained duty. If we did not
strike the heretics down wherever we found them, we were no better than men who
‘wear Mehndi on their feet and bangles on our wrists’, that is, we were no
better than women.
this blanket call for violence in the name of honour as ‘jihad’.
13-year-old me, this message was inspiring. I was also insulted by his labels —
I was not at all womanly, and I certainly did not own any bangles.
instigated my sense of honour, and this was enough to spur me into action.
only a month for me to go up to him and ask how I could further the cause of
jihad. He suggested donating money. If I could spare 10 rupees for Allah, I
could buy a bullet that would tear through a Kafir’s chest in Kashmir.
giving him whatever meagre sum I could, before spending the rest of my pocket
money at the canteen. Rs50, Rs10, Rs5 — he had promised me I would receive a
portion of the bullet’s ‘Sawab’.
wanted to learn more. My teacher offered me books if I was willing to pay for
them. I could not read Urdu well, so I delved into the English translation of
the Holy Quran and the Sahih Bukhari (a collection of hadith).
balancing daily reading school work wasn’t enough for a teenager infatuated by
the idea of martyrdom. Eventually, I found myself before my teacher, expressing
my decision to go fight the infidels in Kashmir.
He did not
respond immediately and put me off for another few weeks. I went to him several
times until he agreed.
was this: on the last day of school, I would leave for the training camp in AJK.
I was to bring Rs700 and meet my teacher at his house. We would then go to the
bus station at Minar-i-Pakistan, where I would be joined by a travelling
reached the camp, I was to write a letter to my parents informing them of my
decision, and of my desire to embrace martyrdom in the way of jihad.
would have it, my grandmother fell gravely ill the night before I was to leave.
It was perhaps the last day before the Eid break, or the winter break, and I
reached my hostel room to see my family already there, waiting for me.
belongings were packed and ready and we immediately left for the hospital. My
grandmother had contracted an incurable strain of Hepatitis C from a routine
injection at the hospital, and survived the next few months in extreme pain.
Greatly distracted by her illness, my parents decided I would commute to school
from home for the rest of the school year.
living at home.
wreaked havoc on my mother's emotional state, and it became a difficult time
for my family. In such a state of sadness and loss, I could not leave them. In
any case I had little time to myself on campus to consider meeting my teacher.
someway, I kept putting off my trip to his house.
By the time
my summer vacations ended, I had shelved my plans of leaving for jihad
My Way to Jihad
of what I knew then to be ‘jihad’ stayed with me and still shapes my life to
an empowering sense of purity and certainty in my connection to the source of
absolute truth. I felt mercy and forgiveness radiating from the Quran and the
Hadith, especially when I read them in a language I could understand.
all, I felt fulfilled: I was aware of the Creator in the smallest details and
happenings of life.
was much that I now know to be gravely misguided. I was made to feel disdain
against those who chose ‘inferior’ beliefs; I dehumanised those I wanted to
fight, and I belittled the act of taking a life to the point where it seemed
like nothing at all — like brushing away a troublesome insect.
realised that I had once walked a dangerous path, filled with both darkness and
light, I tried to read and learn as much as I could to answer my questions and
seek out the truth. I must report that every answer has led me to even more
questions, and I have learned just enough to know that I know nothing.
I have come
to see Islam as a vast ocean of knowledge, an expanse of philosophy, wisdom and
truth, and in my sinful life so far I have just barely scratched the surface.
claim to be any kind of expert, but as a seeker and a student, it is evident to
me that the extreme reduction of Islam to a list of do’s and don’ts is a great
corruption of our religion. Perhaps it is the real cause behind how Muslims are
now split into so many hostile divisions with mutual hatred and enmity.
years since my failed attempt at joining a training camp, I have felt the call
of what I now believe is the real jihad.
worked in multiple careers; financial services, telecom, advertising,
publishing, and even as a part-time debate coach at my alma mater. But each
time, even after settling into a career, I have left the path in front of me to
begin a new one. I have been restless, unable to find satisfaction or peace in
December 16, 2014, my heart once against felt this long-forgotten call to
jihad. This time the pull was irresistible. I could not go back to the way
things were, and relieved myself from corporate responsibilities completely.
instead to focus full-time on a new mission: addressing the problem of
religious extremism in our society.
write stories and comic books for schoolchildren. My series highlight the issue
of religious extremism, in the hope of getting children to reject the toxic
hatred society exposes us to.
I do this
because I hold myself partly responsible for all the innocent men, women and
children who have lost their lives in terrorist attacks.
I do this
because I am indebted to those who have sacrificed themselves to protect us,
and because I wish to be of service to the unnamed millions who continue to be
misled into a false, hateful form of religion rather than the pure and
everlasting truth of Islam.
of you who have made it this far in this very long post, I hope you have felt a
calling as well. If you do feel the call, first learn, then do as you see fit
to the best of your ability and position.
This is a
dangerous time for those who dare to speak the truth, so if you can take action
or speak out, you too must play your part.
I do this
because I cannot stand by while another 16-year-old is brainwashed into
thinking he will go to heaven for killing a 12-year-old, is then labelled a
‘terrorist’ to be shot by his own kind, or blown up by a drone fired by a
I do this
because tomorrow, if God forbid one of your children or loved one is harmed, I
don’t want to look in the mirror and realise that I could have done something,
said something to stop it.
Gauher Aftab is a writer of the 'Paasban — the
Guardian' comic book series at CFx Comics.