By Uday Mahurkar
The multiple terror attacks in Paris have set alarm bells ringing in India's security establishment and the Prime Minister's Office (PMO); not without reason. Outside the Muslim countries, the Paris attacks are perhaps the deadliest in magnitude. France has witnessed the worst ever loss of lives after 9/11 and the subsequent al Qaeda attack on a train in Spain, which claimed close to 200 lives.
The Paris tragedy occurred hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised the moderate Islamic stream of Sufism during his Wembley Stadium speech in London in what was a counter to Wahabism. It demonstrated both his courage and sense of timing. There is a great similarity between the Paris terror module and the 26/7 Ahmedabad attack by Indian Mujhahideen in which serial blasts claimed 59 lives in a matter of two hours.
But most importantly, this is the first big hit by the ISIS, the most deadly adherent of ultra-Wahabism (the term signifies those who support Islamic terror amongst the Wahabis) outside the Arab world. It is a fact that creates the fearsome prospect of a similar ISIS attack in India, which is already on the terror outfit's hit list. The only reassuring aspect for India is that, on the whole, ISIS has failed to influence the Indian Wahabi youth barring a few. The number of such youth would not be more than 200 (or even less), not many considering the fact that the percentage of Wahabis among the 13 crore-odd Sunnis of India is more than 40 per cent, the remaining 60 per cent being moderate Sufis who have not produced a single terrorist so far.
How prepared is the Narendra Modi government should India face a Paris-like attack? It might be prepared to tackle the immediate challenge, but it is yet to come out with a long-term strategy to promote Sufism and tackle the challenge of ultra-Wahabism.
Learning from Modi's Wembley address
For one Modi has shown a sound understanding of India's Muslim problem by constantly praising Sufism, as seen at the Wembley address. He virtually said that Sufism can save Islam from radicalism. For, praising Sufism, which Wahabis equate with Hindu tradition of Guru Puja and therefore un-Islamic, is to invite the enmity of ultra-Wahabis.
Significantly, however, Modi government's unstated policy of not prosecuting the radicalised-turned-moderate Wahabi youth, who have returned from ISIS, disgusted with its medieval-style vandalism, and helping them join the mainstream with the assistance of their parents is a good strategy that creates space for the moderate Wahabis. This reveals Modi has a good understanding of the developments in the Wahabi world at a time when the moderate Wahabi stream appears to be strengthening after attacks such as the 2014 Peshawar school blasts in which the even Wahabi children were killed by the ultra-Wahabi Tehreek-e-Taliban.
The warm welcome that Modi got on his recent tour of the Wahabi nations in the Middle-East - during which the Sheikh of Dubai even gave permission to the local Hindus to build a temple in what is a first in these Wahabi countries - was yet another signal of the strengthening of the moderates in the orthodox Wahabi stream of Islam.
Concrete policy to promote Sufism
Modi might be prepared for an ISIS assault strategically, but his government has not indicated as to how it will tackle the spread of Wahabism in the long run by promoting Sufism. In May 2014, Modi sent a chador to Ajmer Sharif in a gesture of appreciation for moderate Islam after meeting a delegation of Sufi leaders in Delhi.It was a welcome step, but mere gestures aren't going to work. His government needs to have a concrete strategy to encourage Sufism. While there is no dearth of moderate Wahabis, it is equally true that ultra-Wahabism signifying terror is born out of Wahabism.
Interestingly, during the Congress regime, Wahabism got a major fillip so that the number of Wahabis today stands close to 40 per cent, rising from 10 per cent at the time of independence. Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, India's first education minister, was himself a follower of Wahabi tenets and had even admitted that he disliked his father's leaning towards the syncretic tradition of Pir-Muradi (dargah worship). During the Congress rule, state Wakf boards were filled with Wahabis and they got stronger with inflow of huge funds from Saudi Arabia, the main promoter of Wahabism in the world.
The Sufis are perpetually starved of funds and therefore don't have money to establish modern schools and colleges and also mosques and madrasas of Sufi tradition and as Wahabis have done with money coming from the Middle East and through Zakat. Just as a government helps economically poor sections not coming under any reserved category, it can help the Sufis through a well-thought-out policy.
Modi has to keep the hotheads in Sangh Parivar
Incidents like Dadri and the senseless rhetoric of the fringe elements in the Sangh Parivar and even Union ministers like Mahesh Sharma and Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, who paint all Muslims with the same brush leave no place for moderate Muslims, both Sufis and moderate Wahabis, are like time bombs that aid the spread of ultra-Wahabism.
They provide grist to the designs of Ultra-Wahabi elements like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Taliban and the dreaded ISIS. The battering that Muslims got in the 2002 Gujarat riots was seen as some kind of victory by the fringe elements of Sangh Parivar; the episode did the most to promote ultra-Wahabism in the form of the rise of Indian Mujahideen, which organised a series of terror attacks in India between 2007 and 2009.
The entire plank of IM for attracting Muslim youth towards its terror strike was based on the footage of Muslims being killed and attacked during the 2002 riots. The injuries of Muslims were magnified many times over, thanks to the role of left-wing NGOs and a section of the media, and the photos and literature released by the Wahabi fanatics. With this material, they projected India as committing great atrocities on Muslims. So, it is imperative that those from the Sangh Parivar speak a language that tars all Muslims with the same brush are punished by the BJP and the RSS. The saving grace is the fact that the top RSS leadership today is in agreement with this and has not taken kindly to the divisive statements of Mahesh Sharma and others.
Re-reading history textbooks with Muslim figures
A lot of time has passed since the Modi government took over, but it is yet to introduce meaningful changes in history textbooks in schools to inculcate a sense of patriotism amongst Muslims. Many pan-Islamists continue to figure as nationalists in these books while the Muslims who sacrificed for India are missing - names such as Ibrahim Khan Gardi of the third Battle of Panipat, Hakim Khan Sur who fought alongside Rana Pratap, many Muslim generals who fought under Shivaji, and recent Paramvir Chakra holders like Brigadier Usman (who died fighting Pakistani insurgents in the 1948 skirmish) and Havaldar Hamid of 1965 Indo-Pak war fame.
There is also lot of scope to add to the list of liberal Muslim rulers, starting with Mughal emperor Akbar, and including in it rulers like Zainul Abidin of Kashmir (ruled 1420 to 1470), one of the greatest Muslim rulers of India, Sultan Ibrahim Adil Shah of Bijapur, Mughal emperor Shah Alam-II, who revived the liberal policies of Akbar after these had been discontinued by Aurangzeb and Wajid Ali Shah, the Nawab of Oudh. Such changes in history books will help develop a nationalist outlook amongst Muslim students, including those from Wahabi families.
I can't forget a story I did in 2000 on an Ahmedabad school run by a Hindu family where 90 per cent of the students were Muslims and would happily chant Saraswati Vandana. I examined the paintings drawn by the students to understand their mind. One of them drew my attention - a sixth standard student had drawn a church, a mosque and a temple on the banks of a river. I tried to know whether the student's parents were moderate Sufis or orthodox Wahabis.
To my surprise, I was told they were Wahabis. Clearly, nationalist history can bring change even in Muslims coming from orthodox streams if this is taught at the school level.
Modi will have to do more to find success in this sensitive and challenging task facing India.
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