By Prashanth MP
March 11, 2017
They fashioned themselves as passionate
reformers who sought to recapture the religious purity of purpose in a society
steeped in ‘un-Islamic’ practices. They fought against rampant superstitions
and backward-looking orthodoxy that stalled modern education. And perhaps most
importantly, they stood for women’s entry in the public domain.
However, after less than a century of
leading the Muslim community from the front, the Mujahid movement, the Salafi
sect in Kerala, seems to have reached a dead end — some of them, who claim they
too are following Salafi Manhaj (methodology), have declared that democracy and
secularism are un-Islamic; others are unable to decide whether seeking help
from the ethereal being jinn is allowed in Islam or whether Sehr (black magic)
will have any effect on human beings.
An offshoot of Aikya Sangham established in
Kodungalloor in 1922, the Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen (KNM) till recently has
been the progressive face of the Muslim community, at least for outsiders.
KNM was pitted against Sunni organizations
which were seen as the embodiment of all that is orthodox in Islam. Led by
visionaries such as Vakkom Abdul Khader Maulvi and Muhammad Abdurehman, the
Mujahid movement was provokingly daring and alluringly fresh.
“There was a time in the Muslim community
when people were scared to go to the top floor of the mosque fearing the
presence of jinns. The dingy, murky village pathways were thickly populated by
all kinds of evil spirits. It was an uphill task for the Mujahid movement to
convince the community that all these were the creation of their imagination,”
says Abdurehman Irivetty, who was ejected out of KNM after he openly challenged
the deviation in the Mujahid movement.
“The Islamic view is that jinn and human
beings operate in different realms. It is an established fact that we cannot
see the jinn. But I have seen some Mujahid leaders arguing that they have seen
a jinn slowly climbing up into the sky. And the senior leaders were hesitant to
stop the nonsense,” he says.
Abdurehman, who was a member of the KNM
consultative body, feels that the inability of KNM leaders to stop the
smuggling of alien thoughts into the Mujahid movement has led to the present
plight of the organization. “The emergence of some people who are very vocal
and good at debates was the turning point in the Mujahid movement. They brought
in some fanciful ideas and the weak leadership couldn’t resist them. This led
to the crisis in the Mujahid movement. Thus, questions such as whether seeking
help from the jinn is allowed in Islam or believing that Sehr has effect,
amount to shirk (polytheism),” he elaborates.
R Nandagopal, post-doctoral research
scholar at Goettingen University, Germany, has a slightly different view. “An
engagement with secular modernity was one of the major aspects of the Islamic
reform movement that emerged under the intellectual leadership of Vakkom
Maulvi. This reformist project envisaged the convergence of personal piety with
the fashioning of modern individuals who strove to succeed in material terms,”
“While this produced several remarkable
achievements for the community – the socio-economic and cultural growth of
Kerala’s Muslims over the last century is an excellent example – I am not sure
if all the implications of this marriage between Islam and secular modernity
was ever fully appreciated by the reformists or their self-proclaimed
successors (mainly the Mujahid movement).
And it is in this problematic relationship,
rather than some inherent backwardness of Islam, that we ought to search for in
the crisis facing the contemporary reformists. The splits and mergers in the
organization are only manifestations of this crisis,” Nandagopal, who studied
the Muslim community in Kerala in depth as part his doctoral programme,
Columnist O Abdulla sees some political
issues behind the ‘degeneration’ of the Mujahid movement. “Initially, Mujahids
were active in opposing orthodoxy in the community. Mujahid leaders, who are at
the helm of the IUML, gradually realised that they needed the votes of all
sections to win elections hence they diluted opposition to orthodoxy,” Abdulla
Influence of Gulf Salafism also had an
adverse impact on the Mujahid movement in Kerala. “The Salafis in Kerala are
heavily dependent on Gulf money for their sustenance. Along with the funds came
superstitions that existed in the Gulf countries,” he points out. Whatever the
reasons, the Mujahid movement in Kerala is at the crossroads.