By Tufail Ahmad, New Age Islam
14 Dec 2015
With the radicalisation of Muslim youths increasing in India, it is time for the Indian government to develop an administrative mechanism to monitor the growth of various Islamic institutions – mosques, madrasas, trusts, dargahs (Sufi shrines), khanqahs (monasteries), societies, religious publishing houses, or educational institutes. My argument here is not to look at them with suspicion but to locate them and their leadership, and identify their sources of domestic and foreign funding, on a regular basis. It can be done easily and quickly through the use of a dedicated website for this purpose. Over the past few years, concerns have grown in India that Saudis are funding a number of Wahhabi institutions in the country to counter Iran's influence.
In an article dated November 2, 2007, Islamic affairs expert Yoginder Sikand defined the Wahhabis in the following terms: "In the Indian context, broadly speaking, the term 'Wahhabi' is loosely used by a group of Muslims known as the Barelvis and other defendants of the cults of the shrines of the Sufi saints, to refer to two other groups who also claim to be Sunnis: the Deobandis and the Ahl-e Hadith (henceforth AH). Many Deobandis also refer to the AH as Wahhabis."As per theological principles, Wahhabis are totally opposed to "innovation" in Islam and therefore their version of Islam is extremely orthodox and obscurantist.
According to a report dated August 1, 2014 by journalist Vicky Nanjappa, the Wahhabi organisations in India are attracting funding from Saudi Arabia. The report also noted that the number of Wahhabi followers in India is 1.8 million, a figure that appears grossly underestimated. Nanjappa quoted a report of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) explaining the vast amounts of money being spent in India to promote Wahhabism: about Rs. 8 billion was being spent on setting up four Wahhabi universities; 40 mosques were constructed at a cost of Rs. 4 billion; Rs. 3 billion was spent on setting up madrasas and another Rs. 1 billion on the upkeep of existing mosques.
Nanjappa further wrote: "The radical Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith, which first set up base in Kashmir, is spearheading Wahhabi operations across India. Having persuaded around 400 mosques in Kashmir to follow its ideology, the Wahhabis have now targeted Maharashtra and Kerala. Although the Maharashtra government is in denial about the rise of Wahhabism in the state, Wahhabis control over 40 mosques in Maharashtra. Wahhabis have taken over at least 75 mosques in Kerala."
A second report by Vicky Nanjappa dated June 25, 2015 observed: "The years 2011 to 2013 alone saw a record number of 25,000 Wahhabis coming to India and conducting seminars in various parts of the country. With them they brought in Rs. 1,700 crore in several instalments and used it to propagate the Wahhabi style of Islam."
In June this year, whistle-blower website WikiLeaks released Saudi diplomatic cables that shed fresh light on the extent of Saudi Arabia's role in spreading Wahhabism in India. As per the WikiLeaks revelations, the Saudis are concerned about the Iranian influence among Shia Muslims in India, who are estimated to constitute the largest Shia population outside Iran.
As per a July 1, 2015 media report, quoting the Saudi diplomatic cables revealed by WikiLeaks, "The government of Saudi Arabia itself pledged donations to nine such [Wahhabi] institutions located across different states, including Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Kerala and Maharashtra." It added: "Saudi Arabia pledged 4.5 million Saudi Riyal (SR) to different institutions in Kerala only. Similarly, In Uttar Pradesh, 75,000 SR were pledged to two different societies for establishing a madrasa building and a vocational centre for girls." The WikiLeaks revelations also highlighted what is already known to Muslims in India: the Secretariat General of the Muslim World League based in Mecca funds and promotes Wahhabi groups in India.
The July 1 report quoted an unidentified official of the Ministry of Home Affairs as saying: "There is no doubt that Wahhabism is getting stronger in the country, especially in Kerala, mainly because of the radicalisation of a large number of local youth who are going to Saudi Arabia in search of employment. Kerala has been showing signs of sharp radicalisation. This was the only state where posters mourning the death of Osama Bin Laden had come up and a prayer for Ajmal Kasab was also held after he was hanged [for his role in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks]."
The problem of Wahhabism is compounded by the fact that non-Muslim government officials, due to their lack of knowledge of Islam, are bound not to notice which mosques and madrasas belong to the Wahhabi sect. Across India, all mosques and madrasas are controlled by clerics who are ideologically affiliated to some or the other sect of Islam. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the Indian government to ensure that every mosque, madrasa or religious institution is registered with the government in the same way as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are registered.
Currently, Islamic organisations – mosques, madrasas, societies, dargahs (Sufi shrines), khanqahs (monasteries), trusts, religious publishing houses, or educational institutes – are operating in a dark alley. All these organisations should be required to file a quarterly report to the government via a dedicated website. Their quarterly reports uploaded on such a government website must contain the names of their leaders and their educational qualifications, the location of their headquarters and branch offices, and their geographic areas of operations. The quarterly reports filed by these institutions of various Islamic sects must also mention their domestic and foreign incomes. My argument here is not to prevent these institutions from engaging in their activities but to enable them to work in a transparent manner.
Tufail Ahmad is Director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC.