By Tufail Ahmad, New Age Islam
2 Jan 2015
On September 25, 2015, soon after offering the annual Eid Al-Azha (the Feast of Sacrifice) prayer, a Muslim youth stabbed a policeman in the town of Pusad in Yavatmal district of Maharashtra, of which Mumbai is the state capital. Two policemen who rushed to save their colleague were also injured but Abdul Malik, the 20-year-old youth, was overpowered and arrested ultimately. While attacking the cop, Malik, a pharmacist by profession, shouted: "Tumhari government beef ban karti hai, toh tum yeh lo (Your government bans beef, so you take this)."
At the time of the incident, the government of Maharashtra led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in a controversy for bringing in a legislation to ban cow slaughter, though the legislation itself was enacted by the predecessor government under the Congress, a centre-left secular party. Cows are not sacrificed by Muslims across the Islamic world, but in South Asia because the majority Hindus revere cows, Islamic clerics over the course of past 1,000 years have made it a common practice to sacrifice cows to undermine the Hindu cultural ethos.
As a result, the Indian Constitution, which came into force in 1950, directs the government to enact legislation to ban cow slaughter. Therefore in various Indian states, governments led mostly by the secular Congress party, banned cow slaughter over the past six decades and more. Cow slaughter was also banned during the reign of the 16th century Mughal Emperor Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, a ruler known for respecting all religions. Akbar was severely criticised for his ban on cow slaughter by Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi, a leading Islamic scholar of the time.
Abdul Malik's statement, at the time of the stabbing, regarding the cow slaughter ban was presented in the Indian media as a legitimate criticism on the government's interference in the food habits of Indians. The governments indeed must not interfere in food habits of citizens, but it appears now that the cow slaughter ban was merely an issue used by a local cleric to radicalise Malik. Over the past few months the stabbing case was investigated by the Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) of the Maharashtra government. The results indicate that Abdul Malik was part of a radicalisation plot.
The Radicalisation of Abdul Malik
On November 2, the ATS arrested Maulana Hafiz Mujib Rehman, a 26-year-old local Islamic cleric, who was involved in the radicalisation of Abdul Malik. During his interrogation, Malik had revealed that the cleric had been "filling his ears against the government on various subjects, including how the beef ban was infringing on their rights." Niket Kaushik, the ATS's Inspector General of Police told journalist Jayprakash S. Naidu of The Asian Age: "The maulana [cleric] is part of a bigger group. We have learnt that he was indoctrinating Malik."
The journalist Naidu wrote in his report: "the work of indoctrination was gradual and went on for over a period of two to three years. Malik… told the police that Mujib [the cleric] asked him if his parents would find something amiss if he went missing for a couple of weeks. The police strongly suspect that Mujib wanted to send Malik to Afghanistan via Bangladesh to get Al-Qaeda-level arms training." Further reports indicate a larger terror plot involving at least six Muslim youths wanting to connect to the Islamic State (ISIS).
On October 21, Rashmi Rajput, a journalist with The Indian Express wrote: "The ATS suspects that Malik was trained on the lines of a lone-wolf attack." Rajput quoted an unidentified ATS official as saying: "During his interrogation, Malik told us that a local maulana radicalised him and therefore he stabbed the constable. The maulana allegedly told Malik that Muslims in India were under threat and that they should do something about it."
Pro-ISIS Module of Six Youths
On December 8, Mateen Hafeez, a journalist with The Times of India, reported that the ATS probe into the stabbing case has revealed a terror plot involving six Muslim youths who were radicalised in favour of the ISIS; of them three have been arrested. Hafeez wrote: "Six youths in the module in Yavatmal district had been brainwashed to join the Islamic State…. At least three arrests in the state have broken its back, believe the ATS, which is looking at it as a breakthrough." Abdul Malik's interrogation led to a second man involved in the module: Shoaib Khan. As per the report, "Though both are from Pusad, Malik and Khan met in a radical chatroom online and discovered they are from the same place."
It's not clear who are the six persons in the module, but the three arrests include Abdul Malik, Shoaib Khan and Hafiz Mujib Rehman, the last being the cleric. It seems the group of six broke up at some time due to the revelation that Rehman had demanded dowry at his marriage, an act of impiety. Niket Kaushik, the ATS official, stated: "There were six youths in this new module. Rehman had brainwashed them and exhorted them to join the ISIS. During interactions, however, the youths learnt Rehman had demanded dowry from his wife and this 'un-Islamic act' led to divisions." Another unidentified ATS official said: "The group planned to first send Khan to ISIS. They decided Khan would go and evaluate the situation and if things went fine, he would request his commanders to arrange for the smuggling out of more youths from the module."
Shoaib Khan's arrest led the trail to Hyderabad, a southern Indian city that has been in the news headlines along with Mumbai for heavy pro-ISIS related radicalisation. Khan was first arrested in October 2014 in Hyderabad along with two others: Talha Shah and Mohtasin Billa, as they tried to leave the southern metropolis for abroad to join the ISIS. Over the past 18 months, police in Hyderabad have stopped around two dozen youths from leaving India for joining ISIS. However, Shoaib Khan got bail and returned to his hometown of Pusad to work at his father's business. Once in Pusad, he connected with Abdul Malik, who would go on to stab the cop. As per Mateen's report, Shoaib Khan has revealed: "in case of failure to join the ISIS, the group had kept the option of joining the Taliban in Afghanistan open." The ATS is on the look-out for two more individuals.
Some conclusions follow from the Yavatmal stabbing case. One, it is not the central leadership of ISIS based in Syria that is trying to recruit Muslims from India. On the contrary, we are witnessing self-radicalisation by Indian Muslim youths who are considering ISIS as one of their options. Their other options include: Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and a host of Pakistani military-backed jihadi groups like Jaish-e-Muhammad and Jamaatud Dawa. Two, Islamic clerics in India use local issues to arouse anti-government sentiment which undermines loyalty to India. This is largely in conformity with the Islamic teaching that all Muslims form a single Ummah, the global Muslim nation.
Three, the controversy over beef that India witnessed last year was stoked by the country's non-Muslim intelligentsia including journalists, actors and authors who largely belong to the Left-of-the-Centre politics and were therefore opposed to the BJP-led governments in Maharashtra and elsewhere. This controversy was used by Islamists to their own benefit. Four, it is possible that all these youths might be released by courts because in such cases it is always difficult for intelligence agencies to produce police-like forensic evidence, which is complicated further by the fact that India doesn't yet have a counter-radicalisation law.
Bibi Zohra, the mother of the stabber Abdul Malik, told journalist Aarefa Johari: "my boy was not even fond of meat…. He always preferred vegetarian food at home. Why would he be angry about the beef ban?" Aarefa Johari wrote: "For Abdul Malik’s family, this is just one of the many perplexing questions…." Yes indeed, common Muslims get perplexed about this phenomenon of our times. Bibi Zohra is right too. Her son's story is indeed not a story about beef or cow slaughter ban. It is a story of radicalisation by Islamic scholars in India in favour of the global jihad being inspired by the ISIS, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and their little-known cousins in our streets.
Tufail Ahmad is Director of South Asia Studies Project at the Middle East Media Research Institute, Washington DC. He tweets @tufailelif