Why be shy about SIMI?

The objection to the selective ban on SIMI may be valid. But Muslim religious and political leaders cannot run away from the question why never in the nearly 25-year-old history of SIMI, have they spoken out publicly against an organisation that is a declared enemy of ‘democracy, socialism, nationalism and polytheism’.

Most Muslim religious and political leaders from India have condemned the September 11 terrorist attack on the US as "un–Islamic" but there is a widely held perception among non-Muslims that the public pronouncements notwithstanding, Osama bin Laden is a "hero" for a very large number of Muslims, whether globally or in India. The near universal protest of Muslim religious and political leaders against the September 26 decision of the government of India to ban the Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), has, if anything, reinforced that feeling even among many secular non–Muslims.

On the face of it, this seems really unfair to India’s Muslims. For, after all, hasn’t their objection — if SIMI is banned, why not the Bajrang Dal, a Hindutva outfit all too ‘similar’ to the former in its aims, objectives and activity — also been voiced by Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party, Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party, communist parties and, lately, even Sharad Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party, apart from any number of human rights groups.

But the moulvi sahibs and the siyasi netas among Muslims cannot wish away the problem.

The politicians’ objection to the ban against SIMI has largely to do with politics (both Mulayam and Mayawati have their eyes on Muslim voters in the coming UP elections, just as the BJP–led government’s selective ban on SIMI has more to do with its wanting a communal polarisation on poll eve than with SIMI’s alleged link with international terrorist outfits). Human rights groups protest has primarily to do with their objection, in principle, to the banning of any organisation so long as it does not cross constitutional bounds. Besides, there is the additional and legitimate concern over the implications of this singling out of SIMI (as against a simultaneous ban on the Bajrang Dal) for a religious minority that is already feeling battered and bruised. (See the accompanying piece by Teesta Setalvad).

The objection to the selective ban on SIMI may be valid. But Muslims religious and political leaders cannot run away from the question why never in the nearly 25–year–old history of SIMI, have they spoken out publicly against an organisation that is a declared enemy of ‘democracy, secularism, nationalism and polytheism’.

For at least 10 years now, SIMI has been pasting stickers in large numbers in Muslim shops and homes, a thick red ‘NO’ splashed across the words, DEMOCRACY, NATIONALISM, SECULARISM, POLYTHEISM’. ‘ONLY ALLAH!’ exclaims SIMI’s punch line on the same sticker. The sticker leaves no doubt that for SIMI, any one who subscribes to the principles of democracy, secularism and nationalism, or believes in peaceful co–existence with polytheists, is not a Muslim, a follower of Islam.

You only have to visit SIMI’s website, to be greeted by the following message on its homepage: ‘Jihad our path’, Shahadat our desire.’ This is followed by the stern message for Muslims who are comfortable ‘Living under an un-Islamic order’ and a surah (Al-Nisa: 97) is quoted from the Quran: ‘Such men (read Muslims) will find their abode in Hell. What an evil refuge’.

The commentary on the above surah that follows reads: "Those people who had willingly submitted to living under an un-Islamic order would be called to account by God and would be asked: If a certain territory was under the dominance of rebels against God, so that it had become impossible to follow His Law, why did you continue to live there? Why did you not migrate to a land where it was possible to follow the law of God?"

In other words, an organisation that has had an impressive growth among India’s Muslims (see box) is teaching its youth that any idea of living in peace with Hindus and other non–Muslims in a secular–democratic India (‘un–Islamic order’) is a sure passport to Allah’s hell!

Very many Muslims in India and elsewhere will quote the saying of Prophet Mohammed that the ‘struggle against self for self-improvement’ is the highest form of jihad. But you have to be a fool to imagine that that is what jihad means for SIMI. Bear in mind that for this outfit, Osama bin Laden is "not a terrorist" and Kashmir is not an "integral part of India" and the picture is as clear as should be.

Around December 6, 2000 (the eighth anniversary of the demolition of Babri Masjid), SIMI plastered coloured posters in Muslim pockets throughout the country, praying to Allah to send another Mahmud Ghazni down to India. Whatever historians might think of Ghazni, SIMI is without any shred of doubt praying for a new destroyer of temples to be dropped over India!

While announcing its ban on SIMI, the Union government has claimed, among other things, that SIMI is linked to extremists and terrorists who are enemies of India. Given Hindutva’s dubious agenda, Union home minister LK Advani’s motives in the selective ban on SIMI are understandably suspect. But what about the fact that the Congress governments of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra had asked the Centre to ban SIMI and Bajrang Dal simultaneously?

But Advani’s motives and evidence before the government apart, should anyone with even a cursory familiarity with the origin, worldview and activities of SIMI be in the least surprised if it turns out that SIMI has strong links with Islamic extremists?

Whatever historians might think of Ghazni, SIMI is without any shred of doubt praying for a new destroyer of temples to be dropped over India!

As Sajid Rashid, editor of the Hindi eveninger Hamara Mahanagar published from Mumbai, pointed out in a recent searching and scorching column, SIMI was created by Jamaat–e–Islami (Hind) to carry out its work among students and youth. What does the Jamaat–e–Islami stand for? Sajid Rashid: "the core belief of the organization revolves around the proposition that Muslims should propagate Islam throughout the world and struggle to establish the Kingdom of Allah globally. The Pakistani and the Kashmiri wings of the Jamaat–e–Islami are fully committed to conduct such a jihad to meet their objective".

What about the Indian wing of the Jamaat? "The Jamaat–e–Islami (Hind) is non–committal on the jihad question, and claims to be against violence," writes Rashid. How is it that Jamaat India resembles its Pakistani, Kashmiri and Bangladeshi counterparts in every respect except on the jihad imperative? One view says that the circumstances of India compel the Jamaat wing here to adopt a different tactical position.

Interestingly, those convinced of the Indian Jamaat’s bonafide distaste for extremist tendencies, point out that it is for this reason that over 10 years ago it snapped its relations with SIMI and created a new outfit – Students of Islamic Organisation (SIO). But the opponents of the Jamaat among Muslims claim ask why the Jamaat is content keeping the SIO as purely a paper organisation and point to the surprisingly cordial and fraternal equation that obtains between the rivals (SIMI and SIO) at the ground level. The Jamaat in Pakistan, as is well known is the ideological parent of all kinds of Islamic terrorist outfits in Pakistan, including the Taliban. The detractors of the Jamaat (Hind) claim that having given birth to SIMI, whose perspectives and programmes increasingly resemble that of Muslim extremist outfits in Pakistan, the public posture of "ideological difference" between the Jamaat and SIMI is merely meant to hoodwink the Indian state and public.

Within India and globally, too, an as yet small group of Muslims have started going backwards tracing the lineage of the Jamaat–e–Islami to the Deoband school (in India) that is rooted in the not more than 250–years–old rigid, and orthodox Wahhabi sect, and forward to claim that today’s ‘Islamic terrorists’ are nothing but the most extreme version of Wahabbism.

Within days of the attack on America, the British Muslim, Hamza Yusuf (see his interview earlier in this issue) had declared, from the lawns of the White House soon after a meeting with President Bush: "Islam was hijacked on that September 11 2001, on that plane as an innocent victim". But, others like the American Muslim Nuh Ha Mim Keller are arguing that in fact Islam got hijacked nearly 250 years ago. To recall Keller’s piece (see earlier in this issue): "Muslims have nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing to hide, and should simply tell people what their scholars and religious leaders have always said: first, that the Wahhabi sect has nothing to do with orthodox Islam, for its lack of tolerance is a perversion of traditional values; and second, that killing civilians is wrong and immoral".

Every culture, every religion, every society has its lunatic fringe. Indian Muslims can no more be blamed for the SIMI types in their midst than Hindus held responsible for the Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena. But as Ziauddin Sardar puts it in his piece (see earlier in this issue): "All good and concerned Muslims are implicated in the unchecked rise of fanaticism in Muslim societies. We have given free reign to fascism within our midst, and failed to denounce fanatics who distort the most sacred concepts of our faith".

It will not do for Indian Muslims to speak out against the ban on SIMI. Fairly or otherwise, the entire community will get implicated if Muslims fail to denounce the fanatics and the ‘fascism’ in our midst.’ 

Archived from Communalism Combat, October 2001 Year 8  No. 72, Cover Story 8



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