The Thamarassery diocese of the Syro Malabar Church in Kerala has come under severe criticism after it published a highly controversial handbook on 'love jihad' that runs for over 130 pages.
The handbook, printed in Malayalam, is a catechism textbook meant for students of Classes X to XII. According to people in the know, it has been distributed among young Catholics of the church.
The book vouches that 'love jihad' is a reality that takes place in an organised manner in Kerala.
It alleges that Muslim men use several tactics to trap Christian girls and forcefully convert them into Islam. The girls are then taken abroad to help terror groups including ISIS, the book claims. Besides, it has several Islamophobic and defamatory remarks against Muslims.
Here, The Quint takes a look at the Islamophobic and defamatory claims in the book to explain what is problematic about them.
The handbook was released just a few days after the Bishop of Pala, Mar Joseph Kallarangatt kicked up a storm by claiming that young Christian women are trapped in love through 'narcotics jihad' and are converted to Islam.
'Gifts Used to Lure Girls'
Calling Muslim men jihadis, the handbook says that initially they trap girlfriends of the 'target' girl to learn about her and her family. The information is then used to entrap women through gifts of their choice on birthdays.
Rubbishing the claim as a direct attack on a woman's dignity, Ammu Thomas, a resident of Kerala's Kochi, who actively speaks on social issues says,
"As a Christian woman, I find it very offensive when they say women of our community can fall for such traps especially at a time when almost all women in the society are well educated, and can think for themselves. Do they think young girls have no brains? And if you think a girl can go after any man who offers them gifts, then what quality are you assigning to woman. This is a direct attack on women's dignity."Ammu Thomas
'Don't 'Over Share' Personal Information'
In the next stage, the handbook says that the jihadi keeps contact with the 'target' girl regularly, through phone conversations and social media interactions. "Girls should realise that over sharing personal information opens a window into their lives which can be used for the wrong reasons," it states
By teaching, young girls that they can be trapped through social media, the church is literally instilling fear about social interactions, points out Thomas.
Thomas, who has also gone through the book, adds that it also warns the women against attending events or parties hosted by members of other communities, especially Muslims. The book also asks girls to be careful before accepting food from members of the Muslim community. Statements like these, she says, creates a poisonous divide in the society and spews hatred against Muslims.
Echoing the same sentiment, Thamanna Sulthana, an advocate and president Girls Islamic Organisation in Kerala, says this will create unnecessary suspicion about Muslim youth in the minds of young girls. Besides, it will totally misguide young girls and obstruct their growth in the future, she says.
"There are many issues that we have to fight against as a society. Creating conflict between communities by such statements will only drive us away from real issues. It is totally undesirable and pathetic."Thamanna Sulthana, Advocate and President Girls Islamic Organisation
In early February 2020, the Centre had said in the parliament that there was no case of 'love jihad' in Kerala. It had also said that “the term ‘love jihad’ is not defined under the extant laws. No such case of ‘love jihad’ has been reported by any of the central agencies.”
The church in its handbook has also provided a helpline number and has asked its members to use it to alert the church authorities if they find any girl to be under the trap of love jihad.
"You are giving permission to church authorities to get into the personal business of these young women. This is moral policing."Ammu Thomas
She adds that this will give a freehand to people to complaint against the women who are freely engaging in the public.
'Invites Christian Girls to Muslim Homes'
In the next stage of the Jihad, the handbook says jihadi invites the Christian girl to his home along with Muslim girlfriends. He tries to convey that his home is more loving that the girl’s home.
So according to the church, what all should young Christian women be wary of? Should they be cautious of schoolmates, college-mates, and others? asks Thomas.
"The church is literally trying to curtail the freedom of young women and men in the society."
In addition, the book, she says also warns young girls against attending events of Ramzan or Iftar. "These are completely ridiculous and baseless. They are trying to take away all the agency of a woman."
And all these 'outlandish comments' of the church, she says suggests the church doesn't want young girls to engage with the public. All they want out of a young woman is for them to be associated with their families, the churches and participate in the procreation of their own community, she accused.
"If you have to live in the society, and be its active member then this is definitely not possible. How can you keep a watch on who you talk to, make friends with and accept food from? This is completely taking control of the public life of a woman. This a direct an attack on a women's agency."Ammu Thomas
'Muslim Men Do Black Magic to Trap Young Christian Girls'
After that, the handbook says the Jihadi can do ‘othi kettal’ which is a form of religious black magic that uses hair or any object the girl holds dearly to her, like a hand kerchief. If found, Christian priests can ward off this evil through ‘bandhana prarthana’ or binding prayer, the hand book states.
Now, is the church suggesting that young girls should be careful of hair fall as well? Then it might as well suggest an anti-hair fall shampoo for Christian women.
Says MM Akbar, member of Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen, and a writer and orator in comparative religion,
"It is funny to know that even in this 21st century, when technology is booming like anything, the church thinks boys are only left with black magic to attract girls."MM Akbar
Also, the allegation, he says is a gross underestimate of young Catholic girls of the church. "Do they think the girls have no brains that they would fall for this kind of 'black magic' trap?" questions Akbar
Ammu Thomas says such comments from a responsible and influential authority, like the church, will have far reaching effects in the society.
More importantly, all these claims, instill fear in young people's minds, says Dr Kochurani Abraham, a feminist theologian from Kerala.
'Girls Blackmailed into Submission'
In its next claim, the handbook says, the jihadi gets intimate with the girl after knowing her sexual choices. After sexual relationship, she is blackmailed into submission, it states.
But, Thamaraserry Diocese, where is the proof to substantiate this? And when women are knowledgeable, to not fall under the trap of your so called 'initial steps of love jihad,' how will they even reach this step?
Dr Kochurani Abraham says like many states in Kerala too religion has a great hold in people's lives, so anything that is said by church leaders will have strong influence on people. Under these circumstances, the church making such allegations, Dr Abraham points out is very dangerous, as it can block young people's growth into individuals who can think for themselves.
In a society like ours that has multiple religions, there will be many inter-faith love marriages, however, saying that they are all 'love jihad' is completely unfounded.Dr Kochurani Abraham
'Young Girls Are Taken Abroad, Involved with ISIS'
In the final stage of the jihad, the book states that the jihadi takes the girl home and initiates her into religious learning. After two or three children are born, she is either sent abroad to join ISIS or is divorced through triple talaq.
"Has there been even a single case, where something like this has happened? asks Akbar.
Akbar says that in Kerala, people from all communities are living in harmony with each other. By making these statements, he says the church is now trying to divide them. "Their intention is to polarise the society and ultimately affect the social fabric," he says. While there were women from Kerala who had earlier complained of having been forced to join IS, no proof of these transactions have yet emerged.
The book also makes several remarks that show Islam and its God Allah in poor light. The handbook also claims that the church has witnessed 160 cases of love jihad in Thamarassery Diocese. However, when contacted, Augustine, the Inspector of the Thamarassery police station told The Quint that they have not received any complaints regarding any 'love jihad' cases in the area.
"And if they have found so many cases of 'love jihad' they should show data. Do you have facts? Is it well researched? Do you have data?," asks Dr Abraham.
Ever since, the book was released a few days ago, several Muslim organisations in Kerala, including the Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen and Girls Islamic Organisation have called it out for its Islamophic nature and its insensitivity. The Thamarassery church subsequently issued an apology for the controversial remarks in the book and has assured to withdraw the same. However, it is not yet clear if the authorities have retracted.