The Holy Quran tells us that there is only one Lord. The whole universe has to be governed by the laws of ALLAH the Almighty. I don’t believe in Kashmiriyat, I don’t believe in nationalism [...] there are just two nations - Muslims and non-Muslims. The ummah is one unit and [...] there are many organisations working on this. It is a goal which has to be achieved and it may take time, even hundreds of years.
— Asiya Andrabi, Leader, Dukhtaran-e-Millat, Srinagar, 2006
The idea of a global ummah in an Islamic state is not new to India. It had been enunciated almost a century ago by the great Islamic thinker Abu Ala Mawdudi. Part of that objective was fulfilled with the creation of Pakistan. The ideal of the promised land is dear to most Muslims, but for the majority it has evolved as metaphor for the divine state of being.
But now the Islamic State (IS) seems to be resurrecting old dreams and actualising them. The map of the Caliphate expands to cover all Muslim lands, including those like India where Islam had once ruled.
Islamic revivalism has always been puritanical and is based on the premise that when god’s laws are adhered to, Muslims will triumph and rule.
In India simultaneous strains of Islam – puritanical, mystical and modern – have coexisted, brilliantly brought out in the book Journey into Islam by Pakistani diplomat-scholar Akbar Ahmed.
- Islamic State seems to be resurrecting old dreams and actualising them.
- Islamic revivalism has always been puritanical.
- Most of the known Indian supporters hail from southern India.
- Understanding of IS exists in India in varying degrees
- Risk increases if India aligns itself too closely with the war against IS
Therefore, it is not surprising that admiration for the IS exists in India, as the recent deportation of 9 Indians (and others earlier) by the UAE proves.
Interestingly most of the known supporters hail from southern India, instead of traditional North Indian strongholds. Some years ago in Cairo, veteran Egyptian journalist Fathy Abdel Fatah explained to me the growing religiosity and radicalism in Egypt: impressionable Egyptians go to work in Saudi Arabia where they see both the fantastic wealth and strict sharia law and conclude that following sharia will bring them prosperity.
More workers from southern India migrate to Gulf countries and are similarly impacted. Recent Wikileaks inform how Saudis too have encouraged radicalisation through generous funding in India. It is a short distance to becoming an IS ideologue.
Admiration or at the least understanding of IS exists in India in varying degrees. A senior journalist in Delhi recently drew the analogy between the caliphate and the Bolshevik Revolution. Like all such states born in blood, it will take time but ultimately settle down. Can a multi-cultural non-monolithic ummah exist in a single state? He cited the example of the medieval Abbasid empire.
Recently in Jammu, clashes broke out because hindu protesters demonstrating against IS had burnt its flag.
No Strategy to Deal With IS?
At the United Nations, the Prime Minister named the IS as one of the biggest threats facing the world. Yet, there is no clear cut international strategy to deal with this threat.
A recent document warns of an IS plan to attack India in order to provoke an “apocalyptic confrontation with America”.
Apart from seeking recruits from India, danger looms of ‘lone wolf’ attacks - easier and more lethal – that IS is increasingly instigating in various places. The risk increases if India aligns itself too closely with the war against IS.
The other threat is of IS inroads and infiltration in Af-Pak, which it has already done, and alignment of India-centric terror groups with it.
India will have to devise a many-pronged strategy, including dealing with the eventuality that IS may be here to stay.
(The author is an award-winning independent journalist and researcher. This is the first part of a series on the Islamic State and the threat it poses.)