This Ramzan, Jaish-e-Muhammad’s Taking Over Quack Medicine Market

This Ramzan, don’t fall prey to Kashmir’s quacks – in all likelihood they belong to Jaish-e-Muhammad.

Published19 May 2018, 01:25 PM IST
Opinion
5 min read

“Evil-eye, cancer, hepatitis, blood pressure, stroke, arthritis, migraine, stomach problems, women’s problems, mental tension, diabetes, immune disorders, psychological problems, skin pigmentation, allergies and other life-threatening problems” – the cure for all of which starts at a mere Rs 60.

The advertisement promises “prevention and treatment” by the ancient art of hijama, guaranteed to work with the authority of no less than Prophet Muhammad.

JeM’s Latest Ploy

Few who read newspapers published in South Asia, or have travelled through the region’s streets and markets, will find either the claims in the advertisement, or its idiom, unusual.

Except for this one thing: This particular service is being provided by the al-Rehmat Trust, sanctioned by the United States Treasury Department as “an operational front” for the Jaish-e-Muhammad. Listed by the United Nations Security Council as an affiliate of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the Jaish-e-Muhammad is responsible for hundreds of major terror attacks.

Now re-emerging as a key actor in Kashmir, the JeM’s move on the quack medicine market tells us something significant about its tactics. Heading into Ramzan, the JeM has launched an ambitious fundraising and recruitment campaign. The hijama project is thus, part of a wider effort to help its jihad grow roots in small towns and villages across the country.

As in past years, the Jaish has been calling for Ramzan donations – a time when religion and the afterlife are high on the agenda of villagers. In one recent issue, the group’s house magazine, al-Qalam, also called on village residents to gift their ushr, a religious tithe levied on the harvest, to help “martyrs, prisoners detained for Islam, the families of religious warriors, seminaries, offices and needy individuals”.

‘O Hindus, Army of the Prophet Will Return’

The rewards of that effort are visible in Bahawalpur, home to the Jaish-e-Muhammad’s sprawling headquarters and seminary. There, local residents say, new shops owned by al-Rehmat have come up opposite the seminary, while it has made several large purchases of agricultural land.

“To Delhi, O’ Hindus, the army of the Prophet will soon return,” reads a giant mural over the entrance of the Jaish-e-Muhammad’s headquarters at Bahawalpur, in Pakistan’s Punjab province. Inside the building, there is a swimming pool, stables, training grounds and accommodation for hundreds of students.

Pakistan’s Zakat and Ushr law, promulgated in 1980, set up layered bodies from the national to village-level to administer compulsory religious tithes. However, a 2013 audit report found no ushr had been calculated or collected from landlords and leaseholders since 1990 – and jihadist groups have cashed in.

Even though the Jaish is legally banned in Pakistan, it makes no effort to hide its existence. In February last year, al-Qalam openly described Abdul Rauf Asghar, Masood Azhar’s brother, as “General of the Jaish-e-Muhammad”.

Footage filmed in Karachi last year showed young men standing outside the Jamia Uloom-e-Islam seminary in Karachi collecting funds from congregants, saying it was for “the brave young men of the Jaish-e-Muhammad who are fighting for the victory of the name of god and Islam”.

Sharif’s Attack on Pak Army

Ever since 2015, when the terrorist attack on Gurdaspur attack saw Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence test Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s hardline polemic by staging the first attack outside Kashmir in his tenure, the Jaish has been its chosen instrument. From Pathankot to the strike on the XVI Corps Headquarters, Jaish cadres have been the instruments of the overwhelming majority of massive terror operations.

The reason for this is simple: After 26/11, Lashkar-e-Taiba became something of an embarrassment to the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate.

In 2009, the year after 26/11, a United States Treasury Department note stated, “al-Rehmat Trust had initiated a donation program in Pakistan to help support families of militants who had been arrested or killed”. In addition, “several prominent members of al-Rehmat Trust were recruiting students for terrorist activities in Afghanistan.”

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif broke ranks with the all-powerful Pakistan Army after Pathankot, publicly blaming the Jaish for the attack and promising action. His efforts to have key Jaish leaders arrested was thwarted by the army, setting in place events which likely cost the politician his job.

Now, with Sharif confronting the army head-on on its role in supporting the jihadist movement, the role of the Jaish will be key – particularly in southern Punjab, where its hold serves as a counter-weight to that of the politician.

Spilling More Blood

But blood isn’t just a tool – for the Jaish, it is also a key cultural meme. For some, hijama has a certain new-age cool. Swimmer Michael Phelps went public with his use of this “ancient Chinese therapy”, irking many medical experts in the process. There is nothing particularly “Islamic” about bloodletting, either. Egyptian physicians are known to have practised it over 3,000 years ago. In Europe, physicians embraced the practice until late in the 1800s.

Prophet Muhammad, the theologically-authoritative Sahih Bukhari collection of his sayings records, made several laudatory references to cupping – asserting, for example, that “healing is to be found in three things: drinking honey, the knife of the cupper, and cauterisation by fire.”

In the United States, hijama practitioners stop well short of claiming they are practising medicine. For example, practitioners Saima Sheikh and Rizwan Sheikh state that “hijama is a spiritual practice” which does not “involve examination, diagnosis or treatment of any mental or physical illness”.

In the Jaish version, though, bloodletting has a very different significance. “The life of nations depends on martyrs,” Masood Azhar wrote in his disquisition on the Quran, Fath-ul Jawwad. “The national fields can be irrigated only with the blood of the best hearts and minds.”

Azhar demonstrated a similar fixation with blood in an elegy to a Jaish cadre killed in Kashmir. “The martyr’s sins are forgiven when the first drop of his blood falls,” he wrote, “and he is spared the agony of the grave, the terrors of the day of judgment; he is married to seventy two virgins; his family granted God’s mercy.”

The Jaish’s hijama practitioners are thus, not creatures of an ancient tradition, but a macabre cult of blood.

(The writer is a senior journalist and author. He can be reached at @praveenswami. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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