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Islamic radicalisation in Kerala: threat to national security

The influence of fundamental Islam in the state Kerala has grown substantially over the last few years and is a grave cause of concern. The 1956 merger of the Malabar (previously under the administration of Madras Presidency) and the princely state of Travancore to form the state of Kerala has dramatically changed religious and socio-economic dynamics in the state. This, along with the of growth of Communism, has contributed to the growth of Wahhabism, a puritanical or rather radical form of form of Islam, which is widely practised in the Gulf (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain to name a few).

Wahhabism has its roots in 18th Century Saudi Arabia, where sweeping reforms made by its founder Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab began purging Islamic practices like the veneration of Muslim saints, visiting of their tombs and shrines, all of which were common in the region but considered impure innovations. This movement was later endorsed by the first rulers of Saudi Arabia, who later propagated its spread across the world.

Islam in Kerala on the other hand has had a long and significant history; it is believed that Islam first came to the region during the life time of the Prophet Mohammad- even before it made inroads into Persia. The Cheraman Juma Masjid completed in 629 AD is credited to be the first mosque in the sub-continent.

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Muslims in Kerala, share a language and culture of the Hindus in the region, including the matrilineal clan structures unique to the South West Coast of India. Historically, the Chera and Zamorin kings of the Malabar have patronised Muslims, who were prominent merchants and mercenaries to numerous kingdoms and chieftains. The matrilineal/matriarchal Arakkal Sultanate with its capital in Kannur in as example of the success of Muslims in the Malabar.

However, the policies of previous communist governments’ for example have stunted economy growth and industries in  Kerala, invariably affecting the rate of unemployment – current rate of unemployment in Kerala is 7.4%, highest in India, where national rate is 5%. This has forced many in Kerala, including a large number of Muslims to move to the Gulf in search of work and the main fallout of this move has been rampant radicalisation of Malayali Muslims into the Wahabi fold. It is clear that radical Islamisation is taking place in Kerala, especially with the Malayalee Muslims (Mappilla) who travel for employment, who are vulnerable to these radical interpretations of their religion and thus bring back these practises back home.

However, this is not the only problem. Today, funds aimed at redefining Islam according to Wahabi principles are on the rise. Examples of this funding include, Saudi Arabia pledging 2.5 million Saudi Riyal (SR) to Islamic Mission Trust, Mallapuram in Kerala, which was registered with the MHA, ostensibly for constructing an arts and science college building.

Funding from radical organisations in Gulf countries has never been addressed in Kerala, this is a cause of concern especially given the illicit trade between the Gulf and Kerala. This can also be attributed due to appeasement politics, which was the hallmark of the previous Congress led alliance in Kerala, which ruled under the banner of the United Democratic Front. However, reports from the MHA and Wikileaks suggests that funding from the Gulf is immense- an example here states that India received Rs. 1,700 Crore funds from Saudi Arabia in 2015.

Very few people have highlighted the issue of radicalisation in the country, Karnataka MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar in his letter to the Home Minister dated 25.10.2016 urged the Government to crack down on Radical organisations claiming that they “created dangerous pockets of radicalism and fundamentalism” using foreign financial contributions made by dubious organizations. He also called for an overhaul of the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), 2010. BJP leader and MP Subramanian Swamy has also raised this issue and questioned funding to radical NGO’s in the country.

The Government has taken steps by cancelling the FCRA Licences of Muslim organisation with dubious transactions, however more seems to be done to address radicalisation. Proliferation of groups like Popular Front of India (PFI)- a radical Muslim organisation originating in Kerala pose a grave security threat to both Kerala and the rest of India due to their links with the terrorists outfits abroad. According to the report from National Investigative Agency (NIA), PFI have been receiving funds through clandestine means from the Gulf.

The NIA has claimed that PFI has also been allegedly involved in influencing the youth, many of whom have backgrounds in medicine and engineering to join ISIS and wage war in Afghanistan and the middle east. ISIS in Afghanistan has released videos commemorating ‘martyrs’ from Kerala and urging many more from the state to join them in their fight. In a strategic operation based on information about ISIS recruiters operating in northern Kerala, the Kerala police launched Operation Pigeon and saved 350 people from joining ISIS.

This is not all, PFI has been prolific in establishing a network beyond Kerala, they have now merged with the National Development Front (Kerala), Manitha Neethi Pasarai (Tamil Nadu), Karnataka Forum for Dignity (Karnataka), all organisations with radical ideology. Karnataka Forum for Dignity has also been accused for terror attacks at IIsc in Bengaluru and kidnaping of students for ransom in Mysuru.

This ongoing trend of radicalisation emanating from Kerala leaves the country vulnerable to terrorist attacks and is a grave security threat. Our government needs to look at stemming the clandestine inflow of funds from the Gulf, this may require straightening the FCRA laws. The Government of Kerala and India need to strengthen laws that prosecute recruiters for ISIS and ban organisations that are a threat to India’s national security.

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