When polyphony turns into a fault line

Polyphony is an appropriate term to refer to differences among Muslim groups over issues.  

In the traditionally fractious Muslim community in Kerala, which had always been dogged by sharp differences over customs, religious practices and leadership, the latest polariser is the campaign against the emerging threat of the jihadist group, >Islamic State (IS).

All Muslim organisations and their numerous factions in the State perceive IS as anti-Islam. With the United Arab Emirates (UAE) recently deporting a bunch of local Muslim youth for their alleged links to the IS, the concerns of organisations here have a more tangible basis. Their own polemics against the IS brand of Islam notwithstanding, they remain deeply divided over the radical ideas being espoused by some of them.

The latest is a much-hyped public meet in Kozhikode conducted recently to muster a joint response to the threat posed by the IS ideology. The initiative brought under the scanner the radical message propagated by some of the Muslim outfits themselves, especially the Jamaat-e-Islami, which was the organiser of the meet.

Significant abstentions

Ironically, the event ended up drawing public attention not for its anti-IS stance but for the significant abstention from it of major Muslim organisations and factions. The absentees included State Industries Minister P.K. Kunhalikutty, a prominent leader of the Indian Union Muslim League, a party with a substantial sway in the community. The row over the meet has now deepened old fissures and questions as to which of these many groups speaks for ‘authentic’ Islam.

The factional dynamics of the community in the State, especially in the Malabar region that accounts for the majority of its Muslim population, is shaped by decades of debates and posturing among these groups and factions representing Sunni Muslims, who constitute a vast majority of the community. The divisions started in the early 1920s when reformist movements appeared on the scene, eventually leading to the formation of the Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen (KNM) — popularly known as the Mujahid or Islahi movement —in 1950. Currently a divided house, the movement, inspired by Salafism, is dubbed as ‘Wahabism’ by orthodox Sunnis, who are themselves divided into two major factions.

They see Wahabism as a puritanical brand of Islam inspired by the teachings of 18th century Arab preacher >Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahab. The Mujahid movement in the State, however, secured a progressive label because of its stress on public education, women’s education and opposition to orthodox practices that it termed as un-Islamic. Jamaat-e-Islami, founded by Abul Ala Maududi, an ideologue of Islamis, appeared on the scene in the 1950s.

“IS practices a mixture of puritanical Wahabism or Salafism and of ideas of Islamic religious state championed by Maududi,” says A.K. Abdul Hameed, a leader of an orthodox Sunni faction led by Kanthapuram A.P. Aboobacker Musaliar. Defending his non-participation at the meet, Mr. Hameed told The Hindu that an organisation espousing ‘Maududism’ has no moral right to hold such a meet against IS which he said is a creation of such ideologies.

Secular intellectuals in the community also agree that radical and fundamentalist ideas have gained currency among a section of the community thanks to preaching of some religious leaders. “The Jamaat-e-Islami’s motive now is to portray itself as a group having nothing to do with the jihadist ideology,” said Hameed Chennamangaloor, writer and critic of Islamic fundamentalism. Maududi and Sayyid Qutb, Egyptian intellectual of the Muslim Brotherhood, believed in a political God and called for a jihad against modern jahiliyaah, the term that Islam’s Prophet used to refer to pre-Islamic ‘state of ignorance’, he said.

He also noted that silence of the radical outfit, Popular Front of India, on IS is significant. That outfit is seen as a successor to banned >Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), originally formed as a wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami.

Unlike orthodox Sunni faction leaders and secular Muslim intellectuals, Jamaat-e-Islami and KNM leaders believe that IS is a creation of ‘external forces’. Jamaat-e-Islami Kerala Ameer M.I. Abdul Azeez, in his address at the meet, said that the United States as well as ‘imperial forces and Zionists’ were behind the creation of IS. U.P. Yahya Khan, president of the youth wing of a Mujahid faction, echoed the same conspiracy theory. “IS is a creation of the anti-Islamic lobby,” he said. Though the Jamaat-e-Islami’s books contain radical ideas, it is not preaching them anymore, added Mr. Khan. Not all the Mujahid factions, however, share his take on the Jamaat-e-Islami, if the abstention of the other Mujahid factions from the meet is anything to go by.

Upholding humanism?

“The Jamaat-e-Islami’s political content is Islam’s political content that upholds humanism and polyphony of views,” said P. Mujeeb Rahman, assistant-Ameer of the Jamaat-e-Islami in the State. Reacting to the non-participation of the Sunni and Mujahid groups at the meet, he said that they should have come together on a platform to denounce IS. “IS is misusing Islamic terminology to present a fake idea of Islamic Caliphate,” he noted.

The notion of polyphony is also appropriate to refer to differences within the community over religious and social issues. Half-a-dozen Malayalam news dailies and 30-odd periodicals, controlled by one or the other of these organisations, factions and their feeder wings, reflect the differences on issues that even include whether or not lighting traditional lamp by a Muslim during social functions or participating in the Onam festival is Islamic.

Some of these mouthpieces will carry forward the debate over the latest row provoked by the anti-IS meet, further sharpening the divisions.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2022 3:17:27 AM |

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