The Wahhabi threat that India is ignoring

ISIS appointed Abu Muhammad al-Bengali as the emir or chief of the Bangladesh ISIS group. It also announced it would establish a new “province” or “Wilayah of Hind” in India, too.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi (photo credit: REUTERS)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The arrest of an ISIS affiliate from Kerala in April 2019, following the terrorist attack on Easter, raises several concerns about the spread of ISIS ideologies in India.
This is not the only case where an ISIS affiliate has been arrested or where a citizen is known to have ISIS links. In May 2019, there were also intelligence reports that ISIS affiliates from Sri Lanka had set out for Lakshadweep and Minicoy Island to enter Kerala, resulting in the coastal police being alerted.
Then again the same month, ISIS appointed Abu Muhammad al-Bengali as the emir or chief of the Bangladesh ISIS group. It also announced it would establish a new “province” or “Wilayah of Hind” in India, too.
In fact, India is monitoring not only Sri Lanka but also ISIS links in Bangladesh. ISIS is reported to have a strong hold in Bangladesh in collaboration with Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh – a local terrorist organization in Bangladesh. In February 2018, Special Task Force in Kolkata, West Bengal, arrested at least six people from West Bengal (India) Murshidabad and Darjeeling on grounds that they suspected the arrested people of having links to JMB.
ALONG WITH the ISIS threat in India, another concerning factor is the Wahhabi ideology and its spread in India, which presents a threat to India’s national security in the near future. ISIS works on the ideology of Wahhabism, which has some of the most conservative thought processes, shunning even the concept of a state system. ISIS has its roots in Wahhabism, as do several other terrorist organizations, such as al-Qaeda. The Wahhabis believe that Muslims should have their faith only in the caliph and promote the caliphate concept.
Though these Wahhabis are Sunnis in faith, it does not mean that Wahhabism and Sunni Islam are the same things. Therefore, it would be foolhardy to believe that Sunnis are not threatened by the concept of Wahhabi Islam. In fact, one of the major reasons that a Sunni-majority state like Pakistan is a victim of terrorism is this mistaken belief that Wahhabis would never be a threat to them, along with limited understanding of the concept that Wahhabis are a threat to state system in general. They are against religious shrines and cultural festivals, music, statues and monuments. Processions with high-pitched music during Muharram have been condemned by Wahhabi imams. The zeal to replace the Persian word “Khuda” with the Arabic word “Allah” is also in process. In Syria, Wahhabist-driven ideology led to the destruction of mosques and tombs.
Moreover, Wahhabis also have a strong hatred for the Shia population. In fact, in Pakistan, there has been sectarian cleansing of Shia sects by the Wahhabis.
According to Iqbal Haider, a former law minister of Pakistan, “Whether they are Taliban or the Lashkar-e-Taiba, the ideology is Saudi-Wahhabi without an iota of doubt.” Wahhabism receives its funding from Saudi Arabia – its center, from where the ideology emanates.
India faces this grievous threat of Wahhabi Islam and its spread. Several madrasas (schools) in Kerala are reported to be preaching Wahhabi Islam to kids. These madrasas are also indoctrinating the idea of a worldwide caliphate synonymous to the ideology of ISIS and also how to build a caliphate. Fundings for such indoctrination comes through hawala transaction. Such developments are not just a threat to the Hindu population, but they are a threat to Shias, Christians, Sikhs and Sunnis as well. They are a threat to the Sufis also. In addition, influenced by the ideology, several Indians joined ISIS in the war in Syria. These are Indian citizens who hold Indian passports and visas and could return to the country with these extremist ideologies, presenting a threat to the country.
In Kashmir, for example, according to reports, Sufism has slowly eroded, paving the way for extremist ideologies like Salafism as well as Wahhabism to take priority, to convert the region into a singular monolithic society.
Though all Sunnis cannot be identified as Wahhabis, many of them fail to draw a distinction between themselves and the Wahhabis. They are indoctrinated with the ideology of extremism, which is further cause for concern, as even those who do not belong to the Wahhabi cult get attracted to it.
This is a dangerous development that needs to be checked at its earliest. One option is to keep a check on the madrasas and their methodologies of preaching Islam. However, India has to take into consideration that it is a secular country and, by its constitution, everyone is allowed to practice the faith of one’s choice. Such mechanisms of keeping an eye on the madrasas that promote hate and intolerance must be methodically dealt with.
The writer is a nonresident fellow at the Council on International Policy and an Asia Pacific fellow at the EastWest Institute.