By Prashanth MP
March 11, 2017
They fashioned themselves as passionate reformers who sought to recapture the religious purity of purpose in a society steeped in ‘un-Islamic’ practices. They fought against rampant superstitions and backward-looking orthodoxy that stalled modern education. And perhaps most importantly, they stood for women’s entry in the public domain.
However, after less than a century of leading the Muslim community from the front, the Mujahid movement, the Salafi sect in Kerala, seems to have reached a dead end — some of them, who claim they too are following Salafi Manhaj (methodology), have declared that democracy and secularism are un-Islamic; others are unable to decide whether seeking help from the ethereal being jinn is allowed in Islam or whether Sehr (black magic) will have any effect on human beings.
An offshoot of Aikya Sangham established in Kodungalloor in 1922, the Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen (KNM) till recently has been the progressive face of the Muslim community, at least for outsiders.
KNM was pitted against Sunni organizations which were seen as the embodiment of all that is orthodox in Islam. Led by visionaries such as Vakkom Abdul Khader Maulvi and Muhammad Abdurehman, the Mujahid movement was provokingly daring and alluringly fresh.
“There was a time in the Muslim community when people were scared to go to the top floor of the mosque fearing the presence of jinns. The dingy, murky village pathways were thickly populated by all kinds of evil spirits. It was an uphill task for the Mujahid movement to convince the community that all these were the creation of their imagination,” says Abdurehman Irivetty, who was ejected out of KNM after he openly challenged the deviation in the Mujahid movement.
“The Islamic view is that jinn and human beings operate in different realms. It is an established fact that we cannot see the jinn. But I have seen some Mujahid leaders arguing that they have seen a jinn slowly climbing up into the sky. And the senior leaders were hesitant to stop the nonsense,” he says.
Abdurehman, who was a member of the KNM consultative body, feels that the inability of KNM leaders to stop the smuggling of alien thoughts into the Mujahid movement has led to the present plight of the organization. “The emergence of some people who are very vocal and good at debates was the turning point in the Mujahid movement. They brought in some fanciful ideas and the weak leadership couldn’t resist them. This led to the crisis in the Mujahid movement. Thus, questions such as whether seeking help from the jinn is allowed in Islam or believing that Sehr has effect, amount to shirk (polytheism),” he elaborates.
R Nandagopal, post-doctoral research scholar at Goettingen University, Germany, has a slightly different view. “An engagement with secular modernity was one of the major aspects of the Islamic reform movement that emerged under the intellectual leadership of Vakkom Maulvi. This reformist project envisaged the convergence of personal piety with the fashioning of modern individuals who strove to succeed in material terms,” he says.
“While this produced several remarkable achievements for the community – the socio-economic and cultural growth of Kerala’s Muslims over the last century is an excellent example – I am not sure if all the implications of this marriage between Islam and secular modernity was ever fully appreciated by the reformists or their self-proclaimed successors (mainly the Mujahid movement).
And it is in this problematic relationship, rather than some inherent backwardness of Islam, that we ought to search for in the crisis facing the contemporary reformists. The splits and mergers in the organization are only manifestations of this crisis,” Nandagopal, who studied the Muslim community in Kerala in depth as part his doctoral programme, explains.
Columnist O Abdulla sees some political issues behind the ‘degeneration’ of the Mujahid movement. “Initially, Mujahids were active in opposing orthodoxy in the community. Mujahid leaders, who are at the helm of the IUML, gradually realised that they needed the votes of all sections to win elections hence they diluted opposition to orthodoxy,” Abdulla says.
Influence of Gulf Salafism also had an adverse impact on the Mujahid movement in Kerala. “The Salafis in Kerala are heavily dependent on Gulf money for their sustenance. Along with the funds came superstitions that existed in the Gulf countries,” he points out. Whatever the reasons, the Mujahid movement in Kerala is at the crossroads.