He’s almost unknown outside the sprawl of closed-in lanes that run through Saidabad —once home to Hyderabad’s elite, now a run-down lower-middle-class ghetto. From his spartan room in the seminary he runs, Abdul Aleem Islahi’s words, however, have fired the imagination of many young Indian radicals. Breaking with the Jamaat-e-Islami for what he saw as its accomodationist posture during the Ram Janambhoomi movement, he inspired many of the young radicals who set up the Indian Mujahideen. He has never advocated violence — but his books are a map to their minds.
In Taqat ka istemal Quran ki Raoshni Main [‘The use of violence, in the light of the Qur’an’], an angry polemic, Islahi asserts that “war has been ordained against those who meet three conditions until they pay jizyah [a tax on religious minorities]: do not profess faith in God and Day of Judgment; do not accept as haram [forbidden] what God and his Prophet have declared haram; do not accept Islam as their religion”. It is, Islahi argues, “the duty of Muslims to struggle for the domination of Islam over false religions, and to subdue and subjugate infidels and polytheists”.
He concludes: “If the British nation can give in to the freedom fighters and a super power like Russia can surrender before the Afghans, why should we believe that Indian Muslims cannot succeed?”
In Nizam Khilafat-wa-Emirat, a disquisition on Islamic law on political power, Islahi argues that the practice of Islam cannot but be incomplete in a secular political order. Living under Muslim personal law “may be acceptable to God for the moment in view of our compulsion to live under a system of unbelief. However, we should not forget for a moment our goal of establishing an Islamic system of Khilafat and Emirate”.
He recruits the authority of the 13th-century theologian Taqi ad-Din Ahmad ibn Taymiyyah — pulled to centre stage by salafi-jihadist ideologues in the last century. Taymiyyah, he notes, “had issued the fatwa for those lands under the rule of infidel Tartars that the Muslims there should not remain contented eternally with this change”.
Thus, he goes on, “Indian Muslims had, and even today have, only two options. They should either form a Jamaat [a collective decision-making body for their affairs] or Emirate and fulfil their communal duties — or migrate. The third way of living permanently and happily under a rule by infidels and polytheists is not at all acceptable”.
The arguments Islahi made have acquired new resonance in recent months, as Islamic State’s forces have occupied growing swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria. In its August 25 issue, the Jamaat-e-Islami bi-weekly newspaper Dawat called on Indian Muslims to support Islamic State, arguing that this was a religious obligation.