From affluent families, highly educated, married to professionally qualified women and until three years ago, leading “a luxurious lifestyle”. And then, according to family and friends, they started speaking about abandoning their wealth and going somewhere to lead “a true Islamic way of life”.
Of the 21 missing youths from Kerala, with at least some suspected to have left in a bid to join Islamic State, The Indian Express spoke to the families of 10 from the Padanna and Trikkaripur region of Kasaragod to piece together a story of rapid radicalisation and a common thread — most were followers of the ultra-conservative Salafi movement.
“If my son has links to any extremist outfit, I don’t even want to see his dead body,” said A Hakeem from Padanna, whose son Hafeesudheen, a 23-year-old who got married four months ago, is among the missing.
At Hamza Sagar House, near Padanna, Abdul Rahman is reeling under a triple blow. He still can’t understand why his two sons and their wives left home. Or why his wife’s nephew and wife are among those missing.
“My eldest son Dr Ejas and his wife, a dental student, took their two-year-old son away, too. Ejas’s wife was carrying their second child and preparing for her final-year exam. My second son Shias, a management graduate, left with his pregnant wife, a physiotherapist,” said Rahman.
According to the family, Shias and his wife left two months ago, saying they were moving to Mumbai in search of a job. The elder couple left last month, saying they were moving to Lakshadweep for better professional prospects.
“My sons had grown very religious. At home, they would recite verses from the Quran or listen to recorded religious sermons. They had no links with political outfits. Initially, they were drawn to the Salafi stream, but later became extreme conservatives,” said Rahman.
“They were against anyone reading newspapers and watching TV. They wanted me and others to grow long beards like them. They turned their wives into hardliners, too,” added Rahman, an NRI.
“The son of my wife’s sister, Ashthaf, is also missing with his wife and son. Ashthaf was 26 and was living with his wife, daughter and mother while his father is running a business in Mumbai,” said Rahman.
Hakeem, meanwhile, says the last he heard from his son Hafeesudheen “was a message on July 1 which said “from hell I have reached heaven, where I can lead an Islamic way of life”.
Describing how his son changed before his eyes, Hakim said, “My son dropped out of his BCom course and left home often for religious education. He was a Salafi follower, but got more orthodox every day. He wanted me to sell the house to lead an ascetic life. He wanted to return to the days of rearing sheep as the Holy Prophet had done in his younger days.”
Hakeem said Hafeesudheen left home for Kozhikode and later moved to Sri Lanka. “He was not happy with life here. Luckily for us, he did not take his wife, a B.Pharma graduate, with him,” said Hakeem.
While the families were struggling to come to terms with what happened, an acquaintance of the missing men said they started to change three years ago. “They are all very rich and used to spend a lot of money. They were good students, too, and did not undergo proper madrasa education as many others here did. But they started to change after learning about Islam from the Internet. I don’t think they have joined the IS but they may have moved to an Islamic country,” said the acquaintance, who works in Dubai. “They never created any trouble or were named in any police case. They weren’t associated with any outfits, either,” he said.
At Udumbinthala village in Trikkaripur, Abdulla, who has been employed in the Middle East for nearly 30 years, says he still has no idea why his eldest son Abdul Rasheed left with wife Ayisha and little daughter Sara.
“Rasheed is an engineer and Ayisha has BTech and MBA degrees. They left home for Mumbai on May 28. The last time they contacted us was on June 17. A few days later, we got a message in Arabic saying, ‘We are going’. Then there was another telegram message which said ‘we are safe’,” said Abdulla.
“Rasheed married Ayisha five years ago. They met during various inter-college events at engineering institutions. She was a Christian from a well-settled family.
She was a modern girl in every respect. During an inter-college event, Rasheed objected to the dress she wore and her lifestyle in general. She then started learning about Islam to defend her way of life. But soon, she got converted to Islam. That was before their marriage,” said Abdulla.
Rasheed was working with Peace International School, which offers learning in Islamic environment. “He was a hardliner in faith, but led a quiet, peaceful life.
We lead the Sunni way of life, he objected to that. He had even quarrelled with the local masjid committee over some practices and rituals. He also objected when the family wanted to construct a new house,” said Abdullah.
At Elambachi village, near Trikkaripur, 22-year-old BCom graduate Firoz’s mother still breaks down when asked about her eldest who went missing.
“He had completed a course in accountancy from Bengaluru. He left for Kozhikode in the last week of June for special prayers during Ramadan and promised to return for Eid. But on the eve of Eid, he called us from a Mumbai number to say he was not coming back. Since then, he hasn’t contacted us,” said Firoz’s father, Habeeb Haji.
Asked about the change in his son’s life, Haji said, “He started showing more interest in religious matters after a Salafi masjid came up in the village. It was in the recent past that he started showing an unusual interest in Islam.”