The volunteers — including builders, businessmen, and executives with banks and telecom companies — speak passionately about “thousands” being killed in Iraq where a Sunni insurgency is raging, but appear mostly unclear about who is responsible for the “mass murders”.
The Anjuman-e-Haideri, headquartered at the Dargah Shah-e-Mardan in Jorbagh in south Delhi, has distributed registration forms, and claims over a lakh have already signed up to protect the shrines.
While it is unlikely that these volunteers will be given visas to travel to Iraq, the Anjuman has, on its part, registered only those who have valid passports.
A volunteer who gave his name as Zeeshan Haider said, “Iraq needs our help because Shias are being tortured there. It is not possible to give a name to the torturers, because I do not know who they are. I do not know what the ISIS, is but Bhai knows everything. I am going there because it is my religious duty.”
The “Bhai” Zeeshan was referring to, a man called Hassan who said he had a building materials business, said, “The ISIS are terrorists who are also called ISIL. They are like the Taliban in Afghanistan. They are an offshoot of Al-Qaeda.”
The ISIS, or Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also translated as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant or ISIL, is a jihadi miltant group currently active in Syria and Iraq, but claiming a much larger area of the Levant. The ISIS is known for its brutal violence targeting mainly Shias, a reputation that led the Al-Qaeda to formally cut ties with the group, calling them “too extreme”.
Several of those who have signed up in Delhi spoke about “terrorists” and their “torture” of Shias. Hifazat Ali, who said he works for a major telecom company, said that he and his comrades wanted to “purge Iraq and humanity of terrorists”.
Ali Mirza, the chief patron of Anjuman-e-Haideri, said: “We started registrations about 10-15 days back just as tension broke out in Iraq. More than one lakh people have registered but our target is 10 lakh, which should not be difficult to get, given the commitment of the country’s 5-6 crore Shia population. We will go to Iraq under the leadership of Maulana Kalbe Jawad. He is travelling right now, but the moment he comes back we will get in touch with the Iraqi ambassador and apply for visas. Every person will pay for his own trip, they are going there because we cannot let terrorism destroy our sacred shrines.”
Maulana Kalbe Jawad, a prominent Lucknow-based Shia cleric and scholar, is currently in Iran, and could not be reached for a comment. He was expected to return in a day or two.
The ISIS, now in control of all of western and northern Iraq barring Kurd-controlled Kirkuk and Erbil, is bearing down on Baghdad and vowed to take its campaign to the Shia holy cities of Najaf and Karbala in the south. Shia Iran has announced it will defend the two holy cities, home to the Imam Ali mosque and the shrine of Imam Hussain.
Ali Mirza conceded that all volunteers who sign up may not get visas to travel to Iraq. In that case, he said, the volunteers will “sacrifice their everything to uphold Indian laws and to crack down on terrorism”.
While signing up, the volunteers declare that they are going to Iraq of their own free will, after having understood the dangers involved, and that nobody, including the Anjuman, should be held responsible for the consequences.
“The decision to travel to Iraq for defending the sanctity and honour of holy shrines in that country is solely my own. In fact I was contemplating going there on my own and I am grateful to Anjuman-e-Haideri for facilitating this journey for myself and innumerable other individuals like myself,” says the form that the volunteers sign.
Twenty-five-year-old Zia Abbas, who has a Master of Computer Applications degree and works for a major bank, said he had volunteered for the mission “for the sake of humanity”.
“This is all that I can do to prevent a third world war breaking out. Karbala is the symbol of the victory of humanity, which is now under threat from terrorists,” he said.
Haji Mirza Qasim Raza, a builder, said: “I am ready to go the day Maulana Kalbe Jawad arrives. I am waiting for him to come back. There is nothing that I will not do to protect Karbala and the holy shrines in Iraq, including laying down my life.”