Spread of fundamentalist Islam in Rajasthan: Are we missing the trap?
With the growth of religious pluralism on a global scale, freedom of religion has emerged as a fundamental human rights issue. It also intersects with political, social and economic development. One of the most poorly understood impact of religious pluralism is on national security and foreign policy . Worldwide, it has been seen that the rise of contentious politics based on sectarian, ethnic, linguistic or other divisive criteria, is primarily responsible for many communal and secessionist movements . At times, hostile neighbours exploit internal conflicts for their vested interests by facilitating money, arms and ammunitions. So has been the phenomenon in India.
The country has witnessed conflicts of identities and secessionist movements arising due to the disturbance in the plural structure. It is a known fact that the conflict in the Kashmir valley escalated after radicalisation or cultural fundamentalism spread amongst the local communities. Similar trends were observed in Manipur, Nagaland, and Punjab, among others. Rajasthan is another state of strategic importance as it shares an international border with Pakistan. Thus, it is important to understand the existing challenges and vulnerabilities faced by such states. This article will attempt to shed light on the spread of religious fundamentalism in the state of Rajasthan.
Role of Religious Political Leaders
There are many local religious preachers, who act as political leaders for Muslim communities. This is a trend, which is not unique to India, but can be observed across the globe. The western border areas of Rajasthan, which share a common history with the Pakistan, continue to share religious and cultural beliefs, even after the partition. As a result, most of the border communities have been followers of Pirs, since the spread of Ismai’lism. There is Gousia Jamaat – led by Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi, Sarwari Jamaat – Makhdoom of Haala, followers of Pir Gul Mohammed Shah Jilani of Jilani Gaddi and several others.
Most of these Pirs are based in Pakistan, and they connect with their followers in India through their Khaleefas. These local representatives of the Pirs collect local donations or nazrana every year to send to their respective Pirs in Pakistan. There is no upper limit for donations, but every household contributes at least Rs 100 per head after the bajra harvest every year . The most widespread is the Hur Jamaat, who are followers of Pir Pagara. Gazi Faqir, who is an influential religious political leader in Rajasthan, and is the khaleefa of the Pir.
Deep links between Pir Pagara and Pakistan’s ISI and Pakistan Rangers have often been reported. Pir Pagara (seventh) spent a major part of his life engaged in Pakistan’s politics, and died recently in 2012. It is known that during the 1965 Indo-Pak war, about 65,000 Hur Razakars attacked India (Rajasthan Desert Areas) with the Pakistani army and captured the Kishangarh fort and several other posts  in Rajasthan. His (Pir Pagara-seventh) associations with ISI-Pakistan were revealed during the judicial trials of former Pakistan ruler, Pervez Mushrraf  . Currently, his son holds the title of Pir Pagara in Pakistan .
Since, these Pirs of Pakistan have high influence amongst the local communities, the local politics of Rajasthan in also under their influence. There are 19 assembly seats, under their influence, including those along the IB (Bikaner, Barmer, Jaisalmer) that have a population of over 5 Lakh Muslims, mostly Sindhis. Out of this, it is reported that there are more than 2.5 Lakh Sindhi Muslims belonging to Barmer-Jaisalmer Lok Sabha constituency, who are followers of the Pir-Pagara sect .
Here exists a situation similar to West Bengal and Assam, where there is political patronage given to Pakistani Muslims to settle down in the bordering areas. Between, 2003-08, more than 4.5 Lakh refugees from Pakistan were given voting rights in the state. It has been learnt that hundreds of Pir Pagara followers of Sind (Muslims) regularly cross over to India and settle down in the bordering villages with their relatives and clansmen. In 2008-2013, the illegal Pir Pagaro followers were given voting rights, issued ration cards and were pampered  by the vote-bank political leaders.
Gazi Faqir, one of the most influential local leaders, is the khaleefa of Pir Pagara. There are reports of Gazi Fakir being involved in cross-border smuggling and other illegal activities on the India-Pakistan border. His history sheets in the police records are as old as 1955, in which he is accused of being involved in trafficking, smuggling, espionage and other criminal and anti-national activities. Since, he is a local custodian of the huge wealth collected in the form of zakat and nazarana, his criminal activities must be viewed in alliance with money laundering and illegal use of hawala channels; especially, when it is reported that Hafiz Saeed’s JuD is expanding, its activities in certain areas of the Sindh district close to the border, just opposite to Tanot, Kishangarh (Jaisalmer) must be considered  .
Unaccounted Religious Properties
Despite rules and regulations for the construction of religious buildings in the country, there have been numerous cases of breach of law. With reference to the border areas of Rajasthan here, it becomes an issue of high strategic importance. In Rajasthan, ‘The Rajasthan Religious Buildings and Places Act, 1954’ (Section 6) provides: (a) no person shall, without first obtaining the written permission of the Collector, (b) Construct any public religious building, or (c) Convert any private or public building or place into a public religious building.
In spite of such restrictions, there have been an enormous expansion in religious land holdings of minority communities in the border areas. The critical issue of concern here is that no database or mapping of such land holdings has been done. Moreover, there have been numerous cases of breach of regulations in this context. One such case was reported in 2014 in the shifting sand-dune region in Jaisalmer . The mosque, just a few kilometres from the international border (IB), was well connected by roads on both sides, which is rare for other places lying in this terrain. It is strange to learn about such huge investments made along the border, the region which is least inhabited.
At a national level, there has been an increase of 2 Lakh in the number of registered properties under Waqf Board in the span of 5 years (2009-2014)  . This must be viewed in the light of the fact that there are several states that have not updated their database regularly for several years. So is the case with Rajasthan. The last survey of Waqf properties was conducted in 1960s, and notified by a Govt Gazette in 1965. Thereafter, a subsequent survey has been ordered in year 2000, but is yet to be completed even after 16 years .
Keeping in view the wide definition of waqf properties under the Act of 1995 (Amendment) 2013, and the local religious practices, where the affiliated communities were seen to whole-heartedly follow the tradition of religious charity (zakat and/or mashrut-ul-khidmat, be waqf by user, waqf-alal-aulad), there has been an extensive expansion in the waqf properties. But the database does not reflect the real picture. These missing numbers, add not only to the loss of government revenue, but also gives scope to misuse, encroachment of such properties by anti-national elements and unauthorised expansion in the name of religion.
Unregistered Islamic seminaries
Spread of fundamentalist Islam and Arabisation is a burning issue across the world. India has also been a victim of the same for many decades. Most Islamic seminaries in India are influenced by the fundamentalist movements. A large number of Jamati missionaries have been reported to frequently visit the seminaries in Rajasthan preaching fundamentalist Islam. They invoke an austere and rigid version of Islam, prohibiting the “faithful” from mingling with other communities , and asking people to shun Sufi practices, which has been the mainstream Islam in this region.
The border line Muslim communities in Rajasthan have since ages, worshiped the village deities like Gogaji, Pabuji, and Ramdev ji. However, of late, process of homogenising Islamic communities referred to as ‘arabisation’ by experts has influenced the culture and beliefs of these communities. Yoginder Sikand has mentioned is his writings  about how Arabic religious ulamas have considered that Indian Muslims (ajlaf – mainly low-caste origins) have strayed from the path of shari’ah.
The most concerning fact is that there are a large number of unregistered Islamic seminaries in India, which are unaccountable for their activities. According to the Madarsa Education Board, Rajasthan, in the four bordering districts of Rajasthan, there are only 337 Madrasas registered between 2003 and 2013  . There are numerous Madarsas/Makhtabs that do not fall under their database and scope. Madarsa-Islamia-Darul-Uloom-Pokhran, which is the nodal centre for Islamic education in Rajasthan, is also an unregistered Islamic seminary.
This nodal Islamic Seminary affiliated to Darul-Uloom-Deoband is a huge campus that can accommodate over thousand students, provide them free education, lodging and food, and remuneration to the movlis, without taking any government aid. They claim to solely depend on religious charities made by the community. There are numerous madarsas/makhtabs running under the direct or indirect control of this nodal Islamic seminary following Deobandi School of Islam, and there are few others following Barelvi School of Islam  .
Now, since these seminaries are unregistered, their education system cannot be audited. Following the Deobandi school of Islam under Darul-uloom-Deoband, most madarsas/makhtabs follow Dars-e-Nizamia, the pattern of teaching which does not believe in seeking employment and making money after education, and instead focuses only on making religious people  . These seminaries are reluctant to include modern day education. The students coming out of the Madrasas are, therefore, not able to join mainstream education. At best, they gravitate from a Makhtab (primary-level education) to a Madrasa (secondary-level) to become maulvis in the same seminaries.
It was learnt that a few students from these seminaries in Rajasthan go to Darul-uloom-Deoband or Darul-uloom-Nadwatul-ulama, Lucknow for higher studies. Both of the seminaries based at Uttar Pradesh are infamous for their anti-national approaches and ideologies. The former seminary is infamous for issuing fatwas that emasculate Muslim minds. Similarly, the latter is infamous for supporting Jihadists and radical Islamic groups . It was also learnt that there are several students from these local seminaries in Rajasthan, who are presently working as Maulvis in Saudi Arabia, after attaining higher education from the institutes in Pokhran, Deoband or Lucknow.
Frequent visits of Tabligh Jamaats and Deobandi Jamats are influencing the Islamic cultural discourse in the bordering districts of Rajasthan through these seminaries. They emphasize homogenous Islamic identity corresponding to that in Saudi Arabia, over the native ‘desertified’ Sufi culture.
The arabisation efforts through the education system are creating a cultural divide in the society along the IB in Rajasthan. The Islamic communities have started identifying themselves with the Arabic Islamic identity, and tangible divide is visible particularly in Jaisalmer and Barmer. On the one hand, this is dominating their native desert culture, and on the other, it is creating an identity conflict zone. This arabisation is pampering battle amongst Muslims themselves .
Evaluating these experiences from the border areas of Rajasthan, the areas of vulnerabilities can be enlisted as below:
- The political dominance of identity-based political leaders in local politics is such that that their involvement even in anti-national activities is overlooked. We are leaving an open space for such leaders to dominate local politics, feed upon their vote-bank and create a divide in the society. It is a matter of concern when administration fails to nab such leaders, and the political parties appease them for political favours.
- Another grieving area is where our administration misses to map and monitor the religious landholdings, properties and activities. Until the administration do not get hold of the true numbers, the government is not only losing its revenue, but also leaving an open space for misuse of such properties. After all, there are huge collections made through religious charities by the affiliated community, and there is no audit of such huge finances.
- Lastly, the role of unregistered Islamic seminaries is another area, which is of grave concern. On the one hand, most Deoband affiliated seminaries have shunned government aid and modern teaching. On the other hand, fundamentalist jamati missionaries visit these seminaries, which in turn are producing bulk maulvis for further preaching. And, there is no scope of Madrasa modernisation or education reforms to reach such seminaries. Also, there cannot be any monitoring on their syllabus, teaching methods, domicile of students and visiting faculties, their funding sources, etc. All because these are unregistered.
- In addition to all this, the communities have easy access to these seminaries, much higher than the formal schools. The youth from the affiliated community is hence, unemployable and distant from mainstream education. Thereby, left deprived, vulnerable, with only option to continue religious preaching as profession for survival.
Through the instances referred to in this article from the border areas of Rajasthan, the effort has been put in to highlight the vulnerabilities of existing society and administration, especially the affiliated community, which is being targeted for religious propaganda. The instances highlight the areas where we are missing the traps that are aiding arabisation of these regions. Due to such loopholes, the spread of fundamentalist Islamic ideologies in these regions of the country has become easier, which would not only create tangible divide amongst Muslims themselves, will also make the community easy prey for radical Islam.
1. Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, ‘Religious freedom and National Security Policy’, 2010.
2. DS Yadav, ‘Threat Analysis: Spectrum of Terrorism’, 2015.
3. Available at http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-pakistan-s-personalities-influence-rajasthan-voters-1925191 (Accessed on 29-05-2016)
4. Lt Gen M.Ahmed (Ret), “History of Indo-Pak war of 1965”, 2006.
5. Several politicians, including the Pir in Pakistan were financially paid by the agency. It was revealed during judicial trials of former ruler-Pervez Musharraf. More details at http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/Pak-politicians-received-money-from-ISI/articleshow/4941629.cms (Dated August 27, 2009 accessed on 20-05-2016)
6. Available at http://tribune.com.pk/story/320400/sabghatullah-shah-rashdi-appointed-new-pir-pagara/ (Accessed on 30-05-2016)
7. Information available at http://nation.com.pk/national/01-Apr-2014/pir-pagara-s-followers-to-vote-for-jaswant-singh-in-india-s-elections] (Accessed on 01-05-2016)
8. MK Dhar, ‘Vanishing Hindu, Sikh Minorities in Pakistan’, March 2010. Available at http://canarytrap.in/2010/03/29/vanishing-hindu-sikh-minorities-in-pakistan/
9. Available at http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/hafiz-saeed-jud-mithi-islamkot-meerpur-khas-khanpur/1/369769.html (Accessed on 10-05-2016)
10. The expansion of the mosque in Manghla village near Harnau town. Reported by local NGO in 2014 to the administrative authorities, and consideration taken up in 2015. Available at http://www.bhaskar.com/news/RAJ-OTH-MAT-latest-jaisalmer-news-053024-2127677-NOR.html (Accessed on 20-05-2016).
11. Data available at http://www.nawadco.co.in/ (Accessed on 26-05-2016)
12. Information available at http://www.minority.rajasthan.gov.in/Waqf/Waqf_Introduction.aspx (Accessed on 15-05-2016)
13. Abhinav Pandya, ‘Is Extremism Increasing Among the Indian Muslims?’, February 2016.
14. Yoginder Sikand, ‘Islam, Madrasas And Cultural ‘Arabisation’: Insights From India’, July 2006.
15. Data obtained from Madarsa Education Board, Rajasthan for time period 2003-2013, as on 16-05-2016.
16.Deobandi movement started as revivalist movement within Sunni (Hanafi) Islam, inspired by Shah Waliullah Dehlawi (19th Century) from Deoband, Uttar Pradesh. It is presently the second largest focal centre of Islamic education in the world, after Al-Azhar University, Cairo. Presently, Deobandi in India has been strongly influenced by Wahhabi Movement (Gohari, 2000). The school is conservative and beliefs in fundamentalist theologies, due to which it has gradually shattered the mystical Sufi Islam (T.Abbas, 2011)
17. Barelvi is also a movement following Sunni Hanafi School of Jurisprudence, started by Ahmed Raza Khan in 19th Century from Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh. Initially it came out as a reaction against Deobandi School, to preserve the mystic Sufi culture of Islam in South Asia (Ali Riaz, 2008). Given to this salient feature, the movement is said to have no associations with Deobandi or Ahle-Hadith movements or Pakistan’s Islamist/Sectarian Politics, and no Barelvi Jihadist group received funds from Saudi Arabia (S.Sareen, 2005). They have opposed the Taliban movements in South Asia, and Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Shah M. Qureshi has also supported the movement (Daily Times, Pakistan. 2009)
18. Tufail Ahmed, ‘Shut Darul-Uloom-Deoband’, 2016.
19. Maulana Nadwi from the seminary heads Jamiat-u-Shabad-il-Islam known for training Muslim youth for religious Jihad. The cleric wrote a letter to Saudi Arabia to train a lac Muslim youth from India to fight against Shia militias (T.Ahmed, 2016).
20. http://udayindia.in/2011/05/28/arabisation-of-indian-muslims-and-its-ill-effects/ (Accessed on 20-05-2016)