Muslim communities hope to halt extremism

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 September, 2008, 12:00am

Some of the most zealous members of Islamist terrorist groups in India are young men who have been wrongfully arrested by Indian police, tortured then released without charge.

Altaf Hassan, 24, says he was arrested in the southern city of Hyderabad after coming out of Friday prayers last September. He was eventually released but the local university, where he was a law student, threw him out because of the 'terrorist' tag, shattering his life.

'My landlord is a Muslim but he was so frightened of getting into trouble with the police that he evicted my family. It's been hell. We've been living with relatives ever since,' he said.

Many young men thrown into similar situations in Hyderabad, a city known for its rich Muslim culture, have become radicalised, joining local terrorist groups.

But Mr Hassan did not, thanks to the intervention of Muslim counsellors and religious groups, who have launched a kind of neighbourhood watch campaign to catch youths before they turn radical.

'We explained that he mustn't lose confidence in Indian democracy or the judiciary. We filed a petition in the courts for compensation, supported him emotionally and arranged a loan so that he could start his own small business,' said Latif Mohammed Khan, head of the Civil Liberties Monitoring Committee.

Mr Khan is working with the All India Mujlis Tameer-e-Millat to make Muslim families aware of how to identify youths in danger of turning to extremism.

The group's president, Rahim Qureshi, said mothers, wives and sisters were told to watch out for certain changed behaviour. 'If they are worried about someone, they tell us and we arrange study groups to teach them that violence is un-Islamic,' he said.

Mr Qureshi and other leaders from several mosques have urged landlords to give them information about any suspicious new tenants. Residents are urged to report outsiders, and shopkeepers are encouraged to report suspicious behaviour.

'After every bomb attack, Muslims are prime suspects and the entire community is painted as terrorist. We have to do our bit to ensure our young men do not fall into the hands of fanatics,' he said.

India has suffered a string of terrorist attacks in its cities in the past few months, all believed to be the work of Muslim extremists. Twenty-two people died in the capital when at least five bombs went off on Saturday in busy shopping areas.

A group calling itself the Indian Mujahedeen claimed responsibility for the bombs. Another extremist group, the Students Islamic Movement of India, is believed by police to be behind other terrorist attacks.

India's 140 million Muslims have been thrown onto the defensive. In June, clerics from the Darool-Uloom Deoband, an ancient Islamic seminary, issued a fatwa declaring that 'Islam rejects all kinds of unjust violence, breach of peace, bloodshed, murder and plunder'.

But people like Mr Khan believe that, while useful, the fatwa is too generalised and nebulous to function as a real deterrent for youths on the brink of being radicalised. 'You have to have study groups, seminars and workshops where you talk to youths face to face to get your point across. Often, they think they are the only victims.'