The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Jihad to put country first

Mumbai, June 5: The acronym fits snugly: MY India. But the road ahead is not so easy for the 250-odd volunteers of a radical new Muslim organisation which is telling community members they have got the meaning of jihad all wrong and that it is time for them to break away and debunk the “anti-national’’ stereotype. For tomorrow might be too late.

Syed Khan, convenor of the Muslim Youths of India, is aware of the import — and repercussions — of a step which Muslims view with disdain and Hindus with suspicion.

“It took about a year for us to get this movement going; the Gujarat riots had us thinking very hard,’’ says Khan. “What we are saying is that for long people have put religion over nation and it’s time to change that because if we have to band together, it should be to call the bluff of those misleading our youth into taking up terrorism. Community, whose ever it is, should not come ahead of nation,’’ he added.

Khan, 32, and his flock have a tough task.

“It is ridiculous’’ says Ahmed H. Hussain, a businessman from the dock area of Mazgaon, “this new breed of boys just want to reap some benefits for themselves. They have to take into account what we have gone through all these years and recently in Gujarat. What aggression are they talking about, who is the aggressor'’’ he asks.

But Khan remains undaunted. “Of course, not everyone will be happy but we must do what we have to,’’ he says.

Khan’s initiative comes barely a day after Professor J.S. Bandukwala said in Vadodara that the Koran does not compel Muslims to sport a beard and wear the hijab.

Bandukwala’s statements made many in the Islamic fold angry. “The beard and the veil are part of our religious identity,’’ snapped Urdu journalist Syed Iftikar Ahmed, “is that (discarding them) the only way we can join the (national) mainstream'’’

Members of MY India — they like the organisation being called so — said it became necessary to do some damage control after Mumbai police busted training camps in Borivli being run by the Students Islamic Movement of India. Word had spread that Muslim youth were being made to attend the camps in large numbers.

“What we are saying is that Muslims have for long been misled in the name of religion,’’ Khan says. “These forces are destroying the very fabric of our community, which is lagging behind anyway. It is very counterproductive,’’ he adds.

There is widespread cynicism, but there is also hope. “These boys are starting something good, I just hope it doesn’t fizzle out like many such positive initiatives,’’ said Syed Hussain, a Samajwadi Party activist.

MY India plans to start the movement in Mumbai, taking it to other cities later and then finally to the villages.

Muslims are feeling very bitter and angry after last year’s riots and this has made it easy for youth to be indoctrinated into fanaticism and terrorism, says Khan. He adds that members of MY India will intensively campaign to tell Muslim youth that they should not fall into the “gun and religion trap”.’

The convenor says: “There are many who are asking me ‘why are you conceding that Muslims have taken up the gun or are joining the Simi - it will only increase the atrocities against us’. But I tell them that this has to stop.’’

Khan adds: “I tell them that I offer namaaz five times a day. I love my religion but I will not let my country disintegrate. I have many people with me, there is a lot of support. MY India will tackle the adversity because we are convinced this movement is for the good of everybody.’’

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