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© 2022 Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Kevin L. Schwartz, and Ameem Lutfi
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Departing from the general trend in scholarly inquiries and popular investigations of the post-9/11 era that focus on the political, legal, religious, and social positionality of Muslims vis-à-vis the West, political institutions in their home countries, or other religious communities, this article reflects on the effects of the Global War on Terror within Muslim communities themselves. The effort here is to analyze how 9/11 and the Global War on Terror affected en - gagements among various religious groups and organizations of Muslims in Kerala , India, a South Indian state reor - ganized in 1956 based on Malayali linguistic identity. The Kerala state is religiously plural, with the Hindu community comprising 55% of the total population, and Muslims and Christians making up 27% and 18%, respectively. While 94% of the state’s Muslim population identifies as Sunni and followers of the Shafiʿi school of thought, they are organized into different religious and political groups constantly in competition to represent the interests of Kerala Muslims. In this competition, the groups were often guided by a reformist/modernist and traditional/conservative framing, both as aspirational claims and accusations on rivals. Understanding how debates around these categories were mobilized historically can help sharpen our understanding of what changed after the 9/11 attacks. In the 1920s, after the collapse of the transregional Khilafat Movement, the religious loyalties of Kerala Muslims were largely divided between Samastha Kerala Jemiyyathul Ulama (Samastha) and Kerala   Nadvathul   Mujahideen   (KNM) . Samastha and KNM were both formed in the first half of the 20 th century, but took on diverging positions vis-à-vis sources of Islamic authority. While the former championed traditional local Malayali sources, the Salafi KNM shunned them for being adulterated by non-Islamic traditions. Despite espousing a puritanical vision of Islam, KNM for decades claimed the modernist title for itself and called out their larger rival Samastha as traditionalist/orthodox. Behind this position was not just their ideological beliefs, but also a political strategy to present themselves as the “good Muslims” better suited to the Indian state's modernizing ambitions. After Independence in 1947, the Indian Union Muslim League (Muslim League) brought both groups together under a shared umbrella, but in 1989 a group of Samastha members broke away due to growing concerns about KNM dominance and their staunch stance of promoting Bidʻah (heresy) and neglecting traditional Muslims. At the same time, the Muslim League was struggling to hold on to its modernist claim and instead was associated more with a rigid conservatism and communalism that did not fit well with the country’s secularist ambitions. In fact, their claim as the modernist Islamic party was countered by the Maulana Maududi inspired party Jamaat-e-Islami   Hind (JIH). Alongside criticizing the Muslim League for having lost touch with the Muslim community, JIH rallied support by targeting Samastha for its orthodoxy and framing itself as the progressive Muslim organization that could sit with leftist parties in countering imperialism glob - ally and Hindu nationalist parties nationally. More importantly, just like KNM, JIH managed to present their Salafist interpretations as modernist and reformist. However, the situation changed dramatically after 9/11, with Salafism being identified as a global threat and the ideological driver behind terrorism. As India jumped on board the Global War on Terror and quickly expanded its “anti-terrorism” bureaucratic and policing apparatus, Muslim groups within Kerala saw an opportunity to shift their internal hierarchies. Samastha and its breakaway faction claimed the “good Muslim” badge by presenting themselves as the tolerant and culturally permissive group, while painting their rivals as rigidly orthodox with globalist vis - ions. They organized a cross-state anti-terrorism rally in 2007, led a   three-month-long   public   awareness   campaign to discourage Kerala Muslims from joining ISIS in Syria, and frequently accused their rivals (KNM and JIH) of promoting violent jihadist tendencies. The Muslim League fought back and enthusiastically organized counter-terrorism programs and social-harmony initiatives in an effort to consolidate their own image as a moderate party. This longer-term view of relations among different organizations of Kerala Muslims allows us to see the impact of 9/11 and the Global War on Terror in redefining the power dynamics among them. Throughout much of the 20 th century, Muslim organizations in Kerala competed with one another over which group maintained the strongest nationalist/modernist bona fides and which ones were more traditionalist in nature and holding the country back. In the 21 st century, the debate shifted slightly, with groups now vying for the “moderate” Islam label and rivals being lam - basted as “conservative” or even terrorists. Overall, the legacy of 9/11 and the Global War on Terror may be best understood as facilitating the ability of traditional religious and political organ - izations, like Samastha and the Muslim League, to overcome the tag of orthodoxy and conservativism, while at the same time providing them with the necessary justification to damage the social profile of Salafi organizations in Kerala.
9/11 and Sectarianism in Islam; Counter-Terrorism Debates among Muslim Groups of Kerala, India
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© 2022 Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Kevin L. Schwartz, and Ameem Lutfi
Departing from the general trend in scholarly in - quiries and popular investigations of the post- 9/11 era that focus on the political, legal, religious, and social positionality of Muslims vis- à-vis the West, political institutions in their home countries, or other religious communities, this article reflects on the effects of the Global War on Terror within Muslim communities them - selves. The effort here is to analyze how 9/11 and the Global War on Terror affected engage - ments among various religious groups and or - ganizations of Muslims in Kerala , India, a South Indian state reorganized in 1956 based on Malayali linguistic identity. The Kerala state is religiously plural, with the Hindu community comprising 55% of the total population, and Muslims and Christians making up 27% and 18%, respectively. While 94% of the state’s Muslim population identifies as Sunni and followers of the Shafiʿi school of thought, they are organized into different religious and political groups constantly in competition to represent the interests of Kerala Muslims. In this competi - tion, the groups were often guided by a reform - ist/modernist and traditional/conservative framing, both as aspirational claims and accusa - tions on rivals. Understanding how debates around these categories were mobilized historic - ally can help sharpen our understanding of what changed after the 9/11 attacks. In the 1920s, after the collapse of the transreg - ional Khilafat Movement, the religious loyalties of Kerala Muslims were largely divided between Samastha Kerala Jemiyyathul Ulama (Samastha) and Kerala      Nadvathul      Mujahideen      (KNM) . Samastha and KNM were both formed in the first half of the 20 th century, but took on diverging positions vis-à-vis sources of Islamic authority. While the former championed traditional local Malayali sources, the Salafi KNM shunned them for being adulterated by non-Islamic traditions. Despite espousing a puritanical vision of Islam, KNM for decades claimed the modernist title for itself and called out their larger rival Samastha as traditionalist/orthodox. Behind this position was not just their ideological beliefs, but also a polit - ical strategy to present themselves as the “good Muslims” better suited to the Indian state's modernizing ambitions. After Independence in 1947, the Indian Union Muslim League (Muslim League) brought both groups together under a shared umbrella, but in 1989 a group of Samastha members broke away due to growing concerns about KNM dominance and their staunch stance of promoting Bidʻah (heresy) and neglecting traditional Muslims. At the same time, the Muslim League was strug - gling to hold on to its modernist claim and in - stead was associated more with a rigid conservatism and communalism that did not fit well with the country’s secularist ambitions. In fact, their claim as the modernist Islamic party was countered by the Maulana Maududi inspired party Jamaat-e-Islami   Hind (JIH). Alongside criti - cizing the Muslim League for having lost touch with the Muslim community, JIH rallied support by targeting Samastha for its orthodoxy and framing itself as the progressive Muslim organiz - ation that could sit with leftist parties in counter - ing imperialism globally and Hindu nationalist parties nationally. More importantly, just like KNM, JIH managed to present their Salafist inter - pretations as modernist and reformist. However, the situation changed dramatically after 9/11, with Salafism being identified as a global threat and the ideological driver behind terrorism. As India jumped on board the Global War on Terror and quickly expanded its “anti-ter - rorism” bureaucratic and policing apparatus, Muslim groups within Kerala saw an opportunity to shift their internal hierarchies. Samastha and its breakaway faction claimed the “good Muslim” badge by presenting themselves as the tolerant and culturally permissive group, while painting their rivals as rigidly orthodox with globalist vis - ions. They organized a cross-state anti-terrorism rally in 2007, led a    three-month-long    public awareness      campaign to discourage Kerala Muslims from joining ISIS in Syria, and frequently accused their rivals (KNM and JIH) of promoting violent jihadist tendencies. The Muslim League fought back and enthusiastically organized counter-terrorism programs and social-harmony initiatives in an effort to consolidate their own image as a moderate party. This longer-term view of relations among differ - ent organizations of Kerala Muslims allows us to see the impact of 9/11 and the Global War on Terror in redefining the power dynamics among them. Throughout much of the 20 th century, Muslim organizations in Kerala competed with one another over which group maintained the strongest nationalist/modernist bona fides and which ones were more traditionalist in nature and holding the country back. In the 21 st century, the debate shifted slightly, with groups now vying for the “moderate” Islam label and rivals being lambasted as “conservative” or even ter - rorists. Overall, the legacy of 9/11 and the Global War on Terror may be best understood as facilit - ating the ability of traditional religious and polit - ical organizations, like Samastha and the Muslim League, to overcome the tag of orthodoxy and conservativism, while at the same time providing them with the necessary justification to damage the social profile of Salafi organizations in Kerala.
© 2022 Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Kevin L. Schwartz, and Ameem Lutfi
9/11 and Sectarianism in Islam; Counter-Terrorism Debates among Muslim Groups  of Kerala, India
Written by
Ph.D. Candidate at Centre for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
If you are interested in contributing an article for the project, please send a short summary of the proposed topic (no more than 200 words) and brief bio to submissions@911legacies.com. For all other matters, please contact inquiry@911legacies.com.
CONTACT