Wednesday, 28 May 2008

When I became a ‘Jihadi’

When I became a ‘Jihadi’
Dr Shabir Choudhry 28 October 2006

Jihad has become a very controversial word, in some cases a taboo word, yet I claim to be doing Jihad which is different to ‘Jihad’ of Jihadi groups who believe in waging an armed struggle against ‘infidels’ and accomplices of foreign powers.

Mosques play a central role in lives of most Muslims. Overwhelming majority of Muslims are peace loving and friendly people who believe in ‘live and let live’. But we, like in other religions and communities have a hard core Muslim groups and individuals who do not share the above view.

When extremists in other religions commit a crime their religion does not come under attack, but when a Muslim commits a crime it is Islam which is under attack, and it is a fault of the religion even though it teaches peace and benevolence. This attitude of non Muslims provides a propaganda stick in hands of those extremist elements within the Islamic community.

I am a religious person with liberal and tolerant mind which is in line with Islamic teaching. For past many years I have been regularly going to Ilford Islamic Centre where highly learned Imam, Allama Jamshaid Saeedi teaches patience, love and tolerance. He always teaches people to respect other religions and be patient if members of other faiths attack you or provoke you.

After 9/11 it became some kind of fashion to preach tolerance and speak against extremism, many did it because of rewards; but he used to disassociate himself from extremism and used to preach us to stay away from extremists before the twin towers came down. He believes parents have a big role in upbringing of their children and keeping a check on what they do and with whom they associate.

A night or two before Eid Ul Fiter we were praying at night and followers of Hindu religion were celebrating their festival of Divali. Hindu Temple is just across the road from our mosque and those celebrating Divali were having fun with fire work just outside the mosque; and that clearly disturbed our prayers. Some people, who might not be Hindus, deliberately threw some fire works in the front yard of the Mosque; and generally this kind of action provokes reaction from youngsters.

Allam Jamshaid Saeedi and the Management Committee of the Mosque always insist on setting good examples and urge people to be tolerant even when provoked. To support their point they always quote Quran and sayings of Prophet (Peace Be upon Him). As a result this policy despite being annoyed no one dared to react.

But this reminds me about an incident in which I was personally involved in 1970s. As a rebellious young man I strongly supported armed struggle, and for this purpose helped to set up Kashmir Youth Movement (which later became part of JKLF) to liberate Indian side of Kashmir. We at that time thought parts of Kashmir on this side of LOC were independent and what remained to be done was to liberate Kashmir from India. It is unfortunate that many still think the same to be true, and only want to liberate the Kashmir under India by use of gun.

At that time we even justified violent or terrorist actions in Europe to highlight the Kashmir dispute which was put in cold storage in Shimla Agreement. A person with that kind of mentality who also had some influence of ‘Jihadi’ teaching could be easily recruited to carry out any terrorist action, believing that it will win him rewards in life after. I am lucky at that time there were no ‘jihadi recruiters’ around otherwise I could have been either dead or in jail.

During those days I used to live in Halifax, in England where someone broke a window of our mosque. Racist attacks in 1970s Britain were common and one Mohlvee who was also management committee member made a speech against this attack and provoked our young minds. I still remember his ‘sermon’, he said:

‘If someone attacks your home you will fight the culprit to defend your house and your family. Today Allah’s house (mosque) is under attack. These non Muslims think they can do anything to attack Islam and damage our places of worship. It is a direct challenge to our faith and Islam. We need some brave youngsters who could strike back and attack their church to demonstrate that we Muslims won’t tolerate this. To fight in name of Islam is jihad and Allah rewards those people with a place in heaven.’

His powerful speech influenced us all, and my cousin and I decided to take part in this ‘jihad’. He asked us to meet him in the evening where he told us a target which was a newly built church on famous Gibbet Street. He advised us what to do and that we should target four and bigger windows to show our appropriate response.

Armed with four stones each and with some disguise we went to the target place in the cold evening of December. We were nervous as it was our first crime or first ‘jihadi’ action. My cousin who was older than me provided me support needed at time like this. Between us we decided who would target which window and then within seconds eight stones were hurled at the targets and there was a big noise of broken glass.

We were chased by some white men when they realised what we had done, but we were too fast for them. We reached the meeting place after accomplishing the ‘mission’; and our ‘mentor’ greeted us and congratulated us for successfully completing this task. Now with hindsight and with greater sense of responsibility and awareness I feel ashamed that I was manipulated to attack and damage a place of worship, which is clearly against the teaching of Islam. I hope Allah forgives me for this.

The other day when fire works were thrown in the forecourt of Ilford Islamic Centre, this incident could have been used to incite youngsters to retaliate and attack next door Hindu Temple; but thank Allah we have tolerant and sensible people in charge of the Islamic Centre. My advice to all youngsters is to be tolerant and moderate in your behaviour and that Allah WILL NOT be happy if you attack and abuse members of other faiths or attack their places of worship.

Writer is Chairman Diplomatic Committee of JKLF, Director Institute of Kashmir Affairs and author of many books on Kashmir. He could be reached at:

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