Why Kerala Police Has Asked the State Government to Ban the 14th-century ‘Book of Jihad’

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The Kerala police department has asked the state government to ban the circulation of the Malayalam translation of the 14th-century Arabic text Mashari Al-Ashwaq Ila Masari al-Ushaaq, better known as the ‘Book of Jihad or Holy War’. According to the police, “The book inspires youngsters with a strong religious inclination in joining terrorist organisations.” Following the request, the state government has formed a three-member committee headed by public relations department (PRD) director S Harikishore to examine the content.

As per an order [GO (Rt) No. 2628/2021/Home] issued by the home department (secret section) that deals with sensitive matters and intelligence inputs, a committee, also consisting of G Sparjan Kumar, IG (Internal Security), and NK Jayakumar, former vice-chancellor of National University for Advanced Legal Studies (NUALS), has been constituted to investigate whether the book contains any incriminating material that conflicts with any law in force, and to make recommendations accordingly.

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Mashari Al Ashwaq is a text written in Arabic by Damascus-born religious scholar Imam Abu Ahmad Ibnu Ibrahim Muhammad al Dimashqi al Dumyati, popularly known as Ibn Nuhaas, who was killed by Romans in 1411.

In 2018, the National Investigation Agency had produced a copy of the ‘Book of Jihad’ at the NIA court as part of a trial in a case related to the migration of people from Kasargod to Afghanistan to join Islamic State (ISIS). According to the agency, Abdul Rashid of Kasargod was giving lectures to people who moved to Afghanistan based on this book. The witnesses in the case mentioned that he was giving discourses rooted in the ‘Book of Jihad’ to convince people that “jihad is an obligation for the Islamic faithful”.

It is curious to note that this book, though it was available in Arabic for centuries, was untouched by any prominent Muslim sects in Kerala until 2015. Then the ISIS sympathisers in Kerala started publishing the Malayalam translation of the book, named Vijayathinte Vaathil Vaalinte Thanalil (The door to success, the shade of sword), through a blog by one Abu Haniyya Hindi. According to experts, the book, with chapters containing details such as the importance of keeping horses for jihad and the punishments for cowards who retreat from the ‘holy war’ could be seen “as a complete handbook on jihad”. It also has a chapter on how jihad is the most important mission in the life of a believer. The 2015 Malayalam translation is based on a 1998 copy. Though the book is not available in print, it was circulated in 344 pages in 33 chapters in PDF format through social media platforms such as Telegram and WhatsApp.

The book was resurrected from centuries of obscurity in the late 20th century by Egyptian author Sayyid Qutb. Those who are termed as the ones responsible for the revival of jihad in the twentieth century have given testimony that this book by Ibn Nuhas is the best inspiration to wage the ‘holy war’.

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Kerala chief minister Pinaryi Vijayan on September 23 confirmed that 100 Malayalis had joined ISIS, and, of them, 72 had gone abroad for professional purposes but got attracted to the Islamic State ideology and joined it. “Only one out of the 72 was a Hindu while the others were from the Muslim community. The other 28 had left Kerala specifically to join ISIS after being attracted to the ideology. Of the 28, only five were converted from other religions to Islam,” he said.

Though the official confirmation is for 100 persons, according to sources, the central agencies count more than 300 people in ISIS from Kerala. This includes nearly 50 women and children, family members of those who migrated to the Islamic State under various modules.

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