Stung by a report on how it has thrown its weight behind the extremist Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), the Jamaat-e-Islami, an influential Islamic revivalist movement, has moved quickly to dissociate itself from the terror network.
On Tuesday, the Hindustan Times reported that Mohfammad Abrar — a top SIMI member who admitted to his involvement in the July 11, 2006, serial train blasts in Mumbai — claimed to have used the Jamaat’s Delhi office for a meeting. It appeared from his confession that the Jamaat was renewing its support for the banned group.
On Wednesday, Mohammad Aslam Ghazi, spokesperson for the Jamaat’s Maharashtra unit told the Hindustan Times: “How much truth there is in the confession can be gauged from the fact that neither the police nor intelligence agencies have approached us, despite Abrar having made the claim days ago. Surely, they would have investigated us if the confession held any credibility.” He added: “Why Abrar made the statement is unclear, but it’s a lie.”
The police, meanwhile, are playing their cards close to their chest. Inspector General of Police (Indore Range) Anil Kumar, while maintaining that “there is enough indication that the Jamaat was harbouring and funding SIMI activists”, said they “have no evidence of it”. Madhya Pradesh investigating agencies were given Abrar’s confession, made after he surrendered in a Nagpur court in January.
Ghazi, however, was at pains to explain that Jamaat had no association with SIMI. SIMI, he said, was formed just after the Emergency in 1975 and would seek the Jamaat’s advice on spiritual and other matters, but the organisations started drifting apart when the student outfit began showing signs of radicalism. In 1982, several small student bodies came together under the patronage of the Jamaat to form the Students’ Islamic Organisation (SIO), Ghazi said. However, SIMI refused to be part of it, thus sealing the dissociation between the two organisations.
“In 1991,” said Rehan Ansari, coordinator of the Jamaat’s media cell in Mumbai, “the Jamaat made it clear through a circular that none of its members should associate with SIMI.” This was about the time, he said, when SIMI turned completely extremist.
“Far from being associated with us,” said Ansari, “SIMI saw us as a thorn in its flesh and would often whitewash SIO posters, overwriting them with their own messages.” In fact, “one of the foremost tasks” the Jamaat has undertaken is raise a voice against terrorism, said Ghazi.
The Jamaat, formed in 1941 in Lahore, manages 350 schools, 28 colleges, 25 hospitals, and Al-Jamiat-ul-Islamia university in Shantapuram in Mallapuram district, Kerala, apart from several mosques, hospitals, orphanages and vocational centres. It has, over the years, consistently refrained from doing anything that would make it seem to be a radical organisation.