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SurferSpeak: When I became a 'jihadi'

Our surfer regrets having vandalised a place of worship in his youth.

india Updated: Jan 03, 2007 19:13 IST

Jihad has acquired an ominous meaning nowadays. Yet I claim to be practicing jihad, which is different from the "jihad" of jihadi groups that believe in waging an armed struggle against "infidels" and accomplices of foreign powers. 

Mosques play a central role in the 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 hardcore individuals and groups that do not share the above view.

When extremists belonging to other religions commit a crime their religion is not attacked, but when a Muslim commits a crime, his act is blamed on Islam even though it teaches peace and benevolence. It is this attitude of non-Muslims that is used by extremist elements within the Islamic community to preach hatred among the vast peace-loving majority. 

I am a religious person with a liberal and tolerant mind that is in line with Islamic teaching.

For past many years, I have been regularly going to Ilford Islamic Centre (United Kingdom) where the imam, Allama Jamshaid Saeedi, a learned scholar teaches patience, love and tolerance. He always teaches people to respect other religions and be tolerant in the face of attack on their religion. 

Post 9/11 everybody seems to be preaching tolerance and denouncing extremism. But Saeedi has been cautioning against extremism long before the twin towers came down. He believes parents have a big role in upbringing their children and keeping a check on what they do and with whom they associate.

Allam Jamshaid Saeedi and the management committee of the mosque have always insisted on setting good examples and urged people to be tolerant even when provoked. To support their point they always quote the Quran and sayings of the Prophet.

But this reminds me about an incident in which I was personally involved in the 1970s. As a rebellious young man, I strongly supported armed struggle, and for this purpose helped set up Kashmir Youth Movement (which later became part of JKLF) to liberate Jammu and Kashmir. We at that time thought parts of Kashmir on the Pakistani 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 had been put in cold storage by the Shimla Agreement. A person with that kind of mentality and with influence of "jihadi" teaching as well could be easily recruited to carry out any terrorist action, believing that it will win him rewards in afterlife. I feel lucky that there were no "jihadi recruiters" around at the time otherwise I could have been either dead or in jail.

I was living in Halifax, England, during the 1970s and once someone broke a window of our mosque. Racist attacks were common in Britain in those days. A maulvi, who was also a member of the mosque's management committee, gave a provocative speech against the attack. 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 gave us our target -- a newly built church on famous Gibbet Street, especially its four huge windows -- to avenge the attack on the mosque.

On a cold December evening, my cousin and I reached Gibbet Street, disguised and armed with four stones each, but too nervous to act as it was our first "jihadi" action. Somehow we gathered our wits and selected our targets and within seconds broke the glass panes.

We were chased by some white men but escaped. 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.

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.

The surfer is chairman, Diplomatic Committee of JKLF, director, Institute of Kashmir Affairs and author of many books on Kashmir. He could be reached at drshabirchoudhry @hotmail.com.

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