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The Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI): Muslim activists targeted by the government

Crescent International

The Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) was formed in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh state, in April 1977. Its founding president was Mohammad Ahmadullah Siddiqi, now professor of journalism and public relations at the University of Western Illinois. SIMI originally emerged as a student wing of the Jamaat-e Islami Hind (JIH). Inspired by the Islamic Revolution in Iran, it stood for radical social change in India, an approach not appreciated by the leadership of JIH. The alliance was short-lived. In 1981 SIMI activists protested against PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s visit to India, and greeted him with black flags in New Delhi. Young SIMI activists identified Arafat as a western puppet, while the senior JIH leaders saw Arafat as a champion of the cause of Palestine. JIH decided to abandon SIMI and floated a new student wing, the Students Islamic Organization (SIO).

SIMI believed that, despite its strengths and weaknesses as a youth organization, it could play a catalytic role in the affairs of the Ummah. Opposed to secularism, nationalism and western-style democracy, SIMI advocated the need to oppose oppressive regimes and work for the Ummah. Its slogan was "Allah is our Lord, Qur’an is our constitution, Muhammad is our leader, Jihad is our way and Shahadah is our desire". It strength quickly grew to 400 Ansar – registered members – and about 20,000 supporting members.

SIMI had a separate wing for sisters under the banner "Girls’ Wing" and one for the children (to keep them tuned to the Islamic value-system right from the budding stage of upbringing), under the name "Shaheen Force". SIMI published several magazines in various languages, including al-Harkah in Urdu, Tahreek in Hindi, Iqraa in Gujrati, Rupantar in Bengali, Sedhi Madal in Tamil, Vivekam in Malayalam, Movement in English and Shaheen Times in English for children.

SIMI identified the Sangh Parivar as enemies of Islam and India, and exposed India’s failure to address basic human rights issues. In 1986 SIMI organized a national convention with the slogan "liberation of India through Islam", and exposed India’s failure to address the problem of millions of "Untouchables" (Dalits) living under the Brahmins’ hegemony. Most Muslims did not welcome SIMI’s "Khilafat Campaign", which denounced nationalism and advocated the return of Khilafat to the Muslim world, although SIMI’s campaign was universal, rather than pertaining strictly to India in particular. However, SIMI had a clear-cut answer to India’s futile electoral politics, and thus made sure that throughout the 24 years of its catalytic role in the Ummah, its members boycotted elections and also appealed to fellow citizens to abstain from India’s corrupt and unreformable ‘democratic’ politics.

While other Islamic organisations watched helplessly as the Sangh Parivar campaigned to demolish the 464-year-old Babri Mosque, SIMI went on the streets to enlighten the masses about the threat to Islam in India. One policy of SIMI was watched particularly closely by the Indian government: its stand on Kashmir. SIMI was the only Muslim organization that dared to declare that Kashmir was not an "integral part" of India and that Muslims need to raise their voices against the violations of human rights in the Valley. Kashmiri leader Syed Shah Jeelani attended a SIMI convention in 1997, which was an opportunity for SIMI activists to discuss issues of the Islamic movement, but which for the Indian authorities was the beginning of "ISI links", ie. links to Pakistan’s intelligence service.

After the destruction of the Buddhist statues in Bamiyan by the Taliban, the Sangh Parivar in India burnt copies of the Qur’an in the streets. Muslim organisations tried to condemn this "intellectually", through statements to the press, but SIMI conducted mass-awareness campaigns instead. The violence that broke out in some northern towns were attributed to SIMI’s "virulent" campaign, although the authorities found no reason to find fault with the anti-social elements who burnt the Qur’an in broad daylight, which they justified as natural response to events in Afghanistan.

On September 28, 2001, SIMI was proscribed under the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), accused of having links with ISI and other "terrorist" organisations worldwide, and of attempting to "destabilize the nation". SIMI is also accused of receiving funds from abroad, especially from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. This is a patently absurd charge against a committed organization that in its 24 years of activism had a strict policy against receiving funds from abroad, especially from Saudi Arabia, which SIMI rightly believed would be the first step on the road to subservience, and the eventual dilution of its revolutionary appeal. Interestingly, after the ban, Indian intelligence agencies also found it convenient to accuse SIMI of working with Pakistan-based "terrorist outfits" to sabotage "peace in India".

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 32, No. 13 2003-10

Sha'ban 05, 14242003-10-01

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