Jaya MenonPosted online: Thursday, July 27, 2006 at 0000 hrs Print Email MNP, founded by a former SIMI leader, has trained over 2,500 converts in five years; two arrested in Coimbatore this week converted barely a year ago
THENI, JULY 26:A radical Islamic outfit on the state intelligence’s watch list has made this sleepy pastoral village in Tamil Nadu a crucible for India’s biggest conversion exercise in recent times.
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Hundreds of men and women from all over the state, mostly the jobless and Dalits, have been converted to Islam in the last five years. Intelligence agencies say they have reason to believe that the mass conversions could be used as a potential bridge to terror.
Every four months, more than 50 Hindus from all over Tamil Nadu, converge at Arivagam (House of Knowledge), an Islamic learning institute, after going through the conversion ceremonies at local Jamats, to learn about the new religion they have embraced.
Of the five MNP activists arrested on July 22 for plotting a terror attack on Coimbatore, two?Athikur Rehman and Tipu Sultan?had converted to Islam only a year ago, and had their indoctrination at the Arivagam.
Firoze Khan, deputy in-charge at the Arivagam, explained: ”Yes, I initiated Athikur Rehman and Tipu Sultan into Islam over four months, from September 2005. But I had also taught more than 2,000 other converts. We don’t teach them to be militants and we don’t talk about other religions.”
He insists that police allegations that they were weaning converts on hate literature and training them in arms and explosive, are ”rubbish.”
Funded by the Manitha Neethi Pasarai (MNP), which has now officially entered the state intelligence records as ”a possible militant outfit, which needs to be closely watched,” the Arivagam has churned out more than 2,500 converts, mostly in their 20s, in the five years of its active existence.
Of these, at least 350 are women, trained at the Darul Hikma (Centre of knowledge) in mountainous Eruvadi, close to Tirunelveli, 250 km from Muthuthevanpatty.
But what’s worrying the state police, which finds itself increasingly chasing Muslim fundamentalists and seizing arms and country-made explosives, are intelligence reports that as many as 5,000 MNP members, including several Arivagam pass-outs, have settled in and around Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu’s industrial hub.
”MNP clearly aims to use the neo-converts for its operations. The advantage is they could easily pass for Hindus and use that identity,” says a member of the state’s special intelligence cell, with a brief to closely track the MNP.
”We have about 20,000 members all over Tamil Nadu. And, we do not spread any hate propaganda against anyone or any religion,” M Ghulam Mohammed, MNP founder and a co-founder and former Tamil Nadu unit chief of SIMI, blaming the state intelligence wing for spreading ”canards.”
Mohammed says only those who have already embraced Islam come to Arivagam. ”Moreover, we insist on an affidavit signed by notary public they willingly embraced Islam,” he says.
The state intelligence wing’s dossier on MNP, however, talks about the outfit fashioning itself after Kerala’s notorious and elusive NDF. ”They function as segregated cells for each operation, each cell knowing about the other in the network only on a need-to-know basis.”
There is little hard and actionable intelligence with the police about the MNP’s precise sources of funding. The outfit is known to run 25-odd charitable organisations across the state.
”They call themselves the ‘Secret Group’, have a well-coordinated low profile structure and share the usual declared extremist goals of Islamisation.” a senior police officer says.
Asked whether the Tamil Nadu police was looking at the MNP possibly using converts for terror operations, DGP D Mukherjee said: ”We are not concentrating on that angle. Now, we are only looking at MNP’s possible links with fundamentalist groups.”
At Arivagam, which sticks conspicuously out among the surrounding thatched huts with cow-dung dried walls, the new ‘recruits’ are a solemn bunch. ”They have just started classes,” Firoze Khan says.
Most converts, obviously, come from the lowest strata. Like 22-year-old Mohammad Mustafa who was Selvamani till two months ago. He is an orphan, and says he was advised by the Imam of the Sengottai Jamat (in Tirunelveli) and sent to Arivagam. He says he convinced his 30-year-old brother Ummar (Kumar) to join him.
”My sister is waiting to get her delivery over with and to get converted.”
Mohammed Mushtaq, earlier Rajkamal from Thanjavur, hails from the Thevar caste, known for its fierce caste chauvinism. ”I used to drink, smoke cigarettes and take drugs. My Hindu religion could not stop me. But a few Muslim friends pointed out that in their religion, there was fear of punishment. Now I have no vices and I am happy,” he says. He has been helped to settle in Ukkadam in Coimbatore where he now sells fruits.
The new class of nearly 50 converts get free boarding and lodging until they finish their ‘education.’ Some men bring their children along while some send their womenfolk to attend the classes at Eruvadi.
Women like Fathima (22), until recently Shanthakumari, and 22-year-old Katheeja (who was Priya), have not opposed the family’s conversion to Islam, as they would be given a ‘secure’ life by the ‘Dharul Hikma.’ Says its principal, Sheik Mohammed: ”We will find them grooms and arrange for their weddings just as we found Muslim brides for most of the new converts at Arivagam.”
The village head of the Dalit colony in Muthuthevanpatty, E N Karuppiah, said at least 50 Dalit families in the village, with its 500-odd members, have already converted to Islam.
”Not surprising. They are poor, very poor, and are easily lured by money, land and houses,” he said.
? Manitha Neethi Pasarai (Human Justice Forum) was formed in 2001 with headquarters in Chennai, by SIMI co-founder M Gulam Mohammed. The organization came under the spotlight for the first time in 2004, when 15 of its activists were rounded up in Nellikupam in the northern district of Cuddalore, with arms as well as hate literature including compact discs showing the Babri Masjid demolition, the Coimbatore serial bomb blasts and the Gujarat riots.