“Fighting has been enjoined upon you while it is hateful
to you. But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you
love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.”
—Surat Al-Baqarah (The Cow) 2:216
“So let those fight in the cause of Allah who sell the
life of this world for the Hereafter. And he who fights in the cause of Allah
and is killed or achieves victory. We will bestow upon him a great reward.”
—Surat An-Nisā’ (The Women) 4:74
Areeb (Arif) Majeed had to go. Even if took him to the
grave. Majeed was embarking on a “spiritual journey”, one that took him from
his mohalla in Kalyan to the battlefield in Iraq where he
fought alongside his Muslim brethren under the banner of jihad. For he, devout
and firm in his belief, viewed this life as a waiting room. It was merely a
test for the hereafter where Allah watched over your conduct, conduct that
would be assessed on the Day of Judgment.
He didn’t inform his family of his hijr on the night of May 23. Had his parents known of his imminent departure, perhaps they wouldn’t have let him go. The mundane could have got in the way—the third-year engineering student had an exam the next day; perhaps his sister’s impending wedding would have kept him home.
So he left without a goodbye. He left a remarkable letter peppered with language reminiscent of the English used in translations of the Quran. Concise and with a methodology, it is a manifesto that will resonate amongst puritanical followers of the faith anywhere.
He wrote: “O people of my house, including my father and beloved mother, I love you so I am going on a spiritual journey. And when Allah accepts my martyrdom, I will intervene for you because I love you … Inshallah we will meet in jannah (heaven).
“It is a blessed journey for me, because I don’t want to live in this sinful country,” he wrote. “I will always be in a crying state when I see you all singing, smoking cigarettes, taking an interest in TV, voting, illegal sexual intercourse, living luxurious lives, intermingling of sexes, not praying, salah, not growing beards, illegal marriages, backbiting, fashion (some members doing shirk).” Shirk refers to wrongdoing.
For jihadis, June 29 was special a day as the IS broadcast a message on social media: “So rush O Muslims, gather around your khalifah that you may return as you once were for ages, kings of the earth and knights of war.
Majeed died three months later, in an explosion in Mosul as US fighter jets and drones pounded the Islamic State (IS) strongholds. He died a member of the IS, the militant Islamist group that has exceeded al-Qaeda in ambition and notoriety. He is the first Indian to participate and be “martyred” in “Global Jihad”.
Three others, all in their 20s—Saleem Tanki, Aman Tandel, and Fahad Shaikh—from his mohalla in Kalyan accompanied him on this journey to Iraq, to what is now being referred to as the Islamic State.
For jihadis the world over, June 29 was special a day as
the IS broadcast a message on social media websites: “So rush O Muslims and
gather around your khalīfah, so that you may return as you once
were for ages, kings of the earth and knights of war. By Allah, if you
disbelieve in democracy, secularism, nationalism, as well as all the other
garbage and ideas from the west, and rush to your religion and creed, then by
Allah, you will own the earth, and the east and west will submit to you. This
is the promise of Allah to you.”
On that day, the notoriously private—there are only two photos of him and one video clip—leader of IS Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared the formation of the Caliphate and setting up of a “state” of which he was the Caliph. His ambitions and success have made him a legatee of the global jihad franchise that Osama bin Laden helped create.
Baghdadi’s declaration was aimed at jihadis across the
world. Thousands of foreign fighters have responded from England to China and
fight under the flag of IS. The CIA estimates that the Islamic State has up to
31,500 fighters and that it has ramped up its recruitment campaign. The IS
controls vast parts of Syria and Iraq, territorially as large as Britain. At
the time of writing, an IS video threatening American president Barack Obama
and his coalition has surfaced, and a gun-toting 17-year-old Australian recruit
levies the threats.
M ajeed, one of his teachers said, was a “good boy; shy,
soft-spoken, devout.” [Editor’s note: Given the sensitive nature of the story,
and the fact that this is an ongoing investigation, most of the people
interviewed refused to be named.]
He was well-known and when his photo appeared in the paper, the teacher was taken aback. Indeed Majeed was religious; he was almost always in the front row of the prayer room. He never missed his prayers but that was due to upbringing: since he was a little boy, his father would wake him at the crack of dawn for fajr prayers.
A friend recalls the impact his Umrah pilgrimage had on him: “His eyes welled up when he spoke of the great mosques of Mecca and Medina. He was struck by how everyone was equal there: king and pauper bowed down together to one God.”
Majeed’s Facebook post was proof: “It is Truly Said, that MAKKAH and MADINA are the Holiest Cities Of The World. I Too Am A Witness Now …”
Those days, Majeed also identified himself as an Indian, sharing posts from the “I Love India” group. With time, he would identify himself less with the country of his birth and more as a global Islamic citizen ready for the holy war.
By late 2011, his updates were all religiously affiliated. “Allah closes doors; no man can open. Allah opens doors; no man can close,” he wrote. In October 2013, he uploaded the picture of a poster that read: “Ummah Bleeding, Ummah Sleeping.”
Ummah in Arabic means community and a hadith of the Prophet says: “The Muslim Ummah is like one body. If the eye is in pain, then the whole body is in pain, and if the head is in pain, then the whole body is in pain.” This implies that if one Muslim is hurt, all are hurt.
By October, the civil war in Syria had taken a sinister turn as rebels who had allied with militant Islamists were butchered in the name of God. Increasingly the flag of ISIS (as they were called then)—black with white writing that reads “There is no God but Allah” and a reproduction of what many believe to be the Prophet Muhammad’s seal (it reads: “Allah, Rasool, Muhammad”)—fluttered atop tanks on TV screens and on social media.
By March 9, Majeed’s radicalisation was complete. He changed his profile picture to the flag of the IS. He got rid of his identity—that of a third-year engineering student from Doodh Naka, Kalyan—and fashioned himself into a warrior of God, called upon to fight in distant lands.
Majeed’s journey from a small-town boy to mujahid—someone
who strives or struggles in the name of Islam—was meticulous. According to a senior officer of the Maharashtra police’s
Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS), and someone who has direct knowledge of the case,
Majeed created a fake identity on Facebook and much of his radicalisation took
place online. His nom de guerre was Abu Ali al-Hindi (“Hindi” is Arabic for
Indian) and spent months reaching out to like-minded jihadis. Two independent
sources, including one from the ATS, told me Majeed attended a karate training
camp in Panvel that also imparted classes on religion.
Records with the ATS suggest that Majeed trawled jihadi-affiliated sites even as he continued to remain on top of his studies. Soon a “handler” reciprocated and passed onto Majeed the password to a jihadi chat room and invited him into “closed” Facebook groups, according to the ATS. Handlers act as go-betweens for jihadis and the mujahideen in Syria and Iraq.
This password was the key that opened the door to this underworld.
The hijra was no longer an obscure religious or academic idea. Hijra is the flight of Muhammad from Mecca to Medina in order to escape persecution in 622 AD. It is also viewed as the start of the Islamic era. In his goodbye note, Majeed wrote: “So, at the time of death, the angel of death will ask me, ‘Why don't you make hijr (migrate to Mecca and Madina)? Allah’s land was spacious.’”
Majeed’s letter is striking, not just because of its clarity of thought but also because of the Quranic verses he chose to quote. Given that the quotes are Allah’s word, no Muslim will refute them but Majeed failed to provide the context in which they appear in the Quran.
Majeed viewed it as his duty to heed the call of Allah and migrate while his father, Dr Ejaz Majeed, a doctor of Unani medicine, claims his son was brainwashed to go and fight. He has demanded that the perpetrators be brought to justice and has met Home Minister Rajnath Singh on this matter.
Neighbours pity the doctor’s condition. “He stopped eating for a while after Saleem Tanki broke the news of his son’s death. I’d seen him sobbing over his desks. He still cries often,” said a neighbour.