Think Tank (1/2024)
Mr Mohammed Sinan Siyech (second from left)
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Salafism in India and its Approach to Democracy, Secularism and Violence
21 Feb 2024

In a seminar conducted on 21 February 2024 and titled “Salafism in India and its Approach to Democracy, Secularism and Violence”, Mr Mohammed Sinan Siyech, Doctoral Candidate at the Middle East Studies Department of the University of Edinburgh, delineated the various approaches of Salafist movements in India towards secularism and democracy, with a distinct focus on the Urdu-speaking Markaz Jamiat Ahl e-Hadeeth (MJAH) and Malayalam-speaking Kerala Nadwatul Mujahideen (KNM) groups. In explaining the dearth of scholarship relating to the study of Salafism in India, Mr Sinan emphasised he has drawn from existing literature and typologies pertaining to Global Salafism that correspond to Europe and the Middle East particularly, in application to his present research on South India.

Mr Sinan highlighted that Salafists in India do not behave as a monolithic entity and instead embody diverging ideological orientations. Regarding democracy, he argues that Salafist groups generally embrace the ideal favourably, despite notable differences between KNM and MJAH, with the former being an ardent proponent of democracy and the latter holding a more sceptical view, considering democracy a “flawed” system while opting to participate in it as the only viable system to retain Indian Muslims’ rights. Mr Sinan’s scholarship also delinks the idea of secularism from democracy and assesses how Indian Salafists, in both the North and South, embrace secularism as a means of subsistence and group survival, with the extent of political participation differing between the subregions.

The seminar concluded with a Q&A session, where attendees engaged Mr Sinan on diverse topics, including the responses of Indian Salafists to the prevailing Bharatiya Janaya Party government and rising Islamophobia, the impact of evolving cultural and religious dynamics on Salafist practices, and the extent of their involvement in online knowledge-sharing initiatives for broader community outreach.

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