Malappuram: It was 4 pm when we reached the settlement of a splinter Salafi group in Athicaud village 6 km away from Nilambur town. It was prayer time, but the secluded commune of 18 households looked deserted. Takbeer (call for prayer) emerged from a distant mosque but the mosque inside remained closed. Later, a 13-year-old boy came and started Takbeer from its verandah without a loudspeaker, which sunk in the louder noise of raindrops on the aluminium sheet covered roof. After 10 minutes, five men came for Asar namaz.
This exclusive commune of self-proclaimed "true" Salafis, surrounded by teak woods and rubber plants, lies near Nilambur forests. Settlements of Paniya tribes are nearby. The most recent reports of men and women leaving for religiously terrorised havens in the Middle East have brought the commune, which is now further broken, to under scanner. Though they have no terror links or extremist mentality, police say, their exclusivity and radical Islamic views, keep them away from the accepted version of Islam in Kerala.
Salafi preacher Zubair Mankada established this commune after parting ways with Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen (KNM) in 2007. He organised like-minded people offering them a puritan life akin to Prophet's. He bought three acres on the banks of Chaliyar and sold it as ten-cent plots to his disciples to build a home.
“At the beginning, there were 18 families came from different parts of the state. Most of us have sold our properties to settle down here,” says Mujeeb Rahman, a resident for six years. “There are some reports in the media that we are stock breeders. There is no truth in it. We have engineers, teachers, fishermen and business people here. I run a small production and sales unit of soap and liquid cleaners,” he said.
Mr Mankada left midway due to serious differences on Salafism, and the commune is almost headless now. “He was leading religious classes. But we started questioning his ways which went against his teachings. It resulted in a split. He left with six families,” he explained. Some of the deserters have sold their properties, and others are struggling to find a buyer.
The 12 remaining families are from Thalassery, Varkala and some parts of Malappuram. There was a school apart from a madrasa. The School has stopped functioning. The children are now going nearby schools. Some are fed up with police surveillance and tarnished public image despite having no extremist connection. But they could not go back to their native places where they have no properties left.
“There is no evidence of this group having any extremist links. However they were under intelligence scanner for long,” Nilambur circle inspector Sajeevan T. said. Some want to live here forever. “We are happy that none of the ISIS minded people will find this place safe, because of the police surveillance. Police are frequent visitors and today too a team had come,” says Shiju Salim, who came from Varkala.
Sidheeq, another resident, had recently visited Sri Lanka with his 13-year-old son to seek higher Islamic education in a seminary there. “We took the journey as a tour option with least expenses and to explore possibilities of getting admission for my son there,” he said. He has now abandoned the plan try again after the reports of the disappeared men gone to Sri Lanka. “I have decided to admit him to in a Mujahid seminary in Edavanna,” he said.
Demmaj, the Salafi haven
Demmaj, a village in Yeman, is home to many salafis from around the world who are attracted by the the country’s oldest Salafi seminary called Dar Al-Hadith.
It also hosts some of the Salafis from Kerala who have broken all organisation links with moderate Salafi groups in the state. One of them is 43 year old Nalakath Salman, a native of Methalangadi in Areekode in the district.
He had set out to Yeman seven years ago with his wife and two children for the higher salafi islamic studies. All these years he has never visited his family members back in Areacode but maintains regular contact with them. “He has gone for higher islamic studies. It has nothing to do with terror organisations,” says Nalakath Bashar, brother of Salman. Bashar also shunned the reports that he was leading life there breeding goats.
“Such reports are baseless and Salman gets stipend for the studies and doing small business for living. He is now living in Sana’a, the capital city of Yeman,” he said. Salman now has six children. Last year Salman was abducted by the Houti militants from his quarters and later released after the intervention of Indian Embassy in Yeman. Salman had earlier tried to come back to India but got stuck with passport issues. “The family is trying again to obtain passport for the children to return,” Bashar said....