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Published in the 16-31 March 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Muslims, Marxism and Malappuram

By Mukundan C. Menon

The Milli Gazette Online

Thiruvananthapuram: Both the Muslim and Marxist politics in Kerala’s Malabar region are being watched with added interest following the CPI-M State Conference held at the Muslim citadel of Malappuram. Indeed, the conference was a success with the large turn out of local people. On its part, the CPI-M propaganda machine lavishly projected portraits of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to woo Muslims. Unlike in their previous conclaves, the portraits of Swami Vivekananda were conspicuously absent at Malappuram. 

Official CPI-M leadership claimed the success of the conference as the party’s victory in penetrating into the minds of the Muslim masses – the traditional vote bank of Indian Union Muslim League (IUML). The motivating factor for CPI-M to opt Malappuram for the party conclave was the stunning defeat inflicted on IUML at its traditional Manjeri seat which CPI-M’s T. K. Hamza snatched by defeating IUML’s K.P.A. Majeed in 2004 Lok Sabha polls. 

The red conclave at the Muslim bastion of Malappuram was marked with the internal bickering within CPI-M coming into the open. Much to the chagrin of the CPI-M leadership, the fiasco was unprecedented. One of the major reasons for the inner party conflict was the Muslim factor. The group of State Secretary, Pinarayi Vijayan, known as a "moderate" and soft towards Muslims, was countered by the group, known as "communist traditionalists" led by Opposition leader and Polit Bureau Member, V. S. Achuthanandan, who wanted the party to maintain equi-distance from both ‘majority and minority communalism". As all efforts to unanimously elect the new State Committee failed, voting was held among the 500 odd delegates to choose the 80 odd State Committee members. It was a severe blow to Achuthanandan as all his 12 nominees fielded against the official panel miserably lost the polls. That paved the way for the victorious Pinarayi Vijayan to become the Secretary for the third successive term.

The issue of Marxism and Muslims did not end there. Soon after the Malappuram meet, Pinarayi Vijayan made an impromptu appearance on the concluding day of the three-day anniversary meet of Markazu Ssaquafathi Ssunniyya, led by Sunni leader Kanthapuram A.P. Aboobaker Musaliar, at Karanthur near Kozhicode on February 27. Notably, the Kanthapuram group of Sunnis had played a major role to help CPI-M snatch the traditional Manjeri Lok Sabha seat of IUML last year. His leanings earned Kanthapuram a nick-name: "hammer-sickle Muslim"! 

Addressing the Markazu gathering, Vijayan, who is also a Polit Bureau member, said that his party is not inimical to any religion. Calling upon the people to spurn the attempts made by certain quarters to portray Communists as anti-religion, he said without naming IUML: "Such a propaganda has been initiated by those who exploit religion for their own vested interests."

The CPI-M never opposed any religion, Vijayan insisted and explained: "Our members have been absorbed from all sections of society. Had the CPM been against religious beliefs, the party would have been isolated in Kerala,. The party has only questioned the communalisation of the majority community. The fact is that majority communalism has resulted in minority communalism."
Admitting that the religious minorities had misunderstood the CPI(M) earlier, the CPI-M leader added: "But now the situation has changed, as more and more people from the minority communities are being attracted to the party." 

Calling upon to build ‘‘a joint effort by secular forces which is the need of the hour to fight the majority communalism", the Marxist leader said that true believers should resist anti-religious activities carried out in the name of religion. Lauding the endeavors of Kanthapuram, he said: "People who are compassionate can never oppose the educational and social activities of Markazu".

The CPI-M efforts to woo Muslim masses unmistakably alerted the IUML leadership, especially since the local body elections to the Municipalities and Panchayats are due in October as a prelude to the Assembly general elections next year May. Even during the CPI-M conclave, the IUML cadres engaged in a competition to decorate Malappuram with green as against the communists’ red. 

Countering Pinarayi Vijayan’s statements at Markazu, the IUML leadership sought to know whether it was the CPI-M’s official stand. In particular, the IUML wanted the CPM to clearly explain its stand on issues like ‘faith in God’ and ‘religious beliefs’, since Karl Marx himself had termed all religions as opium to intoxicate the working class.

A ‘Fatwa’ against Marxist Muslims!
Meanwhile, a major controversy broke out in Malappuram district in March first week when the IUML Karuvarakundu local unit brought out a pamphlet quoting a ‘fatwa’ issued by the controversial Islamic cleric,.Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi highlighting the atheistic philosophy of Communism.
Dr. Qaradawi’s ‘Fatwa’ had been an attempt to contrast Communism and Islam. The gist of the ‘Fatwa’ issued by the Qatari scholar more than two decades ago said: "If a Communist is an atheist, then he has no place in Islam; he should not be given a Muslim woman in marriage; his funeral should not be conducted as per Islamic rites; dead bodies of communists cannot be buried on mosque premises; and he would have no right to his parents' property." 
Notably, Dr. Qaradawi's fatwa on communism was published in Malayalam in 1987. It appeared in the `Qaradawi's Fatwas', a book brought out by the Kozhicode-based Islamic Publishing House (IPH) Jamat-e-Islami. Translated by V. Kamaluddin, it has a preface by E.N. Mohammed Moulavi, Professor of Islahiya College, Chendamangallur
Although the controversial pamphlet was issued by the IUML local unit as part of its panchayat-level meeting at Karuvarakundu, the IUML leadership was careful in distancing themselves from it. Said IUML Malappuram district secretary, KPA Majeed: "We have nothing to do with the fatwa. The League has no fatwas. Ours is a political party and not a religious body. We do not exhort the Muslim community either to follow that fatwa or to reject it." 

This apart, the IUML leadership had welcomed the controversy that the pamphlet has kicked up. They are certain that it would give IUML an opportunity to engage in a debate with the Muslim practitioners of Communism about their stand on the fundamentals of Islam and Marxism. 

An elated pro-IUML Islamic scholar and general secretary of Sunni Yuvajana Sanghom (SYS), Prof. Alikutty Musliar explains: "It's not a matter of whether you belong to the Communist party or not. What matters is whether you are a believer in God or not." The IUML Malappuram District Treasurer Advocate M. Ummer asserted that the controversial pamphlet, which had only quoted an Arabian Islamic scholar, will be given wider publicity if it has put the Marxist party in utter disarray. Expressing his readiness to debate with CPI-M on this issue, he said: ‘‘If a small pamphlet could rock CPM in such a way, we will think about giving it wider publicity in future.’’

The controversial pamphlet was a rude shock to CPI-M dreams of influencing the Muslim minds by virtue of the success of its party conclave at Malappuram. 
The first reaction came from the Karuvarakkundu local committee of CPM who organized protest rallies in the panchayat on March 6 against the IUML’s anti-communist campaign by using a pamphlet with ‘communal flavour’. According to CPI-M’s Karuvarakundu Local Committee Secretary, M. Mani, a major public meeting would also be organised in Malappuram district on March 10.

There were also reports that both the state and central intelligence agencies have started inquiring into the pamphlet issue, as it has grave political dimensions and religious implications. 
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