Speak Softly, and Cover Yourself in Black

Born in 1963 in Srinagar’s Khanyar locality, Asiya Andrabi was more interested in science than spirituality in her youth. Today, however, she leads Dukhtaran-e-Millat (Daughters of the Community), an all-female Islamic fundamentalist group that is older than both the Taliban and Al Qaeda and that the Indian government has branded a “soft terror” group. Dressed in her habitual dark hijab and black leather gloves, an engaging and fervent Andrabi welcomed me into her home on a recent Friday morning. Over tea and biscuits we discussed the conflict between Islam and the West, the progress of Kashmir’s independence movement, and the assassination of the President of the United States.

I’ve read that as a teenager you wanted to be a scientist but were diverted and became interested in Islam. Tell me about that.

After my graduation I was planning to go to India for my studies because biochemistry was not offered in this KU in those days. My brother, who is a doctor, didn’t allow me to go to India for further studies as he was aware of what was happening in India to Kashmiris, especially to Muslim girls. So after a few days I went into my father’s library and found this book, “The Inner Feelings of a Woman,” compiled by Indian author Mya Faribad. One of the lead stories was of Miriam Jamilah and how she converted to Islam from Chistianity. She had a conversation with Maulana Mahdoodi and they spoke and wrote letters and she was converted. When I read this whole it was the turning point of my life. And I made up my mind that Insha’allah I too would spend my whole life devoted to Islam.

Before that I did not even know the ABC’s of Islam, and that too from such a family that was known for their prominence in Islam (Andrabi is part of the Sayyid clan, originally from Afghanistan). And then I decided that a Muslim is incomplete unless he or she knows Arabic, because most of the books and key Islamic works are in Arabic. So I started reading Arabic. My father too was an Arabic scholar, and he guided me very properly, and I graduated in Arabic from Kashmir University.

And soon after that you started Dukhtaran-e-Millat?

In 1981 I started a school, a madrassa in Srinagar, and the response was very warm from the women folk. And then I started my organizational work. I went door to door and I went to the mosque and delivered speeches from the loudspeakers. I talked to women just to tell them the status of women in Islam, and how we were exploited by West as well as East – everybody exploits us. So let us see what Islam has given us.

Wasn’t it unusual for a woman to speak in the mosque?

Yes, it was unusual in those days. There were confrontations and hurdles from our priests, from the ulema. But I showed them how Allah and Mohammed (SAW) never denied a woman from speaking about Islam. Finally they decided you are the best among all the human beings because you preach the real Islam, you go for the right and you are telling the people to follow the right path and take them away from all the evils.

And how big is the organization today – how many schools and members?

We operate 75 schools across Jammu and Kashmir. These are part-time madrassas for only girls where we teach the Koran and Arabic. I cannot give you exact member total but we are in all districts and areas of the state.

And what is DeT's goal, its mission?

Our goal and aim is that this whole universe belongs to Allah the almighty and so should be governed by the laws of the Almighty. It’s not only Kashmir; my strong belief is that all human beings should accept Islam, and Islam is not only for the Muslims it is for the whole of humanity. As I’m talking to you my brother I don’t know whether you are Christian or what you are, Jewish or atheist, but this is my inner feelings in my heart is that I want to tell you please go and study Islam.

But don’t study the Muslims of this era! Because there is a lot of difference between Muslims and Islam. If you are to study a Muslim you would say Islam is nothing, no different than any other religion. But if you would study Islam, then the teachings of Koran and Prophet Mohammed (Salassam) then you’ll come to know what Islam is.

This is what I tell everyone. Even when I met the Indian agencies when I was arrested, RAW and IBS, CBI – they talked to me. I told them you please go and study Islam.

And how did they respond?

(Andrabi giggles under her veil) I gave them my humble request, and they said OK, Insh’allah Rahman, we will, Insh’allah, go and study Islam (eyes still smiling).

But we are not going for the Dawa work only. Our job is not confined to Dawa only because first and foremost we should liberate Kashmir from Indian clutches, that too for the cause of Islam.

So you seek the re-establishment of the Caliphate, under sharia law?

Yes, we want an Islamic state, why not? Islam should be in power. They should be powerful, the Islam. And that should be governed by the laws of Allah the almighty. Koran is rules and regulations of all parliaments and assemblies – there is nothing that has not been revealed in the Koran.

Does that mean you believe in hudood punishments such as that a thief should have his hands cut off, adulterers stoned and apostates killed?

Yes, of course. These are the punishments from Allah the Almighty. If you cut the hand off one thief, the whole society – none of them would dream of the theft.

How do you say that this is not justice? So when you punish a man in this way, there will be a totally pure society. One man will be killed and whole humanity would be saved.

Even if your son had committed the crime?

Yes, why not. I myself would kill him. In the time of Omar the second Caliph, his son committed a crime and he said: “My son should be punished first then any other.”

Does that mean there is no room for compromise in Islam? That there is no room for moderates in Islam?

There will be no change in Holy Koran; it will be around til doomsday. Nobody can have even a single change, even Asiya Andrabi or any clergyman. Now it is the West who is dictating and wants to see the whole world like the West. In certain areas of the West they are not allowing the women to wear the purdah, because they don’t like it. Some people ask them: “What’s the problem, why can’t women wear this hijab?” But in the West Muslim women do not wear the purdah and should be exploited and sold like commodities and be made commodities like those in the market.

Following that line of thinking, does this mean that the West and Islam cannot coexist?

We don’t have any grudge or anything against the West. One thing we want: If West will try their best to understand what Islam is. What happens is that there are some attacks on Western countries. This is a reaction to what the West is doing! They are trying their best to dictate that the whole universe should be governed by laws of Western countries or laws of America – nobody is ready for that. So what is happening to Iraq, what has happened to Afghanistan: Muslims have a full right to react now. Now that reaction is not always fully according to the laws of Islam, but when somebody is reacting he cannot react in any other way.
If there were dialogues between the West and Islam, that could be positive. And there is a place for dialogues in our religion. Just last year when there were cartoons they were trying their best to show our Prophet Mohammed (Salassam Nowsbillah Nowsbillah) was a terrorist and everyone knows our Prophet Mohammed (Salassam) was the most humble man on this planet. So they are inflaming our emotions and all that – how do you expect there will be civility between the West and Islam?

OK, but these attacks in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Turkey, Indonesia, Afghanistan and Iraq – many are Muslims killing Muslims, which is un-Islamic, as you say. Are these not bad for the ummah?

That is the conspiracy against Islam. There are some hired persons everywhere. As you can see what’s happening in Pakistan, there are blasts in mosques even. Nobody can justify that! Nobody can say that’s Islam, that’s jihad. They are hired person – hired from West, hired from India. So what they are doing, this is not Islam.

You mentioned the need for dialogues. The US-Islamic World Forum took place last month in Doha, an event organized by an American political organization to give the US an opportunity to hear reaction and advice from a wide variety of leaders from the Muslim world. Mehbooba Mufti spoke at the gathering, what do you hope she said?

This is a very sad thing that they called Mehbooba Mufti. She is a Muslim woman but she doesn’t know what Islam is. She can’t represent Islam anywhere.

Why do you say that?

Because she is not a practicing Muslim woman. She has nothing to do with Islam. She is a secular woman who believes in secularism and all that. So as far as the Islamic representative is concerned you must be aware of Islamic rules and principles and you must know what Islam is. …It was just a government-sponsored program but she has no authority because she doesn’t represent Islam.

What would you have said? What do you think needs to be said at such a gathering?

Until and unless they change their policies, there will be hatred against the US. And whenever and wherever you go, you ask anyone, not Muslims only, whosoever is part of the weaker section of the world, you ask them who do you most hate and they will say George Bush. Because George Bush is against the weaker sections, George Bush is trying his best to have an upper hand on the whole of humanity. So this is my message for the US: You have your whole United States, you have your own set of rules in the United States and you have no right to involve yourself in other people’s lives in other countries. So let us govern ourselves. Let us live our lives how we want. Who are they dictate to us? Who are they to dictate to Iraq? Who are they to dictate to Iranians how they use their nuclear energy and all that? Why are they interfering? Wherever they see that Muslims have some power they interfere to destroy that power! Why not the Israelis?!

So then what was your reaction to 9/11?

As far as my perception, 9/11, this was done by the CIA. I don’t think there was the hand of Al Qaeda in that. But when it occurred Al Qaeda said we have done it. But I think it was the handiwork of the CIA because they were trying their best to destroy Afghanistan, so for that this was all fabricated.

But there is clear proof of these 19 Al Qaeda men on the planes..?

No, no. It is very easy, you hire someone else and you tell him to please tell other people: “I am Al Qaeda man,” and all that. It’s not necessary that whatsoever they spoke was true. Because this was the basis to destroy Afghanistan, because they had no reason, and immediately after 9/11 they destroyed Afghanistan, bombed everything and Taliban system was destroyed. There are hundreds of documents proving that this was the handiwork of the Pentagon. And I don’t think Muslims have as much ability to do such a big job. I don’t think militarily they are mature enough yet.

Speaking of maturity, has DeT made progress towards its goals?

Very nice progress here, yes (eyes smiling). We are progressing very nicely. There are some laws from the government – we are not allowed to preach or go anywhere freely – but still progress for us has been very nice lately.

How do you get around these laws?

We used to get arrested and booked regularly under Public Safety Act even though we are trying our best to make this Kashmir society pure from all obscenity and all the evils. So whenever we used to go anywhere we used to have confrontations with police. But (ahumdullilah) we are trying our best to carry on.

Last month Duktharan helped destroy hundreds of posters and cards and broke up meetings between young couples in public restaurants. Please tell me, what’s wrong with Valentine’s Day?

In Kashmir we have a purely religious society. We had – nowadays it’s not. We were a very pure society based on Islamic rules. And Valentine’s Day vulgarity is not permitted in Islam. We can share our love with our husband only.

OK, but what about two young people showing their appreciation for each other by giving each other cards? This does not seem a terrible thing.

This all leads to vulgarity.

But that’s not…

Who is St. Valentine to you?

If I remember correctly, the holiday as celebrated in the West really has nothing to do with the historical St. Valentine. It was the English poet Chaucer who romanticized the event and the holiday has passed down from…

In Kashmir we know this Valentine was a man who promoted this vulgarity and who promoted that young girls and young boys should go for courtship and all these vulgar activities. And then he was hanged. Here in Kashmir they want to celebrate this…and as far as our Islamic culture is concerned we are not allowed to celebrate such affairs. I can show my love to my husband, and it is not just one day, it is 365 days a year and 24 hours a day.

Maybe not all Kashmiris want to be more devout Muslims.

On Valentine’s Day we saw them and told these youths, young Muslims girls and boys, we told them the ethics of Islam, the principles of Islam. And we asked them “what is wrong with you that you are indulging in these activities?” And with the help of Allah the Almighty they understood what we were telling them and some of them they wept, “what is wrong with us we are not following the rules of Islam?” They told me: “Baji, give us your number” – they called me Baji – give us your phone number, please, we want to contact you, please teach what Islam is.”

But isn't tolerance a basic principle of Islam? Doesn't the Koran preach tolerance – for other individuals, for other traditions, i.e. “No compunction in religion”?

We are tolerating everything but we are also preaching.

But tolerating and preaching seem contradictory. “To every people have we appointed rites and ceremonies.” (Al-Hajj 21:76-69). Doesn’t that suggest that people should be able to practice such traditions the way they want?

No, that’s not what Islam says. Islam says all the human beings should accept Islam and practice Islam, this is what Islam says. That this holy Koran has been given to the whole humanity by Allah the Almighty and whosoever accepts he will be in the life hereafter he will enter the paradise, and whosoever doesn’t accept it, he will enter the hell. So now it is up to human beings. It’s your will and wish. If you won’t accept Islam, it will harm you. This is the holy Koran, if they will accept it it’s good for them, if they won’t accept it they have to face the tyranny in life hereafter.

If they won’t accept it, should they be forced to accept it?

No. They won’t be forced. Its just we preach Islam, let them know what it is. If they won’t accept it, OK, let them do what they want to do.

But the Taliban – not to mention Al Qaeda – they seem to force others to accept their beliefs and practices. Do you support their methods?

Al Qaeda is something different: nobody knows where Al Qaeda is or who Al Qaeda are. But as far as Taliban is concerned, they were practicing Islam under Islamic government, with rules and principles according to Islam, but on the whole that was an Islamic government.

So you support their ideal?

We are not in power. There is difference between Muslims and non-Muslims. If we were in power and there would be a government of Muslims, we could have some rules for the Islamic government that whosoever doesn’t accept this, he will be punished. But as far as non-Muslims are concerned, you can’t force a non-Muslim. For instance, in an Islamic government all the Muslim women would have to accept the purdah, but this order would not be for the non-Muslims. Non-Muslims have their own way of life; they can act as they want. But as far as Muslims are concerned, they have to accept Islam and they have to practice Islam.

And part of the practice is accepting the veil…

Islam has given us respect, has given us honor and to protect this honor this purdah is very necessary for us and we feel that it is security for a Muslim woman.

But is it not sometimes difficult to wear in the modern world, both physically and psychologically?

I think it’s easier, to wear it and go everywhere, as compared to live without the purdah. This whole society is totally vulgar now. With the purdah wherever you go nobody knows who you are and no remark is passed on you. As you compare the girls wearing the jeans and semi-nude girls – I think that’s very difficult.

You have been quoted as saying, “Women are supposed to look after the kitchen and men are supposed to work.” But you seem to contradict this statement – you are out of the house, working quite publicly. Further, you yourself wanted to study and become a scientist – why shouldn't other women be able to follow their dream?

We are not telling them not to study. They can go for the studies wherever they want to. They can go for the study but according to the rules of Islam. Most of our girls are MBBS doctors, PhD doctors – nobody is telling them not to study. But even their mentors haven’t seen their face, even when they visit their guides they are with full purdah.
Let them go for studies. But one thing is there in Islam: duty of earning is not the women’s duty, in Islam. This duty has given to man, that he has to earn and he has to feed a woman. There is this unemployment problem in Kashmir and as a result both men and women are working. If there were no unemployment problem I’m sure there would be no women working.
Go for studies, whatever you want, but as far as the duty of earning the money, that is the duty of the man.

So the studies of a Muslim woman should not be part of building towards a career, towards earning a living.

Right. We are not studying to earn money. I don’t think you need to study to earn money. We are studying just to learn.

Some experts have argued that because men are busy doing the fighting and also the dying, women are the surviving victims of the conflict – half-widows, etc. They are taking the brunt of the Kashmir conflict’s suffering and sorrow. Do you agree?

I too am a woman and since I married I have spent just two years with my husband. He has spent his whole life in jail and he is still languishing with life imprisonment. Many other Muslim women also have lost their brothers, their husbands, their sons, to go to jihad. So there are some problems, nobody can deny. I am a woman, without a man, and I am facing hundreds of problems. But (ahumdillah), I am ready for that. I have sacrificed my life, I have sacrificed my love even. I was very closely attached to my husband and I don’t think there will be any husband and wife who love each other like we two. I have sacrificed this for Allah and I believe we will be together in paradise and nobody can separate us – Insh’allah Rahman -- over there. So this for the cause of Allah the Almighty, for the cause of Islam, for the cause of this freedom struggle. So it is for these other women also, we know there is a lot of psychological depression and they are facing threats from different corners. We cannot deny that men too are facing the same. We all are facing these problems at the hands of India.

As a means of combating these problems you’ve said all young Kashmiri men should become militants. Do you still support the insurgency?

My husband was a Mujahideen. When we started the struggle in 1988 we called all of the Muslim men to jihad. Until and unless India will leave this Kashmir, until and unless all the Indian forces will leave the Kashmir, jihad will continue (Insh’allah Rahman) and there is no option that mujihadeen will lay down their guns.

What about your sons?

Yes, I believe in that, and not only in Kashmir. I believe jihad is the most sacred job in Islam, and we believe we will be rewarded in the life hereafter. So if Kashmir will be liberated from Indian clutches and there will be jihad somewhere else in Muslim world it’s my dream that my sons will go there and fight.

Even if one became a suicide bomber?

Yes, why not.

Wouldn’t you, as a mother, miss your son?

I would miss them but I’ll see them in heaven (insh rahman). I would sacrifice anything to please Allah the Almighty.

But they would be killing people.

They won’t kill people. No. They would kill the enemies of Islam.

And who are the enemies of Islam?

Here in Kashmir the enemies of Islam are the Indian army. To kill Indian army is my dream. So are the Indian politicians -- they are the enemies of Islam and they are the enemies of our freedom struggle. Not the common man. If you are from America, I don’t have any grudge with you. But if I see George Bush anywhere, and my son would kill Mr. Bush, it would be a great honor for Asiya Andrabi.

I see. And who are these Indian politicians you mention?

Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mufti Saeed – politicians like this.

What about Mirwaiz and Yasin Malik?

They are not Indian politicians. But they have changed their ways and I think now they are in the hands of some agencies (smiling eyes). Though they were the freedom fighters but as far as the present situation is concerned there is something fishy in their character now.

What do you mean by that?

You know we don’t believe in Mirwiaz Omar Farooq now. We believe he is ready for compromise but we don’t believe in compromising politicians. We started this movement with this aim: Kashmir should be liberated from India, this one thing. And whosoever goes with compromise less then liberation from India we call him a traitor, and Mirwaiz is leaning that way.
Yasin Malik is also I think somewhere engaged (eyes smiling again).

Speaking of the current situation, what are your thoughts on these discoveries of encounter killings?

It is just for the elections now, and they are playing a card now. It is nothing more than that. A CBM for Kashmiris, and it is not a good sign. It’s not the first time that they’ve come to know about such encounters. If it were the first time we could say that they are doing it for the cause of Kashmiris, but it is a political card. They are not charging the Indian army for that, the CPRF or BSF – they are charging just the Kashmiri task force with that. And they want to give the signal that the Indian army is very loyal and Indian army security forces are for your security, but as for your own Kashmiri security they are no good.

And what about the independence movement – how do you think it’s progressing?

I am hopeful because (ahumdullilah) a movement that is now backed by one lakh martyrs cannot be stopped. But there are ups and downs in the movement and this is a time that I think there is a lot of confusion in our movement because of Mirwaiz. India was ready to have another Sheikh Abdullah but nobody was ready to play the part. But now they have hired Mirwaiz for that. So there is confusion among the common masses but I’m sure they are with the movement. As you may have seen Geelani sahab was going for kidney transplant and hundreds and thousands of youths were ready to donate their kidneys. Because people are with the ideology of Geelani sahab, and Geelani s sticks to his word that Kashmir should be liberated from the India – nothing less than that. I am sure with the passage of time the movement shall gain the momentum. If not today then in several years, Kashmir will be liberated – Insh’allah Rahman.

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