The hijab row, which had erupted in Karnataka after girls moved the high court demanding that they be allowed to wear the headscarves in school, was reignited on Wednesday evening when a video of Al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri was released.
In the video, released on Al Qaeda’s As-Sahab media, the head of the terror outfit, spoke on the hijab controversy in Karnataka, and described Indian democracy as 'pagan Hindu'.
The chief, who was rumoured to be dead in 2020, praised Muskan Khan, the college student from Udupi who had taken a prominent part in the pro-hijab protests and became known for shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ slogans to counter a group of boys who were chanting ‘Jai Shree Ram’.
When a #hijabi student arrives at PES college in Mandya, India. She gets heckled by students cum goons. She raises her hand says #AllahuAkbar before being escorted by college staff. #Muskan #Sherni #Courageiscontagious #BanonHijab #HumanRightsviolations #Muslims #Islam pic.twitter.com/fjUa6z1w7H
— Alienstookit (@alienstookit) February 8, 2022
This isn’t the first time that al-Zawahiri has commented on affairs in India or raised the spectre of terror in the nation. We look back at the various instances when he has grabbed headlines in the country.
The hijab row
The Al Qaeda chief, who had long been believed to be dead in 2020, made headlines across India when an eight-minute statement titled ‘Noble Woman of India’ of his went viral.
In the video, he hailed Muskan Khan, “May Allah reward her for showing a moral lesson to sisters plagued by an inferiority complex via-a-vis the decadent Western world.”
Zawahiri said that her “defiant slogan of takbeer” as she challenged “a mob of Hindu polytheists” had “emboldened the spirit of Jihad” and had reawakened the Muslim community.
He said Khan’s video had inspired him to write a poem that he recited at the end of the video. “Her takbeer inspired me to write a few lines of poetry, in spite of the fact that I am not a poet. I hope that our honourable sister accepts this gift of words from me,” Zawahiri said.
The terror outfit chief also accused the “the pagan Hindu democracy of India” for seeking to “oppress Muslims”.
“It is exactly the same tool of deception the true nature of which was exposed by France Holland and Switzerland when they banned the Hijab while allowing nudity,” he added.
The video by Zawahiri prompted the father of the pro-hijab protester, Muskan, to react, saying the comments of the terror outfit's leader were “wrong”, and said he and his family were living peacefully in India.
As per news agency PTI, Mohammad Hussain Khan said, "We don't know anything about it (video), we don't know who he is. I saw him today for the first time. He has said something in Arabic... We are all living here with love and trust like brothers."
Queried on Zawahiri praising Muskan, he said, "People say whatever they want... this is unnecessarily causing trouble. We are living peacefully in our country, we don't want him to talk about us, as he is not related to us... it is wrong, it is an attempt to create division among us."
‘Inflict unrelenting blows on Indian Army’
In 2019, the Al Qaeda chief released a video, calling for the “mujahideen in Kashmir” to inflict “unrelenting blows” on the Indian Army and the government in Jammu and Kashmir.
His 14-minute speech had also brought to light Pakistan’s involvement in fuelling cross-border terrorism in Kashmir in a message titled “Don't Forget Kashmir”.
Al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri’s latest video on Kashmir titled “Don’t forget Kashmir”. Asks “Mujahideen” in Kashmir to hit Indian army with “unrelenting blows”. Urges them to perform Jihad for Allah, not for the sake of “international criminals” (Pakistan) pic.twitter.com/oGesHaa79E
— Rahul Pandita (@rahulpandita) July 10, 2019
He had said, according to American news website FDD’s Long War Journal, “I am of the view that the mujahideen in Kashmir – at this stage at least – should single mindedly focus on inflicting unrelenting blows on the Indian Army and government so as to bleed the Indian economy and make India suffer sustained losses in manpower and equipment. In doing so, the mujahideen must persevere patiently.”
Zawahiri had also said the “fight in Kashmir” was not a separate conflict but part of the worldwide Muslim community's “jihad against a vast array of forces”. He called on “unnamed” scholars to propagate this point.
Launching Al Qaeda in India
Al Zawahiri had first made a name in India in 2014 when he announced the creation of an Indian branch of his group to "raise the flag of jihad" across South Asia.
In his 56-minute-long speech, he announced the formation of the Jamaat qaidat al-jihad fi’shibhi al-qarrat al-Hindiya, or Organisation of The Base of Jihad in the Indian Sub-Continent.
Zawahiri had said the formation of Al Qaeda’s South Asia wing was “a message that we did not forget you, our Muslim brothers in India”. He vowed that the jihadist group will “break all borders created by Britain in India”, and called on the region’s Muslims to “unite under the credo of the one god”.
Who is Al Zawahiri?
Ayman al-Zawahiri took over the command of Al Qaeda after the death of Osama bin Laden.
Born to an affluent Egyptian family, a trained doctor, he was one of the founders of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, an underground militant group that opposed the secular regime in Egypt in the 1970s.
In 2020, reports claimed that he had died in Afghanistan due to natural causes. However, there were no official confirmations and in September 2021, a video of his had been released to mark the 20th anniversary of the 11 September 2001 terror attacks.
With inputs from agencies