Home to the world’s second-largest Muslim population, India has long been relatively immune to Islamic radicalism—as evidenced by the fact that only 75 Indians have joined Islamic State (compared to over 600 from Belgium, which has an exponentially smaller Muslim population). Yet in recent years, thanks in part to Saudi-funded proselytization, Wahhabi Islam has increasingly displaced the more moderate local traditions, as Abhinav Pandya explains. (Free registration may be required.)
[O]ver the last decade and a half, Saudi Arabia has become increasingly uncomfortable with the rising Shiite influence in India and with Tehran’s overtures. They therefore decided to provide a religious and cultural [counterweight by] pumping in money to promote Wahhabism in India. During a single two-year period (2011-2013), according to an Indian Intelligence Bureau report, 25,000 [Saudi] Wahhabis visited India for missionary work; over that period they brought, in installments, $250 million to propagate Wahhabism, $460 million to set up madrasas, and $300 million for miscellaneous costs, including alleged bribes to mosque authorities. . . .
It’s already noticeable in visiting the [southern Indian state of] Kerala that a process of Arabization among the Muslim population is already underway, as reflected in language, eating habits, belief systems, and dress code; more women are wearing the hijab or even the niqab. It may come as a surprise, but Salafist and Wahhabi ideologies in India appear to have won more appeal among the educated classes. [These denominations’] austerity acts as a way for [the educated] to differentiate themselves from rural Muslims with their “ignorant” and “superstitious” beliefs. . . .
[B]ecause of Muslim radicalization’s politically sensitive nature, and the lack of any national-level strategy and program to address it, most of the time it is left to the state police to deal with such matters. . . . But it’s clear that state police do not have the requisite skills and infrastructure to detect such trends and take effective action against them.
A properly thought-out counter-radicalization program for India also faces another obstacle: the prevailing sentiment in India’s mainstream academia and media that domestic Muslim radicalization has increased in reaction to the Narendra Modi government’s embrace of Hindu nationalism. However, it’s not clear that such a connection can be made. There have been no major inter-communal riots, busting of terror sleeper cells, or terrorist attacks within India since 2014, the year of Modi’s election.