The topic of the movie ‘The Kerala Story’ touches on a brutal truth about a dangerous phenomenon that is important for us as Indians and even global citizens to understand without religious biases – the phenomenon of Love Jihad.
In January 2020, Rekha Sharma, the Chairperson of the National Commission for Women(NCW) warned the government of Kerala that ‘love jihad’ was like a “ticking time bomb” that would “explode” unless the Kerala government acted against it. Both Hindu and Christian women were victims, she claimed.
‘Jihad’ is one of the cornerstones of Islamic beliefs. The interpretations of the meaning of ‘Jihad’ is debatable academically and religiously. Yet, whichever side of the debate we lean towards it does not change the fact that ‘Jihad’ is seen as a war in most cases against people of faiths or beliefs that conflict with the doctrine of Islam.
Contrary to the belief that Islam spread through the sword, in his book The World’s Religions, Huston Smith discusses how the Prophet Muhammad granted freedom of religion to the Jews and Christians under Muslim rule:
The Prophet had a document drawn up in which he stipulated that Jews and Christians “shall be protected from all insults and harm; they shall have an equal right with our own people to our assistance and good offices,” and further, “they shall practice their religion as freely as the Muslims.”
Smith points out that Muslims regard that document as the first charter of freedom of conscience in human history and the authoritative model for those of every subsequent Muslim state.
Syro-Malabar Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt of Palai diocese in the state of Kerala said the Catholic Church is losing our young women. He expressed, “In a democratic country like ours since it’s not easy to use weapons to destroy people of other faiths, jihadis are using means which are not easily identifiable. In the view of jihadis, non-Muslims are to be destroyed. When the objective is an expansion of their religion and the destruction of non-Muslims, the means they use are of different forms. Two of such widely-discussed means today are love jihad and narcotics jihad.”
He further added: Anyone who denies the phenomenon of “love jihad” is being “blind to reality. Such people, be they politicians or those from social and cultural spaces, media may have their own vested interests. But one thing is clear. We are losing our young women. It’s not just love marriages. It’s a war strategy to destroy their lives. For objectives such as exploitation, forced religious conversion, making financial gains, and employing in terrorist activities, jihadis are trapping women of other faiths through love or other mean. As soon as women turn 18, they are being trapped through love, forcibly taken away without the consent of their parents and family members. They are often abandoned after a few years of marriage.
Historically, if we analyze, mixed marriage & concubinage allowed Muslims who constituted a tiny percentage of the population at the start of Islamic history to quickly integrate with their subjects, legitimizing their rule over newly conquered territories, and helping them grow in number. It also ensured that non-Muslim religions would quickly disappear from family trees.
Renowned author Christian C Sahner, Christian C Sahner, associate professor of Islamic history and Fellow of St Cross College at the University of Oxford, opined that Islam spread across the Christian world via the bedroom. He stated:
In world history, there are a few transformations that are more profound than the conversion of the people of the Middle East to Islam. Starting in the early Middle Ages, the process stretched across centuries and was influenced by factors as varied as conquest, diplomacy, conviction, self-interest, and coercion. There is one factor, however, that is largely forgotten but which played a fundamental role in the emergence of a distinctively Islamic society: mixed unions between Muslims and non-Muslims.
For much of the early Islamic period, the mingling of Muslims and non-Muslims was largely predicated on a basic imbalance of power: Muslims formed an elite ruling minority, which tended to exploit the resources of the conquered peoples – reproductive and otherwise – to grow in size and put down roots within local populations. Seen in this light, forced conversion was far less of a factor in long-term religious change than practices such as intermarriage and concubinage, Sahner reasons in his book released in 2018, ‘Christian Martyrs under Islam: Religious Violence and the Making of the Muslim World’.
Intermarriage between Muslims and non-Muslims has been historically important for the spread of Islam.
Islamic scholar Hussam Munir in his research paper titled, “How Islam spread throughout the world”, expressed: Conversion through intermarriage was important to establishing the early Muslim community in Spain. In around 785, Pope Hadrian in Rome wrote a letter expressing his concern that some Catholics in Hispania seemed only too willing to marry into Arab-Muslim families, and Christian-Muslim unions were condemned at a council in Cordoba in 836.
Munir further expressed: Intermarriage has continued to play an important role in the conversion to Islam in more recent times. One case is that of immigrant Muslims marrying Latina women in the United States in the mid-20th century. A 1947 study of Palestinian immigrants in Chicago revealed that one man had married a Mexican-American woman and had children with her. Similarly, and from around the same time, there are records of Yemeni Muslim men in southern California marrying Mexican-Americans and South Asian Muslims in Harlem marrying Puerto Rican-Americans. By the early 1990s, there were an estimated 100 Latino converts to Islam in southern California alone, mostly women who had married Muslims since the mid-1970s.
Another recent case is that of Chinese and Filipina women in Hong Kong converting to Islam through their marriages to South Asian Muslims. Muslims from British-ruled India first arrived in Hong Kong in significant numbers in the early 20th century as employees of the British administration. During the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during the Second World War, many disadvantaged Chinese women married these Muslims.
In a Pew Research Center study on Islamic conversions, it was revealed:
In most countries surveyed, at least half of Muslims believe it is their religious duty to try to convert others to the Islamic faith. Only in Indonesia and some countries in Central Asia and Southern and Eastern Europe do a clear majority say Muslims are not obliged to proselytize.
The belief that Muslims are obligated to proselytize is particularly widespread in sub-Saharan Africa. Across the region, at least three-quarters of Muslims believe it is their religious duty to try to spread Islam to non-Muslims.
A majority of Muslims in the South Asian countries surveyed also say trying to convert others to Islam is a religious duty. This sense is nearly universal in Afghanistan, where 96% of Muslims believe proselytizing is a duty of their faith. In Pakistan, 85% of Muslims share this view, as do 69% in Bangladesh.
In the Middle East and North Africa, a clear majority of Muslims in most countries surveyed believe trying to convert others is a religious duty, including roughly nine-in-ten in Jordan (92%) and Egypt (88%). Lebanon is the one country in the region where opinion is more divided (52% say proselytizing is a religious duty, 44% say it is not).
In Southeast Asia, a strong majority of Muslims in Malaysia (79%) and Thailand (74%) believe trying to convert others is a religious duty. However, most Indonesian Muslims disagree (65% say it is not a religious duty, 31% say it is).
Many Muslims in Central Asia as well as Southern and Eastern Europe do not believe that their faith obliges them to try to convert others. Roughly half or more in Kazakhstan (77%), Albania (72%), Bosnia-Herzegovina (59%), Kosovo (55%), Russia (51%), Kyrgyzstan (50%) and Turkey (48%) do not believe Muslims have a duty to proselytize. Opinion is divided in Azerbaijan (42% say it is a religious obligation, 36% disagree). Only in Tajikistan does a clear majority (69%) agree that Muslims have a duty to spread their faith.
Nimisha Sampath who later changed her name to Fathima after converting to Islam is one of the four women from Kerala who fled to Afghanistan, between 2016 and 2018, to join the terror outfit ISIS and wage war against the US forces in ISIS-controlled Khorasan Province. The three others who fled along with Nimisha were identified as Sonia Sebastian who changed her name to Ayisha, Merrin Jacob who changed her name to Mariyam and Raffaela. In May 2016, Nimisha left India after telling her famly that she is travelling to Sri Lanka for religious studies. But she along with her husband and others went to Syria to join the Islamic State. From Syria they moved to Afghanistan after some time. After the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a group of 10 women and 21 children including Nimisha surrendered before Afghan authorities in October 2019. They surrendered after their husbands were killed in the fight with the forces there, after which they were put in jail.
Has Islam spread across the world via the bedroom is the moot point of the decision? Interfaith marriages that lead to conversions have certainly contributed to spread of Islam in India and globally but should all interfaith marriages be judged through the prism of the cases of Love Jihad. The real concern in the interfaith marriage with Muslims by people in the Hindu and Christian community is the conversion – either forceful or through allurement, and in some cases freigthening first steps into the world of terrorism.