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Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI)

Paper No. 825                                               30/10/2003

by R.Upadhyay.

Historical Background:

Till mid nineteen thirties student community in India was not communally divided. The thundering slogan of 'Vande Mataram' (Salute to Motherland) during freedom movement thrilled the students and youth of the country irrespective of their religious faith.  The All India Students Conference, which subsequently formed All India Students Federation (AISF) during freedom struggle unitedly fought against the colonial rule till 1936 when a group of Muslim students seceded from it on the plea that it was a Hindu dominated organisation.  They subsequently organised a group on communal lines in January 1937 and formed the All India Muslim Students Federation (AIMSF) with Mohammad Nauman as President and Mohammad Waseeque as Organising Secretary.
Initially, the Muslim students of AMU and Lucknow University strongly opposed the division of students on communal line but AIMSF worked as an adjunct to tail of Muslim League with the patronage of Mohammed Ali Jinnah and Mohammed Iqbal and finally became the main voice of Muslim students during freedom struggle.  Starting its campaign with strong reservation against the non-Islamic crest in Calcutta and Nagpur universities and also against the then vibrant slogan of 'Vande Mataram' on the plea that it was anti-Islamic, AIMSF attracted the Muslim masses in favour of Pakistan Movement.

Mohammed Iqbal (1877-1938) " sent a message of encouragement cheering the Muslim students on their great achievement" (Muslim Students and Pakistan Movement - Sarfaraz Hussain Mirza, XXII, 1988).  Though he could not accept the invitation of the AIMSF to preside over its first annual session (December 28, 1937) on grounds of health, he " exhorted the Muslim students to carry on their good work for the national cause (Muslim nation) without being hampered by any kind of opposition" (Ibid. PageXXIV).  The theory of separate statehood for Muslim as enunciated by Iqbal in 1930 worked as a motivational factor for AIMSF.

The resolution adopted in the first annual session of AIMSF with presidential address of Jinnah hardly had anything to do with the modern and secular education to the Muslims.  Its 'working scheme' had an important clause, which read “that 'Fath-e-Mecca' be observed as Muslim Students Day and demand should be made for the introduction of compulsory religious instructions for Muslim children in all schools" (The Punjab Muslim Students Federation by Sarfaraz Hussain Mirza, Introduction, 1991).

AIMSF though made a significant contribution to the creation of Pakistan, it left a legacy of endemic Hindu-Muslim tension to be carried forward by their successive generation in democratic and secular India.  Since prescription of Iqbal and Jinnah was not relevant in new state of India, Muslim students maintained a relatively low profile after partition. 

With the defeat of the Indira Gandhi after emergency and emergence of the Janata Party Government at centre in 1977 a group of Muslim students under the patronage of the Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JEIH) assembled at Aligarh on April 25, 1977 and formed Students Islamic Movement of India (SIMI). "The meeting was attended by representatives of Students Islamic Organisation from Aligarh,Calicut, Mallapuram, Madras, Hyderabad, Lucknow, Allahabad, Sholapur,, Patna, Azamgarh, Jaipur and S. Madhupur" (Radiance dated May 1, 1977). An "amalgamation of a number of students and youth bodies like Muslim Students Association, Students Islamic Union, Students Islamic Organisation, Muslim Youth Association" (Radiance, an Organ of JEIH), SIMI gradually became a platform for fanatical Muslim students, who were opposed to democracy, secularism and nationalism.

Though, SIMI was not the main voice of Muslim students of the country, in the absence of any visible resistance from them a general impression was created that it was the sole representative body of the latter.  In a changed political environment SIMI planned for reviving resurgent Islam in India in a more coordinated manner with an overall objective to Islamise this biggest democracy for challenging the hegemony of Christian tradition at international level.

In its political pronouncement SIMI gave a call for restoration of the Caliphate for the unity of Ummah(Muslim community as a whole) by rejecting the concept of nationalism, democracy and secularism.  Its political ideology was dominated by the mainstream Islamic fundamentalism propounded by Maulana Maududi, the founder of the JEI.  Till October 1987 all the successive presidents of SIMI were the senior members of the JEI.

In Islamic history the people, who had helped the Prophet in Madina, when he was driven away from Mecca - were called Ansaars.  Accordingly SIMI drew inspiration from this historical event and recruited Ansaars (helpers) as its cadres from the Muslim students below thirty years of age. While the Prophet strengthened his position in Madina with the support of Ansaars and fought beck Mecca, SIMI intended to fight against the present political system in the country with the support of its cadres (Ansaars) for establishment of Islamic State.

SIMI drew ideological inspirations from the Muslim thinkers, who launched Islamic movements in India after the decline of Muslim rule in this country in eighteenth century.  Prominent among them were:

* Shah Walliullah: He had invited Ahmad Shah Abdali of Afghanistan to fight against Marathas in 1760.

* Sayyid Ahmad: As a staunch follower of Shah Waliullah, he had launched Islamic Jehad "to liberate all India from foreign domination and establish a genuine Islamic state.  He was however, killed in a battle with Sikh in 1831 at Balkot" (Islamic Movement, a monthly organ of SIMI, Volume 3, January 1992).

* Haji Shariat Allah: He had launched Fara'idi movement in nineteenth century to create pure Islamic order in the society.
 Maulana Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi: He was the founder of JEI.

Emergence of SIMI in democratic and secular India was a reminder to the formation of  AIMSF in 1937.  While the emergence of AIMSF was to strengthen movement for Pakistan, the SIMI was born to carry forward the legacy of Indian Islamic Movement launched by Muslim thinkers from Shah Waliullah to Maulana Maududi and to complete their unfinished agenda of establishing Islamic rule in the country.  AIMSF countered the movement for social integration of Hindus and Muslims launched by the Congress under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi whereas the SIMI followed Jinnah, in rejecting the concept of nationalism. While Jinnah had a secret support from the then British authorities for his communal demand, SIMI got similar support from Pakistan and other fundamentalist groups from Muslim world for its movement against secularism and democracy.  Relying upon the jehadi power of Islam Jinnah succeeded in creation of Pakistan, SIMI equally depended on jehadi passion of Islam for its resurgence in India.

SIMI maintained, "it is the responsibility of this (Muslim) 'last community', the 'best community', the 'middle community', to rise up and face the challenges that surround it, to revive Deen, to lead and guide not only the Islamic world, but all of humanity along the 'Straight Path' and rescue it from the clutches of Satanic power. It is the demand of the time that Muslim youth should struggle for the superiority and establishment of Deen and revival of Islam in the light of Holy Quraan and Sunnah"(SAGA OF STRUGGLE -Annual Report 1998-2000, page 3, published by SIMI, New Delhi).

According to SIMI "the end of Khilafah(Caliphate) led to our (Muslim) disintegration into different countries on the basis of nationalism, language and other sectarian prejudices.  Naturally therefore, our main responsibility is to strive in those areas, which are directly related to the reinstating of Khalifah" (Ibid. Page 8). Since its inception SIMI has kept Caliphate at the centre of discussion from local to central level and had been in communication of thought on this issue with the like-minded Islamic organisations of the world.  It claimed to be in touch with 25 organisations from all over the world through Internet and its delegation participated in workshops conducted by Dawah Academy in Sri Lanka in 1999 and attended the Ijtema of Jamat-e-Islami in Pakistan in 1998.  SIMI is also known to be in touch with number of Islamic organisations of the world like:

Federation of Students Islamic Societies (FOSIS)    - United Kingdom and Ireland.

* Ittehad al-Tallab al-Muslimeen    - Myanmar

* Islami Chhatra Shibir                  - Bangladesh.

* Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba                - Pakistan.

* Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia (ABIM) - Malaysia.

* World Assembly of Muslim Youth (Riyadh)

* Internatinal Islamic Federation of Students organisations (Kuwait)

* Consultative Committee of Indian Muslims (Chicago)

* Jamaat-e-Islam units of Pakistan, Bangladesh and

 * Nepal (Islamic Movement, a monthly organ of SIMI, VOL. 3, January 1992 and Internet news).

On the issue of secularism SIMI "feels it is essential to emphasise that no political party or organisation can bring about a solid and constructive change through secularism in the light of their erratic ideologies.  The only way to bring about real change through …… establishing an Islamic system of life" (Ibid. Page34). Interpretation of secularism and democracy as un-Islamic, rejection of nationalism and propagation of Islam as "only way to bring about real change" suggest that SIMI believed in confrontative Islam.

With units in different parts of India SIMI often raised voice against national and international issues, which were not in tune with its Islamic movement.  In september 1985 it played a vibrant role in joining protest demonstrations all over the country against the Supreme Court verdict in Shahbano case.  It  campaigned against singing of Vande Mataram in U.P. schools, and protested against blasphemy regarding the Prophet.  Since its inception SIMI made a protracted attempt to project itself as the main voice of Indian Muslims.  Unfortunately, no Muslim student organisation came forward to counter it.

After demolition of Babari Mosque in 1992, SIMI exploited the enraged sentiments of Muslim mass.  By the closing decade of twentieth century it increased its influence in a sizeable section of Muslim populace in different cities of Utaar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Madya Pradesh , Gujarat and Assam.  It always maintained pro-Pakistan stand on Indo-Pak conflict and spoke in the language of Pakistan on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir.  By mid nineties its defiant and militant posture even annoyed its patron the JEIH, which started maintaining distance from it possibly due to tactical reason.

SIMI projected the Muslims killed in communal riots as martyrs and complemented those who were detained by Police with the honour of Islamic warriors sacrificing for the cause of faith.  With these activities SIMI succeeded in generating some interest in middle class Muslim society that was earlier immune to violent interpretation of jehad in Islam.  Its hate campaign against Qafirs (non-believers) only increased the widening gulf of mistrust between Hindus and Muslims.

SIMI considered USA as enemy of Islam and joined radical Islamists for their aggressive criticism of the presence of American troops in Soudi Arabia. "The Saudis invited in the U.S. military shortly after Saddam Hussein invaded Iraq's oil-rich neighbor Kuwait, on August 2, 1990.  To help protect the kingdom and prepare to expel Iraq from Kuwait, the United States sent about 500,000 troops to Saudi Arabia".  "U.S. presence was opposed by some in the kingdom -- the site of Islam's holiest sites -- and was among reasons cited by Saudi-born Osama bin Laden for his al-Qaida attacks on America on Sept. 11, 2001. …. The base became the center of the U.S. presence in the country in 1997 after the Khobar Towers bombing that killed 19 airmen and injured 400 others"  ( 28, 2003, 8:10AM-Most U.S. forces withdrawn from Saudi Arabia,Associated Press )

By 1997, when the base of American troops in Saudi Arabia, became a centre of U.S. presence, radical Islamists all over the world took it as a danger to their faith. In July 1998 SIMI held demonstration in Bombay, Calcutta and Delhi against the presence of American troops in the Holy Land of Hijaz. For SIMI, it was "not only a gross violation of some of the last instructions or will of the Prophet, but also represents a sinister plot on the part of the enemies of Islam to desecrate and capture its holiest site" (Annual Report 1998-2000 of SIMI,page 9).

SIMI publishes monthly and weekly organs in different languages like:

Islamic Movement (Monthly) in English, Hindi and Urdu.
Sethi Mandal (Monthly) in Tamil.
Iqraa (Monthly) in Gujrati.
Rupaantar (Monthly) in Bengali.
Vivekam (Bimonthly) in Malayalam.
Tehreek (Weekly) in Hindi.

By the closing decade of twentieth century particularly after the BJP came to power at the centre the SIMI succeeded in expanding its influence to a visible extent among Muslim students. Moreover, the Muslim middle class, a product of western education and not yet reconciled with its lost medieval supremacy - provided open space to SIMI,s cadres.  With financial help from oil-rich Muslim countries to carry forward the Arab legacy of Islamic imperialism and material support from Pakistan to create disorder in India strengthened the morale of SIMI leaders.  In view of inflammatory statements, alleged involvement in inciting communal violence in certain places in Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and other states and arrest of its leaders, some of the state Governments recommended for a ban on SIMI. Arrest of a SIMI activist in bomb blast case in Sabarmati Express near Faizabad (August 15, 2000), its alleged involvement in bomb blast incident in Delhi (May, 2001) and provocative statements of its leaders supported its jehadi design.  Keeping in view its activities detrimental to national interest, Government of India ultimately put a ban on SIMI in September 2001 by declaring it an unlawful association.

Justice S.K.Aggarwal of Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Tribunal confirmed the ban notification of the Government and said:
"It is clear that the members, office bearers and activists of SIMI association have been indulging in unlawful activities…. I hold that there is sufficient cause for confirming the notification issued under sub-section(1) of Section 3 of the Act, declaring SIMI to be an unlawful association and the same is confirmed" (The Pioneer dated May 10, 2002).

Although, SIMI's challenge to democratic and secular system was temporarily defeated, propagation of radical Islam by thousands of its Ansaars will remain a source of concern for India particularly in a predominantly non-Muslim environment.  Restoration of Caliphate might be the dream of radical Islamists but they ignore the historical records that suggest how Caliphate shifted to monarchy.  Marshal G. S. Hodgson in his book - 'the Venture of Islam' opined: "At the height of Islamic history during the Abbasid (Dynasty of Caliph) period, the Caliphate, as the traditional Islamic system of Government was an absolute monarchy. The historical records show, as a symbol of his power, there stood beside him the executioner ready to kill the most exalted personage at a word" (The Challenge of Fundamentalism by Bassam Tibi, 1998, page 160-61).


Purpose of this discussion is not to criticise the Muslim students but to suggest them to denounce the clerics favouring medieval interpretation of Islam.  They should in fact change the mode of their thinking as exhorted by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir during the recent Islamic summit held in Malaysia.  Pointing out to the angry mood of Muslims against anti Muslim forces, he said, " Angry people cannot think properly.  And so we find some of our people reacting irrationally.  In contemporary India it is also the responsibility of the present generation of Muslim students to give a wake up call to their co-religionists for developing a twenty-first century mindset, which does not approve religious hegemony of any community.

Religion is basically a spiritual path to reach the Divine. Its role in politics if any is to bring peace in society with its spiritualisation. Permeating communal interpretation of Islam in modern world in the minds of Muslim students is not only harmful to the country but it is also a major hindrance to the meaningful progress of Muslim society as a whole.  Contrary to it deeply ingrained religious intolerance and violent burden of historical luggage carried by SIMI - have adversely affected the Islamic ethos of forbearance and liberalism as projected by some saner section in the community.  World Tower incident in USA and attempt to attack Indian Parliament has only negated such Islamic ethos. The fundamental postulate of SIMI was Islamisation of India by recruiting Ansaars for jehadi onslaught on non-believers. Generating negative energy in the name of religion by the self-appointed guardians of Muslim students only accelerated the widening divide between Hindus and Muslims.  Ironically, Muslim intellectuals, politicians or Muslim students looked other way and did not come forward to counter the divisive move of this radical outfit in assertive way.
Mahatma Gandhi tried to educate the people to " shed fear, hatred and violence for the unity, equality and brotherhood of man.  He passionately believed in the unity of all religions and the universality of the essential teachings of all faiths" (Hindu dated September 28, 2003).  The President A.P.J.Kalam " called upon the youth to make India economically strong with an integrated spiritual life, if they wish to live in a peaceful, prosperous and safe country" (Hindu dated September 27, 2003).  But those, who created Pakistan, termed Mahatma Gandhi as a Hindu leader although he sacrificed his life for the cause of Muslims. For SIMI the saner words of Mahatma Gandhi and A.P.J. Kalam have no relevance, as they still believe in revival of Caliphate in a democratic and secular society in which majority are 'non-believers'.

 (E-mail <ramashray60@>)