'I do not believe they have become terrorists and have gone to Syria to fight.'
'I feel they have only become very orthodox Muslims.'
Rediff.com's Shobha Warrier tries to unravel the mystery of the 11 young people who are suspected of joining Islamic State.
Padanna, a village in Kasargod, Kerala, should have been known to the rest of India for its beautiful backwaters, cruises and oyster farming.
Unfortunately, Padanna became the talk of the country when 11 young people belonging to the village went missing. The police believe the 11 have gone to join Islamic State in Syria, but none of the villagers believe this is true.
The last time their relatives heard from them was from Sri Lanka where they were said to be studying Islam. They informed their parents that they were at peace and that they had no plan to return to India.
B C A Rahman, 48, is a relative of the young men and an office bearer of the Indian Union Muslim League. "Ours is a small village, and we are all in some way or the other connected, either by marriage or by birth," Rahman told Rediff.com "Hafizzuddin, one of the missing persons, is a cousin. My niece is married to the uncle of Ijaz and Shiaz."
"The mujahideen group came to Padanna more than a decade ago when the village had only orthodox Muslims," Rahman recalls. "What this group first spoke about was that there shouldn't be any dowry or ostentatious wedding. They also fought against many old practices. Many in the village felt they were talking about some good, progressive ideas. Many villagers started going to their mosque and in the process, many youngsters became good morally."
"The missing young men, they are all from well-to-do, educated families. They had education in the Middle-East, Bangalore and some other modern cities," adds Rahman. "I know them from when they were children and I would say they all grew up into well-behaved, young men."
"After he finished his medical studies in China, Ijaz came to Kasargod to practice medicine. The moral reputation of Ijaz was not great when he came back, but after he got friendly with a guy who was a follower of the mujahideen group," says Rahman, "he became a good religious guy and earned a lot of respect from all the villagers."
"Whatever religious lessons he learnt, he taught his brother Shiaz and also his young cousin Ashfaq. From then on, in front of the elders, they were the religious youngsters who visited the mosque regularly and prayed five times without fail. The change in them was so commendable that people started congratulating and applauding their parents. People even asked other youngsters to look at them as role models," adds Rahman
"My cousin Hafisuddin was non-religious, but these people changed him so much that he also became extremely religious," Rahman says. "As his parents were Sunnis, initially they opposed the kind of change that they saw in him."
"A man named Rashid who came to teach in a school became friendly with Ijaz and it was through him that he started reading material on the internet and learning more about Islam. After that, they started condemning what we follow here which according to them was not real Islam. I feel this was the defining moment in their life."
"In no time, they moved into a world of their own and started behaving differently. They stopped interacting with the others. Even their appearance changed; they grew their beards long and wore pants that did not reach till the ankles. All these changes started appearing in them in the last one year," Rahman recalls.
"On May 28, Ijaz, his brother Shiaz, Ashaq and Hafisuddin with their families left for Sri Lanka to learn the Quran. It surprised many people that they had left behind a luxurious life to learn religion," says Rahman. "Nobody had any doubts about their credentials as nobody had any bad opinion about these youngsters."
"Even today, I do not believe that they have become terrorists and have gone to Syria to fight. I feel they have only become very orthodox Muslims. How can they run away with their wives and children and become terrorists?"
"The last message we got from them was that nobody should worry about them as they had come to learn the religion and they had not turned to extremism. They also told us that they would not come back. The media writes that they have gone to Syria, Iraq, Tehran, but we have no such news."
"When we got the message that they would never come back and they had reached God's land, we got suspicious," says Rahman. "When we found that 11 young men from our village had gone missing, we along with the MLA and other representatives filed a complaint at the police station."
"Their parents are well respected and loved in the village, so their pain is everybody's pain. The pain of one person is the pain of every member of the village. Not only Muslim families, Hindu and Christian families in the village are going through terrible agony because of these youngsters."
"All of us feel sympathetic to the families," says Rahman, "at the same time we are angry with the young men for spoiling the image of our Padanna."
"But none of us still believe they are lured by IS or extremism. We still believe that they have only become very religious. We still believe they are from such good, well to do educated, families that they cannot opt for a bad path."
"Personally I feel the changes that have taken place in the education scene in Kerala are responsible for such incidents. Today, you have schools and colleges for each caste and each religion. There is no intermingling of students as they they grow up, which is not good at all," says Rahman.
"This ghettoisation makes them look inwards and not outwards, and this in no way helps to have a broader outlook of the world. Only if you study with students from all sections of society that you learn to respect others, develop the feeling of brotherhood and tolerance. You don't become a good citizen by just getting an English education; you need to have a broader outlook of the world."
"Today," Rahman says, "all of us are pained that our beautiful village has come to be known all over India for the wrong reasons. They were such fine, well behaved young men, but look at the way they made Padanna famous."
Image published only for representational purposes. Photograph: Reuters