How An Islamic Conversion Operation Was Going On At Prayagraj's Magh Mela

How An Islamic Conversion Operation Was Going On At Prayagraj's Magh Mela

by Swati Goel Sharma - Thursday, January 19, 2023 03:26 PM IST
How An Islamic Conversion Operation Was Going On At Prayagraj's Magh MelaConversion racket busted.
  • The men, who were earlier Hindus, revealed that they were hired by a madrassa teacher to sell books vilifying Hindu beliefs and promoting Islam.

On 17 January, the Prayagraj Police in Uttar Pradesh busted an Islamic conversion operation going on at a Hindu religious event in the city.

Two men, who were earlier Hindus but have converted to Islam, were selling books vilifying Hindu beliefs and promoting Islam at Prayagraj's famous Magh Mela.

When the police questioned them, they revealed that they were hired by a madrassa teacher to promote and sell those books to Hindus, get pictures clicked with them, and note their names and contact numbers to later target them for conversion.

Prayagraj Police posted a detailed statement about their findings on their Twitter account. This correspondent has also accessed the first information report (FIR) filed in the case on the statement of a police officer.

The FIR (number 10/2023) was filed at Daraganj Police Station of Prayagraj district on 17 January on the statement of the station house officer (SHO).

Here is what it says: The SHO was patrolling near a Hanuman temple in the city when he received information that two people were selling books at Magh Mela that could disrupt peace. He found two men selling some books on a cart.

When questioned, they got scared and began apologising for their act, introducing themselves as Mohammed Monees, son of Shivkumar Gupta, and Mohammed Sameer, son of Dulare Saroj. They said they were Hindus but had converted to Islam.

They said that they were tasked to promote those books among Hindus, record their names and phone numbers in a diary, and get pictures clicked with them. The SHO found that several of the books contained false and insulting propaganda against the Hindu faith.

When the SHO got them frisked, two Aadhaar cards each were found from their pockets. Both Monees and Sameer said that one Aadhaar card was made before their respective conversions carrying Hindu names while the second one was made after conversion carrying Muslim names.

They used the cards as per convenience, with the motive of convincing Hindus to convert.

The SHO found around Rs 2,000 in cash from their pockets along with two mobile phones. When a third man appeared on the scene, Monees and Sameer said he was their leader. This man told the police he was named Mohammed Mahmud Hassan Ghazi, son of Ahsan. He, too, was found to be carrying two Aadhaar cards.

Ghazi confessed to the police that he would pay Rs 5,000 each to Monees and Sameer to carry out his propaganda work, and he himself was paid from abroad.

The same day, Prayagraj Assistant Deputy Commissioner of Police (ADCP crime), Satish Chandra, in a video statement posted from the police’s Twitter handle said the group targeted Hindu places of worship or religious events for their Islamic propaganda.

The police found that Monees converted to Islam 12 years ago under influence of his uncle, who also converted to Islam and renamed himself as Saeed Ahmad. After his conversion, Saeed was appointed as the eastern zonal secretary of the Student Islamic Organisation (not to be confused with SIMI, which is banned) of Uttar Pradesh. 

Sameer, on the other hand, converted to Islam two years ago for marrying a Muslim woman under Islamic rituals. Sameer was earlier a tailor by profession but had recently joined Ghazi’s conversion racket.

The officer said that group’s modus operandi was that Monees and Sameer would send the pictures to Ghazi on the mobile phone, and the latter would send it to his handler in Abu Dhabi, Unites Arab Emirates. The handler would pay Ghazi for the work.

The police did not reveal the amount, but said that the three were creating a database of potential targets for their Abu Dhabi handler.

The officer said that the three told the police that they had earlier distributed those books at Assi Ghat in Varanasi near the famous Kashi Vishwanath Temple.

The FIR gives names of 50 different books that the police found on their cart. Some of the books were printed in Delhi while others in Prayagraj. No International Standard Book Number (ISBN) numbers were allocated to these books.

Readers can see the names of the books in this screenshot from the FIR below.

How An Islamic Conversion Operation Was Going On At Prayagraj's Magh Mela

It should be noted that the names of the authors include Zakir Naik, an Islamic evangelist who is wanted by the Indian government since 2016 for money laundering and inciting extremism, and Maulana Kalim Siddiqui, who was arrested by the UP Police’s anti-terrorism squad (ATS) in 2021 for illegal conversions to Islam, women trafficking, creating enmity and misuse of foreign funds.

The ATS described Siddiqui as “Khalifa of Dawah activities”, that is, kingpin of conversion rackets in India. The agency said he had converted more than five lakh non-Muslims to Islam, mostly in Haryana’s Nuh (earlier Mewat) district.

It’s pertinent to mention that prior to his arrest, Siddiqui was a member of the Sharia Advisory Council of Zakat Foundation of India (it’s not known if he continues to hold the post) that is famed for coaching Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) aspirants and rehabilitating Rohingyas in India. 

Readers may know more about the arrest and Siddiqui’s activities in this earlier piece on Swarajya.

The FIR says that the prime accused Ghazi is a resident of the Matinpur area of Kishandaspur which falls in Fatehpur district of UP; Monees hails from Saraiinayat area of Prayagraj; and Sameer is from Chhota Lalpur area of Kaushambi district.

The three have been booked by the Prayagraj Police under IPC sections 153A (promoting enmity on grounds of religion), 295A (outraging religious feelings), 419 (cheating), 420 (cheating and dishonesty), 467 (forgery), 468 (forgery for the purpose of cheating), 471 (using forged documents) and 505(2) (publishing conflicting stories). 

Sections 3 and 5 of the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion Act, 2021, loosely called the Anti-Conversion Law, has also been invoked.

The police seized a total of 204 Islamic books, three mobiles, six Aadhaar cards, Rs 2,600 cash and a diary from their possession.

Officer Chandra said that during interrogation, Ghazi revealed that he was president of a group named Bazm-e-Paigam-e-Behdaniyat, and a teacher at Madrasa Islamia Himdadia in Mariadih village of Puramufti, Kaushambi.

As per a news report, the officer told the media that they would share the details of the racket with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). So far they have traced their links to Abu Dhabi, and the CIA could track their links in other countries. 

In 2021, the UP Police’s ATS busted several large-scale Islamic conversion rackets in the state and adjoining Delhi. The crackdown began in June 2021 with the arrests of Mohammed Umar Gautam and Mohammed Jehangir, who ran ‘Islamic Dawah Centre’ in New Delhi’s Jamia Nagar. 

The word Dawah (often spelled as Da’wah) literally means “invitation” and refers to the act of inviting or calling people to convert to Islam. 

The ATS accused the two of receiving crores of rupees from Islamic trusts abroad in the name of welfare work to carry out religious conversions. As per UP ATS, when they probed the bank accounts of Islamic Dawah Centre, an accounted Rs 57 crore was found.

In another breakthrough a few months later, they arrested Kalim Siddiqui.

Around the same time as Siddiqui’s arrest, a video of a serving Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer in UP, Mohammed Iftikharuddin, emerged on social media. The senior IAS officer, who was serving as Chairman of Uttar Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation, was seen sitting with a group of Muslim men, discussing strategies for conversion to Islam.

The UP ATS has said in its various press releases that Dawah groups, in order to convert people to Islam, use various unlawful tactics including instilling fear of hellfire in their hearts, bribing them with money or land, and threatening them with dire consequences if they don’t convert.

Swati Goel Sharma is a senior editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @swati_gs.

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