[Editor’s note: I am very proud to introduce a new contributor, FFI researcher Qandeel Siddique, who will be covering Urdu-language jihadi websites for Jihadica].
The Pakistani militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad, led by the famous Masood Azhar, has a strong presence on the Urdu-language wing of the jihadi internet. Among its less savory operations is an online jihadi magazine tailored especially for children, entitled Musalman Bachay [Muslim Children]. In the magazine, Masood Azhar and others regale their young readers with anecdotes from personal battles, as well as fictional pieces, centering on the importance of Islam and being a “good Muslim”, and convincing them of the bravery and honor in pursuing the path of jihad.
The aim of this magazine is quite evident: to lure young minds into Jaish-e-Mohammad’s ideological fold. This arguably gives meat to JeM’s broader strategy of harnessing support for jihadi missions.
The magazine contains articles on religion and combat written in simple style, supplemented by child-friendly features such as “cartoon of the day,” riddles, jokes, and so on. Articles cater to both boys and girls, and a section is dedicated to posting various entries scribed by the readers – presumably to encourage their engagement with the magazine.
In this month’s issue (March 2009), Masood Azhar shares the story of “Commander Sajjad Khan’s exemplary sacrifice;” portraying Sajjad Afghani, a Harakat ul Mujahideen leader who was captured in Srinagar in 1994 and imprisoned in India until his death in an attempted 1999 jailbreak. In the article, Masood Azhar tells stories from his time in prison with Sajjad Khan, including an account of how the latter, on 11 February 1994, risked his own life to save Masood Azhar. “Until doomsday [Sajjad Khan’s] sacrifice shall serve as a glorious guide for all mujahideen,” writes Masood.
By revealing intimate stories like this, and using emotional language, Masood Azhar makes his young readers feel like privileged confidants, thus strengthening their emotional ties to the Maulana.
Sajjad’s sacrifice for Masood Azhar is portrayed as an Islamic ideal to be emulated; “to take the noose from around the neck of your Muslim brothers in distress, and put it around yourself.”
Another article entitled “I will be a mujahid” relates the tale of Nauman, a student who, when asked by his 5th grade Urdu teacher what he aspired to be when he grew up, replied “Master sahib! I will be a mujahid.” The narrator reveals that upon hearing this answer, the teacher became overwhelmed with great affection for the child and secretly lauded the parental upbringing he had received.
Once home, Nauman would recount the classroom incident to his mother and reiterate: “Mother, as you already know I want to be a mujahid like brother Usman and kill the enemies of Islam.” These words joyfully echoed in the mother’s ears.
Five years later, after Nauman completed his secondary school, he set off for a “three month training course.” He would go on to attend college for two years, all the while excelling at his studies. Armed with parental permission and prayers, as well as blessings from his master sahib, he then left for jihad. For one year he “sent Hindus to hell” whilst providing “protection to his mothers and sisters.” Eventually, Nauman, the “seeker of martyrdom” would find eternal peace in killing 20 infidels.
The story ends with the news of Nauman´s martyrdom reaching his parents and former Urdu teacher; the parents react by “giving thanks to Allah” for their son had “paved their way to paradise.” Meanwhile the teacher’s eyes welled up with happy tears and fond memories of the little boy with the “innocent countenance” who had once declared “Master sahib! I will be a mujahid.”
Several points can be raised from this article: it is cleverly geared at young Pakistani boys for whom parental consent and a teacher’s approval are socially important factors. The aspiration to be a mujahid, and then subsequently setting off on that path, is met with positive encouragement in this story. For an impressionable 5th grade student reading this magazine, being a “mujahid” assumes a higher status than that of “doctor” or “engineer” (which a few other students in the story claimed to aspire to, leaving no impression on the teacher).
In Musalman Bachay you will also find a section containing letters from the readers. One such letter presented some “good news” – that is, “Kosar Shah, a friend of mine who was also a JeM soldier… was martyred on January 21.”
Targeting young children appears to be an important Jaish strategy. About a year ago, in April 2008, JeM held a conference in the city of Bahawalpur in Pakistan’s Punjab province where amongst the star-studded speakers was a young madrassa student named Muhammad Umar (incidentally also the nephew of Masood Azhar). In an impassioned, but discernibly rote-learned speech, the boy advocated am immediate revival of Islam’s historic jazbah jihad or “passion for jihad” and declared Masood Azhar’s latest book to be instrumental in achieving this goal. Once jazbah jihad has been perched back to its rightful place, “it will strike such a blow that the infidel powers will be ruined forever, inshAllah.”
As a prelude to Muhammad Umar’s speech, the convener of the conference proudly stated: “…like women, children, too, have been fighting.” Among other examples, he cites the Badr raid as proof of this. (The identity of the presenter is not known at this stage; however he has introduced Jamia Masjid Usman-o-Ali as his madrassa and Mohammad Umar as one of his students).
The very presence of a madrassa student at a jihadi conference highlights the importance of children to Jaish-e-Mohammad. The aim of using a madrassa student to promote jihad at a gathering such as this, and of creating magazines such as Muslaman Bachay, would be to inspire and manufacture a line of child martyrs willing to die for JeM’s militant causes.