Mumbai: People who know 50-year-old Rizwan Khan, who was arrested in Mumbai on 23rd, July for allegedly carrying out forced conversions, describe him as a man of quiet demeanour.
Family members, friends and especially people, who Khan helped with their legal documents, during their conversion to Islam, are shocked at the news of his arrest, and term the charges against him and his colleague, 45-year-old Arshi Qureshi, who was arrested on similar charges as a ‘farce’.
Both Khan and Qureshi have been accused by the Kerala police and the Maharashtra ATS for ‘forcefully converting’ people to Islam and then radicalising them to join groups such as ISIS.
Their arrest came, following a complaint filed by a 25-year-old Kerala man, Ebin Jacob, whose sister Merin went missing along with her husband Yahya, allegedly to join ISIS. The husband and wife duo were reportedly among the group of 21 Keralites, who left their homes to travel to Syria.
Both Merin and Yahya, are former Christians, who accepted Islam in 2015. Ebin has accused Khan and Qureshi to have forced Merin to become a Muslim, and then coercing her join the terrorist organisation.
However, with most such accusations about forced conversions, and terror activities, as witnessed in countless cases, people close to the accused have a different narrative to tell.
Muhammad Naidu, as his name gives away, is a convert to Islam. He reverted, as he likes to put it, in 2006, after one of his friend introduced him to the lectures of Dr. Zakir Naik. The same Dr. Naik, who has come under an intense scrutiny by media, who have accused him of inspiring terrorist attacks around the world, although there is no evidence to support the same.
Naidu says he always believed God was one, but found that “preached and practiced only in Islam.”
“When I decided Islam is the religion for me, I went to IRF (Islamic Research Foundation, founded by Dr. Naik), and took my Shahadah (a simple declaration proclaiming one’s belief in Islam).
That’s where Naidu met, Rizwan Khan.
Khan, who originally hails from Tamil Nadu, came to Mumbai, a few years ago, and joined IRF, as a staff member. His work was primarily focused on helping new converts with their legal documents, acquainting them with the teachings of the new religion, and also counseling them, with how to deal with family and friends, which Naidu says converts like him, need, at the “most challenging time in their new lives.”
Khan, Naidu says was always welcoming, and would revert back with any help. In fact, when Naidu started looking out for a girl to get married, it was Khan, who helped him find an alliance.
“I wanted to get married to someone, who is also a convert and from South India. I wanted the girl to speak the same language, we speak at home, so my parents could get along with her,” he says.
When asked, what he has to say about the allegations of Khan forcing people to convert to Islam, Naidu rubbished all such claims, as false and fabricated.
“I am a convert to Islam, and so is my wife. We chose Islam, out of our will, and not because somebody forced us. The charges that, people are being forced to convert to Islam, or lured with money is completely untrue. You wouldn’t find a single such case”.
The confidence with which, Naidu dishes aside allegations against Khan and Qureshi, is not a class act. Tens of such converts, The Cognate spoke to, concur with him.
Mumbai-based Rushda Talukdar, says she converted to Islam, after watching her Muslim colleagues at work offering namaz. “Their discussion on Islam, their offering prayers on time, set the first spark of faith in me.”
She eventually changed her religion, and Khan she says, helped her get married.
“Forget about forcefully converting people, he would not talk to anybody in a loud tone. He is a selfless personality who has nothing to do with politics or terrorism. He has been framed just like Brother Zakir Naik and Brother Arshi Qureshi.”
Talking about Arshi Qureshi, Rushda Shaikh another convert said, that a man like him, “can never misguide anyone.”
Similar statements were issued by converts, Muhammad Sahil Gupta, Maimoona Kharade, Pooja Dutta, and Sakinah Muslimah, who wrote or spoke to The Cognate, since the arrest of the duo.
A well known man
Ibrahim Neyaz Ahmed Khan, is the founder and secretary of Masjid-e-Hamza in Malwani, near Mumbai. He says, he knows Rizwan Khan for the past 7–8 years, and in all these years, there has never been a single instance, where there was any charge of forced conversion against him.
“I used to meet Rizwan bhai, whenever there was a case of a convert needing any kind of legal assistance, and he was always gracious to help. He is well known to the police. They are aware of his activities, and it’s just absurd that, they are now accusing him of forced conversions,” he quips.
In fact, in a 2015 documentary, titled the, ‘Dalit Muslims of India’ produced by Al Jazeera, Khan makes a prominent appearance, as a paralegal.
Ibrahim Khan, also quashes the terror charges against both Rizwan Khan and Arshi Qureshi.
He says people like them, himself included, have counseled many youths against joining terror groups such as ISIS, and blaming them as abetting terror activities is farcical.
He gives example of an incident in Malwani in December 2015, where he himself helped the Maharashtra ATS nab youths, intending to join ISIS.
Conversion not illegal
Saeed ibn George, a Christian, who converted to Islam over a decade ago says, the notion that Muslims lure people of other faiths to convert is absurd, since the community’s own economic condition is in a deplorable state.
“I converted to Islam, when I found that the Qur’an talks about Jesus, and refers to him as a Prophet of God. That’s what triggered my interest in Islam. Nobody forced me to convert”.
“Muslims are neither rich to offer money to people, nor are we known to run educational institutes and hospitals to lure people, nor does Islam permits us to force others to our way of life,” he says.
“To convert to another religion is a right every Indian enjoys, according to the Constitution. It’s his/her freedom of conscience. Similarly, for a Muslim or others to propagate their religion is his/her freedom of speech and religion.”
“If propagating one’s religion in a peaceful manner is a crime, then what about the Christian community, which is also involved in similar activities?”, Saeed questions.
Ibrahim Shariff, another Mumbai-based resident, who knows Rizwan Khan says, the whole case is against the Constitution, as there is “nothing illegal in assisting someone with their legal documents to convert to a different faith, however, it’s illegal to stop someone from choosing a faith of his or her choice”.
Both Rizwan Khan and Arshi Qureshi were sent down from Mumbai to Kochi on Sunday, 25th, July in order to collect evidence in the alleged case of forceful religious conversion, according to the police.