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India: Muslim cleric arrested for running massive Islamic conversion syndicate

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Maulana Kaleem Siddiqui, a senior cleric of Western Uttar Pradesh and a well-known Islamic scholar from Meerut, was arrested last week by the Uttar Pradesh Anti-Terrorism Squad (ATS) on charges of running an illegal religious conversion racket. Three other associates of the Maulana were also taken into custody along with him; the arrests were made based on clues obtained during the interrogation of another Muslim cleric, Mohammad Umar Gautam, by the ATS. Umar Gautam was arrested three months ago by ATS for running a similar conversion racket.

Reportedly, all the detainees were interrogated throughout the night by the ATS. According to recent reports, the squad made 10 more arrests for alleged connections with the religious conversion racket case. Officials have confirmed that the detainees have been booked under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Uttar Pradesh Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Act, 2020.

Siddiqui was presented in court on Wednesday; the ATS asked that he be kept in custody for ten days while they probed further into the case, according to Uttar Pradesh’s Additional Director General (ADG) for Law & Order, Prashant Kumar. The Special Additional District and Session Court, after considering the evidence produced by the prosecution (the National Investigation Agency, NIA, and the ATS) agreed to this custody. The remand period started on September 24 at 10 AM. The officials will interrogate the Maulana to get additional information about his links.

The UP ATS claims that Maulana Siddiqui has been operating a major Islamic conversion syndicate, and that his network is larger than that of Umar Gautam’s, who is said to have converted thousands of Hindus in Uttar Pradesh and in the national capital.

In a viral audio-visual shared by Zee News, Siddiqui can be seen admitting that he prefers targeting Hindu girls from “upper castes” for the mass illegal religious conversion syndicate that he ran. Officials suspect that a vast number of non-Muslims have been converted to Islam by the Islamic cleric to further the agenda of grooming non-Muslim women and expanding the Muslim population in India. UP ATS has also stated that Siddiqui has received funds from Pakistan to run the “largest conversion syndicate.” Not only funds, but Siddiqui might have received technical support as well. Fearing arrest after Umar Gautam’s detention, he had tried to evade being spotted by the ATS by changing his mobile phone number frequently.

Kumar, in his statement to the media, confirmed that the Maulana “runs Jamia Imam Waliullah Trust that funds several madrassas for which he received huge foreign funding. Investigation shows Maulana Kaleem Siddiqui’s trust received Rs 3 crores in foreign funding, including Rs 1.5 from Bahrain. Six teams of ATS have been formed to investigate this case.”

Despite the grave allegation leveled at the Maulana, enormous support has poured in for him from Muslim bodies and political personalities. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Amanatullah Khan, who had previously defended the accused anti-Hindu Delhi riot ringleader Tahir Hussain, has extended his support for Siddiqui. He called the arrest an “atrocity on Muslims,” questioned the silence of “secular political parties” on the arrest, and condemned the arrest as part of the BJP’s designs to win elections.

Samajwadi Party Parliamentarian Shafiqur Rahman Barq alleges, This is wrong. The BJP government has no work other than harassing Muslims.”

The arrest of Maulana Siddiqui has also been opposed by the students of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). On Friday, AMU students gathered at the Bab-e-Syed gate of the university and marched to Jama Masjid on the campus. They offered Friday prayers at the mosque before starting their protest march to Bab-e-Syed against the Islamic scholar’s arrest. They also warned the district administration that they would intensify their agitation if Siddiqui is not released soon by the ATS.

Meanwhile, members of Civil Societies of AMU, including M. Salman Imtiaz, former president of Aligarh Muslim University Student Union, organized a separate demonstration. Imtiaz declared, “Maulana Kaleem Siddiqui has been illegally arrested in a false case of illegal religious conversion. It is all part of a conspiracy hatched by the ruling party in the state. All are free to have their religious belief and practice the religion of their choice. The Muslim preachers never force others to accept Islam by coercion or threat.” They have also submitted a memorandum, expressing their anguish over Siddiqui’s “uncalled for” arrest, addressed to the governor of Uttar Pradesh.

Protests and support from Muslim entities notwithstanding, Maulana Kaleem Siddiqui remains in police remand. It is suspected that he has converted as many as a hundred thousand non-Muslims to Islam already. Allegedly, he had Love Jihad (Grooming Jihad) on his agenda as well, and hence was on the close watch by the security agency for such suspicious activities.

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